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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:It all belongs to God and should be used for the good of our neighbours
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)
 
Preached:2011
Added:2011-06-20
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 6
Psalm 119:7-9
Psalm 62:1,2,6,7
Hymn 1
Psalm 67

Readings:  Joshua 7, John 10:1-21
Text:  Lord's Day 42
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Here’s a skill-testing question for you:  who was the first thief in the Bible?  Think about it for a moment.  You might think it was Jacob.  He stole the birth-right from his brother Esau.  He deceived his father Isaac and took what was not his.  But is Jacob really the first thief in Scripture?  Don’t we read about someone else before him taking something that was not theirs to take?  There are many different ways in which Adam and Eve broke God’s law when they fell into sin.  But the eighth commandment is in there too.  They were not to take of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They were to be content with what they had, with what God had given them.  Instead, their greedy hearts reached out for more.  God’s provision was not enough. 

Isn’t that the story of fallen humanity ever since?  Our race is not naturally content.  Our race is driven by the lust for more.  That lust sometimes leads people to outright theft and robbery.  Sometimes to wicked schemes and devices.  Sometimes to fraud. 

But those bought with the blood of Christ ought to be heading in a different direction.  Since we are his, we know that everything we have, everything we are, and everything around us belongs to him.  The eighth commandment says “You shall not steal.”  That commandment is part of how we show our love and gratitude to the God who has saved us through our Lord Jesus.  We say “I love you” to God by not reaching up for what is not ours.  Instead, we acknowledge the truth about material possessions.  The truth is, it all belongs to God and should be used for the good of our neighbours.  That’s our theme for this afternoon’s sermon and we’ll consider:

1.       The many who failed to recognize this truth

2.      The One who always recognized this truth

3.      The many who now recognize this truth too

In general, the Old Testament is full of failures.  Speaking from a human perspective, we see example after example of people who did not live up to what God commanded in his law.  That’s true also with the eighth commandment.  Repeatedly we find people who didn’t see material possessions or money as coming from God and then conducting their lives accordingly.  Let’s consider some of those examples.

One of the most shocking is what happens with Achan in Joshua 7.  Israel was about to begin the conquest of the Promised Land.  They were at the gateway city of Jericho.  God promised a decisive victory.  With that promise came a command:  everything made of silver, gold, bronze and iron was to be taken for use in the tabernacle.  All of that was to be dedicated to God’s service.  If the Israelites were to take any of those items for their personal use, they would bring destruction and trouble on themselves.

One man didn’t seem to get the message.  Or he decided to play fast and loose with God.  Perhaps he thought that God didn’t really mean what he said.  Who knows what was going through his mind?  His actions said it all:  he stole some of the devoted things from Jericho.  A beautiful Babylonian robe caught his eye.  So did about 5 pounds of silver and about 1 and a quarter pounds of gold.  If my calculations are correct, today that would be worth at least $30,000.  The amount doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that Achan did it.  He stole from what belonged to the LORD.

There were consequences to his actions.  People died because of Achan’s sin.  Thirty-six men perished at Ai because of Achan’s greedy heart.  Now you might say that wasn’t fair.  Why should they pay for what Achan did?  But keep in mind that God deals covenantally with his people.  In the biblical covenants, there are not only individuals, but more importantly there is a people.  God had commanded the people as a whole to keep their hands off what was his.  The people had disobeyed.  The people suffered the consequences.  All of Israel was held responsible for Achan’s sin.  And so all Israel had to do something about Achan’s sin. 

When he was found out, he finally confessed.  And he and his family and everything they had was expunged from Israel.  He was punished with death.  That’s how serious this offence was.  Stealing from God was not a light matter.  God’s command was that this covenant breaking had to be thoroughly removed from among the people.  This was to impress upon Israel the holiness of God.  When God tells you something, you listen.  You don’t mess with the holy God.

Achan’s case is a dramatic one, to be sure.  But there are others.  Achan was just a regular Israelite.  But elsewhere in the Old Testament we read of leaders of God’s people committing sin against the eighth commandment.  There was David.  Usually when we think of David’s big sin, we think of it in terms of the sixth and seventh commandments.  David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had Uriah her husband murdered.  Yet when Nathan the prophet confronts David, he frames the problem also in terms of the eighth commandment.  He tells that parable of the rich man and the poor man.  He tells David of how the rich man stole the poor man’s little lamb.  David gets indignant.  He doesn’t get that this is a parable and he insists that the rich man has to make restitution.  He has to pay for the lamb four times over.  That kind of thievery needs to be addressed.  Then you remember Nathan’s response:  “You are the man!”  David is the thief.  The anointed King of Israel was a robber. 

And he wasn’t the last one either.  There was another king who saw something he wanted but couldn’t have.  It was a vineyard.  It belonged to Naboth.  Ahab wanted it.  His wife Jezebel figured out a way to steal it.  The method involved false accusations and murder.  But in the end, the king got what he wanted.  He failed to look out for the good of his people and instead looked out for his own self-interest.  He failed to take God into account with regard to material possessions.  So God said that he would bring disaster on Ahab and Jezebel and that’s exactly what happened.  Dogs licked up their blood. 

