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“As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to those of his household.” (Martin Luther)

Our local newspaper has a regular feature which uses symbols on a city map to indicate where crimes have been committed. This allows the public to “see” what crimes have been committed in different neighborhoods. It is not uncommon that certain neighborhoods have many symbols, but others have few.

The Seventh Commandment

You shall not steal.

What does this mean?

We should fear and love God that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, nor get them in a dishonest way; but we should help him to improve and protect his property and way of making a living.

If God were to have such a crime map, what would it look like? Let’s explore that question in connection with the Seventh Commandment, which is part of the second table of God’s holy law and deals with our responsibilities toward all our fellow human beings, our “neighbors.” The purpose of the commandment is to protect both our own and our neighbor’s property.

In reality, we are only stewards of the things we possess, for God as the Creator owns everything. “The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness…” (Psalm 24:1), yet God allows us to possess things here on Earth. Through employment He allows us to earn money to buy things. “And you shall remember the Lord  your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:18). Sometimes we acquire possessions through inheritance or through gifts. These too are gifts from God.

How often have we stolen from God by not making use of His many gifts to us? How often have we used our gifts of money, time, and talents to bring glory to ourselves rather than to God? In other words—what does our neighborhood crime map look like? “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

One reason God gives us gifts is that we can help the needy (especially those in need of the message of the gospel). What does self-examination reveal in this regard? Have modern-day con-artists made us cynical towards the poor? Have we become weary of being taken advantage of? “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). Again—what does that neighborhood map look like?

What about cheating? I try to get the students in my class to think of cheating on schoolwork or on taxes as stealing. Using another person’s answer is stealing God’s gift to them and not using God’s gift to you. Allowing someone to cheat off of your work is stealing as well—stealing the opportunity of another to learn.

There may be excuses for not wanting to pay taxes, and it’s easy to rationalize cheating on our tax returns. Remember that Jesus was speaking of the wicked Roman government when He said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” (Matthew 22:21); so what about that neighborhood map where you live?

When it comes to employers and employees, have we ever succumbed to the temptation to steal from them? Have we ever failed to truly earn the wage that our employer has paid us —either by slacking off or by taking advantage of them? Please refer to Ephesians 6:5-9.

With this self-examination, I trust you would agree that theft is an ongoing problem in our “neighborhood,” whether in our homes, schools, or places of work. We ourselves are guilty of disobedience to this Commandment, for our often discontented hearts have desired what is not our own, and our hands have taken them.

Let us daily give thanks to God that through His Son, our Savior, we have come to know that life here does not consist in the abundance of the things we possess (Luke 12:15). We are also blessed to know that it is only because of Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of God’s holy Law —and His atoning sacrificial death for our sins! —that we poor sinners can look forward to heavenly riches in the “crime-free neighborhood” that is our heavenly fatherland.