“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.” (Exodus 20:15-17)
As we consider these last three commands, one of the big reasons we find these commands in the Ten Commandments, which is the law of the covenant, or the summary of the Old Covenant law, is because the Ten Commandments are given to Israel as they are being instituted and organized as a proper nation and civil society. The presence of these commands at this point in biblical history, at least in part, shows us that abiding by these commands is essential for an orderly society, or societal stability. You cannot have stability or continuity in a society where people commonly steal from one another, falsely accuse one another, or are filled with covetousness toward one another.
Sadly, these things are increasingly common in our society today. Beyond just the stereotypical thief, we face property theft on many fronts throughout our lives. This comes in the form of unjust taxation and inflation that is due to federal manipulation of the currency. Things like these and inheritance taxes are signs of an unstable society, because it erodes the value of our money, which causes instability in the markets and shakes confidence to make decisions based upon the reliability of the future value of our money and property. This makes for unnecessary difficulties in basic Christian duties like saving and leaving inheritances for our children’s children. Our society refuses to respect the property of others and we suffer for it.
In addition there is increasing distrust in our courts, and unreliability that we will have an honest court system and honest witnesses. With changing laws and standards, we are left with great uncertainties about even the near future. At the heart of both the 8th and 9th commandments are abounding violations of the command not to covet what our neighbor has. Whether it is the state, other groups of individuals, or individuals, many men today are sick with covetousness and so scheme up ways to take what belongs to their neighbor through various forms of theft or false witness, which results in forms of theft. At the heart of this is a lack of trust, faith, contentment, thankfulness, and gratitude to God for what He has given and entrusted to us, and the station in life and society that He has placed each of us in.
Because of this, societal trust and stability is at an all time low because we do not love and respect our neighbor. Love and respect for our neighbor means that we will respect their life and their property. And true love of neighbor comes from love of God and a desire to obey His commands, which our society has abandoned.
But as always, finding solutions to these problems begins with ourselves, conforming our lives to God’s Word because of our faith in Jesus, and repenting where we have erred, and then teaching others to do the same, as our Lord commanded us to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all that He has commanded us. So let us consider these together in light of our own lives and practice.
The 8th Command
The 8th commandment says, “You shall not steal.” In this command God makes clear that not only is there such a thing as personal property, but that it is to be respected and protected from theft. For Israel, they are specifically taught that their ability to take dominion and prosper in the land that God was giving them meant that they must not steal, for theft harms the ability to take dominion, provide for one’s family, and give charitably to one’s neighbor. On this point, theft not only takes the possessions of another, and harms their ability to provide for their own family, but it also ends up hurting the one who stole, for now, the victim of theft is less able to give to others and help his neighbors when they have need. As always, sins never affects just us. It also affects many more of our neighbors than we may think. God wants us to be cheerful and generous in our giving to others, but in order to do so, it means that we must have the ability to give, which means that it is good for the poor that property is protected and upheld.
It has been the lie of socialists to say that in order to care for the poor and the needy we must take what belongs to others so that that wealth can be redistributed “fairly” among everyone. But such attempts are unfair, unjust, and they end up harming the ones that they claim to want to provide for. Because God does indeed care for the poor and needy, the widow and the orphan, God cares about property and its protection. According to God’s standard, private property is legitimate, and God cares about it being respected in society.
The idea of property rights begins with God. And because we have left God, property rights are disrespected. For God owns all things. The cattle on a thousand hills belongs to Him. He is the giver of all good gifts. Everything that man has comes from God and ultimately belongs to Him. It is His property. Since God has ultimate ownership of all things, this does not imply that we own nothing. Contrary to the World Economic Forum elitists who want you to own nothing and be happy, which really means they want to own everything, God wants you to own what He has given to you and steward it well. Since God owns all things, God defines what man can do with what God has given him. In establishing the protection of property, God has made man stewards over what He has. In the garden, God made man steward over all His creation, and the fruits of man’s labor. Since God owns all things, He has decided to give more or less to different men to steward. Covetousness says “this is not fair,” and so schemes ways to steal. Contentment and gratitude says, “thank you.” So, since all property ultimately belongs to God, and secondarily, but legitimately to our neighbor, we are not allowed to steal from them, for it would also be stealing from God. To do so would be to say that God does not have the right to distribute His good gifts as He so chooses. Ultimately, ownership is stewardship of what God has given you. When you answer to God for it one day, you will realize then, that what you had was enough.
Ephesians 4 is a passage that talks about the unity of the body, the unity of the Spirit that believers have. In instructing believers how to walk in this, Paul says in verse 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.” So here Paul directly connects the prohibition against theft with one’s ability to give to those in need. He says, “Christian, you may have been a thief, but Christ calls you no longer to steal, but instead to work honestly, so that then you may have what you do not have, that you might be able to share with those in need.” Theft is laziness. Both are sins warned against. The solution to not having, is not to steal from others, but to work hard with your own hands, that you may receive the fruit of your labors, and when you do, since you are a Christian called to giving, you will be able to give to those who were once in your position of need. Stealing undermines God’s ordained way of earning, which is work, and it undermines the work of others. It is a failure to love God and neighbor.