Later in the Old Testament, God’s people still weren’t getting it.  The prophets tell of how before the exile into Babylon, the people were known for their thievery.  Hosea 7:1, “...They practice deceit, thieves break into houses, bandits rob in the streets.”  Then of course there is that well-known passage of Malachi 3 where God accuses his people of robbing him by not bringing him their tithes and offerings.  They failed to see God’s place with regard to their stuff.  They robbed him and they robbed their neighbours. 

The Old Testament is full of failures when it comes to the eighth commandment.  We could go on for quite a while, but I think you get the idea.  What does all of that tell us?  On the one hand, it all serves as a warning for us.  Living in these ways, not taking God’s ownership of our stuff seriously, being consumed by greed and discontent, not looking out for our neighbour’s good, – all of that brings trouble.  If it is not repented of, it will bring eternal trouble.  If we do not turn from these sins, God will judge both in this life and in the life to come. 

But these failures are also in God’s Word to make his people long for redemption.  Think again of the kings.  They were anointed by God, but because of their own sins they could not be the promised Messiah.  They could not crush the head of the serpent.  They could not take the place of the people and live a perfect life for them or pay for their sins.  All of these failures cry out for One who would succeed, and whose success could also be credited to others. 

That brings us to Christ.  We know him as the sinless one.  We know him as the true man tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.  Tempted in every way.  That means that he was tempted also to break the eighth commandment.  Adam was tempted to take what he had been commanded not to.  Adam succumbed and reached up for what was God’s.  His heart fell into greed and his actions followed.  The Second Adam was tempted in a similar way.  Satan took him to that high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world and all their splendour.  Jesus could have them, he said.  All he would have to do would be to bow down and worship Satan.  True worship belongs to God alone.  To worship Satan would mean robbing God.  Robbing God of glory.  Jesus was tempted to rob God and believe Satan’s lie that the kingdoms of the world belonged to him, rather than to God.  And our Saviour resisted the temptation.  The Second Adam was successful where the first Adam failed.  Brothers and sisters, rejoice in the fact that his obedience is ours.  When he did this, it was in your place.  Brothers and sisters, the good news is God credits his success to your account.  And because this obedience was performed by the Son of God, it is a perfect and majestic obedience, of inestimable worth.

Throughout his earthly life, he lived in this perfect way, also with regard to the commandment not to steal.  Greed never entered his heart.  He never abused or squandered God’s gifts.  He never used wicked schemes and devices.  Never stole.  Always promoted the good of his neighbour and took care of those in need.

Look at what he says in John 10.  He calls himself the shepherd of the sheep.  Among other things, undoubtedly he’s evoking the memory of King David.  David was a shepherd and he went on to become king.  But remember Nathan’s parable?  The shepherd turned into a thief.  But the shepherd described in John 10 is not a thief.  He is the one who genuinely takes care of the interests of the flock.  He looks out for them.  He even lays down his life for them.  For you.  That contrasts with the thieves and robbers.  Of course, he’s referring to the Jewish religious leaders of his day.  They only steal and kill and destroy.  They don’t build up, but break down.  Our Lord Jesus is completely different.  He completely fulfills every aspect of the eighth commandment from its roots to its fruits.  He sees everything in its proper perspective and has the proper attitude in his heart towards God his Father and his neighbours.  Always. 

Now the question is:  who are we in relation to this perfectly obedient Saviour?  As I mentioned earlier, we are his.  We are his sheep.  We have been bought with what is more precious than silver or gold, bought with his blood.  All our sins have been paid for, including all our sins against the eighth commandment.  An enormous price has been paid so that we would belong to him and recognize ourselves as his possession. 

But there is more.  We are united to this Saviour through faith and the Holy Spirit.  We are members of his body, we are those grafted into the vine.  Our Saviour wants his Spirit to shape us and mould us into his image.  We are those who are on our way to looking like Jesus.  And it is the Word of God, specifically his law, which is the Spirit’s tool to renovate us. 

When it comes to the eighth commandment, thankful believers united to Christ recognize the same truth that Christ always recognized.  Loved ones, we recognize what Psalm 24 says: “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it...”  When we look at our stuff, including our money, we recognize that these come from God and ultimately they still belong to him.  They are not really ours.  They are entrusted to us.  We are stewards.  That means that our ownership always involves a vertical aspect.  We always take God into account with regard to the things in our lives.  They come from him, they belong to him, and we are accountable to him for what we do with them. 

That Christ-like view of things has several consequences.  These are besides the obvious consequence of not engaging in outright theft or robbery.  It starts with the heart.  First, we learn contentment.  Please turn to 1 Timothy 6:6-10 with me and let’s read that together.  Do you realize how completely counter-cultural this is?  Our culture says everything here in 1 Timothy 6 is upside down.  Our culture says, “Greediness with discontent is the way ahead.  This life is all that exists, so get everything you can now.  We won’t be happy just to have food and clothing.  There’s Mexico, the Caribbean, and so much more that we want.  People who want to get rich are acting normal and will get what they want.  The love of money is what drives our economy.  Some people, eager for money, have made themselves very wealthy and happy.”  Lies, all of them.  Brothers and sisters, we are united to Christ, and therefore contentment is a hallmark of a Christian.  This is so hard to hold and to learn in a culture such as ours.  We need to pray to God for his help in changing our attitudes.

