Sermon: Trusting Community

Exodus 20:1-17

YOU SHALL NOT STEAL
Beneath these terse words of the eighth commandment, is an ageless principle. God intends for his people to live in trusting, loving community with each other.

To steal is to take something which belongs to another and to claim it for yourself.

It is more than simply taking stuff – it is a violation of trust.

It creates insecurity in the community

And it raise walls between friends,

 

FIVE PRINCIPLES OF COMMUNITY

First, the right of ownership
If you and I are forbidden to take by stealth or violence the property of another, then God is in fact affirming the right of human beings to own possessions.

All through the Scriptures, the rights of people to own and manage property and possessions are affirmed. In fact, in the Old Testament, restitution is demanded of thieves who steal another’s property.
Exodus 22:3 requires a thief to pay back double what he took.

Why does God seek to protect the right of ownership. Things cannot make us happy, but we do need things – houses, money, food, clothing, and transportation – to live. In protecting ownership, God is protecting life and health.

The second principle is the dignity of work.
There are really only four scriptural ways to gain something; work for them, purchase them, inherit them, and receive them as gifts. Any thing else is sinful.

Virtually every experiment with socialism has failed because people stop working and/or lose any incentive to work well.

Why work when the community will force those who already have the necessities of life to give them to you?

Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4:28. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

Stealing is often, not always, but often a means of avoiding work. By its very nature it devalues labor and productivity. But it does more than that. It devalues people.

It assumes that other human beings exist as an opportunity for exploitation and gain. They exist to serve the needs or desires of the thief.
Again, the focus is not on possessions, but on people. Paul wanted his readers to work not so that they could amass for themselves limitless possessions, but so that they could help people in need.

A third principle of community is honesty.
Without honesty, community becomes a combat zone where people take advantage of every opportunity to exploit another’s misfortune for their own gain.

Margie and I were driving back from a holiday with my late Dad one time when we came across a truck rollover. A truck was full of liquor – there were up to 40 cars in front and behind the truck and people were carrying box loads of gin bottles from the truck to their cars. At the truck itself, the poor driver was hopelessly trying to stop the looting but people just pushed him out of the way.

It’s pretty easy for us to judge to people who pillage an overturned truck. But what about when the till operator short changes you? What happens when the waitress forgets to include something on your bill?

Insurance claims? Taxes. Expense reports.

Incorrect or falsified billing – charging for 6 hours when you only worked 5. What happens when you find a $10 note on the floor?

We’re tempted to blame the inefficiency of till operators or the gullibility of customers. Or we fall back on that tired old cliché, “Finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers.”

But the Bible calls us to a rigorous standard of honesty. Deuteronomy 22:1 says that if you find your brother’s ox you are to return it. And just in case someone tries to get fancy with the definition of “brother,” Exodus 23:4 says that if you find your enemies ox, return it!

Stories like the one about the pillaged liquor truck can be balanced by good stories. A man filled up with petrol, paid the attendant and was preparing to drive away when he realized he’d been given too much change. He went inside and reported the error to the owner of the petrol station. The owner was taken aback by the man’s honesty. He said that in twenty years that had happened only once before. He remembered that a man, somewhat older than this honest customer, had returned for the same reason. “In fact,” the petrol station owner said, “the man was driving a truck with the same logo as the one you have on your van.” There were only two trucks in the whole town with that logo. One owned by this honest customer, and the other by his father. Honesty runs in the family.

The fourth principle of community is the importance of giving.
In Malachi 3:8 – 10, God asked a question. “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ’How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me.”

Israel was stealing from God by failing to give. But pay careful attention to what the next verse says.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.”

God didn’t want the food for himself. He wanted money in the treasury so that those who needed financial help could find it. God has always wanted his people to give so that those in need could be cared for.

Stealing does more than reduce the victim’s ability to give. It reduces our will to give as well. When something is taken from us, we naturally become more possessive of what is left. The more possessive we become, the less generous we are.

The less generous we are, the poorer the church becomes.

It is rare that you find a victim of theft as eager to give as someone who has never known that fear. And you never find a thief who has a heart to give. The eighth commandment seeks to protect and affirm the value of generosity.

One last community principle is affirmed in this commandment; the inability of possessions to make us happy.
Someone once said that contentment is a virtue to be cultivated not by expanding wealth, but by diminishing desire.

When we keep a $10 note we find on the floor without trying to return it to its owner, when we pocket the incorrect change, when we cheat on our taxes, when we overcharge a client, when we lie about our age to get a discount, we are confessing something. We are confessing that we believe happiness comes from possessions. The more we possess the happier we are.

It’s a slow process so often we don’t notice it. But when we live that way, our community begins to break down. Eventually we begin to see people not as valued creatures made in the image of God, but as something to exploit. Possessions become more important to us than our relationships.

We see people who have more than we do and we envy them. Envy turns to jealousy and our jealousy has the potential to turn to violence. Life together becomes a dangerous, sometimes deadly game, where the one with the most is perceived to be the winner. Ultimately, though we all lose.

But losing touch with each other is not the greatest loss. When we violate the eighth commandment, whether by outright theft, or by other, more socially acceptable forms of dishonesty, we are also violating the first commandment to have no other gods before the one, true God.

Something has become more important to us that the most important Someone … God!

And like we said at the beginning of this series every command follows from the first one of putting God first.

When something is stolen from us it’s fairly easy to replace it.
But when God wanted to replace a stolen relationship, it cost him dearly.

Satan stole our relationship with God by deceiving Adam and Eve. And that’s what’s at stake here.

Not stuff but Souls.

The next time you or I are faced with an opportunity to practice community-building-honesty or community-destroying-dishonesty, we need to remember what price our God had to pay for us to have community in the first place.

The same price He paid for your soul. The price paid on the Cross.



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