Robert Jeffress - Respect The Property of Others - Part 1
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". In recent months, we've seen an alarming rise in retail thefts. Thugs dressed in hoodies rush into shopping malls and jewelry stores, leaving with bags filled with stolen goods. It's just one of many ways that people are stealing from their neighbors. Today, I'm calling on all Americans to heed the Eighth Commandment of God. My message is titled, "Respect the Property of Others," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
None of the parents suspected Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper of anything improper, but neither could they understand why their church school was running a deficit every year. For 28 years, Sister Mary Margaret, an 80-year-old nun, had served as the principal of the St. James Catholic Church in Florence, California. But in 2021, when Sister Mary Margaret was 80 years of age, a federal judge sentenced her to 1 year and 1 day in the penitentiary for embezzling the money and defrauding parents. She was forced and encouraged to repay more than $800,000 she had stolen from these parents and students. Her response? She said, "I have sinned, I have broken the law, I have no excuses". She was right.
In stealing that money, she had broken not only United States law; more importantly, she had broken God's law. In fact, she broke one of the most basic laws God has given to govern our lives and our society. It's found in Exodus 20:15: "You shall not steal". If you have your Bibles, turn to Exodus chapter 20 as we discover why we should respect the property of others.
We're in a series I'm calling "The 10: How to Live and Love in a World that's Lost its Way". And we're gaining a fresh look at God's most basic laws for living. We call them the Ten Commandments. Now, the Eighth Commandment we're looking at today, "You shall not steal," is much like the last two commandments in that in the original Hebrew text, it is only two words. Remember the Sixth Commandment was "No murder". The Seventh Commandment: "No adultery". The Third Commandment is equally blunt, the Eighth Commandment: "No stealing". Moses later expanded on that in Leviticus 19:11-13 when he wrote: "Do not steal. Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight".
In just a minute, we're going to look at four ways we commonly break this Eighth Commandment. But I wanna begin today by talking about the basis, the need for this commandment. Why does God talk about not stealing? There's a basic assumption here that, frankly, is under attack today in our country. And it's the assumption that people have a right, not just a right, but a responsibility to acquire personal property. Today, there are some woke Christians who are trying to teach that we shouldn't have personal property, that we shouldn't have differing levels of income, that the Bible advocates a kind of Christian Marxism, or sanctified socialism, where everybody ought to have the same amount and earn the same amount of money.
In fact, I actually heard the pastor of one woke church say the Great Commission for churches is to end income disparity. That's the mission of the church, to make sure everybody has the same amount of money. Is that true? Well, some people actually misuse the Bible to promote such an idea. They turn to Acts chapter 4, verse 32, these words about the freshly birthed church: "And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them".
See, Pastor, there it is. Everybody sold their goods, put it in the common pool, and everybody enjoyed the same level of income. But that's just a superficial reading of the text. When we looked at this in our study of Acts, we pointed out that this giving of your assets and pooling of assets was voluntary. It wasn't confiscatory. Nobody forced the church to do that. Individuals chose to do that. But in the same passage, the Bible honors personal property, in Acts 5, verse 4, remember? Peter was chastising Ananias for lying about the amount of money he had given. He had claimed to have sold a piece of property and given all the proceeds to the church, and he held back a portion. And Peter said, "Ananias, why did you lie? For while your property remained unsold, didn't it remain under your control"?
In other words, it was yours to do with whatever you wanted to do. That's the idea of personal property. Another interesting passage in Scripture is found in Philippians 4, verses 11 and 12. I bet most of you know this passage by heart. Paul said, "I've learned to be content in whatever circumstances I'm in. I know how to get along in humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity". In other words, he said, "I know how to live according to a budget. If I have a lack of resources, I cut back. If I have an abundance of resources, I enjoy it. I've learned to be content in both circumstances".
Now, these words were written 25 years after the birth of the church in Acts 2. If the goal of the church had been to flatten income disparity and made it that everybody had the same amount of money, then Paul never would have learned to cut back. He wouldn't have needed to. He never would have learned how to experience abundance. He never had abundance. Everybody had the same amount. My point is God's plan is not for sanctified socialism. And the reason I bring that up right now is if the Bible teaches that we have a right and responsibility to acquire personal property, then we have the right and responsibility to protect that property. And that's what this Eighth Commandment is all about.
If you don't protect personal property of value in Scripture, you're going to have anarchy in society. The whole assumption is personal property is part of God's plan and it's his plan for us to protect that property. Now, how do you acquire possessions? If it's God's will for us to accumulate money and accumulate possessions to care for ourselves and our family, how do you do it? Well, there are three, and only three, ways to acquire property and all three are mentioned in Ephesians 4:28. Paul wrote: "He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need".
