“Thou shalt not steal.”
Welcome to the Foundational Tutorial lessons on the Ten Commandments! These lessons are intended for you to learn what you need to learn; they are not meant as a condemnation or judgement. As born-again followers of Jesus, we’re all still here on Earth because we’re all still learning about the Kingdom and how to live in it. As much as he was the Messiah, Jesus was also a teacher during his time here. His followers are likewise expected to teach others, after they themselves have learned what they need to learn, and practiced it.
We aren’t expected to be perfect (even Jesus wasn’t perfect), but we are expected to strive for perfection (“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect”) and to constantly work at improving ourselves.
The foundation of Jesus’ teachings was the Ten Commandments and everything that stemmed from the Commandments, so we clearly need to focus on them. They are the lifeline for staying on God’s Way, particularly in times of trouble and temptation. You’ll note that there are no asterisks (*) on any of the Commandments. That means there are no exceptions to these ten rules. You break them, you pay the price.
For an overview of the blessings that come from keeping the Commandments and the curses that come from not keeping them, see Deuteronomy 28.
LESSON THREE CONTENTS
- STEALING: A DEFINITION
- WHY DO PEOPLE STEAL?
- WHY DO PEOPLE NOT STEAL?
- STEALING AS A CULTURAL NORM
- THEFT AS A SPIRITUAL FELONY
- WHO REALLY BENEFITS WHEN WE STEAL?
- tl;dr: SUMMARY
1. STEALING: A DEFINITION
Satan is constantly presenting us with temptations. It’s up to us, as born-again believers, to see them as such in order to avoid falling for them. We need to pray for help with that, like Jesus did.
Stealing is a major and omnipresent temptation. It comes in many different forms, but the most common is theft of money and material goods. Theft of time, reputation, opportunity, and health are also examples of stealing, as is withholding something that is owed. Anything of value can potentially be stolen.
As with the other Commandments, there are numerous examples of theft in scripture. Stealing is in fact one of the three main tasks that Jesus tells us Satan has come to accomplish – to kill, steal, and destroy. But Satan doesn’t actually do the stealing (or killing or destroying); he gets us to do it, by tempting us. Judas stole from what was essentially the disciples’ joint bank account (the bag that he was entrusted to keep), and the Old Testament teaches us that withholding what is owed to God in the form of tithes, offerings and thanksgiving is also considered theft.
Of all the Ten Commandments, the one not to steal seems to be the most straight-forward. It’s also usually the one we learn first as children. Most of us, from a very young age, have been taught what stealing means (taking what doesn’t belong to you), and most of us have also had ingrained in us from a very young age that we shouldn’t do it. But even the simplicity of the Commandment doesn’t stop a lot of people from breaking it.
Why is that?
2. WHY DO PEOPLE STEAL?
There are as many reasons why people steal as there are people who do it. Even so, probably the main reason is that they want something they don’t or can’t have. Maybe they can’t afford it or maybe they’ve been told they can’t have it, but stealing presents itself as a way to get what they want. Some people also steal just for the thrill of it or to show themselves or others that they can get away with it. Or some people steal because they’ve been ordered or feel pressured to steal.
Another reason why people steal is that theft is quite easy to do. It doesn’t require a lot of planning or forethought and can be done within a few seconds of conceiving the deed (that is, within a few seconds of being tempted). And while the official consequences of theft can be quite deadly, depending on the legal system under which it’s done, most of the consequences are indirect and come via God’s justice. Unfortunately, people who don’t believe in God or don’t understand how God operates in the world won’t make the connection between their stealing escapades and their lousy life. They’ll believe they’ve gotten away with the theft and that their subsequent lousy life is completely unconnected from it.
There are also people who steal believing what they’ve stolen is owed to them. In these cases, either they believe that they’ve been deprived of what they need, or they’re simply balancing the scales by taking what they deem to be rightfully theirs.
Some people even steal because, according to them, they can’t help it. Kleptomania is allegedly an illness that manifests as a compulsion to steal. People diagnosed with this condition claim that it overcomes them seemingly out of the blue and they can’t stop themselves from stealing. The devil operates under a lot of different names these days.
3. WHY DO PEOPLE NOT STEAL?
On the other hand, there are those who have a heightened awareness of the wrongness of theft, and I hope I’m including us born-again believers in that category. However, you don’t have to be a Christian to know that stealing is wrong. Scripture tells us that God has written his Commandments on everyone’s hearts, so even if no-one teaches us not to steal (and even if the laws of the land permit us to steal), we can still know that stealing is wrong and choose not to do it.
When I was too young to remember, I once walked out of a grocery store carrying a bag of bread that I hadn’t paid for. My mother had given me the bread to hold while we were in the store, but she forgot about it when we were at the cash register. Only when we were walking home did she realize that I had “stolen” the bread. Again, I was too young to remember (not quite 3 at the time), but she marched me back into the store, mortified, and profusely apologized for her part in the theft. For my mother’s generation, being thought a thief was unthinkable.
Years later, when my parents were visiting me in Toronto, we ended up with someone else’s paid-for whole roasted chicken among our groceries, which we didn’t realize until we got back to my place. When we found the “hot” chicken among all the bags, my parents immediately wanted to return it to the grocery store, which was a half-hour’s drive away. It took a lot of fast-talking on my part to keep them from hopping into their rental car and making the return trip to the store. They are of an upbringing and a generation that still finds theft or the appearance of it abhorrent.
