Prospering with Integrity (Exodus 20:15)
As you know, today is Father’s Day. I thought that some of you may need help in finding an appropriate Father’s Day present, so I’ve been keeping my eyes open for the past few weeks to help you find a really good Father’s Day present.
For those of you that are cheap, I notice that Shoppers Drug Mart has a Mach 3 blade with an all-in-one gadget gizmo inside at a special price of $8.99. In fact, I just happen to have one here with me – for illustration purposes, of course.
I’ve found a number of suggestions this week for Father’s Day. Here’s just a sampling. Amazon.com‘s top-selling Father’s Day gift is the DVD version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That’s not too expensive, but don’t forget that some of us fathers don’t have a DVD player. Those are conveniently priced starting at $249.99.
Here are some other gifts I’ve seen advertised for Father’s Day: digital cameras, a folding chair with a built-in footrest, Global Positioning Satellite modules, Palm organizers, digital compasses, and Smokey Joe’s Tuck-n-Carry Grill. I have to say that it’s a lot more exciting than what they offer at Mother’s Day – at least for me. I have more fun thinking about all this stuff than I would get from owning all of it.
I have a problem – it’s a disease called consumerism. Consumerism is the attitude that values acquiring more stuff. Consumerism makes you want to buy more than what you can afford, because what you already have isn’t good enough or because there’s something else that’s more up to date. Playwright Arthur Miller says, “Years ago a person, he was unhappy, didn’t know what to do with himself-he’d go to church, start a revolution-something. Today you’re unhappy? Can’t figure it out? What is the salvation? Go shopping.”
We’re at the point in our series on the Ten Commandments that God gives us a value of how to accumulate possessions properly. It’s one that’s so important that God gives us two commandments on this topic. We spend a lot of time accumulating stuff and thinking about accumulating stuff. What does the Bible have to say about accumulating things his way?
Exodus 20:15 says, “Do not steal.” It’s amazing the number of ways that we steal. I looked up the word steal and came up with twelve synonyms. It’s amazing the ways that we can think of ripping other people off to get ahead ourselves. According to the Bible, there are more ways to steal than to just shoplift (Leviticus 6:1-7). I’ve listed seven ways that we do this, and there are many more.
1. DECEIVING CUSTOMERS
This has been a problem for many years. Amos 8:5 says, “You measure out your grain in false measures and weigh it out on dishonest scales.” Have you ever been deceived when you’ve bought something? When you make a repair that isn’t necessary, when you conveniently neglect to mention some items in the fine print, when you sell a car but don’t tell them what’s wrong with it, that’s called stealing. It happens all the time.
In my first job – I think I was 15 – I worked at an ice cream shop. The boss tried to teach me how to scoop ice cream hollow. The scoops would be huge, but there would be nothing inside.
We do this too in real estate. You know the language. “Starter home” means one bedroom, no bath. “A real challenge” means that the place was hit by a bomb. “Handyman’s dream” means you may as well tear the place down and start all over. A fixer-upper means a total wreck.
Proverbs 20:23 says, “The LORD despises double standards; he is not pleased by dishonest scales.” We’re not to deceive customers.
2. DISREGARDING COPYRIGHTS
This is a new one. When we disregard copyrights – when we copy music, use unlicensed software, when we plagiarize, we’re stealing.
Many of us have unlicensed software. Experts estimate that 33% of the software out there is being used by people who didn’t pay for it. We look at the CD, and we think, “This won’t hurt Microsoft.” We’d never think of stealing from a store, but we steal when we use software on our computers that we haven’t paid for.
We also steal when we disregard the copyright on media – music and movies. You can go on the Internet and download entire movies that are playing in the theatre right now. You can play music of CDs that other people bought. With today’s computers, you can easily duplicate CDs and DVDs. It’s easy to copy these things – but it’s also immoral. It’s stealing. But we usually find a way to tell ourselves it’s okay.
