St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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The Commandment: You shall not steal.

We now consider matters concerning property and money. In short, this commandment reveals God’s desire for private property, that no one should take or underhandly acquire his neighbor’s possessions. In fact, nothing should be taken from the neighbor, be it possessions, time, unfair trade, or squandered labor, which would put the neighbor into a disadvantage. Luther says that this commandment is so vast – and so vastly broken – that if we were to hang all who break it on gallows, there would be no one left in the world but the executioner, who would also have to hang himself once done. For this commandment extends beyond just the direct neighbor, but into the market, stores, booths, workshops, or in any venue where trade is done, or labor is traded for money or merchandise.

For example, if an employee does not fulfill his position faithfully and fully, he is robbing from his employer. If a merchant overcharges for good or services, he is robbing from his customers. If the government creates unfair or overburdensome taxes on its citizens only to line the pockets of its political leaders, the government is stealing. And yet such transactions go on, day after day, moment after moment, throughout the world without so much as a second thought.

Thus, we must always remember: though we might consider a person a little thief who steals a couple bucks by not reporting a gas station clerk’s mis-count of change, when compared to the grand theft that goes on in the malls and markets with amounts that add up to millions of dollars, yet in God’s court, both the great thief and the small time thief will be judged as severely. We must therefore remember that, whatever we do, it is our duty to not injure our neighbor, to deprive him of rightful gain, or to perpetrate any act of unfaithfulness or wonton sin, but to help him, protect him and his property, and to lead him away from sinning whenever possible, and most certainly when it comes to matters of property, money, and one’s livelihood. We must seek to be fair in our transactions, never shortchanging anyone, but always giving what is due, and treating the neighbor’s property as we would want him treating our property.

And what of the poor and helpless? How shall we show pity to the needy among us?

As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, it is the Lord who provides us with everything we need in this life for body and soul. Thus, our money is the Lord’s and given to us as a gift, as is our property, food, house and home, family, livelihood, and the like. God will not stop providing for us or remove His help from us because we are His dearly beloved children, and He knows how to give good gifts to us and promises to always be with us.

But if we, in our haste or lack of concern, in our greed or pride, refuse to help and show pity to the one who is in need, then who will he complain to but God? And as the Lord hears his cries, the Lord who cares for the weak and sorrowful will answer him and show him mercy. And the Lord will not allow the poor man’s suffering to go unanswered. And if the Lord deals with you and disciplines you for your greed or lack of concern for the poor, know that it is well-deserved. Rather than despising God for His treatment of you, you should repent and learn to be a help to your neighbor – especially the helpless – and use the gifts God has given you for good rather than to pad your pockets. For as the Lord says through Solomon: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” – Proverbs 19:17.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me to be a person of generosity who, like Your only Son, is willing to help my neighbor with his needs, protect his property, and uplift his spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.