The Iniquity of Larceny

Bible Book: Exodus  20 : 15
Subject: Ten Commandments; Stealing; Robbery
Series: Ten Commandments - God's Way, The Right Way

The Iniquity of Larceny - Commandment 8

Dr. J. Mike Minnix, Editor,


Exodus 20:15

Now we come to message number 8 in our series on the Ten Commandments. Our series is entitled, God's Way, The Right Way. Today we are looking at The Iniquity of Larceny. and our text is found in Exodus 20:15

What is stealing? Stealing or larceny is taking anything from anyone in any manner which violates God's Law. Ephesians 4:28 clearly tells us that there are two ways that each of us can come into possession of private property:

1. You can work for it and, therefore, earn it,

2. You can receive it as a gift,

In addition, there are three ways to steal.

1. You can take something that does not belong to you,

2. You can fail to use something that has been given to you;

3. You can steal by keeping something that rightly belongs to someone else.

The questions today are, "Is this a real problem in our modern world? Is this a problem in the Christian community?" I believe you will agree, by the time we finish our look at the 8th Commandment today, that larceny is, indeed, a problem of mammoth proportions.

Let me give you a good example. A taxi driver used to wrap up his garbage each day and leave it in the backseat of his cab. Why? Because he knew by the end of the day it would be gone. Someone would steal the bag everyday. Can you imagine the thief's surprise when he opened the bag he had taken from the taxi and found only garbage inside the bag? (Adapted from Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997.)

Actually, there is going to be a big surprise for a lot of people who have been taking things that do not belong to them.

Yes, stealing is a big problem. I am going to show you today that this problem has become so rampant that people simply don't think it is a big issue and, in fact, do not believe they will pay any consequence for the action of taking something which doesn't belong to them. Maybe you heard about the man who came into a bank and gave a note to the teller. The note read, "This is a stickup, give me all your money." The lady gave him a note in return which said, "Straighten up your tie, our camera is taking your picture." Be sure, God is taking your picture when you steal something. This is a sin with consequences.

People who steal ought to be afraid. I heard about one man who decided to rob a bank. He was such a nervous wreck when he entered the bank that he got all mixed up in his statement to the bank teller. He meant to say to the teller behind the counter, "Don't mess with me, this is a stick up." Instead he said, "Don't stick with me, this is a mess up." Friend, any time you are taking that which is not rightfully yours, it is a" mess up" for sure.

I want us to look at this 8th Commandment in three parts today.

I. The Amount Of Stealing Taking Place

We need to take a moment and let the magnitude of this sin and this problem sink into our minds. Few people who have not studied this subject in detail have any idea of the size of the problem.

A. The Country Has A Problem With Thievery

America has become a den of thieves. According to the late Paul Harvey, CBS sent a camera crew arrived at Fort. Worth, Texas to do a special story on big city crime. They were going to look into the problem of thefts taking place in American cities. As the crew was unloading its equipment, their $30,000 camera was stolen.

That reminds me of the man who packed his bags, got on a bus and went to New York to hit the big time in show business. He arrived in the city, walked out on the street, set his bags down, look up toward heaven and said with gusto, "Look out, New York, I am here and I am going to take a big bite out of the Big Apple." He reached down for his bags and found that they were gone! Seems like someone took a bite out of him.

A lady wrote into "Reader's Digest" sometime back to say that a co-worker of hers had his car stolen from the company's parking lot. When the police finally located the vehicle, they found that the thief had installed a burglar-alarm system in it. It takes one to know one, I guess. Just think about the following statistics.

Thirty percent of all businesses fail because of internal theft. Seventy-five percent of employees in retail establishments steal, taking three times as much as shoplifters, according to security authorities. Hotel and motels have reached the staggering amount of almost $750 million dollars a year to thieves. One out of every three hotel or motel guests will steal something.

In fact this problem is much larger than many want to admit. In a survey, 74% of Americans admitted they would steal from someone if they knew the person would not find out and would never miss what was taken. One estimate says that 1 out of every 52 shopper's carries something out of the supermarket for which they haven't paid. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 4 million people are caught shoplifting every year. But for every one caught, 35 others get away with it. This means that there are over 140 million incidents of shoplifting every year in America! What's really tragic is that only 10% of all shoplifters come from low incomes - 70% are middle class and 20% are classified as wealthy.

B. The Church Has A Problem With Thievery

Christians, in many cases, are no different from others in our society. After the Los Angeles riots some years ago, Steve Futterman, a radio announcer, broadcast an interview he had with one of the riot's many looters. The man had been one of a crowd of people who had looted a record store. When asked what he had stolen, the man replied, "Gospel tapes. I love Jesus." Christians can and do steal in various ways. In a moment we are going to look at some of the ways people commit this sin. You might just find yourself somewhere in that list.

But the sin of stealing is not just something Christians may do, it is also something that affects us because it is done to us. Some years ago, Jayne and I had our home burglarized. Interestingly, the theft took place on a Wednesday night when almost everyone in the town knew where we lived and knew the preacher and his family would be in church. In addition, we were having a special night with Iris Blue speaking to our congregation. The entire town knew about the event. Thieves took advantage of our church life to rob us.

