THE 10: How to Live and Love in a World That Has Lost Its Way,
Respect the Property of Others | The Eighth Commandment
By Dr. Robert Jeffress
None of the parents suspected Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper of any impropriety. Nor could they account for the school’s continued shortfall in funds. For 28 years, Sister Mary Margaret had been the beloved principal at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California. But in 2021, a federal judge sentenced the nun to one year and one day in a federal penitentiary for wire fraud and money laundering. He also ordered her to repay the $835,339 she’d embezzled from school funds—money intended to educate the children under her care and keep the school’s facilities clean, safe, and up-to-date. “I have sinned. I have broken the law,” the 80-year-old nun confessed. “I have no excuses.”
The judge who tried the case said he struggled in handing down a sentence. But despite her age, her years of service as an educator, and her religious devotion as a nun for 62 years, some form of punishment was necessary.
When I read the story of Sister Mary Margaret, the first thing that went through my mind was, You never know about people. The next thing I thought—and this sent a shiver down my spine—was, What about my financial adviser? After all, if you can’t trust a nun with your money, whom can you trust?
Sister Mary Margaret obviously violated United States law. She also violated God’s law—the eighth commandment, which says, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).
Like the sixth and seventh commandments, the eighth commandment consists of only two words in the original Hebrew: Lo ganab—”No stealing.” As we’ll see, the command is broad in scope. Moses said, “Do not steal. . . . Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight” (Leviticus 19:11, 13 NIV).
1. The Need for the Commandment
By issuing the eighth commandment, God implied His approval of private property ownership—and with it, His approval of social order to protect that property. There is some today who try to teach a kind of sanctified socialism or Christian Marxism that says that the goal of the church should be to eliminate income disparity among people or, better yet—to relinquish all personal property and give it to the state.
They mistakenly use Acts 4:32 as the basis for such a belief. However, these early Christians voluntarily sold their own property to meet the needs of fellow Christians. In fact, in Acts 5:4, Peter rebuked Ananias for lying about his gift and said, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain under your control?”
Also, the Bible acknowledges different levels of wealth among people (Philippians 4:11-12). If the early church were a truly socialistic society, Paul never would have had to learn how to cut back in lean times—because no one in the church would experience times of scarcity or abundance—everyone would have had the same level of wealth.
Now here’s my point. God’s plan has always been for people to acquire property, and that property was to be respected and therefore protected.
2. Three Ways to Acquire Possessions (Ephesians 4:28)
Obviously, the most common form of acquiring wealth and property legitimately is to work for it—that’s the point behind the phrase “he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good.”
The Lord provides the necessary talents, intellect, and opportunities for everyone committed to working for their own property. Moses told the second-generation Israelites who were about to enter the promised land. This doesn’t mean God gives us everything necessary to become billionaires. Rather, He gives us everything necessary to earn a living so we can take care of our own household.
- Inheritance (Proverbs 13:22)
Another means of acquiring wealth and property is to inherit it—that’s implied in the phrase “so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). Working hard for your money not only to make a living but also to put some away gives you an opportunity to be generous—to help those in immediate need and to leave something behind when you’re gone.
- Theft (Ephesians 4:28)
Of course, not everyone wants to work for what they get. And few are fortunate to inherit enough money that they don’t need to work. So some turn to stealing.
Contemptuous of others’ good fortune—whether through work or inheritance—the thief has a gnawing dissatisfaction with what God provides. Many believe God is holding out on them. As J. I. Packer put it, “Temptations to steal property—that is, to deprive another person of what he or she has a right to—arise because fallen man always, instinctively, wants more than he has at present and more than others have.” In other words, the thief covets what isn’t theirs (breaking the tenth commandment) and takes it (breaking the eighth commandment).
3. Four Ways We Violate the Eighth Commandment
First, we violate the eighth commandment whenever we despoil someone by breaking into and entering their home, car, or business and carting off their goods. Despoil is a word rarely used anymore, but it’s perfect for describing simple theft. As theologian John Calvin explained, it’s an act of “violence . . . when a man’s goods are forcibly plundered and carried off.”
Perhaps all but a handful of you are saying, “This is one of the Ten Commandments I’m not guilty of breaking.” Well, hold on there. Not so fast. Just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to despoil someone. For example, students who cheat on exams, employees who take home office supplies, and neighbors who forget to return borrowed items all despoiled others.
Second, we violate the eighth commandment whenever we’re dishonest with someone by lying, manipulating, or flattering them out of their goods. Did you know we have laws regulating weights and measures to ensure that when you buy a pound of meat or pump a gallon of gas, you get what you pay for? Dishonesty in the attempt to rob others is an abomination to God.
Third, we violate the eighth commandment whenever we defraud someone by not paying them what we owe. Biblically, this takes on three applications.
- Failing to pay a debt (Proverbs 3:27-28).
- Failing to treat employers and employees fairly.
- Failing to give to God what He commands.
Fourth, we violate the eighth commandment whenever we defame someone by spreading slander and gossip with the intent of stealing their good name. Defaming someone is a form of theft because it robs them of their reputation and is a violation of the eighth commandment, and it’s the reason Paul said, “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth” (Colossians 3:8).
4. The Cost of Violating the Eighth Commandment (1 Timothy 1:18-19)
Whenever we steal from others, we also rob ourselves of one of life’s most important gifts—a clear conscience.
Do you know what a clear conscience is? It’s the ability to look yourself in the mirror without shame or guilt, to look someone in the eye knowing they can’t accuse you of wrongdoing or a wrong that you haven’t attempted to make right.
Will you be able to face God on the day of judgment with a clear conscience—knowing He will not be able to accuse you of any wrong—including stealing—that you have not attempted to make right?
Right now, do you have a clear conscience? Can you look yourself in the mirror or look someone in the eye without blushing or diverting your gaze? Can you honestly say you’ve never despoiled someone, been dishonest to the point of thievery, defrauded someone of their money, or defamed them by robbing them of their good name? If you answered no to any of those questions, then you need to make things right.
Like all the other commandments we’ve looked at in this series, theft is a sin that can be forgiven through the grace of Jesus Christ. But with that forgiveness comes the obligation to repay what has been stolen and to go and sin no more.
Full Passage: Exodus 20:15