I’ve been in churches where this happens. They’re photocopying copyrighted music or books because they don’t want to buy more copies. It’s too expensive. The irony is they’re using it to worship God or to teach others about the Bible. This is called stealing. Don’t disregard copyrights. In fact, some of us may need to go and remove some of this material from our homes. You can pull out your Palms and do it right now. Don’t steal by disregarding copyrights.
3. DEFRAUDING EMPLOYERS
48% of employers admit to stealing from their employers. A man was being interviewed for a new job. “Why were you discharged from your last position?” The reply: “I was overly ambitious. I wanted to take work home with me.” The next question: “What was your last employer?” “First National Bank.” There are a lot of people who take work home with them – literally.
I’m not just talking about taking office supplies or tools home, or padding your expense account. There are subtle ways of stealing from your employer too. We can steal from our employers by coming in late, leaving early, and taking a long lunch. God says that’s stealing. Don’t steal from your employer.
4. DELAYING PAYMENTS
Leviticus 19:13 says, “Always pay your hired workers promptly.” That’s another way we end up stealing. We delay payments. We say, “The check’s in the mail.” It’s saying “Payment due upon receipt” and then not paying your bills for 6 months. When you do that, you’re using other people’s capital for your own benefit. It’s stealing. Don’t do it.
There’s another, more personal way that we can end up stealing:
5. DEFAULTING ON LOANS
This is very common. Many people default on their loans. One in six Ontario Student Loans were in default last year. Personal bankruptcies in Canada have soared from about 20,000 in 1980 to 75,000 today. A lot of people borrow with no intention of paying back. Others use bankruptcy as an easy way to get out of debt. Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrow and never repay, but the godly are generous givers.” It’s stealing if you decide to default on your loans.
This applies to more than just money. Anybody here ever borrow garden tools from a neighbor? What’s in your garage or your basement that you need to return to somebody? Long-term borrowing is a form of stealing.
6. DECEIVING THE GOVERNMENT
Deceiving the government is a form of stealing. Romans 13 says:
Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due. (Romans 13:6-7)
There’s a big difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Tax avoidance means that we don’t pay more tax than legally required. It means that we take advantage of legal ways to reduce our tax bill, such as charitable contributions and pension plans. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t do that. But tax evasion is stealing. It’s when you don’t report all the income you’ve earned. It’s when you pay or accept money under the table. Tax evasion is illegal. It’s called stealing. The Bible says, don’t do that.
There’s one more way to steal:
7. DEFRAUDING THE LORD
Malachi 3:8 says, “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.” The Bible say s that we’re stealing when we don’t honor the Lord by giving him the first and the best part of our income. God says that if you pay your bills before you pay God, you’re stealing from him. You’re taking money that belongs to God and using it for something else. That’s stealing.
A pastor was preaching through the Ten Commandments. A guy in his church came up after the service and said, “You’re really preaching the Word in this series. It’s great.” He said this each commandment, each week, until “Don’t steal,” and the guy came up and said “Now you’ve quit preaching and started meddling.”
This is where it gets personal. It’s easy to talk about other people’s sins. But many of us have been stealing. You may have been stealing, and you weren’t even aware of it. You may have some difficult steps you need to take as a result of this verse.
Proverbs 16:8 gives us an important principle. This verse says, “It is better to be poor and godly than rich and dishonest.” This verse tells us that you’re better off to be poor and godly than to be rich because you’ve stolen. You’re really better off without whatever it is you have that you shouldn’t. The Bible says you’re better off with lower profits, or paying more taxes, or taking the trouble to pay off all your loans, or without those programs on your computer. You’re better off when you give your best and first to the Lord. Why? Because you’ll have your integrity. Your integrity is worth much more than anything that you could ever steal.
You may be thinking, “It’s no big deal. You’re making it sound like I robbed a Brink’s truck. It’s really no big deal.” The Bible says that it is a big deal. The little things are more important than you could ever realize. Jesus said in Luke 16:10, “Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.” There’s no such thing as a small theft. How you handle the small stuff is exactly how you’ll handle the big stuff. There’s really no difference.
