Kevin DeYoung / Nov 27, 2016 / Exodus 20:15
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Sermon Summary / Transcript
This morning, we come to the eighth commandment. The Lord says,
You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15
If we’re honest, we probably feel like this commandment is finally somewhat safe. We’ve been surprised before, but we rather anticipated that “Honor your father and mother” might bring some difficulties. “Love the Lord your God, and have no other gods before him” is rather foundational. Even when we talked about adultery and murder, we already knew what Jesus said about getting to the heart of the matter. We’re bound to have anger and lust, so that’s going to trip us up. But Jesus never said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not steal,’ but I say to you…” So we’re thinking, “Yes! Finally, we get some breathing room. ‘You shall not steal’ is a good word for thieves and robbers, though.”
In a survey taken by the Barna group several years ago, 86% of adults claimed that they completely satisfied God’s requirement of abstinence from stealing. By the way, if Barna ever calls you for a survey, don’t take it. Somehow, somewhere, it will end up in a pastor’s sermon. But this commandment seems pretty straightforward: don’t take other people’s stuff. Got it? Then we can move on and finish church real early—right? No, there’s much more to think about.
The outline is going to be simple. I’m going to use questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism dates to 1563, and has been one of the chief catechisms for Reformed churches throughout the world. Questions 110 and 111 give a good summary of where I’m going in this sermon: “What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?” and “But what does God require of thee in this commandment?”, respectively.
“What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?”
We’ll spend most of our time on Question 110:
Q. 110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?
A. He forbids not only outright theft and robbery, punishable by law. But in God’s sight theft also includes 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. In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts. The Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 110
Let’s walk through that. The commandment forbids outright theft and robbery—taking what doesn’t belong to you. We see this a number of times in the Bible: Rachel stole her father’s household gods; Achan stole some devoted things after the fall of Jericho, leading to the people’s defeat at Ai; and Ahab and Jezebel stole Naboth’s vineyard. We understand that taking things which don’t belong to us is wrong—whether through breaking and entering, robbery, shoplifting, or larceny (the unlawful taking of the personal property of a person or another business). That’s what this commandment forbids.
The eighth commandment also prohibits the unlawful taking of people. While the Bible doesn’t do as much to outlaw every kind of slavery as we might want to see from our vantage point, slavery in the Bible was very different from the slavery that existed in the New World. The chattel slavery that existed in America was actually outlawed by the eighth commandment:
Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death. Exodus 21:16
You may remember last week, when we turned to 1 Timothy 1. In it, Paul starts sequentially listing the different expressions of the Ten Commandments. After he goes through some prohibitions by the seventh commandment—sexual immorality and men who practice homosexuality—he calls out “enslavers”. He applied the eighth commandment to those who take persons. The whole slavery system which existed in the New World worked by forcibly taking people from their homeland (although they sometimes were already taken by people in that homeland, and then sold into slavery) and bringing them. It was a violation of the eighth commandment.
Gisbertus Voetius, a leading Dutch theologian of the 17th century, listed four examples of stealing people:
- Stealing children to enroll them in a monastery. That’s less of a concern today, but perhaps it was a big deal then.
- Stealing children to use them as beggars. Sometimes, those children would even be mutilated or disfigured so that they would elicit more pity.
- Stealing young girls, sometimes to marry them. This sounds sadly like the global sex trade which flourishes in our day.
- Slavery. He said that the eighth commandment forbade the type of slavery that occurred in the East and the West Indies in the years following these denunciations.
Remember, Israel had been freed from slavery. God wanted them to understand what it was to be a free people, so they were not to enslave each other again. Yes, foreign people were sometimes taken as spoils of war, and Israelites could put themselves into indentured servitude, but capturing people for slavery was always considered wrong—at least, it should have been, if they truly understood God’s commandments.
So the eighth commandment forbids robbery of personal property and of persons. That much should be obvious. But the catechism goes on to say, however, that “theft also includes cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes made to look legitimate…” The catechism goes on to list a number of these schemes.
First, inaccurate measurements. The Bible has a lot to say about this issue. Put yourself in the mindset of how business was transacted in the ancient world. This was one of the chief ways of perpetuating injustice. They had cheating scales, false measures, or false weights. It was a way of getting more out of the transaction than they deserved.
