6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written: “He has scattered abroad His gifts to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.”
10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Exodus 20:15 says, “You shall not steal.” You don’t need to be a Christian to know that theft is wrong. From when we’re little we are taught to not take anything that isn’t ours, and the secular laws of society have varying degrees of punishment set out to try and combat the crime of theft. Even those who oppose the Christian faith and dismiss the Bible out of hand would have to at least agree that the eighth commandment is correct. If everyone just took whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, the world would be in an even bigger mess than it is now. This is one of the reasons we have a police force, criminal courts, and prisons. As we know, there are many people who, even they know theft is wrong, still commit the crime of theft, but they also know the risks of being caught and punished that go along with stealing.
At the outset of this series I made the point that the Law was given to God’s people. The Law of God sets us apart from non-believers, in that through His Law, God reveals His nature to us, and the standards of living He expects from us.
Secular laws and the Laws of God, although there are similarities, are very different. For example, last week we looked at the seventh commandment: You shall not commit adultery. Adultery is not a crime in most countries. You can’t be arrested and imprisoned for it, but adultery is not part of God’s plan for His people because of the way families can be destroyed when we do fall into the sin of adultery.
So in the secular world, if you steal something that isn’t yours you may pay a fine or even go to jail, depending on the seriousness of the theft.
From the perspective of the Law of God though, the eighth commandment goes much deeper than simply punishing those who are guilty. Rather, it draws our attention to two opposite ways of thinking and living. Even though we are saved and we have the Spirit of God living within us, Christians still struggle to live out the Biblical teaching that giving, rather than getting, is the way we should live our lives. The giving approach epitomises God’s love for others, and should also reflect our love for others.
Theft is the ultimate expression of the greedy, lustful way of life – the kind of life that emphasises acquiring material and immaterial things with little or no regard for the rights and feelings of others. The reason God expressly forbids theft in His Law is because He knows that the temptation to take what isn’t ours remains.
Go to any preschooler’s birthday party, and it’s not long before two or three of them are in tears, screaming “Mine, mine, mine!” I always feel sorry for the poor moms who are embarrassed at the behaviour of their children, but it’s soon forgotten because all the moms know that that’s just how 3 year olds are.
We might smile, but how true is it? And worse than that, do we really ever grow out of it?
Taking what isn’t ours scorns and transgresses the conventions and boundaries established by God. It is the epitome of selfishness, and this is why we need to try and see what God is really teaching us through the eighth commandment.
We need to understand and apply true values to life, and at the heart of it all is love. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If we learned to live by that commandment, obeying the eighth commandment would just follow naturally, because Godly love defeats the desire to steal.
At the very heart of the commandment against stealing is understanding that there is a battle against our own selfishness that we must become engaged in, and it all starts with learning to appreciate the rights and needs of others.
The eighth commandment safeguards and protects everyone’s right to legitimately acquire and own property. All that we have – no matter how much or how little we may have – is given to us by God, and He wants that right to be honoured and protected.
Unfortunately sin has warped our view of material possessions. We measure our worth and the worth of each other based on what we do or don’t have, but God does not see things that way. His approach to material wealth is perfectly balanced. God is not against material possessions. What He is against is when we become possessed by our possessions, or the insatiable pursuit of them.
He wants us to prosper and enjoy physical blessings. The Bible is clear on that, but He also expects us to show wisdom in how we use what He gives us. Possessions are not to be our primary pursuit in life, but sadly, it often is.
In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches us how to see material things in their right perspective. “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-33).
When we see material blessings as a means to achieve more important objectives, God enjoys seeing us prosper.
To Him it is important that generosity rather than greed drives and motivates the choices we make. Because they are qualities of His own character, He asks that we, from the heart, put giving and serving ahead of lavishing possessions on ourselves.
In our reading from Luke 6 Jesus teaches the principle of giving and sharing with joy, rather than begrudgingly. In verse 38 He says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Now this doesn’t mean that we should give in order to get. That is a sin-warped interpretation of what Jesus is saying. What He is saying is we must learn to cultivate and practice a heart of generosity, and just leave the details to Him.
One of God’s greatest desires for us in this life is to be different from the standards of the world. Throughout Scripture He says repeatedly, “Be holy, because I am holy.”
And one of the ways we do that is by replacing our natural attitude of greed with a devotion to serve instead. He looks at the measure of the intensity of our commitment to that giving way of life.
This is what Paul was talking about when he wrote, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
God rejoices when He sees us, once our own needs are met, using any additional abundance in blessings to increase our usefulness and service to others. That is one of the signs to Him that we are taking seriously His call to us to follow His way of life.
But how does all of this relate directly to the command not to steal? Paul makes the connection in Ephesians 4:28. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”
We looked at the dramatic change in the life of Zacchaeus the reformed tax collector a couple of months ago. After his heart was changed by God he said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” And Jesus’ response to him? “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
A thief whose heart is genuinely changed goes beyond simply ceasing theft in order to please God. Someone once said, “A thief who has stopped stealing may still be a thief at heart - a thief just temporarily unemployed. He really ceases to be a thief only if and when he replaces stealing with giving.”
