…he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.
Question 140 of the Larger Catechism teaches us the eighth commandment. The eighth commandment is, “Thou shalt not steal.” I think stealing is usually considered to be not that big of a deal. Especially if it is only stealing a few dollars off of our tax returns, a few items from work, a few minutes on our timecards, or a few extra moments after our break ends. We steal someone else’s time by being negligently late for an appointment; we steal influence or favor through manipulation, guilt, flattery, or intimidation. We steal from the internet, from big corporations, or “the rich.” As believers we steal from others when we hold back the love, kindness, and generosity that we owe to all people. A disciple of Jesus even stole a few coins from the money box now and then. As I heard in a recent movie, “Everyone steals.” So what’s the big deal?
Moreover, some of our biggest heroes are thieves. From Robin Hood to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, to Captain Jack Sparrow—we love thieves! They are dashing, daring, intriguing, cool, clever, and always one step ahead of the law. Going back to at least the tale of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, mankind has always had a love affair with thieves (that is, as long as it’s not our stuff being stolen). Plus, seeing how corrupt big business and government are, why shouldn’t the little guy grab his piece of the pie when he has the opportunity and ability? Coming on the heels of “Thou shalt not murder,” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” stealing does not look so bad. Yet, as quoted above, Judas was a thief.
Thus, we need to consider the Scripture’s portrayal of stealing in order to rightly consider how evil it truly is. In both testaments of the Bible false prophets and teachers are called thieves: “‘Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the LORD, ‘who steal My words every one from his neighbor,’” (Jer. 23:30). Rather than honestly take God’s Word and give it to the people, the false prophet dealt in the currency of stolen words. So also Jesus said of false teachers, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber… All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them… The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly,” (Joh. 10:1, 8, 10). False teaches are false in that they offer lies instead of the truth, and thereby they do the work of Satan who is called the father of lies (Joh. 8:44).
Likewise, corrupt rulers are said to be thieves: “Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them,” (Isa. 1:23). When those in authority do not do their duty to justly enforce the laws equally on all their constituents; whatever caused them to pervert justice is in effect a bribe; whether it is actual money or just the promise of more votes makes no difference—it is a bribe. Bribery is stealing. Jesus similarly rebuked the rulers of the temple when He cleansed it the second time, “And He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of thieves,’” (Mat. 21:13). Rather than seeking to facilitate worship, the elders of Israel were using religion to plunder the people. They were stealing from them. The great danger of all human governments is when rulers use their power to steal wealth. Democracy is just as susceptible to the sin of stealing as any other form of government. As noted in “The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic,” democracy ends when the citizens discover that through the vote they can steal from the public treasury.
But perhaps the most damning indictment of the evil of stealing is when we consider the fact that the greatest sin of all time, the betrayal of Christ, was in effect an act of man-stealing by Judas Iscariot, who sold Jesus to the Jews for thirty pieces of silver: “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’ And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him,” (Mat. 26:14-16). The man who was merely a thief committed the worst sin the world has ever known. May God grant that we guard our hearts from the great evil of stealing!