In reading through some commentaries this week, I was reminded of a Norman Rockwell painting. He painted these vintage Americana pictures in the early part of the 20th century. He has a famous painting of a nicely dressed woman and a professional-looking butcher looking across a counter at each other, both smiling as if they’re getting a very good deal. Some sort of animal (maybe a chicken) is on the balance. And if you look very carefully, the butcher is putting his thumb down on the scale, and she is putting her finger on the bottom of the scale. Perhaps that is a good picture of Americana (at times). It would be considered a violation of the eighth commandment.
In our day, where most business transactions are not conducted with literal weights and balances, we still have many ways to achieve the same end: accounting scandals to deceive stockholders, embezzlement (stealing money from work or church coffers), swindling the poor (perhaps because they don’t know the rights that they have), or taking advantage of the poor because you know that they don’t have access to courts or won’t know all the things that are required of them.
Luther said that this commandment is violated by
…taking advantage of our neighbor in any sort of dealing that results in loss to him […] a person steals not only when he robs a man’s safe or his pocket, but also when he takes advantage of his neighbor at the market, in a grocery shop, butcher stall, wine-and-beer cellar, work-shop, and, in short, wherever business is transacted and money is exchanged for goods or labor.
The catechism then talks about fraudulent merchandise—selling defective goods or services, or enticing people to buy something that you know is not good for them. This can be very difficult to be discerning about in our free-wheeling, sprawling economy. How do we treat advertising? Some of you may work in advertising or study advertising. It’s certainly not wrong to market something—to want word to get out about your product or services, and to promote them in an attractive way. But if you’re in advertising or marketing, you need to ask yourself, “Am I creating a desire for something unnecessary or unhelpful?” It comes down to treating people as we would want to be treated.
Perhaps a drug manufacturer wants to pull out all the stops to show off a new pill that relieves heartburn or lowers cholesterol. They want to make money. Almost everyone does. So they’re going to put ads for that drug on during Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy, or at the end of the nightly news. They’ll give it some fancy name that means nothing. They’ll show all of these people getting better. They want to connect the pill to the need.
But what if the manufacturer develops a crazy diet pill, and to get you to take it, they first need to make you feel unattractive and worthless? They need to strip away your dignity so that you feel as if you couldn’t possibly live a meaningful life without this. It’s a fine line, isn’t it? Fraudulent merchandising.
Then the catechism talks about counterfeit money. This includes check fraud—intentionally bouncing checks here and there, knowing that they will catch up to you, but feeling like you’ll be able to take care of them by then. It includes the empty promises that exist in casinos, wherever they exist. They don’t produce new goods and services, but exchange money from one to another without creating a new product of value—except, perhaps, the experience. And that whole experience is predicated upon certain people losing money—lots and lots of money.
Then the catechism talks of “excessive interest”. Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians were very hesitant to charge interest at all.
If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. Exodus 22:25
What does that mean for the people here who work in financial services? Does it mean that all kinds of interest, in every occasion, are considered wrong? I think that the catechism gets it right when it uses the phrase “excessive interest”. In the New Testament, Jesus told the parable of the talents, and encouraged putting money in the bank, where you can gain interest. It seems as if Jesus was not flat-out opposed to everything related to banking, finances, or interest.
Exodus 22 was a prohibition especially against interest on those who had no other options. Hear what it says again: “If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor…” The sort of interest God was talking about in Exodus was loans of destitution—for people who had fallen upon hard times. They didn’t have insurance or governmental social safety nets to buoy them up. What could they do when their crops were wiped out, or when they have nothing to eat because of famine, or when a storm came through and blew over their homes or tents? This was where unscrupulous people would come in and say, “I have money for you. I can get you back up on your feet again. But it’s going to cost you something.” It’s that kind of attitude that God condemns, saying, “No, you ought to help your neighbor.”
There’s a difference when we talk about interest on capital investments. Calvin argued that the situation is also different when you loan to those who aren’t destitute, but are just looking to start a business or buy property.
But even if interest is appropriate in a free market system, it must not be predatory. Did you know that Calvin insisted that he set the interest rate in Geneva? He believed it was a moral and theological issue. Try that as a political policy! The pastors set the interest rates. I’m actually very glad that I don’t have to make that decision, because I’m not quite sure how it all works.
