How deeply do you understand the meaning of the Eighth Commandment?
It is a classic tale of American folklore: Abraham Lincoln, then a struggling store clerk 10 New Salem, Ill., walked more than 2 miles one night to return 6 1/4 cents to a lady he'd accidentally overcharged. Interesting that this anecdote adorns the reputation of "Honest Abe" Lincoln, perhaps the most beloved of America's presidents. To this day the name "Abraham Lincoln" is synonymous with character and integrity. Integrity — the word implies soundness, honesty, wholeness, the deep inner commitment to lasting values that inspired the same Lincoln to spend 14 difficult years paying off debts until he was totally clear. Character truly does bring rewards, ultimately. Yet you and I live in a corrupt society that sneers at the old credo: "Honesty is the best policy"! But honesty still is the best policy.
A precious statute
In this day and age of government scandals, corporate corruption, legal loopholes, payola and blurred lines of morality, we desperately need to recapture the spirit and intent of a law originally seared into sheer stone by the flaming finger of God Himself. This precept, thundered from the crags of Mt. Sinai by a booming voice that literally shook the sinews of the people who heard it, is a terse statement that, if applied, would overnight transform the rotten bedrock of our society. It is expressed in the simple but sublime words, "You shall not steal" (Ex. 20:15). As these words reverberated across the natural amphitheatre of the Sinai region, shaking the Israelites below with fear, the eternal God already knew the fearsome penalties that the violation of just this one law would exact. Some 700 years later the same omniscient but invisible King of Israel roused His prophet Hosea to cry out: "There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. By swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed after bloodshed" (Hos. 4:1-2). The result? "Therefore the land will mourn" (verse 3). On His throne in the third heaven, the mighty spirit personality who searches and probes each human heart — this brilliant Superbeing — blazes with anger every day at the violations of His precious statute, "You shall not steal" (Ps. 7:11).
How does it apply?
It is not just the self-styled benefactors, the politicians who hold high office and fatten themselves at public expense, who incur God's righteous wrath, though they bear their full share of responsibility in His eyes. No, not just them. God is concerned, too, about the shoplifters, the padders of expense accounts, the specialized accountants leeching corporations, the pilferers of vending machines that in malfunctioning spew out unpaid-for items. Even more minutely, God scans the hearts of those who return undercharged items to supermarkets, as well as those who, instead, salve their consciences with weak-kneed excuses. Nothing escapes the exacting inspection of those eyes that are "like a flame of fire" (Rev. 2:18). Do we grasp it? Perhaps no other commandment tests, probes and sifts our inner character as does this one, with its simple but penetrating words, "You shall not steal"!
Far from getting, grabbing, taking — even in the face of genuine distress — God's people must produce, work, adapt... to stand before the world as useful members of society.
This great Eighth Commandment of God's sacred law reflects our sense of responsibility toward others. It exposes whether we grasp the motivating purpose and thrust, the trigger mechanism, of the entire law of God, the give principle (Acts 20:35). Paul expanded the deep, spiritual intent of the Eighth Commandment in Ephesians 4:28: "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need." Far from stealing or even mooching, God's people are supposed to share their surplus generously with others. This implies financial and career success. Integrity. A Christian is commanded to be a good, solid, steady employee (Eph. 6:5-7). Yet how often nowadays in this "laidback" society do people sponge off friends or relatives for weeks on end? And "borrowing" — whether record albums, books, lawn mowers, household devices or money — even this falls under the jurisdiction of the Eighth Commandment. "The borrower," God tells us in Proverbs 22:7, "is servant to the lender." The chronically unemployed layabout who sits around waiting to "get his head together" instead of actively pounding the pavement calling on businesses or lining up corporations' numbers from the phone book dramatizes the basic deterioration in character that would have appalled some hardworking people of earlier times. Such people lack integrity. The Eighth Commandment means nothing to them (Rom. 3:18). Even God Himself would be hard-pressed to shake them from their lethargy (Matt. 5:13). Some self-made men (who worship their creators assiduously) enjoy lambasting such people. Yet the w hi te-collar middle-class achievers are among the biggest crooks of all! Studies show that more than 90 percent of average Americans will admit privately that they are guilty of at least one crime calling for at least a one-year jail term! Compromising one's conscience is easy in a big-business, depersonalized, faceless society like ours. "Shoplifters justify themselves by complaining about store overpricing (and vice versa); tax-evaders complain about the government misusing 'their money'; hotel patrons assume that the towel, silverware and Gideon Bible are part of the hotel bill (even though the Bible they take says, 'Thou shalt not steal'; they're just 'borrowing' it). Insurance claims are invariably padded (since 'it's coming to me'); inside stock tips are 'fringe benefits'; and a corporate price conspiracy is 'good business.' There is a euphemism for every crime" (Crime Can Be Stopped — Here's How!, pp. 14-15). (Crime Can Be Stopped — Here's How!, a booklet detailing the causes and solutions to the modern curse of crime, may be obtained free upon request from the Worldwide Church of God. See the inside front cover for our mailing address nearest you.)
