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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Thou Shall Not Steal

Nor thieves… will inherit the kingdom of God. Matthew 25:21 (NKJV)


Question 142 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the eighth

commandment?” The first part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the eighth

commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, manstealing, and

receiving any thing that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing land-

marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust.”

A few questions ago we looked at the monstrous sin of manstealing (kidnapping), which is what

Judas Iscariot participated in when he betrayed Christ into the hands of corrupt officials for thirty 

pieces of silver. Today we have added security measures in the maternity wards of many

hospitals to stop people from stealing babies and selling them on the black market. Then there is 

the sex trafficking trade where young girls are stolen and forced into prostitution. In third world

countries children are stolen for slavery, forced military service, or as hostages to be ransomed

back to their parents. In the Old Testament God commanded kidnappers to be put to death, for

no human being has the right to take possession of another human being. This is the worst kind

of stealing.

However, the sin of stealing admits of a variety of other forms. While all of them involve taking

possession of something that we do not have the right to possess, there are many different ways

to do this, as reflected by the numerous synonyms of the verb to steal. Theft usually refers to

stealing that is done surreptitiously by stealth and cunning. We might think of a jewel thief like

in the Pink Panther movies, or a cat burglar who breaks into your house without your awareness.  

On the contrary robbery means to take by force. So we hear of an armed robbery at the gas

station, or of bank robbers who “held up” the bank with deadly weapons so that the tellers were

compelled by the threat to their lives to hand over the money. While these two types of stealing

are probably what we most readily think of, they no doubt occur far less often than other, more

benign forms.

For the most part Christians are not tempted to commit burglary or robbery, but it can be much

easier for us to receive stolen goods. I remember when cable TV first came to Saltsburg in I

believe the summer of 1984, and in almost no time at all, probably half of my friends’ homes

were receiving “free” cable as their fathers rigged the primitive boxes in order to continue to

receive channels without paying for them. Now that might not have been breaking into and

forcibly taking someone else’s possessions, but it was illegally receiving a service without

paying for it. It was stealing plain and simple. So also when people make illegal copies of

movies or download freeware that is supposed to expire after thirty days, but keep setting back

the date to continue to use the program after the trial period. This is stealing, plain and simple.

“Fraudulent dealing” refers to the act of stealing by means of dishonesty, though we no longer

deal in terms of weighing out money, which is the Catechism’s reference to “false weights and

measures.” Likewise, “removing landmarks” is rare in non-agricultural societies, but there are

many other types of injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts or in matters of trust. You probably 

noticed that shopping takes longer as sellers have to guard against dishonest buyers who product

and try to pass off counterfeit currency. Buyers also have to beware of dishonest sellers. I

remember recently talking to a salesman about purchasing a particular piece of exercise

equipment. He assured me of the savings he was giving me by quoting the item’s supposed cost

at the other store, from his computer screen (which I could not see). What he did not know was

that I had already looked up the price at the other store an hour earlier and I knew he had

exaggerated my potential savings by over $100! His price was lower, but he dealt fraudulently

with me when he told me by how much. We need to guard against these kinds of “stealing.”

May God grant that you and I so respect the rights of others that we do not in any way seek to

steal from them

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