Sermon for Sunday, October 3rd, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Exo 20:15-21 ESV] 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” 18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
New Testament reading:
[Eph 4:25-32 ESV] 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
[Mat 6:19-21 ESV] 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Recently, one of my neighbors found a loose wallet on our street. There was $60 in it. And there was everything else in there too; credit cards and an I.D. So what do you do in Unionville when you find a wallet? Do you call the police? No, you call Horler’s General Store; because they surely know the person! It actually turns out that I knew the person and as well, and so I walked with the neighbor who had found the wallet down to another neighbor who was the owner of the wallet. And we successfully returned it.
I. Loving Your Neighbor
A. You shall not steal (from your neighbor)
This all presents an example of loving your neighbor through not stealing from them. You see, theft can take many forms. Stealing doesn’t occur only through breaking and entering. It may happen in various other ways.
If you took a single penny out of a wallet you found on the street, you have stolen from that person. We don’t have a “finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers” ethic. We have a “thou shall not steal” ethic. And this ethic doesn’t allow for any leeway. It is simple: thou shall not steal.
This means you should not withhold wages from a person who has done honest work for you. Nor should you say you’ve worked 5 hours when you’ve only worked 4. That is stealing, as well as lying, bearing false witness.
The commandment against stealing then is a call to honest dealing in business in general. You should not be trying to get the better of your customers or your boss, you should be trying to find mutually beneficial transactions. If you sell a lawnmower at a garage sale for $30 and both parties are happy with the transaction, then each is benefitted, or at least expects to benefit from the transaction. But theft occurs whenever one party is not in favor of the transaction. You can’t sneak into your neighbors garage, take his lawn mower, leave $30, and expect him to be satisfied.
We are to be honest in our dealings. If you know that a gold coin is worth $1,700, but you buy it from a person for only $100 because they are unaware of its value, that is theft. That is dishonest. And we are to seek to a higher level of ethics and moral behavior.
W are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who would think of stealing from themselves?
One more example of stealing. A hiker actually told me about this. He and his son own a landscaping company and they did a big job for one client. Included in this job was delivering a number of yards of dirt to their property. And the client at one point asked them where they got the dirt. They explained that it came from various sources, sometimes as excess from other jobs they had worked on or free from where they had to remove dirt on a job. And the customer complained, “If you got this for free, I’m not paying for it.” And he wouldn’t back down despite it being explained to him that they had to sift the dirt, store the dirt, and transport the dirt. So I believe they ended up loosing out to keep the customer happy and/or to keep their reputation from being tarnished. But clearly it was the customer who was stealing from them. Even dirt costs money. Even something cheap as dirt can add up in cost.
So what is the higher level of ethics and moral behavior that we are called to?
Paul tells us more in Ephesians:
[Eph 4:28 ESV] 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
Put off stealing, and put on honest work.
As we seek to love our neighbor and obey the commandment to not steal, it is important that we study economics. Understanding economic theory is an important part of loving your neighbor. I’m not speaking here of the false economic theories of the world, but of Biblical economics, those monetary ideas that come from the Scriptures themselves.
For example, the Bible tells us to use fair weights and measures; we are not to steal through dishonest dealings.
False economic theory has led to all sorts of stealing. There is the theft perpetrated by governments through oppressive taxation. There is theft through the rapid printing of paper currency, devaluing everyones money. And, there is something more advanced called the Cantillion Effects where the person (or persons) closest to the government (like the banks) spend the new money first before the value of the currency can fully react to the latest influx of currency.
It is important that we see in Ephesians 4:28 that (negatively) we are not to steal, and (positively) we are to labor honestly to share with others.
It is definitely not loving to take from one person and give to another, through taxation or theft. Our call is to give of our own; to work hard to have something to share with anyone in need.
There has long been a debate between socialism and capitalism. On the one side—socialism—it is argued that the government should own and control the means of the production, while on the other side—capitalism—it is argued that the people, individually or in corporations, should own and control the means of production.
Sometimes socialists will say that a person is selfish for owning something and keeping it from everyone else.
And while there is a sense in which it is right to say that all things belong to God, we must understand that God then gives man possessions to steward, and while we own then we are to use them well. But note that there is a definite approval of ownership in the Scriptures. In fact, the commandment against stealing is predicated upon the notion of ownership of possessions. If people did not own things, there would be no need to speak of stealing. There would be nothing to steal.
This is just one case in which it is clear that the Bible does support capitalism; the ownership of possessions. This doesn’t mean that the Bible supports all of the corruptions and crimes that owners of possessions and companies have committed. The point here is merely that owning things itself is perfectly normal and acceptable.
It is said that socialism has been making a comeback among the youth today. But this could be said for almost any era in modern history. Socialism is often popular with the youth. I remember once hearing the apt quote, “If you are 20 years old and not a socialist you have no heart; if you are 60 years old and still a socialist you have no brain.”