This is a big deal. It’s a big deal to your family. Why should I be honest? Why should I go to the trouble of being completely above board? The Bible tells us there are four reasons why we need to be honest:
1. STEALING DISPLEASES GOD
Deuteronomy 25:16 says, “Those who cheat with dishonest weights and measures are detestable to the LORD your God.” That’s pretty strong language. Whenever you’re dishonest in your dealings, you’re displeasing God. Job 34:21 says, “For God carefully watches the way people live; he sees everything they do.” God is watching the way we live. God knows whether or not we’re being honest in all of our dealings. If we want God to bless our lives, and bless our families, we can’t steal.
It’s amazing to me how we get this wrong. We say, “God, bless my finances.” Meanwhile, we’re not giving to him. We’re padding our expense report. We’re not reporting income. We say, “God, give me enough money to live.” We expect God to bless our finances even though we’re not following any of God’s principles. We expect God to bless us despite the fact that we’re stealing. Stealing displeases God.
We say to God, “Lord, bless my business.” Meanwhile, we’re taking money under the table, delaying payments, and taking money out of the till once in a while without reporting it as income. God would say, “Run your business my way, and then you can come and ask me to bless it.”
Proverbs 11:1 tells us, “The LORD hates cheating, but he delights in honesty.” Do you want to delight God? Then don’t steal. That’s the first reason that we need to be honest. Anything else displeases God.
2. STEALING DAMAGES MYSELF AND MY FAMILY
Whenever we are less than honest, we’re doing incalculable damage to ourselves. Proverbs 1:19 says, “Such is the fate of all who are greedy for gain. It ends up robbing them of life.” Proverbs 10:2 tells us, “Ill-gotten gain has no lasting value, but right living can save your life.”
This doesn’t just affect you. It affects your entire family. If you’re not honest, you end up damaging your kids, your spouse. Listen to Proverbs 15:27: “Dishonest money brings grief to the whole family.” You don’t want to do that to your family. You’re damaging yourself, but you’re also damaging those around you. The Bible says, don’t do that.
How does it end up damaging you and those around you? The Bible gives a principle that you’ve probably heard many times. It’s found in Galatians 6:7-9: “You will always reap what you sow! Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” This is a principle. It doesn’t say sometimes. It says, “You will always reap what you sow.” If you cheat other people, you’re going to reap the rewards. If you are not honest, there will be a consequence. A lack of honesty always carries a high price.
There’s another reason why we shouldn’t steal:
3. THE BENEFITS OF STEALING DON’T LAST
Sure, you get ahead in the short term if you steal. But the benefits of stealing never last. Proverbs 21:6 reads, “Wealth created by lying is a vanishing mist and a deadly trap.” Proverbs 13:22 says, “Ill-gotten wealth ends up with good people” (The Message).
It really doesn’t pay to be dishonest in the long run. It’s really like all sin. It’s fun up front, but the consequences just aren’t worth it. You’ll be much better off if you choose to live God’s way.
One more reason why you should be honest:
4. STEALING DISRESPECTS OTHERS
Romans 13:9-10 says:
For the commandments against adultery and murder and stealing and coveting-and any other commandment-are all summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to anyone, so love satisfies all of God’s requirements.
All of God’s commandments can be summarized by these two: love God and love others. Whenever we steal, we’re getting at the root problem of what’s wrong with our souls. The real problem isn’t that we steal. That’s the symptom. The real problem is that we have a heart condition. The real problem is that our heart is bad. We love ourselves more than we love God, more than we love our neighbors.
That’s why the Bible is clear that thieves won’t have a part in God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). The problem goes deeper than stealing. The problem is one that the Bible calls sin.
Do you remember the story of Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus was that short guy who climbed a tree to see Jesus. He was a tax collector. In the Roman tax system, tax collectors weren’t paid, but they could skim off the top whatever they could collect. They were the wealthiest people in town, and the most hated.
