HE IS NOT THE GOD OF TAKING, BUT OF GIVING
Prayer: O God, You command me not to steal. Protect me from being concerned only for myself and my own needs. Help me to use my own property and goods so that I glorify You and serve my family and neighbors with my gifts. Amen.
Sermon Text, Exodus 20:15; 2 Kings 5:14-16, 20-27.
Dear people loved and purchased by God to be His own special treasure: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The 7th commandment, “You shall not steal,” is about ownership. In each of these “neighbor commandments,” God is protecting something. In this commandment He’s protecting belongings. He protects what you own.
So what about ownership? We live in a world that’s all about buying and possessing and accumulating and clinging to perishable things. We live in a community like that, our church was planted here because it’s “growing” in that way – houses going up, businesses opening, businesses expanding.
Because we Christians live in a kingdom that’s imperishable, perhaps we think God would say that He’s against all that, that money is bad and we really don’t own anything.
But with these blessings that God gives us for daily life, He actually does let us consider them ourbelongings, our money, to say “that’s mine.” Even though all that we have ultimately belongs to God, He does treat them as your money and goods, your belongings, since He gave them to you. In the 7th commandment He’s concerned to protect what’s yours.
So the 7th commandment isn’t only about ownership – it’s ownership as sanctioned by God even arranged by God. You interfere with it, you’re interfering with God. We speak of petty theft, but it’s never petty to God.
Notice that God’s involvement is as the Giver. We own because He gives. I can do honest work, but God gives me the ability and opportunity to do it, He even preserves my health so I can. Our owning anything reflects the utter giving-ness of God! He “has given me my body and soul, eyes and ears, reason and senses, and still preserves them.”
This is where the 7th commandment comes in. Ownership begins with God giving, so here God condemns all taking. It’s a long list. Martin Luther said: “The definition [of stealing] must not be too narrow.”
To start with, God forbids stealing and robbing. The New Testament even says this, in the instructions for how a Christian is to live in step with God’s Law: “Let the one who has been stealing steal no longer” (Eph 4:28, EHV).
Other sins fall under this commandment, such as a student cheating on a test, people driving customers away from a business, a store overcharging, people being careless with something they borrowed or damaging it, taxpayers not disclosing things on their tax return, and plagiarism when you steal credit for something others took the time and effort to create.
This commandment condemns all dishonesty. When you lie, you’re beginning to steal. People think many of these things are no big deal. We can get drawn into thinking like this, considering them hardly to be sins.
We see differently in the account of Gehazi, the prophet Elisha’s trusted servant. After the Syrian officer Naaman was healed of his leprosy when he washed seven times in the Jordan River, he wanted to give the prophet Elisha something. Elisha said: No, thank you.
But already the desire to “get something” was working in Gehazi. He contrived a secret way to do it. Without Elisha’s knowledge – he thought – he went on his own, and lied to Naaman that Elisha did express need after the fact, made up this story about some visitors suddenly showing up, and he got a generous gift from Naaman. Then he lied outright to Elisha too!
Gehazi might have said that he didn’t steal. Didn’t Naaman himself think of it as a gift? This is always the way. The people with giving natures get taken advantage of, by the takers. Make no mistake: Gehazi was stealing. He had to lie to get what he wanted. The truth of the matter was hidden in his heart. And while Gehazi thought it was almost nothing, what happened? God punished him with leprosy, a walking death.
This “taking” is never a little thing. Its punishment is death and eternal condemnation. That’s what it deserves. We see the seriousness of it in the Gehazi story in another way too.
Naaman, after being healed of his leprosy in the water, says that now he knows the God of Israel is the only true God, and notice! What goes with it is Naaman being so giving. In contrast, Gehazi – who has been with Elisha, the man of God – becomes a taker and shows that he doesn’t know God, at least in this moment that’s what his actions show.
For us, any form of breaking this commandment is a sign – a warning- that we are distant from God. We are indulging the taking, grabbing, keeping-for-self impulse, and burying the giving impulse. We’re burying the trusting impulse. It’s a fretful, worried mind that’s working hard.
Often this is behind our motives and actions that are so self-centered. From this we can see that God’s purpose in this commandment is first to protect what people own – what He gives – but He’s also protecting you. He protects you from yourself. When your sins hurt the neighbor, they also hurt you. Behind our self-centered actions is a fretful, worried mind, and God is working to keep that from ruling you instead of trust.
So God’s love is behind the commandments, including this one. In fact, even this concept of ownership is connected to all the commandments.
God is an owner. Right before He gave the commandments on Mt. Sinai, God said to Israel: “Now if you will carefully listen to My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be My special treasure out of all the nations” (Ex. 19:5, EHV). God says to them, “You are Mine.” And then doing the commandments are connected to this: doing the commandments shows that God owns you, you are His possession.
In 1 Peter 2, when Peter applies these words of God to Christians, he says: “You are the people who are God’s own possession.” God owns you. But not like a person in power who just uses you. It’s all love. You belong to Him so He can be all yours, so He can bless You, so He can keep you from being harmed by sin, so He can protect you from the devil and death, so He can guide you to the safety of heaven.
And how did God come to own you? He purchased you. He “redeemed” you – purchased and bought you, not with gold or silver but with the holy precious blood of His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ. If God owns you, it’s because Jesus died for you and rose for you, and you have faith in Him. The Bible says: “You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).
So the life of glorifying God with your body is the life of faith in Him. And this “glorifying God” language, “glorifying God with your body,” extends to your body and life, all that God gives you for your life – including your money and what you own.
This is where we learn about our offerings to God, under the 7th commandment. Offerings are one of the chief areas where we can lose perspective on what money is for. Since God doesn’t slap a finance charge on you, or send it to a collection agency, this is often where you hold onto your money and keep it from Him who only gives to you! If something is off with your offerings, it reflects that something’s off with your faith.
Offerings are a fruit of faith. In your offerings you exercise your faith in Christ and your joy in being forgiven. A big part of the picture is love. Love for God, but also love for the neighbor.
Much of the congregational offerings do go to provide for the preaching of the Word here. But the Church’s mission is also to preach the gospel in all the world, among people who don’t know the true God (like Naaman before he was healed). Part of our mission is to help the needy, alleviate suffering, give relief to the poor, etc. Offerings show love for these others.
It’s not only about offerings in church. It’s about our whole life. It’s about being thankful to God and having a giving, generous heart toward others. The utter giving-ness of God’s nature is part of the new nature – the forgiven self – that He wants to give to you, that He intends for you to have. When you receive the Lord’s Supper and your Savior dwells within you now, this is part of it. His giving nature is in you. He makes it stronger.
So what does it mean that God protects what you own? It’s that He loves giving to you – and He loves His giving-ness into you, for the good of others. Amen!