Stealing is wrong. We know that because it's one of the Ten Commandments. But why is it wrong? What harm does it really do? Why does God hate it so much? That's what we really need to find out.
“A THIEF IN THE LIGHT”
We lived in Dallas, as you know, for a few years and I’ll never forget the story that went around, circulating. It was an unusual story, almost too hard to believe, but it came from a very credible source. A man saw an ad in the newspaper and a Mercedes was being sold for twenty-five dollars. And he couldn’t believe it, he knew that it was some sort of hoax. But he decided to go ahead and call anyhow, it was there week after week. And so he finally called and got the lady on the phone and he said, “Lady, this is some kind of trick. Are you selling a current year model of a Mercedes Benz for twenty-five dollars?” And she said, “Absolutely.” And he said, “Man, what’s the trick?” And she said, “No, no trick. I’m really selling this brand new, hardly six months old Mercedes for twenty-five dollars.” And he said, “Look, how many people have called you?” And she said, “No one but you has called me. I guess no one believes it.” And he said, “Well, I can understand why.” She said, “Look, just come on over and see for yourself.” So he said, “Listen, it’ll be worth the trip. Even though I lose twenty-five bucks just to find out what your scheme is.” And so he got in his car and he drove over there. And she wouldn’t tell him anything until, finally, he said, “Alright, here’s twenty-five dollars.” And she handed him the keys to the car and made out a receipt. And he said, “Look, now it’s mine, I’m about to drive off with it. You tell me, what’s going on here.” And she said, “Well, nothing really. It’s an honest sale. But you see, my husband left me and he and his girlfriend are in the Bahamas. And he asked that I sell his Mercedes and send him the cash from the sale. And I’m going to, all twenty-five dollars.” Interesting story of theft, is it not?
This actually happened. A gentlemen wrote the IRS. They had this sent to them. And I read, this past week, where this gentlemen said, “Dear Sirs, I’ve enclosed a check for one hundred and fifty dollars. I cheated on my income tax last year and I haven’t been able to sleep since. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the rest of the money next year.”
We look at those and they are funny. But yet, they are forms of deceit, they are symptoms of theft. And we come to the scriptures, as we have been doing now, going through the book of Exodus, and we read the eighth commandment. If you have your Bibles, turn to Exodus, chapter 20, and read with me that command that is found in verse 15. A command that I hope, by the grace of God, we’ll all discover that we are threatened with committing and, by His grace, avoid. Verse 15 of Exodus, chapter 20, says, “You shall not steal.” And again, a period. Not a question mark but, a simple statement to be exercised, to be believed in because it comes from the authority of scripture. Now, for you and me, we probably feel like this is not really our sin. You know, I haven’t stolen anything but that piece of gum way back in elementary school. I’m not a thief. Or we think of the most common ways that people steal, like the IRS, and we know we’ve been honest on our income tax returns. And yet, as I discovered this past week, throughout the Bible is precise, accurate descriptions of what we have failed to observe as stealing. They are synonyms, throughout scripture, that I think you’ll find so accurate and, I hope by God’s grace, will discover them in our lives and excise them by His Spirit this morning.
There are three words that are found throughout scripture that are all synonyms of this violation of the eighth command. If you’re following along in your notes, you’ll notice or you should jot in the first, and that is deceit. Deceit is the first one. Let’s turn, in our Bibles, to Romans, chapter 1. And I’m going to unmask it for you as we look at characteristics of deceit. Romans, chapter 1, verse 29. The first is this, that deceit is typical among unbelievers. And that’s really where it ought to stay. The Bible tells us, in no short terminology that, deceit is part of the unbelieving crowd. It is part of a society that is violating the authority of God. Romans, chapter 1, tells us about a society that violates His authority and, by the time you come to verse 29, he begins listing all of the sins. Look at verse 28, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife,” - and there’s the word - “deceit”. That is, a misrepresentation of someone or something for the purpose of unjust gain. And that characteristic, ladies and gentlemen, is part and parcel of a society that violates the authority of God. We ought to assume that the society will be deceitful, unless they follow Jesus Christ.
There’s a second characteristic, and that is, it is characteristic of false teachers. Turn over to II Corinthians, chapter 11. II Corinthians, chapter 11. It is characteristic of false teachers. Verses 1 to 4, look with me, “I wish that you would bear with me in a little foolishness; but indeed you are bearing with me. For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully. For I consider myself not in the least inferior to the most eminent apostles.” What the apostle Paul is saying here is that, one of the characteristics of those that will take from you all that I’ve delivered to you, by the revelation of God, all that I’ve given you, by God’s inspiration through His scriptures, that I gave you, by His inspiration in my own life, there will be false teachers who will come along to sap this out of your church, your personal life. And I want you to know that the characteristic, whereby you can know these false teachers, is given in verse 3. You will - “be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” That is, their teaching will focus your attention on something other than, in purity and simplicity, being devoted to Jesus Christ. They will focus your attention on other things.
