"You shall not steal." - Exodus 20:15 (MEV)
Do you steal? I believe that I will draw a blank from most Christians if I were to pose this question to them. Unemployment is low in Singapore and so long as we work, our basic needs are well taken care. Besides, most Christians are decent people. So, we would think that the vice of stealing is not an issue in the church.
Is this really the case?
Well, I suppose it depends on what we understand by stealing and its scope. What is stealing? Stealing as we normally understand it is taking something from somebody without permission. It is an act of dishonesty, which may be carried out either forcefully or secretly. Whichever the case, it profanes God’s name and dishonours Him (Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 30:8-9). Know that God does not take stealing lightly as evident by its inclusion in the Ten Commandments. No thieves will inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
God prohibits all kinds of stealing. Consider three kinds of stealing that may not be obvious to you.
You may not steal somebody’s laptop but do you use pirated software? You may not sneak into a theatre without a ticket but do you watch pirated movies? Pirated products are so commonly available and easily accessible nowadays. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can download all this illegal stuff into your computers and mobile devices. This is stealing but most people, including Christians, have no qualms with such infringements.
Whether software or movies, these are intellectual properties belonging to corporations. Taking them without permission and without paying for the rights to use them is stealing, plain and simple. It is no different from snatching someone’s purse or robbing a bank. You can argue that nobody gets physically hurt but that does not change the fact that it is still stealing. The stealing of intellectual properties is not a victimless crime. The corporations that produce these goods and services are deprived of their rightful revenue, which they use to pay their employees, and for research, development, marketing, distribution, etcetera. These corporations also undertake huge investment risks for every product they put in the market. The fact that some of them might be making huge profits is no excuse for anyone to steal.
Next, consider your work ethics. Part of good Christian stewardship involves the giving of your best attitude and performance at your workplace. You are paid a salary in exchange for your labour and services. Therefore, it is only appropriate for you to carry out your duties and responsibilities conscientiously. Failing to do so tantamount to stealing from your employer.
You steal when you habitually go to work late and knock off early. You steal when you consistently use your working hours to run your personal errands and attend to your private matters. You steal when you refuse to be helpful and cooperative with your bosses and colleagues. You steal when you abdicate your responsibility. You steal when you are lazy. Do you steal in any of these ways?
Christians ought not behave in such a manner. Unfortunately, I have seen Christians exhibiting such unethical behaviour at work, both in the secular and full-time ministry contexts. What makes it worse is their reactions when told to shape up. Instead of repentance, they lie, make excuses and resort to backstabbing their superiors. It is not only a terrible testimony but also displeasing to God.
Next, we look at a unique story about stealing, which is found in 2 Samuel. We do not normally associate such an act with stealing but that is how God views it. I find it fascinating and instructive. In 2 Samuel 15:6, it says: “Absalom acted this way toward every Israelite who came to the king for a judgment. So, Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.”
What did Absalom do? He plotted to usurp his father’s throne. For four years, he intercepted anyone who came to seek justice in King David’s court. He would tell them that neither the king nor the king’s officials cared for them except him. Absalom was charming and he acted in an intentionally deceptive and subversive manner. Through his manipulation, he “stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” That is insidious! After four years, the ground was ripe for him to stage a rebellion, which he did.
You can find the Absalom spirit actively at work in both the corporate and church worlds. It is mostly motivated by selfish ambition and spite. It is an insidious spirit that sow seeds of deceit, doubts and discord. It is not easily discerned and highly destructive, undermining trust and threatening unity.
Do you steal in any of these ways? Do you steal in any other way?
Pastors Les & Adeline Chua