Missionaries are often robbed overseas because people in those countries know they are Americans and think they have lots of money. Churches are robbed many times. A church I pastored in Metro-Atlanta experienced theft several times within a few years. One of our vans was stolen, but recovered. Equipment has been taken. One day a man was walking out of our building carrying a video recorder of video player. He came to the door and Susan Rumble, our Member Care Administrator, was nearby. She saw the man had his hands full and being the good Christian lady she is, she said, "Here, let me help you." She held the door open while the man walked out. Susan didn't know it, but she aided and abetted a thief. The man was not taking the equipment out for repair, rather he was stealing it! We didn't let Susan do any kind of inventory after that! She didn't know the man was stealing the equipment, of course, but was being the kind lady she was and is. Many other churches and denominational groups often borrow things from us and had no idea the man was stealing the recorder. We sometimes have equipment going in and out in the hands of people we do not know well. But we had to put in place a strict system of loaning and borrowing so that stealing was not so easy.

We added an elaborate alarm system to do all we could to protect the property, which existed because faithful believers have given hard earned tithes and offerings to buy those things. But thieves do not care about that. They will take it if it isn't nailed down!

Christians are not immune to the hurt and danger of theft. It was Christmas Eve. Ginny Hybels was driving home from a late night service at her church. It was snowing and as she rounded a sloping curve, she noticed a car stuck in a snowdrift at the bottom of the hill. In her mind she thought about all those warnings about helping strangers, but she pulled over and helped him anyway. "I can't believe you stopped," said the man in the car. "I was afraid I'd be stuck here all night. Maybe if you drive the car while I push it, we can get out." Forty-five minutes later they managed to get the car out of the drift. The stranger came over to her car and said, "Thank you very much. You've been a tremendous help to me." He then reached into her car, grabbed her purse, which was filled with money and credit cards and simply drove away. Now you would not do that, would you? You think that is awful. Certainly it is.

But you don't have to loot a store, crack a safe or pick a pocket to steal. We are going to learn today that the "Iniquity of Larceny" is much more prevalent than most of us would think. In fact, we may have to look far more closely at our own behavior than we would like. To understand the full extent of this matter, we need to see stealing as taking place in many ways.

II. The Avenues For Stealing To Take Place

I am going to share with you "The Top Ten" ways that stealing takes place. And, often the kinds of stealing I am going to mention are done by Christians just like you and just like me.

A. Tax Theft

We can steal from the government when we do not pay our fair share of taxes. Overstated deductions, unreported income and false claims steal from the government. Jesus said that we should, "Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar." Paul said render unto him the taxes that are due. There is nothing wrong with tax avoidance, but there is something wrong with tax evasion. Pay as little as you can, but as much as you should. There is little doubt that hundreds of thousands of Christians cheat on their taxes every year. This is a form of theft.

To make matters worse, we have learned through the news that IRS employees often don't pay their taxes. They owe millions in back taxes and still work trying to catch citizens stealing from the government. Strange but true!

B. Welfare Theft

Welfare theft is the act of taking payments from the government through falsely claiming a welfare need, which is not honest or exact. Welfare fraud in this country has reached epidemic stages. It was estimated a couple years ago that fully 25% of all welfare claims are fraudulent in one way or another. That adds up to billions of tax-payer dollars that are stolen each year!

C. Debt Theft

Debt theft is the act of borrowing money, which you do not pay back. When the Bible says to owe no man nothing by love, it does not mean we should never have a financial debt, it means to never have a debt you do not pay. If you owe a bill and the loan states that you are to make the payment on the first of the month,  you don't owe it till the first of the month; however, if you don't pay it on time or at all, you are violating scripture in two ways - one, you owe a debt you haven't paid, and second you are robbing the person you promised to pay.

D. Begging Theft

You would be shocked to know how much begging theft goes on in America. That is, people beg money as a way of life. We had an elaborate system among Christians in Gwinnett County where I pastored a few years ago just to keep con artist from going from church to church begging for money which they in turn use as income to keep from working. A ring of such people was broken up in Atlanta a few years ago. The poorly dressed people begged all over Metro-Atlanta. They actually lived upper-middle class lives in a nearby state.

E. Work Theft

Work theft is one of the most prevalent ways people steal. This means failing to give your employer a full days work for the pay you receive. Employees using false claims for sick leave, arriving late, leaving early, and wasting time, is a major problem in our country. You are stealing from your employer when you do not give the days work which is expected of you for the pay you are receiving.

F. Academic Theft

Another form of theft is academic theft. This means to steal from another student's work. Copying someone homework, having someone else do your work for pay, or cheating on tests is so prevalent that some colleges and schools have had to set up special task force groups to find a way to diminish it.

