************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 110-111 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 16, 2011
Q & A 110-111
"The Eighth Commandment"
I God Forbids Stealing
A We meet our neighbors as living people. So God says, "You shall not murder." Instead, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We meet our neighbors as male and female. So God says, "You shall not commit adultery." Instead, we are to live clean lives inside and outside the married state.
We meet our neighbors in the fields of commerce and labor. So God says, "You shall not steal." Instead, we are to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to our care.
B All cultures recognize to some degree the rights of property and the evils of stealing. For instance, Islamic countries strictly prohibit theft, traditionally punishing it by the loss of a hand. In medieval England manor lords hanged those killing a deer on their lands. In modern Japan taxi drivers so share the traditional respect for another's property that – at their own expense – they commonly return purses, wallets, and cameras left in their cabs. American Indians praised stealing from enemies as an act of bravery that enriched the tribe, but stealing within the tribe was unheard of. No society can exist without some regard for private property.
C When thieves were caught in earlier, less permissive times, they were scared. They cried, offered to make restitution, and repented. Today, it is a different story. If they are caught they are brazen and bold as brass about it. They know some lenient judge will probably let them off with just a slap on the wrist. I was talking to someone in the District Attorney's office. He told me they no longer prosecute cases of theft involving less than fifty thousand dollars. I am sure you remember the Lindsay Lohan case. She walked out of a jewelry store with an expensive necklace for which she did not pay. Even though the entire incident was recorded on video tape, the charge was reduced by a judge from a felony to a misdemeanor.
D As all parents know, very young children quickly grasp the idea of "mine." In fact, they grasp the idea of "mine" far more quickly than the idea of "yours." They say "mine" about a doll or a tractor or a truck or the biggest cookie. They instinctively know what is theirs. At the same time things that are left laying around can be taken and used. Taking them isn't stealing, in the mind of a child, because they are just there. They have no concept of "yours." By age five, normal children are supposed to understand the concept of "yours" too.
Unfortunately, lots of people never grow up in this area. They have a mighty large "mine" concept and a very poor "yours" concept. Because of their preoccupation with "mine" they have no problem stealing whatever they can. Because of their preoccupation with "mine" they have an entitlement attitude. Because of their preoccupation with "mine" they live selfish, self-centered lives.
E Scripture and the Catechism speaks to us about this. The Lord commands, "You shall not steal."
What does this commandment mean? The Catechism tells us the eighth commandment forbids "outright theft and robbery." Maybe you have heard about the "Geezer Bandit" – an elderly man who has robbed 13 banks in southern California since August 2009. Late night comics laugh about this, but the Geezer Bandit is breaking the eighth commandment. In New York State a man is accused of being paid to take the SAT test for high school students wanting to get into college. This is outright theft and robbery. I forget what riot was taking place but – on national TV – we saw people carrying TV sets and stereos out of an appliance store.
F The Catechism says the eighth commandment also forbids "cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes made to appear legitimate such as: inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume; fraudulent merchandising; counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God."
The Catechism may have been written 350 years ago but it certainly sounds modern in what it identifies as theft. The things listed by the Catechism are we mostly know as "white-collar" crime. It includes such things as price-fixing, shoddy workmanship, and misleading advertising. Sleeping at the job or punching the clock for an eight hour day when you work only six is also forbidden. Overcharging for goods and services even if the other person is willing to pay the inflated price is also wrong. Failing to pay your share to the church budget when you are able is also a form a theft – because you are stealing from those who need to pay your share. False advertisement is a real problem today. Recently a woman presented a program at Rotary about the late-night infomercials. She loves staying up and watching them and cannot resist buying many of the products: whether it be stain removers, gloves, goofy appliances, and so on. Her discovery: most of the products do not work as advertized.
G The Catechism tells us the eighth commandment also "forbids all greed." Greed is being dissatisfied with what God has given you. Greed is being like a child who wants the biggest piece of cake. Buying a lottery ticket, then, is wrong for behind all lottery tickets is the motive of greed. Faking injury and then suing someone in order to get rich is also forbidden. I have met more than one person who has used or tried to use a family tragedy as a pathway to riches. For instance, I have a doctor friend who no longer delivers babies because every parent expects a perfect child to be born and sues the doctor if things don't go right. People who keep all their money for themselves and spend it only on themselves are also being greedy. People who insist on always having whatever is bigger, better, or newer than what their neighbor has are also breaking the eighth commandment.
H Lastly, the eighth commandment also forbids "pointless squandering of [God's] gifts." Government waste of tax dollars is wrong. Wasting resources or food or time or money is wrong. Wasting your brains or your education is wrong.
I God forbids stealing in all its possible forms: outright theft, cheating and swindling, greed, and waste.
In our society we change our standards with the times and the circumstances. As I already mentioned, the District Attorney's office is hesitant to pursue cases involving less than fifty thousand dollars. People have learned to read the fine print or, at least, to ask lots of questions. Ruth and I were checking prices for a trip. The price seemed too good. Then we learned it did not include any taxes and other government fees which increased by half the amount you would have to pay. Isn't it sad that we expect this kind of thing to happen?