The primary method God gives for acquiring property is through our work. That is, we must labor, performing what is good according to our hands. In Deuteronomy 8:18, God said, "You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you the power to make wealth". God gives each one of us the power not to become billionaires or millionaires, but to make the wealth, the money, we need to take care of ourselves and others. Have you ever heard the phrase, "He's a self-made man," or "She's a self-made woman"? There is no such thing. Nobody is self-made. We are all God-made. And God gives us the gifts, the ability, even the energy, to work and to make a living. And that's God's plan: the way we take care of ourselves is through our work.
In 2 Thessalonians 3, verse 10, Paul said: "For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either". Very simple: no work, no money, no food. That's God's plan. Now, don't write me an email 'cause, yes, there are exceptions to that, and the Bible gives them. If somebody is disabled and not able to work, we are to be generous and compassionate and help provide, a safety net for those who can't work. But Paul is saying those who can work should work and they shouldn't eat if they don't work. In Genesis 1:28, it's very clear, God created the first man and woman to be workers. Look at this: "God blessed them," that is Adam and Eve, "and said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every other living thing that moves on the earth.'"
We were created to be workers because God is a worker. We're created in his image. Look at Genesis 2:15: "Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it". Now, you know what is significant about this verse, what is significant about Genesis 2:15? It comes before Genesis 3, verse 1. Now here's why that's significant. Do you remember what's recorded in Genesis 3? It's how sin came into the world. The Fall of man and the curse that resulted from that Fall. But there are a lot of people who mistakenly believe work itself is a curse. It's a curse from God. It's because of the Fall of Adam and Eve that we have to work for a living.
If only Adam and Eve hadn't blown it in the Garden, I could be sitting on the French Riviera eating bonbons, I mean, that's what a lot of people think. No, before the Fall, God said, "I'm creating you to be a worker. Not just to make money, but ye find your fulfillment in your work". God meant for us to find fulfillment in our work. One of the most important things you'll ever discover is what your life work should be. My friend, Bob Beal, describes and defines life work as "that work which is the best use of the rest of your life". Your life work is that work which is the best use of the rest of your life. And your life work will always be the intersection of two things: first of all your passion. What do you really care about? What are you really interested in? And secondly, your giftedness. What has God uniquely gifted you to do? And when you find that intersection between your passion and your giftedness, you've discovered your life work.
Philippians 2:13 says: "It is God at work within us, giving us the desire, the passion, and the power to do His will". My friend Bob also says: "An activity is only work if you'd rather be doing something else". Hopefully, you find that life work. That doesn't mean it's not tiring. Work is exhausting. It became more exhausting after the Fall. Genesis 3:17-19 said: "Your work is gonna be harder because of sin, but that doesn't mean it can't be fulfilling". And God's plan for you is to find that life work so that you can generate the income to acquire property and take care of yourself and your family.
And there's something in the best sense of the word, a pride of ownership, when you earn money and are able to buy those things that you and your family needs. I remember when I got my first car, it was in 1971. My dad, as a hobby, rebuilt Volkswagens and he gave me, as a gift, a Volkswagen Beetle. Remember the Volkswagen Bugs? I guess they're still running around here, and I'd go down Central Expressway. I remember I asked my dad one time, "Where's the air conditioner"? He said, "Oh, Robert, this has a 260 air conditioner". I said, "A 260 air conditioner"? He said, "Yeah, roll down 2 windows and go 60 miles an hour and you'll have all the air you need".
Now I loved that little car. Only problem was, one day the fuel line in the back, that's where the engine was, worked it way loose, sprayed the engine, and the car blew up while I was driving it down Beltline Road. So I had to get rid of that Volkswagen, but you know what car I enjoyed even more than that? The first car I bought. I'll never forget it. It was a Pontiac Grand Prix with bucket seats and red velour. Oh, Amy loved that red velour and those bucket seats. And man, I took care of that car because I'd purchased it. I remember the payment: $167 a month I'd send to the Pontiac Corporation. But I'd check the oil every day, I'd check the tires every day. Saturdays I'd spend waxing it with the Turtlewax, you know. I took care of it because I had purchased it.
There's a fulfillment that comes when you earn money and you purchase what you need, and that's what God says is our basic way of acquiring property. It is through our work, work that is fulfilling, not tedious. The second way you can earn money and acquire possessions is through inheritance. Again, that's in Ephesians 4:28. It's implied when he says: "Work so that you will have something to share with those who have need". If we can, we shouldn't consume everything we have in a lifetime. We ought to leave something for our children and our children's children. Proverbs 13:22 says: "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children," that is, to his grandchildren.
