Righteousness is defined in the Bible as obedience to the Law of God (Ps. 119:172). The eighth commandment deals with theft. The increase of property, goods, and wealth by illegal means is outside the boundaries of God’s Law. This kind of activity constitutes theft and is a sin. Politically speaking, the most widespread form of theft is collectivism-communism, Marxism, socialism. Monopoly capitalism should also be included. The efforts of the people to acquire wealth and to keep it are greatly hindered by these systems. They operate primarily for the benefit of the elite. Taxes appropriate the acquisitions of the people which are then distributed to others.
In the collectivist system taxing is the way wealth is appropriated, and in the capitalistic system high prices are the culprit. Central banks set the monetary policy. By excessive interest rates and by inflating and deflating the money supply, wealth is confiscated. Those who gain are the insiders who generally know the moves in advance and make the right decisions. The people are the ones who lose. During the 1930’s, citizens of Germany could go to sleep at night with enough assets to purchase a home, but in the morning find their worth to be hardly enough to purchase a sweater.
The eighth commandment states: “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15). Consider this: Most people generally gain their assets by means of labor or by gifts from others. Such things as extortion, robbery, gambling, swindling, and contests can be excluded from the normal means of acquiring wealth. All good and perfect gifts come from God (Jas. 1:17), and indeed the sleep of the laboring man is sweet (Eccl. 5:12).
There are many methods of theft. Some of the most familiar are armed robbery, burglary, and shoplifting. This kind of theft is, of course, clearly a violation of the eighth commandment. Why do men steal? The answer: Theft is one of the fundamental evils of human nature. Jesus said, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). Unrepentant thieves will be excluded from the Kingdom of God.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
In reality, property rights are protected by the eighth commandment. One’s possessions are included in those property rights. One who has the proper respect for the rights of others will not steal. Theft is an utter lack of concern for the best interests of others. Thieves are utterly selfish, not caring whom they hurt. They willingly take advantage of the labor of others by stealing what another has worked to attain. Many converted Christians have had to repent of this sin. Paul admonishes, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). What a man has acquired should come as a result of honest labor, not by taking the possessions of others by means of theft.
A form of theft not often realized is accomplished by means of manipulating the nation’s money supply. The money supply often determines the wage scale by increasing or reducing the demand for labor. Notice how God views this kind of theft. “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 3:5). There are a number of warnings in the Bible against those who take monetary advantage of others. When the monetary policy of the central bank confiscates the wealth of others, there will be much to answer for. Some bankers and politicians are in collusion in this process. Notice this warning, “Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them” (Isa. 1:23). Anyone familiar with finance in America is aware that a small minority of very wealthy people control the monetary policy. What does God say about these rich men?
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter (Jas. 5:1-5).
A corollary to the above is robbing the poor by means of inadequate wages. Some of the wealthiest magnates in this nation have built their wealth upon oppressing the poor by inadequate wages. This is done by refusing to pay a fair wage for labor provided. This is common in third world countries where laborers are forced to live near starvation. Because of compensatory wrong, millions are hardly able to eke out an existence. God condemns this practice! “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates” (Deut. 24:14). Some are so poor they should be paid daily.
At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee (Deut. 24:15).
Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work (Jer. 22:13).
Many wealthy in this world have been guilty of this very thing-building their houses by unrighteousness. They defraud others by taking advantage of the those who are unable to defend themselves.
On the other hand, there are two sides to this equation. A man who refuses to give an honest day’s work can also be guilty of theft. We often refer to this as gold-bricking. Being lazy on the job is just as bad as the deed of an employer who cheats by refusing to pay an adequate wage. Both sins are equally bad. “He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster” (Prov. 18:9). “The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour” (Prov. 21:25). Those who are lazy and refuse to give an honest day’s work soon gain a bad reputation. They sooner or later find themselves unemployable.
Cheating is another form of theft. White collar crime, poaching game, and cheating in the classroom all fall under this category. The Old Testament does not hesitate to address this sin. “Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another” (Lev. 19:11). Here we see falsehood categorized with theft.
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt (Lev. 19:35-36).
Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the Lord thy God (Deut. 25:13-16).
A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight (Prov. 11:1).
It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth” (Prov. 20:14).
The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth (Ps. 37:21).
These warnings make it plain how God views those who obtain the goods and possessions of others by means of subterfuge. God soundly condemns this practice. Love, which is outgoing concern for others, always attempts to be fair in all financial dealings. By being fair, yet not gullible, one can indeed fulfill the law of love in his or her life. “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
Let us consider one form of theft that is rampant in the business world-false advertising. People who advertise products of low quality, while palming them off as high quality, are guilty of theft. People are being cheated and paying more for a product than it is really worth. Various government agencies have been established in order to control this abuse. Many businesses and scams are set up for the sole purpose of bilking the public by means of false advertising and misrepresentation. Worthless warranties that lead people to trust in something that does not exist are common. There is no way to get remuneration when a product turns out to be faulty. Guarantees that promise refunds go unanswered. How does God view such frauds?
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Rev. 21:7-8).
Defrauding a man out of his wealth or possessions by any means is regarded the same as robbery. “Thou shalt not defraud thy neighbour, neither rob him: the wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night until the morning” (Lev. 19:13). Robbery by fraud can be just as evil as robbery by gun point.
Gambling, an obsession for many, is another form of theft. Why? Because gambling houses have the odds stacked in their favor. While some win, in the long run the house always comes out on top. What motivates most compulsive gamblers? The answer: winning. It is recognized, however, many gamblers are hooked because of the emotional high that is generated in taking risks. This driving ambition to win is a form of covetousness which violates the Bible principle of gaining wealth by honest means or by one’s labor. Gamblers do not employ labor in order to acquire possessions. They play the odds and hope to win by their skill or luck. In the long run they usually lose. Gambling has become a curse for many thousands of people who are encouraged to gamble by state sponsored lotteries, Power Ball, etc.
Organizations have been set up to help compulsive gamblers break the habit, as gambling has been responsible for destroying homes and marriages, and even livelihoods. While many who participate in lotteries or Power Ball and other similar forms of gambling generally do not invest large sums, such activity can set the stage for a worse habit later. While there are few winners in this method of gambling, there are thousands of losers. What does the Bible say about this insatiable desire for wealth?
If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much . . . . This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above (Job 31:24-25, 28).
The man who gains his livelihood by means that are approved by God can rest peaceably at night. Cheating is a big temptation for gamblers. Gambling houses have tight security measures to prevent this. Coveting by any means is contrary to God’s Law and will not pay off in the long run. A prophecy for the last days indicates how rampant coveting will become (2 Tim. 3:2). Gamblers are generally guilty of coveting other people’s assets. Gambling is so appealing to those who covet, it has become a multi-million dollar industry. The Bible says, “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely” (Jer. 6:13).
The time is coming when all forms of theft will be forgotten, a time when God says, “. . . They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it” (Micah 4:4). The property and wealth of people, whether large of small, will be secure. It will not be taken from them by any illegal means. There are warnings for those who covet and desire the riches of this world. “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Wealth, used properly, can be a benefit to all, but men are too greedy to really allow these benefits to occur. No wonder Jesus said, “. . . Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23). Those guilty of theft by whatever means will have to answer in the judgment!
To summarize, there are many ways by which people can be guilty of theft. Listed above are some of the most common, but there are any number of ways by which theft can occur. Christians should be aware of the significance of the eighth commandment and make every effort not to violate it.