Second, we use God’s gifts responsibly.  That brings us back to the concept of stewardship.  Every good and perfect gift is from God’s hand.  But he entrusts it to you.  Looking to Christ in faith, his Spirit and Word shape us to be people who are responsible with what we have been given.  Again, in a world of irresponsible behaviour, this can be enormously challenging.  How do we implement this?  Stewardship means management.  We have to be managing the resources we’ve been entrusted with.  So, for instance, budgeting is not an optional practice for Christians.  Budgeting is a way that we exercise stewardship and management of our resources, and avoid abusing or squandering of God’s gifts.  What if you don’t how to budget?  What if you’ve never been taught?  Well, now is the time to learn.  Ask someone to teach you.  In our congregation, we have people on hand who are specially qualified to do exactly that.  They’re called deacons and they’re here to serve you and help you in these areas.  There is no shame in seeking the help of these brothers.  You can ask them and they will provide confidential and helpful guidance. 

Third, we use God’s gifts for our neighbour’s good.  Instead of taking advantage of those around us, or defrauding them in any way, we instead promote their good.  Think of Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  What has been entrusted to us is not meant only for our welfare, but also for the welfare of others around us.  In his book The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges says there are three attitudes we can have toward money and possessions:

·         What’s yours is mine; I will take it.

·         What’s mine is mine; I will keep it.

·         What’s mine is God’s; I will share it. 

He goes on to say, “The first attitude is that of the thief.  The second is that of the typical person, including, sad to say, many Christians.  The third attitude is the one each of us should seek to put on.  It is not enough not to steal; we must also learn to share.”  God’s will is that those united to Christ are looking out for other people.  Again, we’re not to be curved in ourselves, concerned only for our needs, or the needs of our family.  We need to be outward looking.  How can we help others? 

Loved ones, that attitude also guides how we do our work.  The Catechism says that the eighth commandment also sheds light on our attitude to our daily labour.  We are to “work faithfully so that [we] may be able to give to those in need.”  What does it look like to be united to Christ with regard to our work?  It means to be hard working, not lazy or sloppy.  Now, of course, it is possible to swing far in another wrong direction.  It’s possible to become enslaved to your work.  Your work can become an idol.  You can put your work before your responsibilities as a husband or father or as a wife and mother  People united to Christ recognize that danger too.  Working faithfully means having a proper Christ-like perspective about work in general – that means having a sense of balance.                   

Finally, those united to Christ should have a proper sense of priorities.  Our priorities are ordered in the light of God’s Word.  Our top and highest priority is to give the Lord his due.  Whenever we receive something from his hand, we return some of it back to him right away as we’re taught to do in his Word.  Our young brothers and sisters should be taught to do this as soon as they get a job.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a communicant member.  You’re still a member of the church.  Ask your elder for a set of boxes and start right away with the giving through regular voluntary contributions.  When you make a habit of doing this when you’re young, it will be second nature when you’re older. Our next priorities are to take care of our households and families.  Remember what Scripture says in 1 Timothy 4:8, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  Then, last of all, we may also take care of our personal needs and wants.

The eighth commandment deals with a difficult subject.  It’s difficult because of the world in which we live and because of the sin which still lingers in our hearts.  There’s no doubt that we’re faced with serious challenges.  But there’s also no doubt that we have a great Saviour.  He has redeemed us from our sins and he gives us his Spirit and Word so that we can hate sin and fight against it.  With our eyes fixed on the Good Shepherd and with his grace and help, let’s do exactly that.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Father in heaven,

We don’t need to tell you what kind of world we live in.  You know it.  You know the way the world tries to corrupt our thinking and the way we act with our money and our stuff.  You also know our hearts and you know how the remnants of the old nature linger.  The love of money and materialism tempt us.  Father, please make us strong to resist temptation.  We acknowledge here before you now that everything is yours.  All we have has come from you.  We pray that you would help us to live out of that recognition every moment of every day.  Father, please help us also to live out of our union with Christ in how we handle what we’ve been given.  Help us to have the proper priorities.  Help us to use what we have for the good of our neighbours and for your glory.  We thank you for Jesus our perfect Savior.  We are grateful for the Second Adam who not only resisted temptation but also perfectly and positively obeyed every commandment in your law, including the eighth.  We’re glad that you credit his obedience to us.  We also thank you that his blood avails for all our transgressions of this commandment.  We’re glad that he died to pay for these sins and we cling to his work, trusting in it and in him and nothing and no one else.  O God, we love you for the Saviour and we want to live for you with our heart, mind, and will.  Please strengthen us with grace to do exactly that.           

  

      




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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