Taking something that is not yours and putting it in your pocket is the most obvious example of stealing, but there are many other more subtle means of transgressing the eighth commandment. Con artists use sophisticated scams to swindle their victims. Deceptive advertisements do the same. Manufacturers who misleadingly advertise their products of substandard quality cheat their customers. People who charge for more hours than they work or charge more than their services are worth are stealing from those who hire them. Then there are those who “borrow” but never return. There are so many ways to take what is not ours that we must stay on our guard. We could be breaking God’s commandment against stealing without even realising what we are doing.
But the Bible helps us to recognise yet another form of stealing – one which is far more serious than merely taking from each other. From the time of Abraham, the Bible shows examples of how God’s faithful servants formally acknowledged who really owns everything. It is all God’s. They faithfully gave Him one tenth of their income. In the covenant that God made with ancient Israel, a tenth of the people’s income was set aside for the priests to support their spiritual service to the nation. It is the principle of the tithe. Of course, this practice of tithing was not popular with the people then, and it still isn’t today, because the tithe directly challenges human selfishness. The tithe required faith that God would supply the needs of the people if they learned to become a giving people.
It’s a principle most of us struggle with today, but this is nothing new.
By 721 BC, general disobedience to God’s laws had become so entrenched in ancient Israel that God sent the northern ten tribes into captivity at the hands of the Assyrians. The only tribes left initially were Judah and Benjamin, along with the Levites – the priestly tribe who had no land - in the southern kingdom of Judah. They didn’t learn the lessons from the northern kingdom though as their pattern of disobedience continued until they were taken as captives to Babylon in 587 BC.
About a hundred years later a small group of Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the city and the temple under the leadership of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah. But their loyalty to God soon began to wane again, as it had before their captivity. Through the prophet Malachi, God then reprimanded the priests for neglecting the teaching of His laws. “The lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi, so I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.” (Malachi 2:7-9).
So God took the priests to task on their disobedience, but He also reprimanded the people through the prophet Malachi. “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ 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.” (Malachi 3:6-9)
So the priests and the people realised that they had a problem. They had offended God, and did what they thought was best to try and make things right.
The priests and Pharisees gave detailed regulations to force everyone to comply with the law. The regulations were strict, so all they ended up doing was bringing legalism into the lives of God’s people. They missed the point of God’s Law by enforcing thou shalts and thou shalt nots. They lost the spiritual intention of the Law.
Later on Jesus took the Pharisees to task on this. While He commended them on their outward observance of the physical aspects of the law and their faithful tithing, He criticised their failure also to emphasise the spiritual virtues of faith, mercy and justice.
Because of their legalistic teaching of God’s Law, they forgot the heart of God, which is at the very foundation of God’s Law. They forgot what the prophet Micah taught them. “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8)
Jesus put it this way in Matthew 23:23 – “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
What Jesus was essentially saying was that they should have been doing both: Practicing the law of tithing along with exercising faith, mercy and justice.
Some say that the Old Testament principle of tithing no longer applies, but this is not what Jesus teaches here. Of greater importance to Him, is the attitudes of our hearts behind our giving. If we are going to give our time and our talents because we think that’s what God just expects of us, then we’ve missed the point. We’re just making the same mistakes the Israelites made in Ezra and Nehemiah’s time, and missing the heart of God in the eighth commandment all over again.
The purpose behind His Law is not to bog us down with all these restrictions and rules. His Law reveals His heart and His nature, and He wants us to have the same heart and the same nature.
He wants us to trust and love Him completely. His Word is full of promises concerning our future in His Kingdom. If we believe those promises, we will invest our time and energy in acquiring a wealth of spiritual treasures that will last forever - treasures that no thief can take from us.
This is a huge challenge for us simply because we are so easily distracted by worldly things. Owning stuff and having money in the bank is not wrong. Money is not the route of all evil. It is in our love of money where we make the first mistake.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If only breaking the eighth commandment was as simple as putting something that’s not ours in our pocket and walking away. It would be so much easier to live up that requirement then, but remember, at the heart of the Law is the heart of God.
Our prayer needs to be that He would teach us how to cultivate the art of generosity.
We need to understand and apply true values to life. We need to concentrate on building character traits that will endure beyond physical life. And at the heart of it all is love. It is Godly love that defeats the desire to steal.
Homegroup Study Notes
The eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal.”
We are materialistic beings by our very nature, and Christians are not exempt from the desire for worldly things.
How has the pursuit of riches warped God’s plan for the world?
What are some of your struggles in this area?
Read Matthew 6:19-21
Bearing in mind the eight commandment, what do these words of Jesus teach us about our natural qualities of selfishness and greed?
Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
If we learned to practice generosity in our dealings with others, how would this help us to conform to the commandment to not steal?
Read Malachi 3:6-9 and Matthew 23:23
Why has the principle of the tithe always been controversial?
What is God really trying to teach us about how we view possessions (and money in particular) through the tithe?
Close by praying that God would change our view on possessions, and teach us to be more generous with the things He has blessed us with.
Next week: “You shall not lie.”