We may be tempted to think of taking little things here and there as no big deal. But this shows that we have a heart of dishonesty. It could be failing to ever return something that was borrowed from our neighbor. We ought to be so committed to honesty and love for God and neighbor that every little thing that belongs to our neighbor is a big thing for us, because we love them and care that they are respected. Maybe it’s overlooking a small little toy one of your children broke from someone else. Even if we think or know that the owner will not mind at all, our hearts should be settled to go above and beyond to make it right. This is a big thing we should teach and instill in our children. Big thefts usually always begin with little thefts as young children.
Such problems with theft and dishonesty of the heart must be put to death, as we look to Jesus Christ, who never stole. Though, as a man, He was poor and had not a place to lay his head or call his home, Jesus never stole from another, but even then, gave and gave and gave. He trusted His Father, and the things He was given to do on earth. Jesus ultimately gave all He had in giving up His very life. He gave Himself, for others, for the thief, that thief would be forgiven, that the thief would no longer steal. No one took Jesus’ life from Him, but He laid it down of His own accord. Jesus gave Himself so that sinners could receive from His riches, the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and all spiritual blessings in Him. Jesus gives freely and generously to sinners and all those who cannot pay. We cannot earn or merit or purchase the free gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, so Christ freely and generously gives without money and without price.
How much then should our hearts be filled with generosity and love toward our neighbor because of all that we have received in Jesus? If we have generous hearts because of Jesus, theft can live there no longer. Think of the story of Zaccheus, the tax-collector who greatly defrauded, or stole, from his neighbors. When Jesus came to Him, a sinner and a thief, his repentance looked like restoring even more than what he defrauded from his neighbors.
It is the work of the devil to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Those who have been forgiven by God in Christ, have been forgiven of more than anyone could ever commit against them and so are freed to forgive and forgive and forgive.
The 9th Command
The 9th commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This command is not about lying per say, but about a specific type of lying. Most narrowly it’s about falsely testifying against your neighbor in a court of law. We have lots of instruction about this in the case laws, and certainly it would forbid false testimony against our neighbor anywhere, not just in a court of law. This command teaches that a person’s name, character, or reputation is very important to them, and it must be protected in honesty. The idea is that someone’s name and reputation is vital to societal stability. We learn from this that not only someone’s property is to be protected, but someone’s name and reputation also belongs to them and is to be protected. This affects so much about one’s ability to function in society.
In the case laws we see how seriously God takes bearing false witness. If you bore false witness against your neighbor, the punishment for that was to receive the punishment for the crime that you accused your neighbor of. It’s very easy to see how such a law prevents and protects against false witness. It is a very serious thing because it is possible for a false witness to stir up two or three or more other false witnesses to falsely convict their neighbor. God abhors this.
It is amazing how many Proverbs speak to this. Proverbs 19:5, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape.” Proverbs 19:9, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.” Proverbs 21:28, “A false witness will perish, but the word of a man who hears will endure.” Proverbs 24:28, “Be not a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.” Proverbs 25:18, “A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow.”
So obviously we are not to bear false witness in a court of law, but also this gets at the heart of things like slander and gossip, which are forbidden. How do you talk about others? Do you drop what seems like little things in conversations to try and slightly get someone to think less of a person, or negatively of a person? On the other side do you flatter, seeking to gain something from someone, or falsely praise someone? These things ought not to be. Do you attempt to lift up yourself in making slights toward others? Let it not be so. Or do you even bear false witness by complimenting yourself? Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” Let us be honest in all of our speech.
The heart of a false witness usually comes from a heart of covetousness, envy, or jealousy, which seeks to tear down a neighbor and raise oneself. In putting these sins to death, let us look to our Lord Jesus who never gave false-witness. Sometimes He gave scorching witness against evil men like the Pharisees calling them children of the devil, a brood of vipers, and white-washed tombs, but He did so in complete righteousness with a right heart as the judge of all men’s hearts, and never bore false-witness.
Jesus never gave false-witness, but instead, He was the victim of false-witness. He endured the slandering of His name. He was falsely accused of drunkenness and gluttony, and of blasphemy, for which He was falsely condemned before men. But in it, He never sinned, and He endured it for our sake to accomplish His work of redemption for sinners and false-witnesses such as us. Not only did Jesus endure such lies for our sake, that we might be taught honesty, but also that for those who have been victims of false-witness, we may look to Him and be able to endure it. He was reviled and reviled not, but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly, that we might be able to do the same.
Neither does Jesus bear false witness against us. In ourselves we rightly stand condemned before God’s law, as law-breakers and sinners justly deserving the wrath of God. Yet, in the gospel, Jesus does not leave us to such condemnation. For all His people, Jesus takes their sin, their judgment, the right accusations against them, and He takes them upon Himself, judged and punished for sinners, so that we might go free. Not only that, but He then becomes our advocate before the Father, advocating for us, when we sin.
