************ Catechism Sermon on Lord's Day 42 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on August 26, 2018

Lord's Day 42
Exodus 22:1-15
"The Eighth Commandment"

Some of you might remember Judge Broadman, a controversial judge we had in Tulare County. He was removed as judge because of his innovative sentences. He made defendants quit smoking, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or see a psychiatrist as conditions of probation. He told a man who beat his ex-wife to leave town. He sentenced a man who assaulted someone to donate his car to a shelter for battered women. He ordered a thief to wear a T-shirt proclaiming he was on probation. And, his most controversial sentence: he ordered that a child abuser get a birth control device as a condition of probation.

You may agree or disagree with the actual sentences, but the judge's emphasis was not on rights but on responsibilities.

Did you realize that every commandment in the second table of the Law emphasizes our responsibility to protect our neighbor. I want to observe that this is the opposite of what we see in most of our culture today. Our modern obsession is with rights. But the Bible's emphasis falls on responsibilities.

For instance, when God tells us to honor father and mother, He is protecting the value of authority. The command against murder protects the value of human life. The command about adultery protects the value of marriage and family. And, the command against theft protects our neighbor's property.

Sound doctrine tells us that not only are we to love God; we are also to love our neighbor. We owe our neighbor righteousness and justice, even if he or she is an enemy, because he or she is made in God's image.

I mention, again, the phrase "sound doctrine." That is our theme this time as we are going through the Catechism. Sound doctrine because it is not based upon what man's itching ears want to hear. Sound doctrine because it is based upon the Bible and therefore is reliable, trustworthy, correct, and true.

Now, the sound doctrine in front of us today not only teaches us our sin and therefore our need for the Savior Jesus Christ; it also teaches us how to respond to His grace.

I The Right to Private Property
A "You shall not steal." Communists and socialists are going to hate what I say next. Underlying this command is a principle. Underlying this command is a presupposition. Underlying this command is that what belongs to my neighbor does not belong to me. And, what belongs to me does not belong to my neighbor. What am I saying? I am saying God's Law recognizes the right to private property.

One of the things parents need to teach their little ones is that not everything is "mine." We teach our toddlers they can't take away a toy someone else is playing with. We teach our little ones the principle of private property.

The right to private property is not a right granted to me by the state or by culture. Rather, it is a right granted to me by God.

As I said, communists and socialists hate this. They take the view that no one has the right to private property. They take the view that the government can take away from anyone and everyone. They take the view that what belongs to you also belongs to me and what belongs to me also belongs to you. So help yourself.

B I read from Exodus 22 this morning. Every verse presupposes the principle of private property. You don't have a right to your neighbor's property. In fact, you have a responsibility to guard and protect your neighbor's property.

Our Bible reading mentions outright theft of an ox or a sheep. The setting, of course, is Ancient Israel. Back then, most people depended on their livestock for their very survival. Cattle to them were what bank accounts, stocks, bonds, IRAs, and Social Security are to us. There were no insurance policies to protect against the loss from theft. Therefore, to steal this property was to threaten the life of the victim and his family. That's why God ordered restitution:
(Ex 22:1) If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.
In contrast to this, our modern judicial system rarely concerns itself with restitution and, when payment is made, it is made to lawyers and insurance companies rather than to victims. What we have today is an impersonal judicial system that makes no connection between the victim and the criminal. There is no admission that the criminal has injured someone. There is no admission that the wrong must be set right. The focus today is not on a relationship between neighbors but on punishing the criminal.

But, did you notice the limit God puts on the right to private property? If someone tries to take your property in broad daylight, when you can see and hear and have your full wits about you, then the life of the criminal is of higher value than the value of your property (Lev 22:3). Because even a criminal is in the image of God.

Exodus 22 reminds us that not all loss of property is due to outright theft. Sometimes it is due to negligence. Someone can start a fire that gets out of control and destroys a neighbor's property and livelihood. Or, someone forgets to close the gate or neglects to maintain his fences so his cattle get out and destroys a neighbor's crops (that's why there is a saying among country folk that good fences make for good neighbors). The one who started the fire or forgot to close the gate must make restitution.

II The Principle of Stewardship
A "You shall not steal." This command rests not only on the right to private property but also on the principle of God's ownership, God's sovereignty over all.
When we lived in another town, the Christian School society had a meeting to discuss the joining of two schools. Someone from one of the towns involved complained that they were losing their Christian school. A lot of those from that town murmured in approval and it looked like the merger was going to be defeated. But then a young man stood up. "You are forgetting something," he said. "It is not your school and it is not my school. It is God's school." He was a member of the church I served as pastor and I was so proud of him.
Our ownership is never ultimate. Ultimately, all things belong to God.

When you wrongfully take from your neighbor do you know what you are doing? You are taking away from what God has given to your neighbor. Therefore, you are stealing from God. And, you are saying you are not pleased or satisfied with what God has given you.

B God is the owner. What are we? We are stewards. It is our job to care for what God has entrusted to us.