There was a time in the late 19th when socialism was honestly considered by economists. But it wasn’t long into the 20th when most concluded that it was a grave failure. Economists like Ludwig von Mises showed that, even if people were perfectly altruistic, socialism fails because it lacked a supply and demand pricing mechanism and thus made planning a national economy or even a household economy impossible.
While some basic taxation is perhaps inevitable and it is right that we should pay our taxes, in general, if you vote for a political who seeks to increase taxes, you are voting for theft. This puts us in a difficult predicament as very often both sides of the aisle are seeking more taxes; each for their own projects.
There is a great problem of theft in our nation today. Corporations like Walmart suffer losses in the billions of dollars each year from theft. Yet, the amount of money moved around in the government (from taxpaying people and corporations to various political projects and favored interests) is of far greater scope. Never in world history has theft of this magnitude been conducted.
What are we do to? First, we should pray for our nation. Pray for our leaders. And pray that honest leaders will emerge and take greater control.
Isn’t it astounding, places like the State of Illinois with millions and billions of dollars coming in find themselves in bankruptcy? These scandals are so large that we can only say “God, have mercy on us.” God have mercy on our nation. Teach us not to steal. Teach us to love our neighbor by letting them have their earned possession.
The commandment not to steal is closely related to the commandment not to murder? When we say “life, liberty, and happiness” it is true that private property is closely intertwined. If you, say on the frontier prairies a century ago, stole the grain from a farmer, you’d be doing nothing short of murder. Without grain he could not eat. Without grain he could not provide for his family.
You can see how the commandments are themselves intertwined.
Under our theme today of “loving your neighbor” we also have the 9th commandment. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
B. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
Did you notice that in 9th and 10th commandment the “neighbor” is explicitly mentioned? You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor, and you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, not your neighbor’s house, etc. In the 8th commandment “neighbor” is merely implied: you shall not steal (from your neighbor). Here “neighbor” means EVERYBODY. It is not as if I’m only disallowed from stealing from my next-door neighbor, but if I go one town over I can steal all I want. Neighbors are all other people, and we are united as one people, all descended from Adam and Eve. Everyone is your neighbor, and everyone is your brother or your sister.
So we have the 9th commandment. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. This certainly has courtroom connotations. When you’re under oath you are not to give false testimony. That is true. But we as Christians are to live by a higher ideal. We are never to give false testimony, whether in the courtroom or anywhere else.
When you lie it has the potential to harm your neighbor whom you are called to love.
As I’ve sought to explain with each of the commandments here too I want to show the broadness of this commandment. What is a lie?
Are you familiar with selective hearing? WHAT? It sounds so nice when we say “selective hearing.” But when you realize that in pretending to have not heard someone you are in fact bearing false witness to the truth — that you did hear them — it doesn’t seem so nice. A Christian man or a Christian woman should not incorporate selective hearing into their habits and attitudes.
Another form of breaking this commandment is “terminological inexactitude.” I’ve found this technique to be almost universally incorporated by enemies of the faith. They’ll use terms, maybe even Biblical terms, but give another meaning to them. They twist words, and make truth and falsehood fuzzy. Stay away from such people, and do not lie yourself in such ways.
There is the lie also of boasting. What do we tend to do when boasting? We exaggerate. The proverbial example is the fish that gets longer and heavier every time we tell the story. So if a man says that 20 years ago he caught a whopper that almost broke his pole, 10 years ago it may have been just a normal bluegill, and in reality, who knows, it may have been a minnow. Such is bearing false witness. Perhaps this is how all of those stories of cryptozoology emerge. The Loch Ness monster may have started out as a sturgeon.
There is also the lie of delusion; lying to yourself. This typically manifests itself in an amazing amount of charitability to yourself. We might say overly-charitable, justifying your every action, even sin. We can be so critical of others, giving them no charity, then we look at ourselves and put on the choir robe. There has been a national media case I’m sure you’ve all heard of, where it appears a young women from Florida may have been killed by her boyfriend while on vacation. And I hope red flags pop up in your mind. What were they doing on vacation together? And one of the pictures in the media is of the young woman with a halo on her head like an angel. This is the view they are trying to present, never mind that she was fornicating; living with her boyfriend (not her husband). Now, I’m certainly not saying that she deserved to be murdered or anything like that; but I am saying the portrayal of her is deluded. It is a false portrayal. It is bearing false witness.