Someone asked me a question, last week, in one of the candidate classes for those wanting to join our fellowship. And I really didn’t have a very good answer and I wish that I had had this passage that I discovered this week studying. Turn to Jeremiah, chapter 23, and I want to show you one of the simplest ways of discerning false teachers. According to the prophets of old and in the Old Testament days, these guys were doing the same thing then and they do the same thing today, and I want you to take note. Jeremiah, chapter 23, I want to read just a few verses hurriedly. You’ll have to follow along, I’ll skip around. Jeremiah, chapter 23, verse 9, “As for the prophets:” - that is, the false prophets - “ my heart is broken within me, all my bones tremble”. Verse 11, “‘For both prophet and priest are polluted; even in My house I have found their wickedness,’ declares the Lord.” Verse 16, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility;’” - note this - “they speak a vision of their own imagination”. Verse 21, “I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied.” Verse 25, “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, ‘I had a dream, I had a dream!’” Verse 28, “‘The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?’ declares the Lord. ‘Is not My word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock? Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ declares the Lord,” - note this - “who steal My words from each other.” I’ll explain in a moment. Verse 31, “‘Behold, I am against the prophets,’ declares the Lord, ‘who use their tongues’” - note this - “‘and declare, ‘The Lord declares.’ Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,’ declares the Lord, ‘and related them, and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them’”. Note this, one of the characteristics that is common among false teachers, not only in that day but today, is they, in a sense, represent the authority of God and, somewhere in their ministry, they will tell you, they will tell me, that they represent the voice of God apart from the word of God. Okay? So the next time someone on that television, or someone you are listening to, closes their eyes and says, “Oh, I’m hearing a word from God. There’s someone out there starting a business, there’s someone over here that’s sick, there’s someone over here that needs advice . . . God is telling me right now.” Does that sound familiar? That’s pretty good, huh? Did I miss my calling? Turn them off! They are declaring a vision from their own imagination. They are declaring something apart from the word of God. And anyone who says, “I have received revelation from God apart from the word of God,” no matter how slick, no matter how conservative, no matter how flamboyant, is a false teacher.
Now note the last part of that verse, verse 32, “I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit”. Man, that’s powerful. You know why? I just sat back in my chair and I tried to understand the prophet who said, by revelation, “They don’t benefit the people in the slightest.” And I think it’s because of this: because the false teacher leads us to believe that God is as interested in us receiving His blessings than He is in us receiving His character. They turn our focus away from the person of God to the blessings, to gifts, the things from God. And, in reality, they do not benefit you or I in the least. There is stealing going on. There are thieves in the light.
Third, deceit is essential, if you are following along in your notes, to the strategy of Satan. And would it follow, obviously, logically, that if false teachers have as their middle name “deceit,” that Satan would be engineering it? From Genesis, chapter 3, to Revelation, chapter 20, Satan is called “the master,” in a sense of deception. He is a deceiver.
Fourth, deception is a dangerous thing in the life of a disobedient believer. You know it is difficult to discern the counterfeit. If it were easy, men and women, Satan would not be Satan. In fact, out there in our society, in our world, are twelve Mona Lisa’s. All, supposedly, signed by Leonardo Da Vinci. All the owners claiming to have the original. There’s no way any of us could really tell them apart. That’s why Satan is so dangerous. That’s why his counterfeiting and his deceit is so wicked. And a believer who becomes disobedient falls into a form of deception called, self-deception. James, chapter 1, verse 22, says, Be - “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude” - or deceive your own self. I can become a thief, robbing myself of character and integrity and worship and obedience. If I get to the point where I read the Bible and I hear it, I see it, and I walk away unchanged, I become a thief. It’s dangerous.
