Text: Seventh Commandment
Our Lord teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount about being anxious over our earthly well-being. He says,
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?Matthew 6:25-26
Here, Jesus reminds us of what we learn in the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed: that God our heavenly Father knows what we need and provides for us. This idea comes up in the Lord’s Prayer, too, when we pray for our daily bread. And, of course, this idea is also brought up by the First Commandment.
Since we believe that God has promised to provide all that we need, and does, it should be reflected in how we relate to our neighbor – specifically, in how we relate to what belongs to our neighbor. In the Seventh Commandment, God teaches us not to steal. Since all that we need is provided by our gracious Lord, He would have us be of help and support to our neighbor in protecting and improving what is his.
Let’s stop and ruminate on this idea for a bit, though. In the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” The Christian faith is that God our Father is the Creator of all that exists. All things that were made, whether visible or invisible, find their source in Him. But, when we say that God is the Maker of all things, we also include the fact that God upholds and preserves creation, as well. For example, it says in the Psalms, “He covers the heavens with clouds; He prepares rain for the earth…He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.” It also says, “The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
Our God is gracious and kind, He lovingly provides and cares for all creation, including us. He gives us life, and continues to provide for the needs of our bodies until such time as He takes us to Himself. As we learned in the Fourth Commandment, He provides for us through our parents and others who care for us, through worldly government, and though our employers. He also provides for all people by causing the earth to be fruitful. He even provides for the needs of the birds of the air, and we’re worth much more than them. Our God is the creator and preserver of all life, even ours, and He does provide for all that we truly need. Therefore, in some ways, the Seventh Commandment is an application of the First Commandment. We should love and trust God and, therefore, not steal.
Let’s go ahead and read the Seventh Commandment together.
You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.Martin Luther’s Small Catechism
I think that’s right, that the Seventh Commandment builds on the First. If we trusted God to provide, then we wouldn’t steal. But, that’s assuming people steal only what they need. We know that’s not true. Instead, people steal because their sinful nature leads them to believe that what they want is more important than what God provides. Therefore, God says to us here, do not steal.
This means, first, to not steal – in the literal sense. God would not have His beloved children be thieves. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “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.” This Commandment teaches that we should not steal anything that belongs to our neighbor. Neither should we get anything in any dishonest way. All fraud and misleading practices should be put far away from us. If we have products that we sell, we may sell them at whatever prices we see fit, but we should never cheat someone or falsely take advantage of them. Martin Luther said in the Large Catechism that the poor man cries out to God against those who take advantage of him, and God hears that cry.
A final application of the Seventh Commandment our students know. It is also considered stealing when we, as employees, are lazy or sloppy with our time. If we are being compensated for our work, let us work. Let us be diligent in our labor, using the skills that God has given us to the best of our ability. This is maybe a hidden form of stealing, but it is against the Commandment to falsely accept payment for work not done. Instead of getting money or possessions in any sort of dishonest way. God teaches us in this Commandment to trust in Him and be of service to our neighbor.
We observe this Commandment rightly when we help our neighbor protect and improve what is his, particularly in possessions and income. This could include a number of things. It could be as simple as driving someone to work when they are in need. It could be lending tools; money, even. Jesus said, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” An application of this Commandment could also be writing a good letter of reference for somebody. It could be helping them rebuild after a disaster.
We also learn from this Commandment when we are good stewards of what God does give us. We should receive everything we have with thanksgiving, knowing that it is a blessing and gift from God. What He gives us, whether in the form of food or drink or clothing or home or job, should be used for the support of those around us, particularly our family. We should use what God gives us to help and support the neighbors closest to us: our spouses and our children. We should also be generous, always ready to give to the poor and to the Church, in support of its ministers, works of mercy, and the spread of the Gospel of Christ.
Jesus teaches us to not worry or be anxious because our heavenly Father knows what we need and will provide. Therefore, neither should we steal. Stealing shows a lack of faith and trust in God. Yet, our God is merciful. If we are honest, there have been times where we’ve stolen, been tempted to, or have been lazy at work. “But if we confess our sins…” Thanks be to God.
Let us pray:
Lord God, giver of every good and perfect gift, teach us to rejoice in the bounty of Your gifts given to our neighbors and curb our appetite to claim for ourselves by theft or dishonesty the money or possessions You have bestowed on them. Instead, give us cheerful hearts and willing hands to help our neighbors improve and protect their livelihood; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.