AGCC Sun. a.m. 5/16/99
TEXT: Ex. 20:15; Eph. 4:28; Mal. 3:8-14
INTRO: When we think of "stealing" we usually picture a hardened criminal like a bank robber or the "cat burglar" or perhaps someone who is a kleptomaniac. Certainly this command speaks to those type of people, but there is another realm to stealing besides the hardened criminal, it is the many ways we find each day in our common lives to steal; such things as robbing someone of compassion, taking away someone's good name with gossip, deciding those pencils the company bought belong at your house instead of the office, and even the failure to give to God His tithes and offerings!
So often people take what is not theirs because they can't or won't wait for it, or believe they shouldn't have to wait for it. We all know that we can't always have what we want when we want it.
ILLUS:The person who looks for quick results in the seed planting of well-doing will be disappointed. If I want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, it will do me little good to plant them in my garden tonight. There are long stretches of darkness and invisibility and silence that separate planting and reaping. During the stretches of waiting, there is cultivating and weeding and nurturing and planting still other seeds. -- Eugene Peterson, Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 4.
Stealing destroys relationships that are built on trust, and it destroys self respect when one receives by theft that which does not belong to them. Stealing destroys character as it breeds corruption. Theft can compromise our relationship with one another and with God, in this way it hurts the soul and society.
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that God condemns the taking of anything that does not rightfully belong to us, that taking from others or from Him that which is not rightfully ours destroys our soul and society.
I. STEALING FROM MAN Ex. 20:15; Eph. 4:28
A. Receiving Eph. 4:28
1. There are only 3 ways of getting anything in life:
a. By GIFT - an act of grace, the receiver may or may not deserve the gift.
(1. Salvation falls into this category
(2. We don't deserve to be saved, but God offers us His salvation is we simply ask, there is nothing we can do to deserve it, we just simply cast ourselves at His feet and confess our sins and He graciously forgives and saves us.
(3. The act of getting a gift is an act of love on the givers part, the receiver is usually overwhelmed and grateful.
b. By WORK - a way of getting by earning.
(1. This way of getting things has a lot to do with us, we receive by deserving what we get, for services rendered.
(2. Since this kind of getting involves our efforts it usually produces a sense of self respect because what we receive is connected by sacrifice on our part through work.
(3. This is why God created work even before Adam's fall into sin, God had Adam work the garden before he sinned, this way the fruit he enjoyed would bring self respect and satisfaction, this is an honorable way for people to get things.
(4. This way of receiving often motivates us to work even harder and more sacrificially since we are blessed by what we receive - thus it makes self and society productive.
c. By THEFT - this is the only other way to receive something, by simply stealing it or taking it!
(1. This does not create self respect, rather, it creates self hatred.
(2. This does not create productivity, it creates loss.
(3. This does not produce trust, it breeds suspicion.
(4. Because it both destroys the soul and society God has issued a command against it.
2. Tragically, there are too many people today that see stealing as the only way to get ahead in this world and too many that only view it as a nuisance rather than an issue of conscience and the soul.
3. Our society today has become one of taking whatever seems to be available whether it is ours or not.
ILLUS: A London taxi driver used to wrap up his garbage each day and leave it in the backseat of his cab. Always by the end of the day, it was gone. Someone had taken it and gotten a big surprise. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
4. No wonder we live in a society that has learned to put bars on the windows of their homes, or double locks on their doors, or to use video surveillance equipment in nearly every establishment.
a. We have become a society that doesn't trust anyone anymore.
b. The prices we pay for things has factored into it a price to cover the large amount of theft that is practiced by common people every day.
5. No wonder we live in an affluent society today that nobody seems to enjoy, receiving without earning does not make someone happy, it diminishes their self respect!
1. Since all relationships are built on trust, theft seriously destroys relationships.
2. We can steal someone's good name, we can steal someone's relationship with others - but with each type of theft we leave ourselves and others empty instead of full.
3. No thief ever feels satisfied, and they are left with less and not more even if they are successful in stealing!
ILLUS: True story from our dim-witted criminals department: A man walked into a convenience store, put a $20 bill on the counter and asked for change. When the clerk opened the drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving his $20 bill on the counter. So how much did he get from the drawer? Fifteen bucks. Go figure. -- "Strange World," Campus Life, Vol. 56, no. 2.
4. We never really get ahead through theft, what we leave behind is our self respect and broken trust from others.
a. Judas is a good example, the Scriptures say that he regularly helped himself to the treasury of the disciples (John 12:6), not only did he lose his own self respect evidenced in taking his own life but he also lived a miserable life of guilt through before this.
b. Thieves are never happy people!
C. Recklessness Ex. 20:15
1. When we even excuse the small ways we steal, whether taking answers from someone else's test in school to taking home office supplies that your company paid for we not only hurt ourselves but all society.