Jesus was a victim of false witness, but as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so was He, and He did so for our redemption, that the verdict for us might be, “not condemned.”
The 10th Command
The 10th Commandment says, “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.” This command forbids coveting that which belongs to your neighbor. Covetousness refers to an illicit craving of another person’s possession, including his station in life. Words like “envy” or “jealousy” could be used to understand covetousness. Or we could say it is a lust for things belonging to another. Or it is an uncontrolled desire for something that is not yours. Certainly there can be a controlled and proper desire of something that belongs to your neighbor. For example, you may want to acquire a cow or a car that belongs to your neighbor and so you could offer to purchase or trade for those things. Obviously your neighbor’s wife is always off limits for such a transaction, for they are covenantally bound together in a way that possessions are not. So coveting is not a desire to trade or purchase things from your neighbor, but it is an uncontrolled lust for those things.
Now why would this command include the prohibition of coveting your neighbor’s wife, if we already have the command against adultery? God is covering the fact that there may be other reasons you might covet your neighbor’s wife that are not sexual desires. It may be that your neighbor’s wife is more thrifty, or a better cook, or better at home management and child-rearing, or has other valuable home-making skills that your wife does not have. Men must absolutely guard against this temptation in their hearts to look at another man’s wife in these ways. You may be tempted to justify such desires in your mind by saying that there are no sexual desires involved in it, but that in no way validates it, and it can still utterly harm your marriage. Instead, be grateful for the wife that God has given you and humbly and patiently do what you can to help your wife learn and grow in her life. The destructive sin of covetousness is at the heart of spousal comparison. And this goes for women looking at another woman’s husband as well. You must not allow your heart to wander away from your husband by comparing him with another man who is more successful, or a better leader, or any such thing.
Some may ask why covetousness is part of these commands since it is a sin primarily of the heart. Well, covetous desires are ultimately destructive at a societal level as are these other commands. It will inhibit your own productivity and fruitfulness by constantly thinking about what someone else has. And envy leads to all sorts of outward sins. Permitted sins in our hearts and minds will find their way out into our lives.
The Westminster Larger Catechism says, “The sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate; envying and grieving at the good of our neighbor, together will inordinate motions and affections to any thing that is his.”
There are two things there to consider. One, that covetousness is grieving at the good of our neighbor. If you are upset to see your neighbor prosper or upset when good happens to him, you probably have a covetous heart. “Why didn’t I get that?” We think. “Why do good things always happen for him or her, and not me?” Or how often do we see people rejoice with glee when destruction or hardship comes upon a famous wealthy person? This is covetousness. You are just glad to see those who have more than you fail or experience loss. How evil it is.
And the second thing, at the heart of this, is discontentment with what you have and where God has stationed you. It is ultimately a sin of ingratitude toward God. When we are filled with gratitude and thankfulness to God for all He has given us and where He has put us, then covetousness will have no room in our hearts, and we will gladly rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Listen to Ephesians 5:1-5, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
So in the midst of this discussion on sexual immorality, covetousness is mentioned, as not to even be named among believers, just as sexual immorality has no place. Here we see how covetousness is a type of uncontrolled lust, which is the same type of heart that sexual immorality comes from. Paul also says that a covetous person is an idolater. This goes back to the first command, “have no other gods before me.” Coveting is worshiping and serving another god, likely the god of mammon, rather than having thankfulness to God.
Consider Colossians 3:1-6, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” Again we see these same connections with immorality and idolatry as we saw in Ephesians.
Because covetousness comes from a discontent heart, the tenth command is necessarily Christological, for only in Jesus can our restless, wandering, covetous hearts find rest, peace, and satisfaction. Therefore, since we have Christ, covetousness ought not even to be named among us. Satisfaction in Jesus is the answer for our aimless hearts, for Jesus gives us Himself. No matter what we have or don’t have, if we have Jesus we always have all that we need. He is the Living Water that satisfies all our thirsting. He is the bread of life for all our hunger. We may be nothing on earth, but if we have Jesus we are sons of God. Those who have Christ and nothing else may be happier than those who have the world, but no Christ. If we have Christ we can be content in every circumstance. Thus Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
And oh what blessedness it is to know that the heart of Jesus is ever sure and steadfast. Our hearts may wonder why or how Christ could ever love us or forgive us or want to save us. And yet, there is never a moment when Christ, who has taken you to be His bride, the Church, when He thinks or says, “I wish I had never saved so and so.” He never wonders, like we may be tempted to do, “Why have I saved this little terrible sinner, and not this great influential powerful person?” His heart of love is contently set upon you, Christian. His love will not be moved away from His bride, to another. Our salvation is stable and secure in Him. And thus it is Christ only who can bring stability and peace to our lives and to our society. Praise be to God.
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