The 8th Commandment; The Right Use of Our Possessions

March 24, 2024 / No. 4238

Dear Radio Friends,

In the school of God’s law today, we are going to learn about the right way to obtain, use, and view our possessions. God will tell us how to obtain, use, and view them. You and I quickly think that our possessions are, well, ours. As long as I use them in a way that doesn’t hurt someone else, and as long as I give my tithes and gifts to God, why does He care how I use the rest of my money and possessions?

The answer is that God is sovereign. Our possessions are first and foremost His. He has given them to us to use in His behalf, as stewards. He has redeemed and renewed us in Jesus Christ so that we are able to receive our possessions as gifts from Him, view them as His, not ours, and use them in His service.

As was true of the last several commandments, so of this: we will learn a very different lesson today in the school of God’s law than society teaches us.

We turn today to the eighth commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” And we examine it in light of Jesus’ parable of the rich fool, as recorded in Luke 12:13-23:

And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.

So let us consider from this passage and the eighth commandment the right use of our possessions.

First we must see that we are called to obtain them lawfully. The eighth commandment forbids stealing. By implication, all other unlawful means of obtaining possessions is declared to be off limits. And by implication, the positive keeping of the eighth commandment is that we come by our possessions in a lawful way.

In Ephesians 4:28 the apostle Paul teaches the two main ways in which God ordinarily provides for our needs: work, and gifts. Paul says, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” So ordinarily a man obtains by working. Strong, able bodied men who work for other men gain income as an exchange for labor; or they find food by growing crops and cattle. But some are unable to work; the wife and children at home depend on the husband and father to provide, and others cannot work due to handicaps, sickness, or old age. Those who do work are to care for those who cannot, by giving gifts. These gifts might come from individuals, or from the church, which is taught to care for its own who have needs. Sometimes these gifts come in surprising or miraculous ways; think of the way in which God fed the Israelites in the wilderness by giving manna from heaven every day.

Regardless of the specific way in which we receive possessions, Jesus teaches us in Luke 12 that it is God who provides. Just as God clothes the lilies of the field and gives food to the birds of the air, so He gives us our possessions. He uses the means of work, and of other people, to do that—but in heaven, He controls and directs history so that our needs are supplied. This the rich fool forgot: he had obtained in his own strength and by his own wisdom, and forgot that another gave him, and that other could take his life away in an instant.

Several basic truths govern how we are to obtain our possessions. First, we are to remember that God created all things, and therefore owns them; they are not ultimately ours. Second, by the means we mentioned (work and gifts), He distributes His wealth to us, giving to each of us whatever portion He desires, just as an employer distributes to his employees. Third, the portion that God gives each of us is different from person to person, and yet is enough for each—enough, that is, for one to serve God in the place in which He puts us.

Now we forget each of these principles. That all things belong to God, and therefore that I must account to him for how I use my possessions; that what I have is God’s gift to me; and that God knows my needs, and provides them in the measure He is pleased to, we forget. That leads us, like the man in Luke 12, to say to Jesus, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me,” that is, give me more; and tell others to give me more. It may well be that the brother who was not sharing the inheritance was wrong in not doing so, although we don’t know that; what we know is that Jesus said of the one asking him that he was not content.

Forgetting these principles, we violate the eighth commandment, and do what God forbids. For one thing, we think of stealing, if we do not in fact do so. Whether it is the child in the store taking a piece of candy, or a seller taking advantage of a buyer by selling what is not worth the price, or a shoplifter, we steal. Why do we do this? Because we want instant gratification; we want things now, without having to work. Work is hard; it requires dedication. Stealing is much easier. And how quickly we justify our behavior: he has more than he needs; I have more mouths to feed!

But God forbids stealing, in all forms. Stealing can take the form of blatant robbery, by force, but also the form of an innocent lie. Perhaps I tell a prospective buyer that my car is more reliable than it really is. Stealing can take the form of withholding from another person what I should give him, James rebuked employers for not giving their employees what they had earned, and Malachi rebuked the Jews for not bringing their gifts to the temple. It can take the form of overcharging for services. And it often involves oppression, that is, the stronger or richer taking advantage of the poorer and weaker. Why are the elderly, and the widows, intentionally targeted by those who wish to scam? Producing counterfeit money, charging excessive interest, selling something as weighing five pounds when we shaved three ounces off it, or as being a full gallon when it is not—all these are forms of stealing.

So what is wrong with this? For one thing, it shows we are not adhering to those principles that God teaches us–that He gives us what He desires us to have, using lawful means. Therefore, it shows that we do not trust God to provide; disobedience always shows lack of trust. God doesn’t know the best way for me to obtain possessions, so I won’t do it His way. And third, such conduct is hatred of the neighbor. We all get this point. We all understand that if the neighbor were to do to us what we did to him, we would get the worse end of the deal. So we all understand that by being sure our neighbor gets the worst end of the deal, we are taking advantage of him.

Having seen first that we must obtain our possessions lawfully, we must see second that we are to use them lawfully. Two broad principles govern the lawful use of our possessions. The first is that we use them in love for God and our neighbor. Jesus taught the latter point when he set forth the golden rule in Matthew 7:12: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Rather than stealing from our neighbor, this principle will lead us to give willingly and generously for him. And to use them in love for God is to realize that His kingdom causes require our support; if the minister, the Christian school teacher, and the missionary are to eat, we must support them.

