Exodus 20:15 Psalm 24 Matthew 22:34-46 1 Timothy 6:6-16
I recently learned that human trafficking is a major concern in the Holston Conference. It seems that because of our location in the United States, people are being transported on the Interstate Highways in our area to locations that they do not wish to be. Young women, young men, teenage boys & girls, are all being taken against their will. The are sold into slavery or prostitution. This may be even happening even today as you travel I-77 north or south of here.
Kidnapping is stealing a person away from their home, their family, and their friends. We know kidnapping is wrong. We get upset when we realize a child we know has been abducted by an estranged parent or a total stranger. Yet kidnapping is one model of stealing.
There are other models of stealing. These would include tax evasion, shoplifting, and not paying a worker the worker’s wages. An act of theft not only steals our possessions, but it harms our sense of self-worth. We feel violated when something of ours is taken away from us.
I believe we can see why God wrote this commandment on the stone tablets for Moses. And being good folks from the hills, a.k.a. hillbillies, we sense that God has good in store for us as we love God with all we are and we love our neighbors as ourselves. To strengthen that sense, we want to visit a story or two from the Old Testament and one from Jesus himself.
A. You shall not steal (Exodus 20:15)
Our first story is about stealing from a neighbor (1 Kings 21). Naboth had a vineyard. Ahab, king of Samaria, wanted the vineyard so he could plant a vegetable garden! Naboth would not sell the vineyard to Ahab. So, Jezebel, a worshiper of Baal & Ahab’s queen, schemed to get the vineyard for Ahab. She had two scoundrels sit on either side of Naboth at a community banquet. They lied against Naboth & Ahab got the vineyard. Ahab got God quite upset with him; both he & Jezebel were killed for their murder and theft of Naboth’s property.
Our next story is about stealing from God (Malachi 3:8-15). Israel was crumpling from the inside. Malachi, God’s messenger, says that the people are stealing from God. The people don’t know how they are stealing from God. Malachi tells Israel to bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that would be equivalent to the church today, to see how God will open the windows of heaven & pour down an overflowing blessing. The problems keeping us down will be changed as God rebukes them. Israel will be called happy & others will delight in Israel/us – the Lord of hosts says this!
The rich steal from the poor. The poor steal from the rich. And we all steal from God when we do not tithe. Okay, you are upset that I equivocated stealing from others with stealing from God. Some of us might even say that we don’t have to tithe because we are under grace. Remember, Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. I believe a story from Jesus and instructions from Paul will help us understand this a bit better.
B. You love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:34-46)
Our first New Testament story sees Jesus being tested by the Pharisees. The questions proposed is: What is the greatest commandment? Jesus answers with, “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” He is not done answering the question. He then says, “There is one like it – love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Our final story from the New Testament is Paul instructing Timothy to keep the commandment with spot or blame until Jesus comes (1 Timothy 6:6-16). That is, be content with what you have and do not love money!
Besides what Paul told Timothy, we know from the Psalmist that all in creation belongs to God. Since we need not be burdened by seeking more, we can have our time spent in loving God and loving our neighbor. With our energy geared toward loving God and our neighbor, how then could we think of stealing from either God or our neighbors?
Yes, we love God. That is a commandment that is quite positive for us. Yes, we can love our neighbors. This too is a commandment that is positive for us. By loving God and our neighbor, we are giving honor to God and to our neighbor. By loving God we are saying by our actions that God is important for us. By loving our neighbors we are saying by our actions that our neighbors are just as human as we are.
Sometimes in popular media Hillbillies are portrayed as people who are not quite as intelligent as the rest of the world. But I know you are intelligent people. You know that stealing is bad for you and your neighbor. You know that stealing affects your employers. You know that by not tithing, you are limiting the impact that this church can have on this world.
So, I have two dares for you. I dare you to return to your employer all that you have stolen. If you have not stolen a thing from your boss, then you have nothing to worry about. Show your neighbor your love by obeying God’s command to love your neighbor. I dare you to start to tithe. If you have already been tithing, then keep up the good work. Show God your love by obeying his command to love him with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. I believe you will find great benefit by accepting these two dares.