In Luke 19, Jesus told Zacchaeus, “I must be a guest in your home today” (Luke 19:5). That was quite a scandal. Jesus was going to the home of the most dishonest person in town. People wondered why Jesus would ever choose to do such a thing.
When Jesus made it to his house, Zacchaeus realized that what he had been doing was wrong. Listen to what he said: “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” (Luke 19:8) That’s called restitution. Zacchaeus realized that what he had done was wrong, and he was willing to take steps to correct the situation. Jesus said in response, “Salvation has come to this home today…I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost” (Luke 19:9-10).
We’re going to continue to observe the Lord’s Table in a few minutes. You and I are in the same position as Zacchaeus. Jesus has chosen to dine with us. That’s what the Lord’s Table is. It’s having a meal with Jesus to remember his death.
I believe that the Spirit has prompted some of us today to realize, “I haven’t been completely honest. There have been some shortcuts that I’ve taken. It may be accept able in other people’s eyes, but I believe that God sees it as stealing. I’ve got to take steps to get it right.”
If that’s you today, there are steps that you can take. The Bible says, “Do not steal.” What can I do if I’ve stolen?
The first thing you can do is to GET RIGHT WITH GOD. You can come to God today and say, “God, forgive me. I’ve done wrong. I need your forgiveness. I need you to fix my heart problem.” We’re going to pray in a few minutes, and I’m going to give you an opportunity to do just that.
The second step you can take is to GET RIGHT WITH OTHERS. Maybe you need to go home and return some items. You need to repay some debts. You need to contact Canada Customs and Revenue and let them know about some income that you haven’t reported.
If we think hard enough, I’m sure we can all remember times that we’ve taken advantage of others and we’ve never made amends. It might have been an employer. It may have been your kid sister when you were in school. Whatever. Make amends. How do you do this? The Bible calls this restitution. Sign a note and say, “I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. I want to apologize for not being honest with you. I’m returning the money that I owe you. Please forgive me.”
One man said, “I could never do that. They would think less of me as a Christian.” He did anyway, and his boss told him that he had a lot more respect now. Whatever it takes, get right with others. Return what you’ve taken.
The third step that you can take is to GIVE GOD HIS DUE. That means that beginning today, you give to God before you pay your bills. Don’t give God what’s his after you see what you have left. Give God your first and your best. Give God what is his.
Finally, MAKE A LIVING HONESTLY. This may involve a career change. It may be that you can’t work where you do right now because there’s so much dishonesty. It may mean changing the way your company operates. It may mean finding a job because you’re not working right now. Ephesians 4:28 says, “If you are a thief, stop stealing. Begin using your hands for honest work, and then give generously to others in need.” Proverbs 28:20 says, “Hard workers have plenty of food; playing around brings poverty.”
Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Salvation has come to this home today.” We all need what Zacchaeus received. We all need forgiveness. As we come to celebrate the Lord’s Table, let’s experience the rewards of living God’s way. Let’s get right with him, and say, “From now on, I’m going to do it God’s way.”
Father, this has been hard. Many of us came into this message thinking we were okay on this one. But we’ve realized in the last little while that we aren’t so clean. We’ve taken what’s yours, we’ve taken what’s others. We’ve maybe justified it by saying it was a small thing, but know that Jesus said:
Unless you are faithful in small matters, you won’t be faithful in large ones. If you cheat even a little, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? (Luke 16:10-11)
So today we ask for your forgiveness. We want to get right with you. Help us to go home today and take steps to get right with others, too. Whether it’s repaying someone else or changing our business practices, or paying taxes that we owe, we’re going to do it. Help provide for our needs as we take that step. And we’re going to put you first in our finances too.
If you would like to receive forgiveness for the first time today, would you pray:
Father, I’m coming to you because I need a new heart. I pray that you would take out my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Give me a fresh start. I trust Jesus as my Savior, so I’m making him the Lord, the manager of my life. Accept me today, I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.