Now let us consider other activities that violate this principle. If we are to use our possessions in love for God and our neighbor, we should not throw our possessions away. Of course, we will spend money for something in return, such as food, an automobile, and the like. But when we gamble, even when we do something seemingly as innocent as buying lottery tickets, how are we showing love for God and the neighbor? The motive for gambling and playing the lottery is the hope that we will win big. And yet we need not win big; God will provide by work and gifts.

And how are we showing love for God and the neighbor when we waste our possessions, when we throw great amounts of food away because we are too full, and when we abuse our possessions? When we do not pay the neighbor the debt we owe him; when we sue him or her for frivolous things; when we borrow an item and treat it carelessly; this is not love for God or neighbor.

The second principle that governs how God requires us to use our possessions is that we use them in hope. The hope is not that one day we will be even richer on earth, but that one day Jesus Christ will return to judge all people, and will judge us, finding us to be faithful stewards. That is our hope.

In a parable in Luke 12 following the passage that we read, Jesus makes this point. The parable is that of a great lord who had to go away, and so gave instructions to his servants what they were to do and how they were to use the lord’s possessions while he was gone. The servants who loved their lord served in the hope and confidence that one day he would return. They cared for their lord’s possessions. The servant who decided that the lord’s return was far off, and that he could use the lord’s possessions for his own advantage, did not care for the lord’s possessions–to the point that he even abused the other servants. If we don’t treat possessions with value, we will find ourselves unable to treat people with value.

The fact is that, even if we live as though Jesus Christ will not return, and as if we need not answer to Him for what we do, He will return, and we will answer. Do you live in that hope? Do you expect that in that day He will declare you to have been faithful?

That leads us to speak of the heart of the gospel in this connection, for none of us are perfectly faithful. None of us can say that we have not misused the possessions Jehovah has given us. Each of us has sinned, and each must acknowledge his sin. And our sin makes us worthy of condemnation. How can Jesus Christ say of any of us that we have been faithful?

The answer, first, is that He died on the cross, covering the guilt of our sins by His blood. He earned for us the right to heaven, and the favor of God. In fact, He earned for us the right to be stewards of God’s goods! Adam and Eve were stewards in the Garden of Eden; when they sinned, they, and we in them, could claim no right to have so much as a crumb of bread or a drop of water. The unfaithful servant deserves no gifts from the lord against whom he sinned! But Jesus Christ earned that right, by bearing God’s wrath for sin on the tree of Calvary. In dying, He loved us. He took nothing from us, but He restored to us what He did not take away (think of the words of David in Psalm 69, prophetic of Christ’s death).

The answer to how Jesus Christ can say that we have been faithful, second, is that He then gives us His life and power, enabling us to keep His law. We make a new and true beginning. We realize that stealing is wrong, and we hate stealing; we receive what God gives us with joy and thanksgiving. And we desire to be pleasing to God. We don’t become perfectly sinless in this life; but we do begin anew to obey. And Jesus Christ notices that, and declares us faithful. When He declares us faithful in the day of judgment, He is not saying that He accepts imperfection; rather, He is saying that He saw the fruits of His life in us.

But our hope is not only that Jesus Christ will return; it is also that after we are judged, God will give us a place in heaven. That will be the true riches; there we will serve God perfectly; there we will never steal, never waste, never abuse, but always serve in His kingdom to His glory!

We have explained that we can begin to keep this commandment by grace. But what kind of heart will obey willingly? The answer is, a heart that is content with what God gives. And here we come to the third main lesson to learn today. The first regarded how we obtain possessions; the second regards how we use them; and the third regards our view of them. Really, our view of them must be this: we have been given enough. When we think that what God gave us is enough, even if it be little, we will not desire to steal.

The rich fool was not content; he did not think he had enough. Rather, he was covetous and wanted more. He thought that happiness was found in things, and he laid up treasure below. That was Jesus’ analysis of the matter. Just before telling the parable, Jesus said to His disciples, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” And He concluded the parable by saying, “so is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

To be content is to say of what God has given, it is enough. To be clear, if a man says that as an excuse for laziness, that is not contentment. The content man will still get up in the morning and go to work. But he will say of what he receives in a lawful way, it is enough. He might live in a small ranch house and drive modest cars, but he will not be envious of his neighbor who drives a Porsche, or his other neighbor who puts a large addition on an already very large house, or his third neighbor who builds a large outbuilding to store his boat and RV. He will say, I have enough. That these neighbors have more does not mean that they are happier.

An example of one who was content was Paul, and he testified of it while in prison: he learned how to be content; whether he was full or hungry, well-clothed or poorly dressed, he learned to be content. He found this power in Jesus Christ.

Contentment leads a person not to strive to get more and more of this world’s goods, which one must leave behind at death. Contentment leads a person with only a modest income to save some for the future and to put aside others for those in need, including giving toward charitable causes and supporting kingdom causes. Contentment leads a father who has worked hard, to come home and enjoy an evening meal with his family. Contentment enables a mother who cannot keep up with her wealthier neighbors not to be ashamed when she drives an older car with rust on it.

By contrast, covetousness drives the society in which we live. Retailers lure with ads and deals, and we say: I have to have that! More, more, more! And our society, among the richest of all cultures ever, is also the least happy. Covetousness results in one not being happy, even when he has much!

May God give you the grace of contentment. Seek it from Him; pray for it! Paul didn’t receive it immediately; he learned it over time, in the school of life.

What happiness such contentment gives! It enables one to sleep at night. And if one is robbed, if fire burns one’s possessions, if one’s clothing is destroyed by mold and mildew and rot, the contented person might show some emotions, but not anxiety: our heavenly Father has not forgotten about us.