Anyway, excessive interest is when you see people who have come upon hard times, and (instead of thinking, “I have extra that I could loan to them without interest so that they can get on their feet—or I may just give it to them.”) you think, “Well, here’s an opportunity for me to get rich from their misfortune.” That’s what the eighth commandment forbids.
Finally, the catechism says, “…or any other means forbidden by God.” This covers the landscape, doesn’t it? It covers cheating the state. You might wonder, “Well, that’s the big deal about cheating the government?” They have the right as well to not be the object of robbery or theft. This theft may occur through frivolous lawsuits, which cost taxpayers money; through refusing to pay or cheating on your taxes; or perhaps through defaulting on a government loan—because it’s just the government, after all!
What about cheating employees of their wages? The Old and New Testaments both speak often against this practice.
Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. James 5:4
This was one of the chief ways of perpetuating injustice back then. Landowners would go out and hire day laborers to work in their fields, or people to come work with the harvest for a season. They would do the work, but then the owner would say, “Eh, I don’t think that was up to snuff. You missed a spot, and I wasn’t really happy about it. I saw you taking a break.” Then they wouldn’t pay them, through fraud and deceit.
The eighth commandment also forbid expanding territory unrighteously, through war or deceit, as when Ahab and Jezebel stole Naboth’s vineyard from him. Stealing by “political nobility” (or “nationalizing”) was one of the things that the reformers often spoke against. Bullinger (a second generation reformer) said,
Those who steal private property spend lives in prison; thieves who steal public property walk about arrayed in gold and purple.
Yea, we might well let the lesser individual thieves alone if we could arrest the great, powerful arch-thieves with whom princes and rulers associate. They daily pillage not only a city or two, but all Germany. Martin Luther – The Large Catechism
They were looking out and saying, “Look, petty thieves end up in prison. But when the rulers or the king want something, they just go and take it.”
What about insurance fraud? Our first home in Orange City, Iowa was a little, teeny place. If we had it now, I think we would be even crazier than we are! We could barely fit two or three of us in there at the time. I didn’t know it then, but it always had a hard time selling. It was the Lord’s mercy that when we came here two years later, the one person who ever went through our house ended up deciding to buy it. I’m very grateful for that.
But when we bought that little house, it had all sorts of damage on the roof from a hail storm that had come through. So we said, “Well, if we’re going to buy this house, someone’s got to fix the shingles.” But the people who owned the house had already reported it to their insurance and gotten all of the money, but had decided to just take the money and not do anything to fix the roof. We were stuck. We couldn’t make an insurance claim. They had already spent the money, and didn’t have what it took. Thankfully, we had a generous church with several people who, unlike me, know how to fix things. They got a party of people together, went up on the roof, and replaced all of the shingles for us. But that sort of thing happens much more often than we might think.
What about plagiarism (stealing from someone else’s paper or sermon)? How about online piracy (stealing music, movies, or software)? Did you know that the most pirated movie (when it came out around ten years ago) was “The Passion of the Christ”. Something’s not right there.
And kids, lest you feel like you’re left out, how about taking toys that don’t belong to you? Even you have something to learn from the eighth commandment. I know you’re waiting for the tenth commandment—“You shall not covet”—so that your brother or sister will share all of their toys with you, but right now, we’re just saying that it’s not yours. You don’t have the right to take it just because you want it.
Then the catechism says that God “forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.” Oh, great. Here we go. We’re all going to get it now. We may think, “I don’t take things. I don’t pocket things when I go to the store. I don’t break and enter. All the modern ways and business transactions are a bit interesting, but I don’t do all of that.” But what if you think about greed? I would define greed as “stealing with the eyes of your heart.” 1 Corinthians 6:10 says that the greedy will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Sometimes people are critical of conservative churches. They say, “Look, you conservative churches talk about sex and immorality all the time, and you say, ‘Well, those kinds of people are not going to inherit the kingdom of God!’ What about what it says right there in 1 Corinthians 6—about the greedy?” And I say, “Yes, it does!” We’re not backing off of one sin so that we can hammer others. The Bible uses very strong language about those whose lives are marked by the love of money.
I have one son who is a terrific saver. He never parts with his money. I have another son who is always looking for new things to buy. He came up with some good logic this week. He told to his brother, “I think that you have a problem with the love of money. You don’t see me ever having any money!” That’s not exactly what’s meant here. You can be full of greed because you spend money all the time, or because you save it all the time.
