Friday, August 15, 2008

Stealing & Giving

"You shall not steal." Exodus 20:16
The eighth commandment, like all of the 10 Commandments, has both a negative prohibition and a positive implication. First the negative: no stealing. Don't take what belongs to someone else. Pretty straightforward. It includes all kinds of theft: breaking into someone's house and taking their stuff; purse snatching; fudging on your tax return; wasting time on the internet when you are on the clock at work; stealing someone's ideas or words and passing them off as your own; illegally downloading songs from the internet or copying cds; possibly even finding pictures on websites, copying them, and posting them on your blog like the one here--I'm not sure what the rules are about that.

So, the implications of not stealing pervade all aspects of our lives, from the headline thefts that make the news to the many mundane ways in which we're tempted to take what does not belong to us. And behind this commandment is the fact that personal property matters to God and so it is to rightly matter to us as well. In fact, loving our neighbors (Jesus' summation of commandments five through 10) involves loving their stuff by not taking it from them.

But that's not all. It's not enough only to avoid what the commandments prohibit, because they also encompass the positive aspects of what God calls us to in loving Him and loving our neighbor. And this commandment tells us that it's not enough to simply refrain from stealing from our neighbor, but we are to use our own resources for the good of our neighbors, to concern ourselves not only with our own flourishing but to also be committed to the flourishing of our neighbor as well. Paul gets at this in Ephesians 4:28, when he calls the thieves among us to give up our stealing and embrace generosity:
"Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need."
What's the principle here? We are to actively care for the needs of those around us and even to commit ourselves to honest labor so that we are not only able to meet our own needs but also able to help meet the needs of others. This, I think, is the sticking point of the eighth commandment for most of us. Why is it often so hard for us to embrace this fact, that we are called to a life of generosity to others and openhandedness with our money, our possessions, our stuff, our time? It might be our greed and covetousness--the subject of the 10th commandment. Or it might be a lack of trust in our God. The economy is struggling--how can I be generous? I have children and a mortgage and food costs are soaring--how can I be generous? I live on a fixed income and I'm not sure I've put enough away for my retirement--how can I be generous? I'm only a college student and I'm trying to scrape together enough to buy books--how can I be generous?

You see, we're afraid. Afraid God won't provide, afraid He won't take care of us, afraid of the uncertainties of life. God does call us to live wisely--but He also calls us to live generously as we rest in the generous care of our Father for us. Jesus has a lot to say about trusting our Father for our needs. Remember Matthew 6 in the Sermon on the Mount. Don't be anxious about your life, what your will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Look at the birds--your Father feeds them though they don't sow or reap. Look at the lilies of the field--they don't spin or sew and your Father clothes them. Don't you know you are much more valuable to your Father than the birds and the flowers? Therefore don't be anxious.... "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (v. 33).

But can we trust that? Trust our Father? Trust Jesus and his words to us? How do we know he understands our struggles, knows our needs, will act generously to us? Here's what Paul said to the Corinthians when he exhorted them to give generously to the needs of others:
"But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.... For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:7,9)
How can we be set free not only to refrain from stealing but to actively share with other, meet their needs, be generous? Only by knowing the generosity of our Father to us in Jesus. Jesus laid aside his riches, made himself poor, in order to meet our need, to make us rich in relationship with our Father, to adopt us into God's family, to give us an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. In other words, not only did Jesus not steal from us, he gave himself for us to generously meet our ever need. May that generosity of our God for us free us to be generous to our neighbor as well. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment