Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (You Shall Not Steal, Part 2)

August 4, 2020

by Peter Amsterdam


(Points for this article were taken from Christian Ethics by Wayne Grudem1 and Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options by Norman Geisler.2)

As explained in the introductory article about the eighth commandment, you shall not steal, God is the ultimate owner of all that exists, yet He has given human beings ownership of those things which belong to them—their property. Individuals own private property, and they are accountable toward God for how that property is used.

Of course, the ownership of property is temporary, as each of us will ultimately die and our property will then belong to someone else. Therefore it is biblically correct to see ownership as stewardship—we are stewards of what God has blessed us with, and we will have to give account of how we used those blessings. Stewardship doesn’t only apply to possessions, but also to other things which we are accountable for, such as the use of our time, talents, and opportunities.

There are both benefits and drawbacks of ownership of property/wealth, and both aspects will be touched on in this section of Living Christianity. The benefits will be covered first, in this article, followed by the drawbacks in future articles. In general, Scripture has a favorable attitude toward being prosperous. This isn’t in the context of the “prosperity gospel,” which is the false teaching that health and wealth are the divine right of all Bible-believing Christians. Rather, Scripture speaks of believers prospering in the sense of making progress, advancing toward their goals, and being successful in their endeavors.

Some Old Testament verses which express this are:

Keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do.3

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.4

The desire to have ownership of things which we then become stewards over can be a God-given desire to, in a small way, imitate God’s sovereignty over creation. Whether one owns a great deal of property or has very little, we are called to be faithful stewards over what God has given us. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus told a parable about a man who was going on a journey and entrusted his property to his servants:

To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.5

While the servants were stewards of different amounts of money, they were all expected to be faithful with what they were given. Those who were responsible for smaller amounts were equally commended over the wise use of them when the master returned.

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”6

In the book of Genesis, God instructed Adam and Eve:

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.7

In stating this, God was giving them a measure of sovereignty over His creation. Humanity was to be stewards over the earth, and they were to use their knowledge and skills to create things which would benefit their lives and the lives of others.

Over time, that included the creation and ownership of rudimentary dwellings, ways to store food, and so on. Later, different forms of transportation such as carts and wagons were invented. As time went on, buildings and transportation became more advanced, and today we have cars, airplanes, modern homes, office buildings, mobile phones, etc. God gave humans the ability to learn and to create value in the world that did not exist before, and by doing so, caused them to flourish. This flourishing goes beyond creating material things which benefit mankind. It also includes art, music, literature, and personal relationships with our loved ones and friends.

As God instructed humans to subdue the earth as stewards of His creation, it is fair to conclude that He put a desire in our hearts to do this. Throughout history, human beings have striven to create useful things from the earth which benefit humanity. The desire to create and to enjoy such things comes from a God-given instinct that He has placed within humans, beginning before there was any sin in the world, when He commanded Adam and Eve to fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it. Of course, due to their disobedience, sin entered the world; nevertheless, the desire to create, produce, and enjoy useful products should be seen as a morally good God-given instinct that He has placed within the human race.

While ownership of property is considered morally good, the Bible gives clear warnings against loving material things more than one should. Jesus taught,

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.8

The apostle Paul wrote that an elder in the church must not be a lover of money.9 In the book of Hebrews we read:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”10

Clearly the improper use of money and the wrong attitude regarding wealth can result in sin.

There are some Christians who preach the doctrine of the “prosperity gospel,” also known as the “health and wealth gospel.” Those who preach this doctrine claim that it is God’s will for every believer to have good health and material prosperity in this lifetime. The idea is that if you give enough money to the church, God will make you prosperous and protect you from illness. This is a false doctrine. There are no New Testament verses which guarantee wealth for believers. Rather there are promises that God will provide for His people’s needs.

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.11

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.12

The New Testament places more emphasis on spiritual blessings than the Old Testament does, while placing less emphasis on material blessings—though both kinds of blessing are mentioned in both Testaments.

The New Testament teaches that God will reward generous giving.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.13

However, this is not a promise that generous Christians will become wealthy; rather, it affirms that when we give generously to God’s work, He will supply our needs in return.

Within the Gospels, we read of Jesus performing miracles of physical healing; however, there are no accounts of miracles through which He made people wealthy. He did miraculously feed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, to meet their immediate needs, but He didn’t send them home with bags full of money. The one time He did supply funding was when He told Peter to catch a fish and to use the money in the fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax. In these cases, we see Jesus supplying needs, but not giving a promise of prosperity.

Throughout the New Testament, several cases of poor people are highlighted as examples of faith. Jesus commended the poor widow who put her only two copper coins into the temple offering box.14 The apostle Paul commended the Macedonian Christians whose extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.15 Paul said about himself, To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands.16 He also wrote of lean times when traveling on his missionary journeys, in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.17 In the book of James we read:

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?18

The message of the New Testament regarding wealth is quite different from the prosperity gospel message. The New Testament doesn’t teach Christians to seek prosperity. Rather, it repeatedly warns us about the danger of it. The apostle Paul wrote:

If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things.19

Other verses also give a similar warning:

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.20

Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.21

God said to the man who wanted to build bigger barns: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”22

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.23

These verses don’t mean that the New Testament teaches that prosperity is evil; but it does give warnings about the temptations of wealth, along with wise counsel about its proper use.

As Christians, if we are blessed with plenty, we are accountable to God for how we use it. I thought that author Wayne Grudem gave some wise counsel:

Among the good and wise uses of our possessions, we should include an allocation of some amount of spending on ourselves (for food, clothing, shelter, and other things), some amount of giving to the work of the church and to those in need, some amount of saving for the future, and some amount of investing to increase our resources and productivity.24


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).

2 Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options (Baker Academic, 2010).

3 Deuteronomy 29:9.

4 Joshua 1:8.

5 Matthew 25:15.

6 Matthew 25:23.

7 Genesis 1:28.

8 Matthew 6:24.

9 1 Timothy 3:3.

10 Hebrews 13:5.

11 2 Corinthians 9:7–8.

12 Philippians 4:19.

13 Luke 6:38.

14 Luke 21:1–4.

15 2 Corinthians 8:2 NIV.

16 1 Corinthians 4:11–12.

17 2 Corinthians 11:27.

18 James 2:5.

19 1 Timothy 6:8–11.

20 Matthew 19:24.

21 Luke 6:24.

22 Luke 12:20.

23 James 5:1–3.

24 Grudem, Christian Ethics, 916.