By Rick Ezell
I came home one afternoon, putting the key into the front door, only to discover it was unlocked. Oh well, I thought, Cindy probably went to the store and forgot to lock the door.
When Cindy returned, she went into the guest room and quickly called for me. “Look,” she said, pointing to two large footprints impressed on the carpet in front of the dresser, “are those yours?”
“No,” I responded, “I haven’t been in this room.”
Something is up, I thought.
So we began checking things.
“The camera’s gone,” Cindy said, after going into the study.
“My gold watch and class ring are missing,” I said.
In all, about 15 small items were missing.
Later that evening, I went to the closet to put on a new ski coat I had recently purchased to run an errand. It, too, was gone.
We had been robbed.
Apparently, according to the police, someone had broken into our home, put on the jacket, and then proceded to stuff the pockets with small items. None of the things had great monetary value, though many had sentimental value. It angered us that someone would take our possessions.
I felt violated. How could someone do this to me? What did I do to deserve it? Why me?
The Stealing Offense
If you ever had anything stolen from you, you probably felt offended. Stealing is a violation of one of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). God gave the eighth commandment to provide stability in society, to teach respect for private property, and to promote honesty, hard work, and thrift. No society could function without adhering to this commandment.
On the surface, “Do not steal” seems simple. We know what stealing is. Stealing is trying to improve ourselves by taking something that does not belong to us. Plunging deeper into the subject we discover that stealing is far more serious than just taking what is not ours.
A Heart Matter
Stealing is embedded in the heart. I am a thief. So are you. We seem to possess an innate tendency to want things that do not belong to us. A baby sees another baby playing with a toy. The baby wants the toy and takes it away from the other child. No one taught the child to take something that doesn’t belong to him, but he does nevertheless.
Examples of this type of stealing abound. The newspaper reports: “Two cash registers, two scales, and $2,500 were reported stolen from a grocery store;” “’A local woman was arrested Sunday on charges of retail theft and the possession of hypodermic syringes,’ police said;” “Three teenagers have been charged with felony residential burglary.”
But stealing is more than petty theft. A guy who walks into a bank wearing a mask and carrying a gun is called a burglar, but the bank employee who steals from the bank is an embezzler. A person who steals from a government facility is called a thief, but when a congressman misuses money, that’s called misappropriation of funds. In fact, stealing has become so sophisticated that we have given it non-offensive names—white collar crime, fraud, insider trading, false advertising, plagiarism, and income tax evasion, to name a few. Regardless of the name, it is still stealing, a violation of the eighth commandment.
More than One Way
Seizing possessions is obviously stealing. But there’s more than one way to steal.
When a repairman makes unnecessary repairs, a doctor orders unnecessary tests, a salesman skips over the fine print, or when we sell a car but don’t reveal all its problems, we are stealing.
At work, when we pad the expense account, take home supplies or equipment or merchandise, come in late for meetings, overextend coffee breaks, leave early for home, or watch the clock instead of the job, we are thieves.
When employers fail to pay employees a fair wage for labor rendered, they are stealing.
When we damage another’s reputation by slandering someone’s character with malicious gossip, we are stealing. “Who steals my purse, steals trash,” wrote Shakespeare in Othello, “but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.” When we steal a person’s good name, speak evil of someone, or remain silent when a person’s character is being assaulted unjustly, we have stolen just as surely as if we had taken money from someone’s wallet.
We even steal from God when we fail to give him what is his. When we fail to return a portion of our income to God’s work, we are robbing God, stealing from the one whose hand gave it all in the first place.
What can we do to stop the thief that lies within? Here are six practical steps we can take to avoid stealing.
Realize that you are being watched by God. “For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths” (Proverbs 5:21, NIV, 1984). Once a guy walked into a bank, wrote out a note, and passed it to the teller. The note said, “This is a holdup. Give me all your cash.” The teller hardly looked up and said, “Straighten your tie, stupid, they’re taking your picture.” God’s surveillance camera takes continuous footage. Nothing escapes God’s view. I may fool the insurance company when I turn in a dishonest claim, or deceive the IRS when I fail to disclose all my income on the 1040 form, but I’m not fooling God. I am being watched. One day I will stand before him and give an account.
Recognize that you reap what you sow. The inviolable law of the universe says that whatever we give, we will get back. If I cheat people, I’m going to get cheated. If I steal from others, they will steal from me. On the other hand, if I am honest and live with integrity, God says that he will make sure I am blessed.
Resolve to stop stealing immediately. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer” (Ephesians 4:28). Put an end to your sin. Decide now that you will not steal anymore.
Remember to live with integrity. Too many thieves say, “I can’t make it in the marketplace if I can’t cheat and steal.” The corollary is that in business, integrity pays. Customers return to businesses they trust. A study revealed that the most profitable corporations in America abide by a moral code of ethics. When a business or a person has a reputation that says: “We don’t rip people off;” “We give value for value, dollar for dollar;” “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay,” people respect that, giving repeat business.
Return what you have stolen. In other words, seek restitution. Restitution is giving back to those from whom we have stolen. Restitution makes us right with our fellow man. The Scriptures say, “A thief must certainly make restitution” (Exodus 22:3). A man sent a check to the I.R.S. with a note attached that read, “I cannot sleep at night so I am sending a check for $100. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you the rest.” That is restitution, but only a partial restitution. God wants us to return fully what we have taken from others. If you have tools you have borrowed from others, return them. If you have taken money from someone, track him down to give it back. He may not remember or care, but restitution is more for you than for him.
Repent of the wrong you have done. To repent means to turn around. Literally, the word is defined as a change of mind that calls for a change of way. Not only should you stop, you must turn from stealing to live a righteous and holy life. If restitution makes us right with our fellow man, then repentance makes us right with God. The Bible says, “Your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord” (Acts 8:21, 22).
In the end, my wife and I replaced most of the items that were taken from the burglary of our home. But we were reminded of the violation that is felt when someone takes something from us that does not belong to him. We know now why God says, “Do not steal.”
Rick Ezell is a freelance writer in Greer, South Carolina.
You Might Be Stealing If . . .
1. You illegally download music or movies for free.
2. You take credit for someone else’s idea.
3. You intentionally waste time at work while you’re on the clock.
4. You reuse something someone else wrote or created without proper permission or credit (even if the text is available online).
5. You don’t go back to the store to pay for something you accidentally left on the bottom of your cart.
6. You use someone else’s e-mail address or information to sign up for a contest or a freebie.
7. You take sticky notes, pens, CDs, or other items from work without permission.
8. You don’t tell the cashier when he gives you too much change.
9. You use your neighbor’s wireless Internet connection without asking.
10. You demand a refund for a product you damaged (unless the store has a no-questions-asked refund policy).