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Monday, 26 January 2015

The Ten Words (8)

As we draw close to the end of this brief look at each of the Ten Words (Commandments) given by Almighty God to the Children of Israel, but applicable to all of mankind, we reach the eighth one.  As with number six, it is very short: "You shall not steal." (Ex 20:15).

This is, surely, a very simple commandment to understand.   It means that I ought not to rob a bank; mug an old lady and take her handbag; remove goods from a local shop without making the required payment; break into my neighbour's home and help myself to his belongings.

Well, it certainly does mean all of that - but it also means much more!  For example, if my employer pays me to work from 0830 until 0530 (with appropriate breaks!), but I arrive late, or leave early, I have stolen my employer's time.  If I falsify my income tax returns, I am stealing - not from the government (which actually has no money of its own!), but from other taxpayers who will, eventually, be required to make up the shortfall thus caused, or from genuine benefit recipients who will have their benefits cut!   If I am a self-employed workman, and I bill a householder for better materials than the ones I used, I have stolen from that householder.   Politicians who deliberately abuse the expenses system are stealing from those who, in fact, employ them.

As a disciple of Jesus, I may even be guilty of stealing from God!  Speaking through the Old Testament prophet, Malachi, God says: "For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.  From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?'  Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How are we robbing thee?' In your tithes and offerings.  You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me; the whole nation of you.  Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house; and thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing." (Mal. 3:6-10).

Tithing - the giving to God of one tenth of our material blessings (for the Children of Israel that was, in the main, crops and animals; for us it is more likely to be a wage/salary/pension/benefit) was part of the Old Testament law, and there are Christians who insist that it does not apply to them.  I beg to differ!  Jesus' own words to the scribes and the Pharisees were: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others." (Matt. 23:23).  Those words at the end would indicate that He was not condemning the practice of tithing, but telling them that they had even greater responsibilities that they were neglecting, while tithing even garden herbs!  

Then, we read that, speaking to His disciples, He said: "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:17-20).  In other words, He was saying that we should give more than the tithe - what many refer to as the 'love-gift'.

I doubt that anyone who reads my blog is guilty of any criminal act that would break this commandment.  However, could it be that all of us need to examine our lives to see if we are stealing from our fellow-man in less obvious ways?  Could it be that we need to examine our lives to see if we are stealing from Father God?  It's worth thinking about!

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