Takers and Givers

Takers and Givers

In the creation of the new community, Israel, God gives them a simple command. Do not steal. Respect established boundaries. Return to the owner what does not belong to you. Power is not the privilege to take what you want. Scales and balances must be fair.

Treat each other as God wished to be treated in the garden—His boundary respected, His ownership recognized, His creation tended, His gifts appreciated. Honor the property of others. Respect ownership. No stealing.

I remember well the night my family was robbed. We lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the time. We had walked to McDonald’s for ice cream with our two children.

When we opened the front door, something immediately seemed wrong. I have come to believe there is a disturbance of the peace of a place when it is violated by theft. Denise’s purse was gone from the counter. I looked to the left; the TV was missing with straggling wires hanging from the entertainment center. The back kitchen door had been kicked in. The door frame was splintered. Our cats looked as if they had seen a horror movie. We had been robbed.

Apparently, we had walked in on them because they had taken nothing else. They heard us and fled quickly out the back, across the creek, and into the neighboring subdivision. I slept by the back door that night while the rest of the family lay anxious in their beds.

We had insurance. Everything was replaceable. But the theft went deeper than stuff. It was as if someone had said to us, “We don’t give a rip about you, who you are, what you do for a living, what kind of family lives here—we just want your stuff.” To be ripped off, robbed, stolen from, is a dehumanizing experience.

The Israelites were well aware of this. They had been living in slavery for four hundred years. Pharaoh had been taking their lives from them—labor without pay, work without freedom, sweat without ownership. The cries of the people reached the ears of God and evoked from God a mighty deliverance. These landless people were guided to a land of their own, crops of their own, homes of their own—all to be tended under the law of God, which forbade theft and coveting. In their relationship to things, they were to be radically different from the people of Egypt.

In no way does our one night of theft place my family on par with the slaves of Egypt, or America, but it does cause me to think twice about how it feels to be robbed. When you cannot trust that people will respect your right to your property, you cannot rest easy. Peaceful existence is not possible where boundaries are not honored and respected.

How We Steal From Others

The community of God is meant to be a place where we are not anxious about whether others respect our things. We are meant to be particular kinds of neighbors, employees, and citizens.

But are we?

What about taking home office supplies, using company gas for personal errands, stealing test answers with a glance, or taking credit for someone’s hard work?

And that’s a super-short list. I’ve gotten nowhere close to shoplifting, pick-pocketing, safe-cracking, car theft, or common burglary. Theft rarely begins with the big stuff. It slowly encroaches, justifies itself, and then dulls our conscience.

We disrespect God by offending His command. We disrespect our neighbor by stealing from him or her. We violate our own conscience by placing things above people. And we allow created things to become the dominating quest of our life. We are crippling our relational capacity.

It is time for us to bring our stewardship of the earth’s goods under the scrutiny of the God who owns it all. If we can see someone else’s stuff on a satellite or computer halfway around the world, certainly God sees all our stuff. God knows how we got it, from whom we got it, and whether or not our way of getting it was acceptable. God knows how we do business, how we treat customers, how we view people. God dismantles all rationalizations that harm His creatures and creation. And He says to us clearly, “Do not steal!”

How We Steal From God

Dancing with this law begins in our relationship with the Giver. We have to stop stealing from God. In Mal. 3, God is seeking to restore broken relationships with His people, but the restoration is impossible because they are ripping Him off.

They are bringing their sick, scrawny animals to the Temple and offering them as a sacrifice of worship to God. They are sending a signal that they do not care about the quality of their relationship with God. They simply want to meet the minimal obligation by giving God what no longer has any value to them.

In God’s words, they are robbing Him. God responds by commanding that they bring the entire tithe into the storehouse. Tithing is the worshipful act of returning to God the first tenth of what you produce or make. The principle of tithing is rooted in the garden narrative.

God asks that we honor that which belongs to Him. He set a boundary around the first tenth and asks that we respect the tithe as His by bringing it to Him as an act of worship. Regarding the tithe, God says, “It is mine. You honor me by returning it to me” (see vv. 7-12). The people of our day are stealing from God when we pocket His tithe as if it were ours, not His.

We are made to be givers. It is not enough to refrain from taking what belongs to another. We are called to work in ways that meet the needs of those around us. This looks like financial giving, but it also looks like care for the elderly, environmental responsibility, social justice, and volunteerism.

And it all flows from the gift of God beginning in the garden and anticipated in the fullness of the Kingdom to come. Because when God commands no stealing, there is a hidden promise beneath the command.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Dancing with the Law: The Ten Commandments.

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