The Bible warns us against the type of attitude that thinks that life consists of one’s possessions. Remember when Jesus met a man (Luke 12) who was squabbling about his inheritance, and he says, “Oh master, would you tell my brother to give me my inheritance?” Here he has a chance to meet the Messiah, and what is it that he wants him to do? He wants him to settle his family squabbles and make sure he gets his money. Jesus says in response:
And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ Luke 12:15
Greed is wrong and foolish. It hurts others.
Back in 2008, at the beginning of the Great Recession, during the burst of the housing bubble, I read several books that tried to explain what went wrong with our economy. I remember that one book in particular listed all sorts of candidates for blame. It talked about Alan Greenspan, the Fed, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Fannie Mae, and Wall Street investment bankers and rating agencies. Some of the reasons why the economy went south were byproducts of policies that people didn’t realize would cause that. But many times, they were effects which people should have foreseen.
Then the book looked at the human element—not just in policies that may or may not have contributed to the Great Recession, but in the greedy decisions that many people made. There were predatory lenders, who wrote mortgages because they could and collected fees from people who didn’t really need to refinance. They sold mortgages to a hungry market. Some even started selling unhelpful products that put people into loans that they could pay in the short term, but not in the long term. That may well have been a product of greed.
There were also predatory appraisers. Lenders need people to appraise the homes that they are selling with a high value. Appraisers need the work that the lenders bring their way. The two groups were happy to help each other out in ways that sometimes hurt the consumer. Houses would be appraised far too high, and they could justify it as long as prices kept going up. People tried to flip houses quickly. Meanwhile, builders were building at a record rate, thinking they could sell their houses at inflated prices. Eventually, everything caught up with the bubble, and it burst.
But it wasn’t just bad people somewhere in corporate America. The recession was also the result of predatory borrowers—ordinary people. Many borrowers lied on their loan application. They lied about their income, their assets, their employment, their credit history, and whether they intended to live in the house that they were purchasing. One economist observed that as many as 70 percent of mortgages which defaulted in the first year turned out to have false information on the original loan application.
Greed has consequences, and no one is immune from them. It’s not just Wall Street. It’s not just people in some nameless, faceless business. All of us face that temptation. One of the reasons for the great downturn in the economy was greed, manifesting itself at every level of the process—not a justified desire to have profits, which isn’t sinful in itself, but a greed that looked to profitability above people and principles.
The eighth commandment also forbids pointless squandering of God’s gifts: squandering your employer’s time, slacking off, fudging expense reports, taking out of the warehouse, taking money, falsifying sign-in sheets, giving merchandise away, or taking from the cash register.
My very first job was third shift bottle returns at Meijer. My mom kept telling me, “You’ve got to get a job.” I was a high school senior. So, from spite, I said “I’m going to get a job!”, went into Meijer, and said “I’ll take whatever you have!” They said, “We’ve got third-shift bottle return.” This was before they had all of the machines where you just put in the cans and get a little receipt. This was in the olden days, when we walked to school uphill both ways in the snow. People just brought you a bag.
I worked there from 10 PM to 7 AM. The people coming in with bags of beer bottles at 3 AM are…well, let’s just say that they would often bring black bags so that you couldn’t see what was in them. They’d say, “Umm…85 bottles,” you’d print out their receipt, and then they were gone. Then you’d open the bag up, and there were rocks and bricks inside. You saw all sorts of unsavory characters.
But it wasn’t just them. It was so disorganized. There were so few checks and balances for what was going on. It was the easiest thing in the world for the people who worked back there to just print themselves a nice bottle slip return at the end of their shift, wait, and get 30-60 dollars. Nobody ever saw. It wasn’t actually taking money from a cash register. It was just bottles and cans that were coming in. These sorts of things are done all over the place.