An example of deception, in the early church, and I want you to know this isn’t new either. Turn to Acts, chapter 5, quickly. The first account of deception in the light, thieves in the light, is Acts, chapter 5. You know the story, Ananias and Sapphira. They had seen Barnabas sell a tract of land and give the money to the apostles. And boy, they saw the celebration. People patting him on the back, “Oh, you’re wonderful,” as people would often do, “This is fantastic what you’ve done for this early church.” So Ananias and Sapphira evidently saw that and the first verse of chapter 5 says, They - “sold a piece of property.” But - “kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge.” Men and women, this is pre-meditated deceit. “And bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Now it wasn’t wrong that they gave some of the money. What was wrong was they were coming, in effect, saying, “This is all of it. This is what we got for the entire piece.” But yet, they were lying, they were deceiving. Peter says, in verse 3, “Ananias, why has Satan” - the deceiver - “‘filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it. And the young men arose and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in” - imagine you’re part of the congregation there, she walks in - “not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her,” - Sapphira - “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” - and all of us would sit on the edge of our seats and say, “Say, ‘No.’ Say, ‘No,’ Sapphira. You don’t know they just buried your husband. Tell the truth!” But before you can get that out of your mouth, she looks Peter back in the eye - “and she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out as well.’ And she fell immediately at his feet, and breathed her last; and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” - note verse 11 - “And great fear came upon the whole church,” - I guess so - “and upon all who heard of these things.” They had a quick huddle. They decided that it was in their best interest to be honest in the early church. What is the Lord doing? He is telling the early church the same thing He wants to tell us today, dishonesty is not to be part of people who walk in the light. It is NOT to be a characteristic of those who walk after Jesus Christ. Not dishonesty but honesty. Not deception but truth.
There’s another word, defraud. That’s to withhold something from someone to whom it is rightfully due. There are four ways. I want to uncover this for you. First of all, withholding honest pay from honest work. Leviticus, chapter 19, says an interesting thing. If you’re an employer, don’t you go to bed, don’t you go to sleep at night with the wages of that employee in your hand. You give it to him when it’s due. In other words, what he is saying is, don’t put it in the bank, or don’t draw interest on it for the next twelve hours, you give it away right away, it’s not yours. That’s defrauding.
Second, withholding support from parents. Now we covered this extensively in a former sermon. But, you remember Mark, chapter 10? It says, “Do not defraud, honor your father and mother.” The word honor is a word that talks about giving respect, giving financial support. If you withhold financial support from a mom or a dad who needs support, you are guilty of defraud. That’s the New Testament word used there in that context.
Third, withholding physical intimacy from a spouse. I Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 5, uses the word defraud there, making it very clear that physical intimacy is not a reward, it is not a favor, it is not a weapon, it is something that belongs to someone else, the spouse. In fact, he says, this is the foundation that may help avoid immorality. Don’t defraud.
Fourth, this is interesting, withholding a spiritual settlement from believers. Turn to I Corinthians, chapter 6, just head right a little bit. If I told you this, you wouldn’t believe it, so I want to read it to you. Chapter 6, verse 1, this is an interesting way that defraud is used, an interesting context. “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” I want you to just put your thinking caps on and think of the implications of this text. “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, matters of this life?” - civil life - “If then you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide” - that is, the legal term that could be translated “make judgment” - “between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that your brethren.” Now listen to this. He’s saying that, if a believer in the church has something against another believer, that is, a legal right has been violated. He’s saying, don’t take them to court, take them to church. It goes back to the Old Testament economy where the spiritual leader, that was the king, often made judgments. He’s saying, I want the same thing to exist today. Where there is civil disagreements, where there have been laws violated between believers, this is a family matter. Take it to the church and allow the leadership of the church to reach a settlement. Fascinating implication. Imagine if we actually did it. It would be a fantastic testimony to our society to settle differences, even in civil matters, in the church.
There’s another word, theft, is the third category. This is to take something for yourself that rightfully belongs to someone else. And this is the common way the eighth commandment is understood. They’ve forgotten all of the others. Those applications that we’ve just made. We think of Ivan Bosky(?), you know the guy, who in 1985, said, “A little greed is not bad, everybody should be a little greedy.” In 1984 he had made a hundred and fifteen million dollars from two deals. And then, in 1988, he was sentenced to three years for his greed. We think of people like that. I read, this past week, in “Newsweek” magazine that Hyundai car is being riddled with theft. Evidently the doors are easy to rip off and the radio pops out. And that car is leading the way in having radios stolen from within it’s doors. I’ve talked to two people, in the last month, in our congregation that have become victims of theft. One guy had his car stolen. Another, an investment. The people spent(?). We often think of theft in these terms. And rightfully so, that does include that world.
But I want you to consider biblically, because we’re talking about people who live in the light, theft that occurs that we may not even really be aware of and we need to be confronted with this morning. And I want to give you one, that’s stealing from God our worship. Stealing from God, worship. That is declaring worth, an honor due Him and only Him. And the only way to explain this is to give you three illustrations of people who worshiped Him correctly. I think of Abraham who gave Him the worship of devotion. A man who would not allow even his son, his most prized possession, to stand between him and obedience. And he worshiped by way of devotion to God. I think of David who worshiped by way of repentance. A man who had committed sin. The scriptures tell us, in II Samuel, chapter 12, verse 20, that after God confronted him through the prophet Nathan and his baby son, that had been born out of wedlock, was eventually taken by the Lord, it says that he put on new clothes and he shaved and he went in with a repentant heart and he worshiped God. You know whenever we are unrepentant, we are stealing from God worship due Him. Whenever we are devoted to something else more than Him, we steal from God devotion due only Him. I think of Lot, the worship of submission. A man who lost it all. And in chapter 1, the latter part of that chapter, it says, he fell down on his face and he worshiped God.
