Exodus 20:15 & Ephesians 4:28
Flourishing – The command against stealing can be seen as beneficial in three interrelated ways. Firstly, it provides protection against danger in a fallen world and provides a basic motivation to work. Secondly it points to the fact that work was part of God’s plan for us from before the fall (Gen 1:27-30) – when we work hard with the gifts God gives us we create good things and prosper in lots of ways. Stealing undermines this link between work and reward, both for the thief and the victim, destroying the goodness that comes from them. Thirdly, and most importantly, stealing points us to its opposite, generosity. God didn’t just create us to work for our own sake, but so that we have private possessions to give to others. God is love and generosity is at the heart of love; when we give we live out his image in the world in a profound way, filling the world with joy and goodness. Stealing is antithetical to generosity and so destroys the image of God in us leaving us isolated and spiritually dead. The relationship between theft and generosity in relation to the Christian life is neatly summed up by the verse, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” (Eph 4:28)
Fencing – We must provide for the essential needs of others in accordance with the immediacy of their need, first to family, then to church and then to others in need. To fail to do so is to deprive people of what is rightfully theirs and so to steal from them, (Luke 16:19-31, 1 Tim 5:8, Jas 2:15-16, Gal 6:10). Moreover, except in extraordinary cases of urgent need, christians should avoid theft of all kinds and cultivate an attitude of abhorrence toward it even in its petty forms. This is not limited to material theft, but includes all things – even intangible things – that may legitimately be seen as private property. Positively speaking, Christians are called to be as generous as possible, not only by the simple act of financial giving, but by seeking to live in a way that most blesses others. This generosity should touch every sphere of our lives and give us wisdom in the use of our time, efforts and wealth. This includes modelling generosity to our families, frugality, moderation in rest, working hard, not wasting money on addictive or exorbitant pastimes and using the better part of what we own to bless others rather than ourselves.
Freeing – The command highlights just how far short we’ve fallen from God’s plan of generosity. Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) epitomises the freeing power of this command. A life that revolves around theft and lacks generosity is destructive and leaves us, lonely, joyless, lacking peace and without love. Yet, despite our selfishness, Jesus seeks us out by name, saves us, reveals God’s love to us and transforms our hearts through the gift of the Spirit so that we begin to live in God’s generous image. He enables us to work hard and be fruitful by teaching us, providing for us, equipping us and calling us to our vocation so that we can live to abundantly bless others.
Fulfilling – By showing us that God is love, Jesus reveals to us that generosity is at the very centre of existence. Moreover, God has given us this eternal life by giving to us not just something good, but his very self to us in creation, salvation and in the life to come. God has shared his ultimate gift with us, his own eternal life. He has withheld nothing from us, but has given us all the riches of Christ, which means eternal ever-fuller knowledge of the triune God. Generosity will be fulfilled when, in heaven, all the riches of Christ flow through our hands to the glory of God and the joy of the whole creation.