Robbing your employer. Waste. Squandering money. Sometimes, even Christians face these. It’s one thing to have to rely on the laws of the land which provide for bankruptcy. It’s another thing to think, “Well, we can just default on this”; to spend money frivolously because you figure, “The corporation, the state, or the university is footing the bill. It doesn’t really matter”; or to not work hard, because you expect others will take care of you.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Ephesians 4:28
…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10
The eighth commandment forbids the sort of attitude that says, “Somebody else will take care of this and provide.” Surely we can be thankful for all the different avenues of help that come from individuals, charities, and organizations. Certainly there are many social and governmental programs that help people fill in the cracks. But that’s not an excuse. In fact, the Bible warns against thinking, “Well, there will always be another check. The government has got trillions of dollars. The church has got thousands of dollars. What does it matter?” Well, it’s robbery—taking what doesn’t belong to you when there is an opportunity to work and not waste. That’s what’s forbidden in the eighth commandment.
“What does God require of you in this commandment?”
Here’s the second question:
Q. 111: What does God require of you in this commandment?
A: 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 Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 111
Hopefully, you’ve seen throughout this series that the way to understand these commandments are not just as prohibitions against doing bad things, but by implication (and often by explicit precedence later in the Bible) as positive exhortations to do good. The eighth commandment is not simply about refraining from stealing. You may think, “All I’ve got to do is just not take stuff. I’ll try to work on my heart, so that I’m not so greedy. Then I’m good. I’m not a net negative.” But the eighth commandment requires more than that. It means thinking of others as we would want to be thought of—thinking, “I want laws, virtues, and practices that protect and promote my neighbor’s wellbeing. I want to work hard, so that I may be able to help my neighbor when he is not doing well.” The commandment enjoins us not only to refrain from taking things, but to have a spirit of generosity, so that we love to give things and help those who are in need.
The eighth commandment assumes the right to and goodness of private property. That’s not just a modern idea. It’s shot through this whole sermon and through everywhere where the Bible talks about this. The Torah operates under the assumption that God cares a lot about personal possessions. Why would you make one of your Ten Commandments about not stealing if there isn’t something sacred about private property and personal possessions? Exodus 22 has a whole list of commands that have to do with boundary markers—setting apart your property.
Even in Acts, the picture of the early church is one where people freely gave, shared, and provided for each other, but did so by selling their possessions. They were not some sort of commune or communist society, where people just put all their possessions in a pot and nobody owns anything. Instead, it was was a communal instinct. There’s a big difference. They still owned things, but a spirit of generosity prompted them to share with any who were in need. They sold off their possessions so that they might help their brothers and sisters. The management of possessions was an individual matter, even as the concern was for the community first.
So possessions are not bad. We see in the Old Testament that national prosperity was chief among Israel’s covenant blessings. Job gave to the poor, and (at the same time) did not take offense when his children enjoyed feasts. Jesus encouraged his disciples to give up land, family, and possessions, because they would get even more in the age to come. He wasn’t above motivating with the good of possessions and prosperity.
Certainly, we should not take what does not belong to us. But by implication, it’s important that we’re allowed to keep and enjoy what does belong to us, that we might freely share it with others. You heard it in the verse from Ephesians. You heard it again in the catechism. Think about it. Some of you love your job, but some of you feel like, “This is a dead end. What am I doing here? This feels soul-shriveling.” Well, there’s a whole theology of work which we could go into, but one of the reasons that you are to work hard is so that you might have something to share with others when they’re in need. That’s not the only reason, nor is it the only thing that makes your work valuable. Don’t mishear me. But you can support the Lord’s work and help those who are in need.
We’re coming to December. I don’t think I need to remind you that the last month of the year is make or break for many organizations. By God’s grace, this has been a terrific year in our church for very steady, sacrificial, consistent giving, so I’m not turning the sermon into a plea for our huge budget deficit and everything that you need to do. What I’m saying is that you have these last months to think about what you might do to share with those who are in need; to support some kingdom cause, like a church or church plant; to give to the deaconate fund, which distributes to those in need in our congregation; or to give to those outside of the walls of the church, like mission agencies, mission organizations, social services in our own community, or crisis pregnancy centers. What might you be able to do? You’ve worked hard this year, and you have extra to be able to help those who are in need. Our tax system even helps to encourage it, and we can be thankful for that. You get a tax break!
I love this quote from R. Kent Hughes:
Every time I give, I declare that money does not control me. Perpetual generosity is a perpetual de-deification of money.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. But the reverse is also true: where your treasure goes, your heart tends to follow. If you put all of your treasure into your stuff—your toys, your man cave, your exercise room, your car, or your house—then your heart is going to go there. If you’re having a hard time getting your heart in the right place, then send your money ahead of it. Your heart will follow. When you start giving to these other organizations, you start finding that your heart is interested in what is happening.
