Brady: Sticky fingers: Not all theft is physical

Published 5:59 pm Monday, December 11, 2017

Think about it! What is the crime most often committed in our communities? The nation? Around the world? My guess is stealing. So many people steal that stealing has become a very commonplace crime of society. If the thief does not assault or kill the victim, he or she is simply called a common thief.

Not long ago, I was having lunch with a friend. In the process of the conversation, this friend related that his truck had been stolen a few years ago. Following that theft, he bought a new truck and had a special alarm system put in it. Since that time, no less than 15 attempts had been made to steal his new truck.

This incident, plus numerous others that I know of or have heard about, has brought home to me the reality of the eighth commandment. God says, “Neither shall you steal” (Deuteronomy 5:19). This eighth commandment is absolutely fundamental. It is not only essential to the Christian ethic, but it is also essential to any agreement to live together. Without obedience to it, societal or community life would be impossible. It would simply be one of fear or uncertainty. Thus, the eighth commandment is a safeguard against our taking or keeping what is not ours. Stating it another way, stealing is a sin because it violates our trust in God to provide adequately, and it violates our love for our neighbor as ourself.

Before you think, “Now, wait a minute preacher, this doesn’t apply to me,” I invite you to consider carefully a few of the less obvious forms of theft.

First, there is the theft of time. When we hire on to do a job we usually hire on to do so much work for so much pay. It may be a written or verbal contract, but nevertheless the agreement is there. The agreement may be a certain number of hours a day, but the agreement is understood. But then the employee begins arriving late or leaving early or taking extra time for long lunch breaks. And what about the wasting of time or the lack of maximum effort while on the job? Undoubtedly, one of the most common forms of theft in our day is the stealing of time.

Second, there is the theft of reputation. Leroy Brownlow in his book “Grandpa Was a Preacher” shared this incident. He said grandpa heard one of his flock complain about the attention of another member. She said, “When you talk to her, it just goes in at one ear and out at the other. Can you think of anything as bad as that?”

“Yes,” grandpa says, “If it went in at one ear and out at the mouth.”

How deadly and ruinous our gossip can be! Just a few words, and a reputation is ruined.

Third, there is the theft of honesty. When I was a student in college I remember an ROTC instructor saying to our class prior to an exam, “If you look on your neighbor’s paper occasionally that’s alright, but if you do it continually I’ll take up your paper.” That statement bothered me because it seemed an invitation to cheat.

On the other hand, I read about Dean Madison Sarratt of Vanderbilt University, who taught freshman math for many years. Former students remember his saying, “Today I am going to give you two examinations, one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you will pass both of them. But if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry.”

Personally, I like this last statement much better. The emphasis is on integrity and character. As the Rev. Dr. John Killinger put it, “There are many good [people] in the world today who cannot pass on the examination in trigonometry, but there are no good [people] who cannot pass the examination in honesty.”

Fourth, there is the theft of our children’s religious heritage. No matter where you look in our Judeo-Christian heritage, it is parents who have the primary responsibility to bring up their children in the faith. And it is an awesome responsibility.

The question is, are our children being increasingly conformed to the world, or are they being increasingly conformed to the image of Christ in our homes? If the former is true, our children will not be listed in the community of faith tomorrow or the day after. A little girl was crying after being punished for taking a toy that belonged to a friend. Finally, her parents said to her, “You go in the bathroom and wash your face and stop crying.” She went into the bathroom, washed her face, and dried it on the towel her parents had stolen from a Holiday Inn.

But there is another story about a mother who was reading to her little daughter. They were reading about Jesus. They came to a picture of Jesus. The mother asked, “Honey, do you know who that is?

The little girl brightly said, “Yes I do. He goes to our church.” Let me tell you, that doesn’t just happen. That happens when parents, grandparents and guardians take their responsibility seriously in exposing their children to God.

Now, to be sure, there are numerous other forms of theft as well-merchants who overcharge customers, the man or woman who shoplifts in the grocery store, the student who copies someone else’s homework, the employee who pads his or her expense account, the person who cheats on the tax return and other. To every kind of theft, God says, “Neither shall you steal.”

Hal Brady operates Hal Brady Ministries in Decatur with the stated goal of presenting the good news of Jesus and offering encouragement in positive ways.