Get the picture? If we aren't careful we can succumb to this seductive society with its easy, self-justifying ways and end up violating the Eighth Commandment many times a day. Far from getting, grabbing, taking, extorting and embezzling — even in the face of genuine distress — God's people must produce, work, adapt, adjust, use resourcefulness in order to stand before the world as useful members of society. Notice II Thessalonians 3:7-8: "For we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat any one's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you." Now that's integrity! The Eighth Commandment, indeed, civilizes society. It establishes the principle of respect for private property. No wonder God reacted in righteous fury to the seamy spectacle of King Ahab of ancient Israel, who ruptured all codes of dece.ncy and common sense by grabbing land through coldblooded murder from a careful, responsible citizen named Naboth. Read God's blistering condemnation in I Kings 21:20-24! By contrast, God blessed the generous, statesmanlike attitude of Abraham, a man untainted by materialistic greed, when Abraham offered his nephew Lot the choicest real estate as a peacemaking pact (Gen. 13:1-12). In the end, as always, godly principles prevailed and steady, faithful Abraham ended up bailing out his somewhat materialistic nephew. This should help us grasp another telling point about the Eighth Commandment: It reacts and relates to all the other of God's Ten Commandments. Stealing usually begins as covetousness, a violation of the Tenth Commandment (Ex. 20:17). Greed causes us to perpetrate physically or mentally violent actions to grab what isn't legally ours (Jas. 4:1); this shatters the principle of the Sixth Commandment (Ex. 20:13). We will easily lie to others, if not to ourselves, in covering up our real intents and motives, thus breaking the Ninth Commandment (verse 16). Selfishly embezzling to attempt to satisfy what is, at its roots, a spiritual hunger is nothing more than spiritual adultery (verse 14) against God, our true sustainer. Following Satan's get way dishonors our spiritual Father in heaven, thus breaking the Fifth Commandment (verse 12), and elevates the self above the true God, thus violating the First and Second Commandments (Ex. 20:3-6). We wouldn't seriously entertain the thought of stealing at all if we deeply respected God's power and office, as the Third Commandment teaches (verse 7).
This great Eighth Commandment reflects our sense of responsibility... It exposes whether we grasp the motivating purpose... of the entire law of God, the give principle...
How far-reaching indeed are the piercing principles behind these simple-sounding statements of Scripture! God says people even steal from Him, not only by withholding His tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:8), but also by denying Him the praise and worship due Him (I Chron. 16:29). Unthankfulness is stealing. Without an attitude of reverence toward God, we can resent ceasing particularly lucrative work before Friday sunset and so steal holy time from our Creator (Ex. 20:8-11). We should be generous with the Sabbath, giving it a wide berth (lsa. 58:13). Anything else is stealing.
Two courses of action
Yes, there is far, far more to the Eighth Commandment than first meets the eye. It is a fearsome, searching spotlight that probes into the nooks and crannies of our deepest motives. The student tempted to cheat on an exam faces the consequences of trying to evade the penalties of the Eighth Commandment. What to do? Cheat, and pass to a grade or position he's unqualified for and run the risk of failing hopelessly (that is, if he isn't caught first!), or take the tough way out. Risk failing, face the music and try harder next time. The first way seems easy. It might be — "for a season," that is (Heb. 11:25, Authorized Version). The second way is the very essence of character — facing mistakes, confessing them, doing better next time (I John 1:8-9). Besides, circumstances may work out better than anticipated. Transfers, moves, cancellations, human error, sickness — all may conspire to help him anyway. Remember: The blessings of obedience are as sure as the penalties for violation. The housewife finding her bank balance. in error on the credit side is also confronted by the sifting dynamics of the Eighth Commandment. "Why square it with the bank?" a voice inside urges. "They don't do you any favors!" Yet she is contemplating the erosion of some preciously built inner character, the only reason for her sojourn on this earth (Eccl. 12:13). Why should a computer's error rob her of a literally irreplaceable commodity — deep, crystal-clear character? See how it works?
Thankfully, most of God's people do a valiant job resisting the carnal enticements to trample over God's great Eighth Commandment. Otherwise He would never bless our increase in the service of His Work. Many of God's people already reflect the give way and are coworkers in an enterprise dedicated to giving. We should never relax our vigilance. We shouldn't let this insidious society sap our commitment to the deep, inner principles behind the laws of God. Selfish taking, in any way, shape or form, is the direct antithesis of the character of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Any fiddling with such dubious ventures as gambling, any incessant fixation with the vagaries of the stock market, cuts across the spirit and thrust of the Eighth Commandment. Viewed positively, the Eighth Commandment guards our relationship with others, urges us to produce and accomplish, stirs us to service and usefulness. Now we should know why God Himself descended from heaven to thunder that stark, forthright sentence, "You shall not steal"!