Growing up, I had rather nimble fingers —in other words, I was pretty good at stealing.
Generally, while not encouraged to steal, this behaviour was not discouraged by my mother, as I usually shared the spoils around. However, that all changed the day I got caught.
I was in a large grocery store and helped myself to a large block of chocolate, without paying for it. As I exited the store, an undercover security officer stopped me and accused me of stealing. She patted me down, and I almost got away with it, until she brushed past my tummy. The chocolate was lodged in my pants. Off to the security office we went.
I was forced to wait, much longer than I thought reasonable, for the police to arrive. I rather cheekily stated to the cop, as he entered the office, “It’s about time.” He got the rundown of my crime and put me in the police car to take me home, where he explained to my mum what I had done.
Luckily, the store didn’t press charges —I was about aged 10 at the time, if I remember correctly.
However, after the policeman left, my mother all but chased me up to my room and proceed to smack me around. It became clear, pretty quickly, that her smacks were not having the desired effect, so he grabbed my shoe and proceeded to beat me with that. Needless to say, I had grown too big, and was too stubborn, for her discipline to really make an impression on me. I did not give up stealing that day because I was not given a good reason to.
Stop, Out of Compassion
My family and I once visited a church, where the preacher drew our attention to a verse in the Bible that was challenging in a very pleasing way. I couldn’t help but reflect on how exemplary this verse was of a Christian lifestyle, of how the rewards are so much better than what the world offers.
The verse in question is found at Ephesians 4:28 and comes from the apostle Paul:
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Simply put: Don’t steal!
Now, generally, few people would disagree with this advice —for examples, click here and here— nor would anyone disagree with the reason for not stealing that Paul put forward: Work. Do something useful! —some good quotes for and against stealing can be found here. The point that caught my attention is the ultimate goal with which Paul follows up this advice: Share with those in need!
Wow. Did you see that coming? I, like my family and the rest of the congregation gathered, had not made this connection before. Paul linked the command to not steal —#8 of The Ten Commandments (Ex 20:15)— with advice to get a job, and all for the goal of compassion.
Spend It On Yourself?
This is almost revolutionary! Imagine what society would look life if people stopped their criminal behaviour so as to become productive citizens contributing to the bettering of society. This is not restricted to the question of whether to steal or not, but applies to the whole basis of our lifestyle. This problem is that, while obvious and attractive, this advice is counter-cultural. It is not at all what the world encourages.
Watch the video below for an example…
EFTPOS is a direct debit system in Autralia for making purchases in stores and paying electronically with funds from a bank account. The company that markets and maintains this system is making the point in this commercial that you can and should take control of your financial life by using your own money, and not credit, to make purchases. Indirectly, they are providing a rationale to give up stealing.
There is nothing wrong with committing to gainful employment so as to have money to spend on oneself for one’s own reasons. I agree with EFTPOS completely and practice this regularly (e.g. I always pay my credit card in full each month). The problem is that this advice falls short of what God expects of us.
Through Paul, God revealed that the best reason for not stealing and for taking up gainful employment is not your own benefit. The best reason for not stealing is so that you can fulfil the two greatest commandments:
Jesus replied, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
By giving up stealing and finding a job, you will earn money that you can spend on what you need. Even more than this, you can compassionately commit to making donations to worthy causes, like tithing to your church, that lift up those who are depressed by poverty or unemployment, and even, dare I suggest, those caught up in stealing.
This is God’s will for his people (Mic 6:8) and changing our thinking on such matters (Rom 12:2) will help us bring our behaviour and lifestyle into line with God’s expectations. And, ultimately, understanding this difference between the world’s values and Christian values will help you to enjoy the free, full, and forever life of Jesus. And this is a far better reward because, let’s face it, to be compassionate to others is a much better reason to not steal and a much better basis for our lifestyle!
Do you have, or have you had, a problem with stealing? Does Paul’s advice change your thinking in any way?
What other adjustments should you make right now to start living according to what God expects of you?