2. Taking shortcuts (which is the essence of theft) may appear to bless us, but the results are never really satisfying!
ILLUS: John Smith was a loyal carpenter, working for a very successful building contractor who called him into his office one day and said, "John, I'm putting you in charge of the next house we build. I want you to order all the materials and oversee the whole job from the ground up." John accepted the assignment with great enthusiasm and excitement. For ten days before ground was broken at the building site, John studied the blueprints. He checked every measurement, every specification. Suddenly he had a thought. "If I am really in charge," he said to himself, "why couldn't I cut a few corners, use less expensive materials, and put the extra money in my pocket? Who would know the difference? Once the house is painted, it will look just great." So John set about his scheme. He ordered second-grade lumber, but his reports indicated that it was top-grade. He ordered inexpensive concrete for the foundation, put in cheap wiring, and cut every corner he could, yet he reported the purchase of much better materials. When the home was completed and fully painted, he asked the contractor to come and see it. "John," said the contractor, "what a magnificent job you have done! You have been such a good and faithful carpenter all these years that I have decided to show my gratitude by giving you this house you have built, as a gift!" --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 288-289.
3. The recklessness of stealing has a way of coming back in negative ways on our own lives and not just on those we have taken from.
a. Even when we steal a good name through gossip, it will make us become someone others will not share with or spend time with.
b. Others will not trust themselves to us thus increasing our loneliness and isolation.
4. Stealing is strictly a reckless activity for all - and all are diminished by it!
II. STEALING FROM GOD Mal. 3:8-14
A. Responsibilities 3:8-10a
1. It is not only possible to steal from man, you can actually steal from God!
a. Usually those who have no problem taking from God will have less a problem taking from man also!
b. If we are willing to be irresponsible with our relationship with God there is a good possibility that we will be irresponsible with our relationship with others.
2. The same Israel that had kept back their tithes from God had also learned to take advantage of one another - and the whole nation was under a curse because of it.
3. Because Israel as a people had withheld or misused their tithes the temple of God was empty and could not meet anyone's needs, so people resorted to stealing in order to meet their own needs.
a. Worship had no meaning because it had no sacrifice by the worshipper!
b. Without sacrifice there is no value!
4. A giving Church is a powerful Church - no matter the size of the gifts if it represents the tithe.
ILLUS: Dr. Hugh McKean of Chiengmai, Thailand, tells of a church of four hundred members where every member tithes. They receive a weekly wage of forty stangs (less than twenty cents] and their rice. Of this meager existence, each gives a tenth every week. Because of this, they have done more for Christ in Thailand than any other church. They pay their own preacher and have sent two missionary families to spread the gospel in a community cut off from the outside world. They are intensely interested in all forms of Christian work, especially work for unfortunates of every kind; and their gifts for this kind of work are large. They have not only accepted Christ, but, having found Him good, they are making Him known to others. Oh, by the way, this church of all tithers is also a church of all lepers--every person has leprosy. --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 461.
5. When we keep back from God, He is not able to bless us so that the less we give, the less we have as an individual and as a nation.
a. It has always been the nations who are most generous that are most blessed, a characteristic of our country in times past, and based on the Judeo/Christian ethic that our country was founded on.
b. As a nation moves away from God its blessings tend to decline - proof of the principle found here in Malachi.
6. We carry a responsibility before God to honor Him with what is His - even Jesus said to "give unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" Matt. 22:21 clearly a reference to both taxes and tithes.
7. Rather than getting ahead, Israel actually became poorer when they failed to honor God with their tithes, the act of stealing had really robbed them of blessings.
B. Rewards 3:10b-12
1. God honors givers, for the ultimate giver is God Himself, when we give we are like Him!
a. This is what Israel failed to understand, that by keeping back their tithes they not only robbed God, but they ruined their own prosperity.
b. God cannot bless stealing, it is contrary to His commandments, whether it is stealing from man or from God.
2. Stealing from God does not just impact us in the material realm however, the greatest losses are spiritual.
a. Israel had become a "me first" nation, not unlike what we are seeing in our own country today as we move away from God.
b. The more the people kept from God the more God kept from them.
3. They were missing out on great rewards, and not just materially, their nation was missing out on a reputation of being called a "blessed nation" by all the other nations, they were missing out on becoming the shining lighthouse to the world.
a. In this way they were losing the opportunity to give witness to God's reality.
b. God's presence is seen in givers, for God Himself is the ultimate giver.
4. We cannot expect God's richest blessings on us or our nation if we rob Him of our tithes and offerings.
5. On the other hand, when we honor God our hearts will be full, the rewards may be greater than just material in scope, they may create joy, trust, and even the witness of others who find Christ because of our examples of giving.
6. Those who give to God for all the rights reasons bring a joy to others as well as themselves.
ILLUS: There was a knock on the door of the hut occupied by a missionary in Africa. Answering, the missionary found one of the native boys holding a large fish in his hands. The boy said, "Reverend, you taught us what tithing is, so here--I've brought you my tithe." As the missionary gratefully took the fish, he questioned the young lad. "If this is your tithe, where are the other nine fish?" At this, the boy beamed and said, "Oh, they're still back in the river. I'm going back to catch them now. --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 458.
7. Their return to proper giving would result in enough "food in God's house" to supply any need that might arise, ultimately this meant their own needs being taken care of and the knowledge of God spreading to the other nations of the Earth.
8. God is opposed to stealing because it destroys self and society. Giving on the other hand elevates self and society - and lifts up the God who gave Himself for us!
CONCLUSION: Stealing damages relationships between man and man, and between man and God. There are only 3 ways to get things in life (1. By GIFT (2. By WORK and (3. By THEFT. The first two are blessed by God, the third brings a curse on the soul and society. In the end the one most hurt by stealing is yourself! "THOU SHALL NOT STEAL!"