There are many other types of lying, but let me mention just one more. Hypocrisy. Saying one thing (and it very well may be true), but living out something else. Lying is usually in thought or in word, but hypocrisy is a type of lying in our deeds. The hypocrite does not love his neighbor, he deceives his neighbor. With all the deception, all the lying in our world, who can we actually trust? Who can we actually believe? It is not that 1 in 10 statements that come to us are lies; it may very well be that 5 in 10 or 7 in 10 things we hear are lies. The news lies to us, advertisements lie to us, even friends and family lie to one another. This harms your neighbor because it leads to a life of cynicism; in a world of lies, we become cynical, distrustful of others. But God made us for fellowship with one another, and fellowship depends on trust. Hypocrisy ruins that trust and ruins our fellowship.
So it is that there are many forms of lies. And when we expand upon this commandment we more understand our own guilt. Yes, it may be that you do not often tell egregious outright lies, but how often have you boasted, how often have you been hypocritical, how often have you deluded yourself, how often have you been intentionally inexact in your words, and how often have you employed selective hearing. Away with all of these things. Let us obey the commandment and so love our neighbor.
We then have a final commandment when it comes to loving our neighbor.
C. You shall not covet (what your neighbor has.)
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
I mentioned at the beginning of this sermon series on the commandments that not everyone numbers the commandments the same. In both Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism they merged our 1st and 2nd commandments to be just 1 commandment, the first. And so at the end they divide this commandment into two covetings. There is the coveting of your neighbor’s house.. And there is the coveting of your neighbor’s wife; more than his possession, his very self, as the marriage union makes two into one flesh.
Well, the commandment continues against coveting your neighbor’s servants and animals, and then concludes “or anything that is your neighbor’s.” This summary points to the fact that this is one unified commandment. It is a commandment against coveting in general, not to be divided into different objects of our covetousness. All coveting is wrong.
Here we have a commandment that strikes at the heart. Coveting is a sin and it is at the root of other sins. Just as anger is the seed of murder, so covetousness is the seed of theft. First one covets, then one steals. You see, stealing is covetousness in action; an outward showing of the sin that was previously just in the mind.
Coveting leads us to treat our neighbor in less than loving ways. Coveting what is theirs, we hold a grudge against them and speak to them differently.
Covetousness is never others-oriented, it is always self-oriented. By coveting you are withholding the love of neighbor as you focus on yourself. You miss opportunities to love others as you daydream about what you want.
There is a connection among these commandments; they each relate to the idea of contentment. We are called to be content with what God has given us and where he has put us. We are to be content with our possession and not steal that which is not ours. We are to be content with the truth and so not lie. And we are to be content with our house, our wife, and our own estate that we do not spent our time coveting what another has. We are to be grateful to God for what he has given us.
When we go against God’s plan we show discontentment with Him. Like the Beatles old song, we sing “I, me, mine.” “I, me, mine.” Everyones’s saying it, flowing more freely than wine.
Stealing is dishonorable to God who WILL provide. When you steal, you are saying he won’t provide for you; for your needs.
The thief’s core problem is that he is discontent with what he has. The Lord abundantly gives, but the thief wants more; that which is not rightfully his.
Lying is dishonorable to God who Is the truth. When you lie, you speak in opposite to the Lord God of Truth. Why would you bear false witness but if you were not content with the truth!?
Coveting is dishonorable to God who has given us exactly what He intends to give us and who has given us the resources the need.
It is not wrong to want something, and then through legitimate means purchase that thing. But coveting is often wanting things that we cannot have. By the law of God you cannot have your neighbor’s wife. And if your neighbor drives a car that is utterly out of your price range then you simply cannot have one and are to be satisfied with what you’re able to have.
On the tenth commandment The Child’s catechism says:
Q: What does the tenth commandment teach you?
A: To be content with whatever God chooses to give me. (Or, we might say, not coveting means to be happy with what you’ve got.)
So the commandments teach us to love others and to find contentment in the Lord and his provision for us.
Let’s look briefly then at the gospel in this context of the commandments for loving your neighbor.
It begins in the Garden of Eden. Our first parents took fruit from the tree that did not belong to them. They broke the 8th commandment. Underlying that sin was covetousness, wanting what was not theirs to have; and so breaking the 10th commandment. They also broke the ninth commandment in trying to divert the blame; Adam blaming Eve, Eve blaming the serpent.
But AFTER the sin of man, God promised a messiah. It was not for holy man — declared good in God’s creation — that a messiah was to come. But for sinful man. God’s love was promised despite the sins against him.
And so many centuries later there is the THIEF on the cross. Another sinner. Another who has broken the 8th commandment.
And we’ve seen that God forgave the sin of the murdering David and the adulterous woman at the well. Now, we find that he forgives also the thief on the cross.
To this man — who believed in Jesus — Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus loved his neighbor on the cross. And this was a love even greater than that which is required of us by the commandments. Jesus actually gave his life for the thief on the cross, as he gave his life also for you and for me though we break any or all of the commandments.
The thief had “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And knowing the promise of eternal life with confidence in the Lord we also pray that today, “Lord Jesus, remember ME when you come into your kingdom.”