Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (You Shall Not Steal, Part 3)
August 11, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (You Shall Not Steal, Part 3)
The eighth commandment, you shall not steal, addresses the protection of property by commanding that what belongs to one person must not be stolen by another. As such, this commandment covers the ownership of possessions as well as the means of obtaining possessions meant to benefit one’s life. From the beginning, the means of obtaining the necessities of life was through doing work, which is the topic of this article.
Scripture generally presents a positive view of work. Before sin entered the world, God instructed Adam and Eve to work when He said to them,
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.3
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.4
Doing work isn’t part of the fallen human condition, but rather is something that is part of God’s “very good” creation.
In the book of Genesis, God’s creation of the world is referred to as His work.
On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.5
The fourth commandment reflects God’s work of creation, as it makes reference both to not working on the seventh day, the Sabbath, and to working on the other days of the week.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.6
In saying this, God set up a requirement to work with the Ten Commandments, as He expressed that the work we do is to imitate His.
In six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.7
As He worked in creation and then rested on the seventh day, so human beings are also to work as well as to have a day of rest.
In the book of Proverbs, we find references to the benefit of work.
In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.8
Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.9
In the New Testament, we also find positive references to work. The apostle Paul worked as a tentmaker at times during his missionary journeys.
He found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.10
Elsewhere, Paul made reference to his working:
“I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”11
Paul also wrote to the Ephesians:
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.12
When writing to the church of Thessalonica, Paul emphasized the importance of believers supporting themselves by working.
Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.13
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote:
We command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.14
Of course, not all work is compensated financially. One of the most important jobs throughout the world is that of a homemaker. Scripture teaches the importance of those who care for their children and home, even though such work is not paid employment. In Bible times, the role of the homemaker belonged to the wife; today, that role can also be undertaken by the husband, or may be split between the husband and wife. In Proverbs 31, we find praise for the homemaker and the work she does.
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. … She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. … She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. … She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. … She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.15
While this passage addresses the work of the homemaker, it also speaks of the “excellent wife” as engaging in real estate and commerce.
She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. … She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. … She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. … She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.16
These verses indicate that homemakers may also take on paid work outside of their home.
Other unpaid work which is very important is volunteer work—people generously donating their time to help others, such as through their church or other organizations.
One tremendously important task which is often done on a volunteer basis is missionary work. Many dedicated Christians are called by God to devote their lives in service to Him as they share the gospel on the home front or on the mission field. Mission work does not generally include a regular salary; nevertheless, these brave and dedicated Christians look to the Lord to supply their needs while they carry out the mission to preach the gospel to all creation.17
In contrast to those who work diligently, there are several sobering verses in the book of Proverbs which describe those who are lazy and unwilling to work.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.18
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.19
Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.20
The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing.21
The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.22
As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed.23
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.24
Is Work a Curse?
While God gave Adam and Eve work to do when they were created, the book of Genesis explains that after they sinned, there were changes in the created order which made their work more difficult. God said to Adam,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”25
God’s curse on the ground meant it would now yield food only by difficult labor. Adam and Eve would still live from eating food, but at the cost of their hard work, by the sweat of your face. While God introduced unpleasantness into the work that humans must do, it is still possible to find joy in doing that work. Throughout the Old Testament, we find passages about the ability to enjoy the work we do and to see it as a blessing from God.
The LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.26
The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.27
My heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.28
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?29
No matter what job or work we are doing, whether paid or unpaid, it should be seen as a place to which God has brought us, at least for the present time. For some, the work they are doing is their calling, their vocation, something they will devote their whole life to. For others, God may lead them to one occupation for a period of time and then later call them to another. Whatever work the Lord leads us to, whatever job we may have, as believers, we should do our work with dignity and honor as we are called to do all to the glory of God.30
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 John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008).
3 Genesis 1:28.
4 Genesis 2:15.
5 Genesis 2:2.
6 Exodus 20:8–10.
7 Exodus 20:11.
8 Proverbs 14:23.
9 Proverbs 28:19.
10 Acts 18:2–3.
11 Acts 20:33–35.
12 Ephesians 4:28.
13 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12.
14 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12.
15 Proverbs 31:10, 13–15, 20, 22, 26–27.
16 Proverbs 31:16, 18, 24, 27.
17 Mark 16:15 NAS.
18 Proverbs 6:9–11.
19 Proverbs 13:4.
20 Proverbs 19:15.
21 Proverbs 20:4.
22 Proverbs 21:25.
23 Proverbs 26:14.
24 Proverbs 26:15.
25 Genesis 3:17–19.
26 Deuteronomy 16:15.
27 Deuteronomy 28:12.
28 Ecclesiastes 2:10.
29 Ecclesiastes 2:24–25.
30 1 Corinthians 10:31.