I was reading in "The New York Times" this week that we are witnessing right now the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of our country. Right now, baby boomers, those 60 to 80 are beginning to retire and they hold over $140 trillion of wealth that over these next years, they're gonna be transferring either to family or churches or other organizations. Now, that's good news for those of you who are younger. The bad news is you're probably not gonna get much of it, statistically speaking. There are a few who will receive millions of dollars. There's a little larger group that will receive millions of dollars, but 90% of people will receive thousands of dollars, not millions or billions of dollars.
So, you know, if you don't have the right last name, chances are you're probably not going to inherit a great deal of wealth. We can work for money, we can inherit money. Those are legitimate ways to acquire property, but the Bible says the illegitimate way is through theft, through stealing it. "Let him who steals, steal no longer". Why do people steal? J.I. Packer put it this way. He said: "The temptation to steal property, to deprive a person of what he has, arise because fallen man always wants more than he has at the present and more than others have". He's saying the basis, the reason we steal, is because of covetousness. We're not satisfied with what we have and we think somebody else has too much and so we steal, breaking both the Eighth and the Tenth Commandments.
Now, I know you're gonna think, "Well, this is one sin I'm not guilty of. I've never stolen anything". But remember, there's more than one way to commit adultery, more than one way to murder, more than one way to lie as we'll see next time. There's also more than one way to steal. Let me mention four ways we violate this commandment. The first way is by despoiling. Despoiling. I know, I wasn't familiar with that word either. I was looking up for a word to help me in my sermon outline, in my alliteration, and came across this word, "despoiling". You know what despoil means? One theologian says: "It's an act of violence when a man's goods are forcibly plundered and carried off". It's armed robbery. That's what despoiling is. Forcibly taking from somebody else what doesn't belong to them.
How many of you have ever been the victim of a mugging or the break-in of a car or even your own home? How many of you have had that? A large number of people. You know how violated you feel when somebody invades your space. But, it's not just armed robbers who despoil people. Students who cheat on an exam, you're invading somebody else's space to take what is not yours. Employees who take home office supplies, they're invading somebody else's space to profit themselves. Did you know it's even possible to steal ideas from people without giving them credit? Claim for your own what really belongs to somebody else?
A few years ago, I received an email from a woman in Georgia. She and her husband watched "Pathway to Victory" on Saturday nights on their local TV station. She said in her email, "Imagine my surprise after listening to you Saturday night when I went into our church Sunday and heard our pastor preach your message, basically word for word. And not only that, he passed out an outline that had come directly off your website". Now, that doesn't bother me at all, you know. Everything's grist for the preacher's mill, Dr. Criswell used to say. "All originalism and no plagiarism makes for a dull preaching," but if you're gonna quote extensively from somebody, whether in a paper at school or whether in a sermon or a speech, if you're gonna do it word for word, give credit. Don't pretend it's yours if it's not yours. That's how we despoil by taking by force.
A second way that we steal is through dishonesty. This is a little more subtle, but it's misrepresenting truth in order to gain from other people. Now, in biblical times, the way you did that was to have dishonest scales and balances. In Proverbs 11:1, Solomon says: "A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, But a just weight is His delight". If you were buying a commodity from a merchant and he had a false weight or a false balance, he might tell you he's giving you a quart of oil when he's just giving you three-quarters of a quart of oil. He might tell you you're getting a pound of wheat when you're just getting a half a pound of wheat.
Now, today, we're much more sophisticated in how we misrepresent the truth. How many of you have ever received one of those phishing emails, trying to get you to surrender personal information? Amazon tells you, "Oh, we've messed up your order and we need your Social Security number". Well, it's not Amazon, or your bank telling you that you've got deficient funds. It's somebody trying to get information from you. In fact, just Friday afternoon, I was told there is a man in the country right now calling people on the phone pretending to be me and saying that I need your credit card for $500. Please give me your credit card number. Now, I wanna assure every viewer of "Pathway to Victory," I am not gonna be calling you, asking you for your credit card number, unless I really need it. But... no, no, I won't do that under any circumstances. So that's somebody misrepresenting the truth. That is dishonesty. There's another, third, way that we steal. Despoiling, being dishonest.
Thirdly, defrauding somebody. Defrauding means not paying somebody else what we owe them. It might be failing to pay a debt, a legitimate debt we have. Proverbs 3:27 to 28 say: "Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, When it's in your power to do it. Don't say to your neighbor, 'Go, and come back tomorrow, and I will give you what you're owed.'" If you've got the ability to pay a debt, pay it. One reason we have sky-high consumer interest rates on credit cards is because people who don't pay their debts. Another, by the way, debt we owe people is not just one another but we owe the government a debt. When you refuse to pay your taxes, you are defrauding government of what belongs to them. Yes, it belongs to them. Matthew 22:21, Jesus said: "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's".