God's law is not that elastic. He condemns all theft. And, He expects us to be like Him – to tolerate no theft.
It used to be that the frontiers of the church were in the jungles of Africa, South America, and Asia. But now the frontiers of the church are in the business jungle. Here it is decided whom we serve – God or mammon, Jesus or money. Here the honest, God-fearing man and woman sticks out like a sore thumb.
II God Commands Sharing
A In the eighth commandment God not only forbids stealing in its many forms but, according to the Catechism, God also commands sharing.
Ruth and I have different nicknames for the churches we have served. We knew one church as the "loving church" and another church as the "uptight church." Everyone in our first church was a farmer or had a job related to farming so we knew it as the "farmer church." We know Trinity as the "generous church." In fact, Trinity URC is known across two denominations for her generosity. So much so that I have to thank our God for this spirit of generosity. The members of Trinity, I am proud to say, understand the concept of sharing.
However (and there usually is an "however"), we need to be careful that we recognize that all that we have comes from the Lord. Israel was warned about this. She was led to a land for which she did not work – a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where she lacked nothing. And Moses said to her, "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you" (Deut 8:10). Israel was specifically warned to never say, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me" (Deut 8:17). Instead, says Moses, "remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth" (Deut 8:18).
Don't we need to hear the same warning today? It is far too easy to have an attitude that goes something like this: "Yes, I do live better than many others but that's because I work harder." You have heard this before, haven't you? "I deserve more because I work harder and am better educated and contribute more to society."
We give God the credit for salvation – for we all know that salvation is by grace and not by works. But, we give ourselves the credit for everything else. God gives us Jesus but we got the house, the car, the dairy, the business, the clothing, and the TV on our own. We've earned these things, or so we think.
Under this view, we see work as a way to feather our own nest. We work in order to get ahead: to buy our own farm or dairy, to get that new couch, to purchase a new car, and so on.
No doubt we have worked hard. But our success includes so many factors over which we have no control – especially in today's world-wide economy. Nor can we take personal credit for our education, opportunities, and intelligence.
B The Catechism comes up with a terribly upsetting view of work and possessions – upsetting, that is, if you subscribe to the attitudes I just mentioned.
What is the purpose of work? Why do you put in long hours? Why do you invest time and energy and money into your business? Not to get ahead! Not to feather your own nest! The Catechism says God's will for our lives in the eighth commandment is 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."
The needy are all around us – in our city, county, and state. The needy are to be found nation-wide and world-wide. The needy are to be found in our own church. We have members and attenders who need help with medical expenses, housing, Christian School tuition, gas money, clothing for the kids, utilities, transportation. The Bible requires that we work faithfully so we can share with the poor in our church and world-wide. Let me remind you, again, of our upcoming World Hunger Sunday and our Peter Fish project.
C Now, you may say, "What about me?" "Who looks after me if I don't?" "Shouldn't I worry about myself and my family and my retirement and the estate I leave my children?" The Bible tells us two things. First, we don't have to worry about ourselves because our heavenly Father will look after us. You know what Jesus said about the birds of the air and the lilies of the valley; if God looks after them, then He certainly will look after us as well (Mt 6:25-34).
The second answer is that we are expected to work. God has built work – six days of work and one day of rest – into His creation. God does not want us to sit around being lazy. God expects us to do something useful. The best way to improve our well-being – as well as that of our neighbor – is by working. We are to work hard. We are to work to the best of our ability. We are to take pride in our work. And, if we are in a position to do this, we are to enable our needy neighbor to work.
D Our Scripture reading from Isaiah gives us a picture of what will happen if we take to heart the message of the eighth commandment: the hungry are fed, the homeless have shelter, the naked have clothes, and the glory of the Lord will shine.
III All Things Belong to God
A Behind, or at the heart, of the eighth commandment lies a very important principle:
(Ps 24:1) The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. (Cf 1 Cor 10:26)Everything belongs to God.
(Ps 50:9-10) I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, (10) for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.
(Hag 2:8) 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the LORD Almighty.
B If everything belongs to God, then nothing belongs to us. Rather, it is loaned to us. We aren't owners; rather, we are stewards. We are stewards who someday must render account of our management to God. At that time God will want to know what we have done with what He has entrusted to our care. If we have been selfish or greedy, if we have not shared with the needy, God will demand an answer.
C If everything belongs to God, then things should not own us. Rather, we should seek first the kingdom and its righteousness (Mt 6:33). Possessions and money and wealth and riches are not how we measure success. Rather, success is measured by whether we have lived and shared to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
Finally, keep in mind the setting of both the Ten Commandments and the Catechism. We are dealing with the life of gratitude. We are talking about those who have been born-again by the blood and Spirit of Christ. We are talking about those who are saved from their sin and misery.
Those who are saved by the blood of the Lamb do not steal. Instead, they do whatever they can for their neighbor's good.
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