The apostle Paul told the Ephesian brethren to steal no more, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need” (Eph. 4:28). We note that the charge to stop stealing is only half of the instructions. He added that brethren work for their own benefit and for the benefit of those less fortunate. This is the method God uses to care for the poor. Each man is to work. This enables God’s man to give instead of take. So, becoming a Christian calls for a taker to become a giver.
The narrative of the Good Samaritan gives us examples of the two mindsets introduced by Paul. unfortunate selfish and brutal thieves beat a man and took from him that which belong to the cast-off. On the other hand, the Samaritan gave, going so far as to seeing to the victim’s needs on the following day. The idea of working and the idea of giving did not start with Christianity. It was ignored then as much as it is ignored now.
Reading the daily newspaper gives us a clear picture of the mindset that is hurting the nation. Big cities have so much crime that city politicians have changed the way they report it. Some refuse to report it. Stealing is no longer prosecutable if the amount stolen is less than $1,000. Since there is no longer a charge, there is no crime. Since there is no crime, the city leaders shout, “Our crime rate is falling.” Hopefully, they will not be able to fool the people forever. The big cities are showing us how not to address lawbreaking. Men cannot ignore bad conduct and expect it to simply go away.
God’ Classification of Stealing
Primary meaning of stealing includes the following. Judas was a thief because he took from others. “Now this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein” (John 12:6).
Purloing is when workers misappropriate money or material from their place of employment. Paul told Titus, “Exhort servants to be in subjection to their own masters, and to be well-pleasing to them in all things; not gainsaying; not purloining, but showing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things” (Titus 2:9-10). When a delivery driver plays volleyball while on the clock, he is stealing time. Employers have been known to rip off their workers. In the New Testament, James addresses the problem, and Moses in the Old Testament condemns it (Jas. 5:4; Lev. 19:13).
Moses addresses the issue of larceny. He even includes stealing a man’s grass. “If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall let his beast loose, and it feed in another man’s field … shall he make restitution” (Exo. 22:5). He addresses the finders keepers losers weepers motto.
“Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother. And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again. In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother’s, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself” (Deut. 22:1-3).
Taking that which belongs to another is hurtful to all victims, but some crimes are more egregious. In the early days of film, the villains were always taking advantage of widows. Amos shows itis an age-old issue.
Hear this, O ye that swallow up the needy, even to make the poor of the land to fail, Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit? (Amos 8:4-5).
After Hurricane Ian ravaged Florida recently, within days, four suspects were busted for looting. What is there in some men that cause them to take advantage of the misfortunate. You don’t have to be a widow to be abused by the greed of others. Ahab stole Naboth’s vineyard by deceit and murder (1 Kings 21:6).
Money or goods deceitfully taken from others is destructive to society. Though the Bible does not use the words “credit card” or “electronic banking” or “embezzle” or “pickpocket” or “handbag snatching,” Moses addressed the specifics with the wording “deceitfully gotten” (Lev. 6:4). Any active or passive lie to obtain another’s property or stuff is “deceitfully gotten.” A daughter charged thousands of dollars to her sick father’s credit cards, knowing he would die before repayment. John the Baptizer addressed extortion, calling for fruits of repentance (Luke 3:7-14).
Bribery distorts justice and steals a man’s freedom (Deut. 16:19). “Thou shalt not wrest justice: thou shalt not respect persons; neither shalt thou take a bribe; for a bribe doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.” The Bible gives us a number of examples: The sons of Eli (1 Sam. 8:3). The Philistines brided Delilah to betray Samson (Jud. 16:5). The Jewish leaders brided Judas to betray Jesus.
The principle behind the idea of stealing includes the following. David stole Uriah’s wife (2 Sam. 11:2-5). Another way to steal a man or woman is to enslave them (1Tim. 1:10). With the Law of Moses, restitution for stealing a man was the lost of one’s own freedom forever (Exo. 21:16).
God’s System of Justice
Speaking of restitution, God’s system of justice in the Old Testament is, to say the least, a much better code for redress. It serves as a good model even for today. Paying double for your crime is not a bad idea, “If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. If the theft be found in his hand alive, whether it be ox, or ass, or sheep, he shall pay double” (Exo. 22:1, 4). Do you remember when you were eight years old and your mother took you back to the store where you had stolen a package of gum? She made you pay double for your thievery. It cost you your allowance for two weeks. Such cost for bad behavior helped you to overcome temptation for a few years. Some costly lessons need to be learned repeatedly by youngsters.
In God’s view, even the needy who steals out of perceived necessity has to repay the victim. The wise man affirms that humans have a soft spot for those who steal because they are hungry, “Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy himself when he is hungry” (Prov. 6:30). However, we also note that even the poor man ought to pay for his crime. Solomon continues, “But if he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; He shall give all the substance of his house” (Prov. 6:31). Folks, God calls for him to give “all.” He has taken that which belongs to another. Crime needs to cost the criminal or else the lawbreaker will elevate his wrongdoing. A hungry thief ought to know better than to steal from another, possibly causing the victim to go without food himself. By God’s standard, not even unemployment is an excuse for stealing.
Other nations echo Solomon’s sentiment. An Indian proverb says, “A thief is a thief, whether he steals a diamond or a cucumber.” Here are two proverbs that give the same advice: An English proverb says, “He that will steal an egg will steal an ox.” A Georgian proverb says, “If you forgive the fox for stealing your chickens, he will take your sheep.” Solomon’s teaching is indeed sound and wise. The newspapers are full of examples of crooks who have committed even more grievous evildoing after receiving leniency. God’s way is to prevent the stealing when it is minor.
God has provided a process that allows the hungry thief to pay less than sevenfold. Moses charged, “If any one sin, and commit a trespass against Jehovah, and deal falsely with his neighbor in a matter of … robbery …. he shall even restore it in full, and shall add the fifth part more thereto” (Lev. 6:2-5). So, if a thief repents, the punishment is less severe. The penitent Zacchæus was more than willing to pay the full price for his wrongfully actions. “And Zacchæus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8, Emph. RC). He was a rich man. Rich or poor, in God’s system, each must pay for his crimes.
Thievery is not only costly to individuals but to a society as well. Citizens have to pay police officers, buy police equipment, pay judges, pay prosecutors, build courts, incarcerate thieves in jail or prison. When God’s system of justice is followed fully, society does not have to pay double for catching a thief. With God’s method of recompense, the injured party receives the help for their loss. Today, the unfortunate person loses when he is attacked and when he goes to court. When God’s arrangement of justice is followed, the thief pays for his wrongdoing, and he learns from it. It is interesting to note that with God’s method of recompense, the government does not receive the money from the lawbreaker. The victim does. God’s Old Testament system of restitution gives us a good model to follow.
Peter gives us an excellent conclusion to our lesson. He charges, “For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters: but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name” (1 Pet. 4:15-16).