Western culture, though no longer Christian, is based on Christian precepts. These precepts form the basis of Western laws and norms that still, for the most part, dictate Western modes of behavior, but this is rapidly changing.
4. STEALING AS A CULTURAL NORM
Not all cultures and generations are as squeamish about theft as those of my parents. Stealing is relatively easily accomplished and, unlike my 2-year-old self, most people who steal do it on purpose.
Shoplifting is another term for stealing in a retail environment. Unfortunately, shoplifting has become so rampant over the past few generations that businesses now cost it into the price of their merchandise, knowing that deterrents such as security tags and surveillance cameras will only stop a small percentage of the theft. “Shrinkage” is the official term allotted to profit that disappears from the balance sheet through shoplifting. Due to shrinkage, we pay more for merchandise, because the business assumes that some of it will be stolen and they need to cover their losses.
Mass shoplifting events or “looting”, where a gang of shoplifters converges on a business, overwhelming the staff and security personnel, are becoming more and more frequent. The frequency of these events is making them more and more expected and, sadly, more and more accepted as an emerging norm. Looting is particularly prevalent (and expected/accepted) during natural disasters and protests.
Theft, however, should never be expected or accepted as a norm, no matter how widespread it is or how “justified” someone tries to make it. Like every other Commandment that decrees not to do something, the Commandment against stealing has fallen out of fashion in the hearts and minds of some cultures and sub-cultures, including in former Christian nations. So, for instance, social justice in many Western countries now conceives of theft as permissible for some people of a certain race or socioeconomic status, leaving us with new laws like theft under $1000 no longer being a felony. The response to these new laws has in some cases been a serious run on stores in places where the laws have taken effect. People are showing up with empty garbage bags and cleaning out whole aisles before casually walking out, dragging their overflowing loot bag behind them. The staff, during these attacks, no longer even bothers to call police, as the police in most cases won’t show up.
Some non-Western cultures consider successful stealing a sign of high intelligence, and some parents even teach their children to steal (pick-pocketing, bike theft, etc.) as a means of earning a living. Considering that God has written his Commandments on everyone’s hearts – without exception – the lessons in theft these children learn from their parents may be be winked at by God while the children are still young. When they reach the age and maturity level where they’re able to know right from wrong, however, God will hold them accountable for their thefts from that point onward, regardless of what they were taught by their parents or culture. Having been taught to steal by your parents or being encouraged by your culture to steal doesn’t exonerate you from unrepentant sin (in this case, theft) on Judgement Day.
5. THEFT AS A SPIRITUAL FELONY
Regardless, and no matter how it’s dressed up to appear to be “nothing” or a sign of intelligence or a career choice, theft is a spiritual felony that has spiritual if not legal consequences. Broken Commandments always require some form of payment in hardship and pain, and the payment is always extracted one way or another. And unless we have a deal with the devil to defer that payment until after death, we’ll feel the pain already in this life.
As God told me at the moment of my rebirth: “The pain you feel is the pain you’ve earned.”
Repayment of theft through suffering is guaranteed, regardless of whether you’ve been taught that stealing is right or wrong or somehow justified. As mentioned above, God has written his Commandments on everyone’s hearts, so if you break a Commandment – regardless of your background – you will suffer for it. Satan knows this, and in his position as ruler of the world, he works overtime to downplay and rebrand theft, in much the same way as he downplays and rebrands every other spiritual felony so that we’ll suffer for it. His aim is to get us to sin in the same way as he got Eve to sin – by overriding our first instinct not to do something we know is wrong. If he can get us past our initial squeamishness and implant in us some kind of justification for the sin, he knows he’s got us.
Ultimately, whether or not someone steals when given the opportunity is an excellent basis for measuring that person’s character and trustworthiness, given how easy it is to steal and how many opportunities present themselves on a daily basis.
6. WHO REALLY BENEFITS WHEN WE STEAL?
I was on a forum recently where some participants were bragging about how self-check-outs and “bring your own bag” policies have made shoplifting that much easier for them. Reading their accounts of how much they claim to have stolen, I couldn’t help but wonder whether making it easier to steal isn’t one of the underlying motives for doing away with cashiers and store-provided bags. These policies are being uniformly applied around the world all at the same time and seem to fly in the face of common business sense: any savings brought by replacing human cashiers with machines or by not having to provide bags to customers would certainly be offset by the surge in shoplifting. The only one who truly benefits from our being more and more tempted and falling for the temptations is Satan, and Satan, as Jesus reminds us, is in charge of this world and its policies.
7. tl;dr: SUMMARY
- From a young age, most of us learn that stealing is bad, but many of us still end up doing it.
- The reasons why people steal are as many as there are people who steal, but the main reason is that people want what they can’t otherwise have.
- Theft is mostly vilified in Western culture due to deep-rooted Christian norms, but these norms are changing to view some theft as justified or acceptable up to a certain amount.
- Some non-Western cultures view stealing as a sign of high intelligence and encourage it.
- Regardless of whether or not stealing is considered good or bad within a culture, God has written his Commandments on everyone’s hearts, so stealing is a spiritual felony and will result in some degree of suffering by the thief.
- Satan works overtime to arrange opportunities for theft to present itself and also tempts people into trying to justify stealing.
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.
The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.”