You know what? You can even give to people without getting a tax receipt. It’s somewhere in the Bible that that’s still okay. You can just know somebody among your friends or family, or in your neighborhood, and give them cash! Remember cash? We used to carry it around. They actually still have it at banks. You can get it, give it to somebody, and say, “I want you to go out and enjoy something. I know you’ve been saving for it.” You have permission to do that, whether or not it gets channeled through some organization who gives you a receipt that lets you write it off.
Some of us steal by robbing God. Malachi warns against withholding the tithe. He considers that to be robbery from God, because God is ultimately the one who has everything. Whatever we have is on loan from him. The eighth commandment is ultimately an injunction for all of us to be good stewards. We are caretakers, and we want to use our gifts wisely (as Jesus tells in Matthew 25). We want to use our possessions to get people into heavenly places (the parable of the dishonest manager in Luke 16), so that we store up treasures in heaven.
Ever notice that Jesus is sometimes less “spiritual” than we might think? That doesn’t sound right, but here’s what I mean: we might think that Jesus would tell us, “All of you want possessions? Shame on you. All you want security and safety? Shame on you. Why don’t you desire something more important?” He doesn’t do that, though. Instead, he taps into the desires that all of us have as human beings. We want to make sure that we have something that will last. We want to make sure that we have enough for the future. Jesus says, “Okay, I get that. Let me tell you how to really be happy: store up treasures in heaven!” Jesus is never against the human impulse for treasure. He’s against the fool who thinks that earthly treasure really satisfies or lasts.
The old joke is that you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul. You can’t take it with you. Do you want to be safe and secure? Do you want to have enough? Do you want to have mansions and palaces? Do you want to rule? Do you want to have treasure that never rusts, stock that never depreciates, and a retirement account that never loses value? Good! Let me tell you how you can have it: store up treasure in heaven. There’s no rust or moths there. There are no downturns in the economy there. Think about what really matters. The desire for security is not bad. The desire for possessions is not bad. The desire for joy is not bad. But Jesus says, “Don’t be a fool about it.”
…he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you… 1 Peter 1:3a-4
Wouldn’t it be exciting if you went to a financial seminar, and the guru said, “I can promise you a retirement account that will never perish, never be defiled, never fade, and never depreciate. Are you interested?” “Yes!” That’s what the Bible says: “I’ve got that for you. It’s kept in heaven for all who put their faith in Christ and walk with him in faith and repentance.” We want to hold onto possessions and to have something that nobody can take away, so Jesus says, “Store up treasure in heaven. You get the Holy Spirit as your down payment of this unimaginably rich inheritance to come.”
When you know what you have, it becomes much easier to give away what isn’t really yours. You’re just a steward of it. God says, “I’ve given you so much. You live in wealth that even the richest kings of ages past could not fathom. You have this magic seat that you sit on and flush, and all the nasty stuff goes away. Who has things like that? Kings, queens, and the richest people in the world didn’t have it. If you want to listen to music, you don’t have to pay for minstrels to come in and have court musicians. You press a button, and you can listen to 10,000 songs on shuffle. All that you have,” God says, “enjoy it. They’re good gifts from me! They’re not ultimately yours. There’s no need to be getting more by theft. You can work hard, that you might give to those who have a little bit less (or a lot less).”
Let me a end with a piece of good news, lest you feel that the weight of the world is now on your shoulders. If you came in thinking that the eighth commandment was going to be good—and now I talked about money, generosity, greed, and all of these business things—and you’re looking at what you do, unsure that it’s all on the up and up, and wondering, “What good news is there for me?”—remember that Jesus breathed his last breath, died on the cross, and was crucified between two thieves—two absolute violators of the eighth commandment. They were robbers—bandits—rabble-
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we thank you for all of your good and perfect gifts. We have so many of them. We pray that we might be generous. Can you very tangibly give us in the next few weeks a few opportunities—whether inside or outside the church—to practice the de-deification of money? Convict us where we have been greedy or guilty of outright theft, robbery, waste, or squandering. Lead us to the cross, where we find not only forgiveness, but a better way to follow you, take up our cross, know the joy, and receive the inheritance that never fades. We thank you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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