In Exodus 20:15 we read: “You shall not steal.” A very simple clear statement with profound implications is fleshed out in life. It calls us to respect our neighbour, both his person and his property. If we really believe in God’s providence, if we really believe our neighbour is made in the image of God, if we really care about the community more than we care about ourselves, then we will never distrust God’s providence so as to take from someone else something that does not belong to us. We will never steal to provide for our own. We will never do anything to injure our neighbours welfare, knowing that he is an image-bearer of God.
Does God really want us to protect the rights of our neighbours and their possessions? ‘You shall not steal’ – insists that every individual has a right to personal property. It also insists that we are responsible to preserve and protect that right, just as God is zealous for what rightly belongs to Him, (20:5). Because we are made in the image of God, it is part of our nature to have a zeal for what rightfully belongs to us. We are outraged when someone ransacks our belongings, for that is a violation far beyond the material. The things we have worked for and own become an extension of us to an extent. That’s why when they are stolen, we are cut to the core feeling somehow violated. You see the true value of things cannot be measured solely in monetary terms.
Intangibles are what give possessions their true value – things like time, relationships, and most of all, memory. My most valuable possessions are not necessarily the most expensive things I own.
The most valuable things we have are the items that reflect years of family memories, connections with previous generations, faraway places that in moments of time became sacred havens, or the love expressed from lifelong friends. Christie (my wife) and I consider these things irreplaceable. The real value of things is defined by relationships. So as God’s children, we are to treat all possessions as sacred property with someone’s name engraved upon them. Stealing is the breaking of a covenant relationship.
In a world of mass production and seemingly endless supplies, it is hard for us to visualize a real ‘person’ behind the development and manufacturing of the products we consume. The sheer magnitude of mass production makes the creator of any product appear anonymous, and the ease with which we acquire things creates the ‘lie’ that they are ours for the taking. Yet, whenever we make illegal copies of computer software or download music without regard to copyright laws, the breach of relationship is just as real. Somebody paid for what we enjoy. Nothing is free. Understanding the true value of things ought to make us think twice about the way we undertake our purchases. If we research an item at a local store and the salesperson gives us their time and expertise to help us make a decision, and then we purchase the identical item on the internet for a cheaper price…haven’t we removed the ‘relationship value’ from the product, by ‘stealing’ the salesman’s expertise? There’s a good reason why products are more expensive at a local store. Surely being frugal is a virtue, but getting the best deal is not the guiding force of biblical economics.