We see this principle of stewardship at the very beginning of time already. God placed Adam in the Garden "to work it and take care of it" (Gen 2:15). Earlier, in Genesis 1, God put it this way:
(Gen 1:28) God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

Nowhere in any of this was Adam told that he was the owner of Paradise. But, remember this was before sin entered the world. It was only when sin entered the world that there was a need to protect rights and mark boundaries and assign ownership. Here we have the big failing of communists and socialists. They fail to recognize that ours is not a perfect world. And, any system of economics that does not recognize the sinfulness of mankind cannot possibly succeed.

III Keeping the Eighth Commandment
"You shall not steal." The sound doctrine of the Catechism tells us how to keep the eighth commandment. Let me repeat what we read earlier:
That I do whatever I can
for my neighbor's good,
that I treat others
as I would like them to treat me,
and that I work faithfully
so that I may share with those in need.

Do you hear what we are told to do? I am to look after my neighbor -- especially fellow believers (Gal 6:10). I am to follow the golden rule: treat others as I would like them to treat me (Mt 7:12). And I am to work, hard, faithfully not just to provide for my own needs and the needs of my family but also so I can share with others.

God has blessed us with so much. If you never share your blessings with those around you, if you never share your blessings with the causes of the church and the kingdom, you are NOT keeping the eighth commandment.

IV Breaking the Eighth Commandment
A "You shall not steal." None of us have ever broken into another person's house to steal what is theirs. And, yet, there are many modern forms of theft we can easily engage in.

Here is a news story from a recent issue of World Magazine entitled "A long siesta."
A Spanish civil servant played hooky for more than ten years. He would clock in at a government office, go home, and return at the end of the day to clock out. Despite never producing any work, he managed to collect his $58,000 salary for years. Finally last summer his colleagues lodged a complaint and administrators fired the man. Officials decided not to prosecute him, but a civil court in July banned him from taking any government job for nine years.
Any employee who fails to produce an honest day's work for his wage is breaking the eighth commandment. But the opposite is also true: an employer who overworks employees is also guilty of theft.

Non-payment of credit-card debt is a growing problem in our society. People live beyond their means. I learned this past week that the average U.S. household owes $16,061 in credit card debt. Many have no intention of ever paying it off. That is theft. However, credit-card companies that charge 18% or 20% or more are guilty of charging what the Catechism calls "excessive interest."

The Catechism talks about fraudulent merchandising. Another phrase we can use in its place is unjust sales. Charging more than a product is worth has always been considered theft in the Christian tradition. And yet, we seem to think that a just price is whatever the market will bear. It's considered good business -- even on the part of Christians -- to charge top dollar. Nevertheless, what may be legal is not necessarily just and right by biblical standards. The question that should be asked is not, "How much can I get for this item?" but "How much should I charge for this item?" How much is it really worth?

I have a friend who investigates welfare fraud. The stories he tells leaves no doubt about the total depravity of mankind. He has more cases than he can handle and, though they are guilty, most of them never go to jail or make restitution.

Let's talk about the biggest thief of all: the government. The government has mortgaged the future so that in 2017 the gross federal debt amounted to around $62,034 per American and around $1.1 million per actual taxpayer. Add state and city and school deficits to the mix and the total is frightening. Going into debt without planning to pay for that debt is theft.

B The Catechism tells us that in the eighth commandment God "forbids all greed." Greed is never good. It is never good for a government to overtax. It is never good for a corporation to overcharge. It is never good for an individual to always want more and more. Greed is not good -- in spite of what some on Wall Street or Main Street may say. God's will is contentment instead of greed:
(1 Tim 6:6-9) But godliness with contentment is great gain. (7) For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. (8) But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (9) People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

C The Catechism tells us that in the eighth commandment God forbids "pointless squandering of his gifts." One of the most priceless gifts God gives us is time. Time with our children. Time to grow in grace and faith. Instead, we waste our time watching mindless TV shows.

Throughout the years I have met people who are very intelligent and very talented. And, yet, they accomplish nothing in life. Some are this way because they are lazy. Some are this way because they have gotten into drugs or alcohol and fried their brains. They have squandered what God has given them.

I hope everyone here recycles: not just trash but also clothing and stuff that can be donated to a thrift store. Instead, many people just throw this out.

I was talking with someone this past week about their estate. Many people fail to properly plan out their estate so the government gets too much and charity gets nothing. What a waste.

"You shall not steal." When you look at the eighth commandment, I hope you realize we all need to repent and turn to Jesus.

"You shall not steal." Look at Jesus in the light of this command. He is the one person Who never took what did not belong to Him. He is the one person Who always paid all His debts. He is the one person Who never once squandered any of the Father's gifts. He is the one person Who always did whatever He could for His neighbor's good. And yet He hung next to a thief, bearing his shame and guilt before God as though He had committed the crime. And, He bore your shame and your guilt and my shame and my guilt as well.

The thief crucified next to our Lord may have experienced the wrath of Rome that dark Friday afternoon, but because of the crucifixion of the Son of Man just feet from him, he did not have to endure the wrath of heaven. Because of Jesus, you and I also do not have to endure the wrath of heaven.

I want to end by telling you that all thieves who trust in Christ can expect to hear the same words the thief on the cross heard: "Today you shall be with me in Paradise."
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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