Be Content With That
Posted by Ros Clarke, 15 Mar 2018
Ros Clarke looks at the eighth commandment in the latest in our Lent series of blogposts on the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer.
The eighth commandment
“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)
You know what it’s like. Your family rushed out of Egypt, leaving everything behind like they were supposed to. But Dan’s family over there, well they planned ahead and filled their backpacks with all kinds of things. So now he’s got a new pair of leather sandals and he doesn’t even want his old ones. Yours have been in bits for months. I mean, he’s not even using them. He probably wouldn’t even notice. They’re just there. Lying at the door of his tent. You could just try them on for size…
Moses calls you all to the mountain. There’s thunder and lightning and it’s absolutely terrifying. And God speaks. He’s telling everyone what it’s going to mean for him to be in charge. There’s a list of rules. He gets to the eighth, and it’s like he’s speaking directly to you: “You shall not steal.”
You shall not steal. Don’t do it. You glance over at Dan. He’s looking up the mountain to where God is. You glance down at your sandals. You could probably fix them so they last for another month or two.
And then Dan looks at you and smiles. And when you come down the mountain he runs over, takes the new sandals off his feet and offers them to you. “Here,” he says. “Take these. I have more than I need and I want you to have them.”
Don’t steal, God says. Haven’t I given you enough? Don’t you trust me to keep providing everything you need? Even here, in the wilderness, haven’t I given you water and food, and everything you’ve needed to survive?
This is the Lord, your God, who brought you out of slavery. This is the God who has called you his own. This is the God who has given you everything. So why would you ever need to take more?
How is the eighth commandment a mirror?
This commandment is a reminder that everything we have comes from God. Everything we need, everything we enjoy, everything we think of as our own has its origin in God the creator and the provider. God is generous and gracious, giving us more than we need and more than we deserve.
And yet we are always wanting more. Like the Israelites complaining in the desert, we are never content with what God has given us. We’re never satisfied. We constantly want what we do not have. We’re always jealous of people who seem to have more. And if we think we can get away with it, we’ll be tempted to take what does not belong to us.
How is the eighth commandment a deterrent?
Don’t do it, says God. Don’t steal.
First, remember that even if you think you can get away with it, God will see. God will know.
Second, remember that sins never stay secret. The sin of stealing is one that breaks trust and harms communities. See Joshua 7 for one story from Israel’s history that shows how one man’s theft brought defeat to the whole people.
Third, remember that stealing is not just a sin against another person. It is a sin against God. Stealing is saying to God that we don’t trust him to give us everything we need. Stealing is denying God’s gracious generosity to us. Instead, learn to trust him more. Learn to be content with what he has given you.
How does the eighth commandment set a standard for our behaviour?
We didn’t even need to wait for Jesus to explain how this commandment should be applied. John the Baptist was able to tell his followers: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14)
The eighth commandment implies more than just not taking other people’s things. It sets a standard for honest dealings and generosity towards others. Share with those who need it, because sometimes the way God provides for our needs is through the generosity of others. Don’t be dishonest at work, taking what isn’t rightfully yours. Don’t defraud people, don’t bring false claims.
There are all kinds of subtle and not-subtle ways we can steal what is not ours. Wasting work time checking our Facebook and Twitter pages. Helping ourselves to more than our fair share of family resources. Not being completely honest in the way we describe items we’re selling. Greedily demanding the best of everything on offer. Failing to declare all our income to the Inland Revenue. Not giving generously to share with those who are in need. There are a hundred ways to break this commandment without ever doing anything illegal.
Learn to be content with what you have, generous in how you share with others, and not to put your trust in money and material possessions:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10)
Questions for reflection:
1. Do you think of yourself as rich or poor? Why?
2. How does your attitude to money and possessions reflect your attitude to God?
3. How can you be more generous with what God has given you?
Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for your generous provision of everything we need and more. Teach us to be content with what we have and generous in sharing it with others. May we never be tempted to wander from the faith by love of money, but always keep trusting you, our Saviour and Provider. Amen.
Ros Clarke is Associate Director of Church Society
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