How about stealing from our families our time? Did you ever consider that theft? Is it startling to you that the average five-year-old spends less than twenty-five minutes a week with his father? Does it shake you up that school-age children spend less than sixty seconds a day communicating with Mom and Dad, that’s other than, “Pass the butter. Do your chores. Go to bed. . . .” - you know. Christian kids were surveyed. Nearly seventy percent of them spent less than fifteen minutes a week with Mom and Dad. I don’t mean sitting in the living room watching T. V. together or sitting at the table eating your food and rushing out, I mean spending some time where that person is the focus of your attention. That’s the definition. You can sit in a room and watch television as a family and never spend time together because the focus of your attention is something other than the family member. And kids are spending minutes a week. One fourteen-year-old gal, I read this past week, came in to Josh McDowell and she said, “Mr. McDowell, nobody hugs me anymore. My Mom doesn’t hug me. My Dad doesn’t hug me. Nobody.” It’s about time we call that theft. It’s about time we admit that it is stealing from those people. How about spouses? Did you know that the average spouse spends less than seven minutes a week communicating. Other than, “Glad to see you. Have a good day at work. Pick up the dry cleaning. What’s for supper?” Seven minutes a week. How about stealing from church our gifts? Financial. We could camp on that one. I have in my pocket, I’ve been carrying this around for two weeks waiting for a good time to tell you, this is fantastic. Do you see these little Hershey kisses? Some kid over in children’s church, the offering plate was passed, he made the ultimate sacrifice! I wish I could have been there to see the struggle. “Oh, should I? I’m gonna.” And he doesn’t know the pastor is going to eat them after church! It’s almost sacrilege! I don’t know what to do with them! They’re collecting dust on my desk. Acts, chapter 4, talks about a church where, not just kids but, adults had that kind of sacrifice among themselves. You read it sometime, it’s fascinating. There are needs that arise in the church and somebody says, “No problem, I’ll sell my house.” Imagine, as those who had need, they were all together. Is it any wonder, with that kind of attitude, that they upturned Jerusalem?
But I want to talk to you, for just a few moments, about something more devastating than stealing. Financial gifts. Not becoming involved financially. How about stealing spiritual gifts. I view the church as a disabled body. And more and more I am becoming vocal with those who come into our church fellowship. In that candidates class we spend thirty minutes to an hour on the subject of spiritual gifts. Because, if we fill our church up with people who are spectators and not people exercising their gifts, we become a body without legs, without arms. If you have the gift of teaching, is your gift beneficial to the body? If you have the gift of giving, helping, hospitality, does the church benefit from it? I Corinthians, chapter 12, makes it very clear that together, we as a local body, not universal but local, make up a body. Are we coordinated? Do we have it together? You can answer that question on the basis of where you sit. Are you utilizing what God has given you and contributing it to the body? Stealing from God worship. Stealing from family time. Stealing from church gifts. Forms of theft.
Let me tie it up with two thoughts. Violating the eighth commandment does a lot of things but let me just give you two. First, it blockades communion. That’s obvious. If I’m not where I ought to be, before Jesus Christ, if I’m not worshiping Him, if I’m not devoted to Him, if I’m not involved with the saints in serving Him, then there is going to be a loss, there is going to be a blockading of communion and fellowship.
Secondly, it not only blockades communion but, it destroys credibility in the world because the world notes, the world notices. They are looking at a church today riddled with corruption. As I said last week, for 1900 years we were telling the world to repent of your sins and live a pure life. And now the world tells the church, repent of your sins and live right. We lose our credibility. The old English couplet referring to the deception of Judas, who was supposedly a follower of Jesus Christ, says this, “Still, as of old, man by himself is priced. For thirty pieces of silver, Judas sold himself, not Christ.” Man.
Dare we have credibility in this society? It is determined by our worship, by our devotion, by our honesty and our integrity. Are there thieves in the light? May it never be.
What’s the solution? Ephesians, chapter 4, the apostle Paul wrote that early church and he said, Look - “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands . . ., in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.” In other words, what he is saying is, when Jesus Christ invades a person’s life and there is submission to Him, He will take that person, He will take us, and turn us from people who steal from Him into people who share. Share worship. Share devotion. Share love. Share gifts. May that be the case of this body. Let’s pray.