Thou Shalt Not Steal

Thou shalt not steal (Exodus 20:15).

Throughout time there has been a “social contract” that exists among people within societies. They may not call it a “social contract,” but every society has to have some rules, codified or otherwise, that govern how members of that society interact. One of the pillars of such a “social contract” has always been, is, and always will be a prohibition of stealing. If one cannot have some level of security that one’s possessions will remain one’s own, there can be no trust among members of a society, and where there is no trust, there is chaos. Wherever stealing is pervasive and rampant there is chaos and disorder, a breakdown of society.

Stealing, along with murder and adultery at the least, are elements of the “moral law” that seems to be rather “built-in” to humans. Even if we could somehow justify to ourselves why we could take something from someone else, what happens if somebody takes something of ours? We feel wronged– violated! Such goes to show that morality is not really as relative as some have imagined!

It is therefore unsurprising that a prohibition of stealing is part of the Ten Commandments which God gives to Israel. The command remains in force to this day (Romans 13:9, Ephesians 4:28)!

We are most familiar with stealing in terms of possessions– someone who seizes some form of property to which he or she is not entitled. Petty thieves might shoplift, break into homes and take things, or engage in burglary. Unscrupulous rulers may seize the property of their constituents without sufficient cause or compensation (e.g. 1 Kings 21), or sell off various assets from their nations to benefit themselves and not their people. Most people understand how these forms of stealing are quite wrong.

Yet there are many more examples of stealing than just these. When the time comes to pay taxes, if we claim more deductions than to which we are entitled, or neglect to report some forms of income, we are not only lying but also stealing from the government (Romans 13:7). If we walk off with office supplies, or if we claim to work more hours than we really worked, or spend time idly at work, we are stealing from the company.

We must recognize that there can be different forms of “legal” stealing as well. A company that imposes excessive demands on an employee’s time without sufficient compensation is, in a sense, stealing– taking advantage of the employee’s abilities and times without providing proper compensation. Predatory lenders may exact immoral and unethical amounts of interest from borrowers, or deceive people into borrowing when it is not to their best advantage. Most people understand how Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was a form of stealing, but there were plenty of other characters, all working within the confines of what was “legal,” but still acting in unethical ways in seeking profits without concern for the benefit of those from whom money was made.

All relationships that humans enjoy are based on trust– stealing is one of those things that entirely erodes trust, whether that stealing is reckoned as legal or illegal by a government. This is why God expects believers to work with one another and with those in the world in fairness. Thieves are to stop stealing and work honest labor to have something for the needy (Ephesians 4:28). Employees are to work as to the Lord to the best of their abilities; employers are to treat their employees fairly and justly, remembering that they have a Master in Heaven (Ephesians 6:4-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1).

Paul speaks rightly in Romans 13:8-10: all of our interactions with our fellow man must be dictated by the principle of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We would not want to have anyone steal from us; we would not want to be cheated out of income or the fruit of our efforts. Therefore, we do well to honor our commitments and responsibilities toward the government and our fellow man, not attempting to cheat or steal in any way. Let us love our neighbor as ourselves and seek his benefit!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rendering to Caesar and God

And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, that they might catch him in talk.
And when they were come, they say unto him, “Teacher, we know that thou art true, and carest not for any one; for thou regardest not the person of men, but of a truth teachest the way of God: Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?”
But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, “Why make ye trial of me? Bring me a denarius, that I may see it.”
And they brought it.
And he saith unto them, “Whose is this image and superscription?”
And they said unto him, “Caesar’s.”
And Jesus said unto them, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
And they marvelled greatly at him (Mark 12:13-17).

It was not every day that you saw the Pharisees and the Herodians coming together to visit someone. It is a downright strange event when the Pharisees and Herodians are being sent by the chief priests, scribes, and elders (cf. Mark 11:27)! Yet this was the power of Jesus– all the various sects of the Jews may disagree with each other, but they agree that Jesus is a threat!

In fact, Jesus was becoming intolerable. He had cleansed the Temple, striking at the heart of the power of the chief priests (Mark 11:15-18). He would not reveal the source of His authority (Mark 11:27-33), and incited the people with His parable of the Vineyard (Mark 12:1-11). They needed to dispose of Jesus– and yet they feared the crowds (Mark 12:12). They had to do something to get Jesus in trouble.

And so they hatched the perfect plan– the question that would lead to His demise. The tax question was ideal. If Jesus said that the Jews should pay the tax, then the Pharisees were right there to proclaim to the people how Jesus was a compromiser and an appeaser of the hated oppressor. If Jesus declared that the Jews did not need to pay taxes, the Herodians were there to hear it and to inform Pilate and the Roman authorities that Jesus was stirring up sedition. It was the perfect plan– or so it seemed.

Yet Jesus’ answer entirely flummoxes them. He does not align with one of the two “main” positions. Instead, He advocates a transcendental, middle-of-the-road approach.

Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. For years this has been the foundational principle of the Christian attitude toward government. Though many may seek a political message in what Jesus is saying, in reality, Jesus remains above that particular fray. Jesus’ quarrel, after all, is not with Caesar (cf. Ephesians 6:12). Earthly government has its reason for existence and such should be respected. Taxes should be paid; authorities deserve the honor due them (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:11-17).

Yet Jesus’ real point is much deeper than this. It has less to do with Caesar and much more to do with God.

The denarius that Jesus held in His hand belonged to Caesar because upon it was struck the image and inscription of Caesar. But where do we find the image and inscription of God? Jesus knew that it was written:

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…”
And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:26a, 27).

We humans have been made in God’s own image, after His likeness. Yes, we must render to Caesar his money– but to God we must give ourselves (cf. Romans 12:1)! All of our energy and existence must be expended toward the advancement of God’s righteousness and Kingdom (cf. Matthew 6:33).

To the earthly authorities we owe proper respect and taxes so that they may accomplish their necessary functions. Yet we do not owe ourselves to Caesar or his purposes. Instead, we owe ourselves to God, and it is right for us to render to God what is His. Let us serve God fully, truly reflecting His image!

Ethan R. Longhenry