There is a story that comes from one of the great football colleges in America. It seems that one of the football players was cheating on a test in order to stay on the team. He had to keep a certain academic record or be dropped. He was looking at the paper of a nearby student and copying his answers. Actually, he didn't get caught looking at the paper. It was what he wrote on his paper that did him in. On one of the questions, the good student wrote the following, "I don't know the answer to this question." The football player wrote on his paper, "I don't know the answer either." Be sure your sin will find you out!

G. Computer Theft

Many people are stealing software programs. They copy them and hand them to each other. In essence, they are stealing from the hardworking programmers that spend countless hours bent over computer keyboards banging out computer code to write those handy programs. You might as well take the money right out of their pocket. This can also be done in shared copied music files and other forms of information in digital format that is prohibited by law.

H. Borrowing Theft

Then there are the things we borrow and never take back. It is said that Charles Finney once preached a sermon on this in his local church. He pointed out that many things had been borrowed from him and never returned. He told the people that to do that was an act of thievery. By that afternoon, items began to arrive in the hands of church members. Some people even brought things to Finney that were not his. They had borrowed them from someone, forgot who it was, and just assumed it must be Finney. To borrow something you do not return is stealing!

I. Reputation Theft

You can steal from a person's reputation through gossip. One possession most precious to most of us is our reputation. For someone to steal that from us is an act of thievery. Watch what you say about people. Make sure it is true, and even if true make sure that you are not just robbing the person of a good name out of jealousy or spite.

J. Tithe Theft

Last, but not least, is stealing from God by not tithing. Malachi 3: states that we rob God of the tithe and offerings when we fail to give a tenth of our income and fail to give offerings as He moves us to do so. Most people come up with two excuses why they don't tithe. The claim it is Old Testament information and ti is nothing by Law and we don't live by the Law since we are under grace! Friend, think about it, is it not a disgrace to give less under grace than a Jew had to give under the law! Abraham gave a tithe before the law. Note Malachi 3:10 and see that God said, "Try me," regarding the tithe. Nowhere else does God say that!

Abraham commenced it, Jacob continued it, Moses commanded it, Jesus commended it, who am I to cancel it!

British writer G. K. Chesterton: "There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more; the other is to desire less." At least we should desire to be totally honest and to give that which God presses on our hearts to give!

III. The Answer So That Stealing Won't Take Place

What can be done about this problem?

A. Call Sin By Its Real Name

In the legal system and court system, the size of a theft makes a great difference. If you steal a lawn mower from your neighbors yard, that is one kind of theft. If you rob a bank, that is another kind of theft. If you steal secrets from the government to sell or give to a foreign country, that is yet another kind of theft. Each theft carries its own penalty. The lawn mower thief might get a fine and probation. The bank thief might get a prison term of several years. The person who steals government secrets may receive life in prison, or in times of war he might even be put to death. But in the eyes of God, stealing is stealing. On a divine level, to steal a pencil or a car is still thievery.

It does not matter if you steal a dime or a dollar, it is still thievery. It does not matter if the amount or thing taken is small or large. And be sure of this, you cannot steal anything without God knowing it. It is interesting that thieves almost always try to steal in the dark and certainly they always try to steal in secret.

B. Confess Our Guilt

A number of years ago I received a call from one of my church members. He was a man in his late seventies and a very faithful member of our church. He came to my home and sat in the living room to talk with me. I could see that he was very troubled. His hands trembled and he had a hard time looking me in the eye. After a few minutes of beating around the bush, he came out with the problem. He had worked for a dairy when he was young. He had left that job fifty years before the day he was speaking with me. However, he had cheated his employer by not turning in all the money he received. For fifty years he had carried that guilt in his heart. For fifty years he had lived with a troubled conscience. He told me that many times he had to deal with what he had done. Now he wanted to make it right. The problem was that his former employer was dead. What was the solution? First, he needed to settle it with God. He should lay the offense before the Lord once and for all. Second, he needed to find the relative of his former employer and pay them back with interest for all the money he could remember taking. I thank God for that man who came to my home that day. He was a genuine and he was real. He did find the relatives and offered them the money. I am not sure that they took it, but they were amazed at his honesty. He died later, but he died in peace regarding an offense to man and God that had taken place five decades in the past.

What should we do today?

First, we need to ask God to forgive us for anything we have taken that is not rightfully ours.

Then, if we have taken anything that we can remember, we should seek to make restitution.

I am not saying this is easy. I remember one Sunday when I was a young preacher that I was going to preach on a subject like this. As I prayed in my study, God brought to my remembrance an object I had stolen from my cousin when we were just boys. I wept at the thought and knew what I had to do. I picked up the phone and called and actually found him at home that Sunday morning. I told him the truth, asked him to forgive me and offered to pay for it with interest. He refused the payment, but was somewhat astounded that his preacher cousin would call to confess so minor a matter that had taken place so many years before. But it was not minor to me, because it wasn't minor to God. I was not about to preach on the subject without making it right with God and man!

Will you do that today? Will you think back over your life and seek to get the matter or larceny settled with God. And, if you can, will you try to make it right with others.

C. Commit Our Hearts To God

People steal because they do not trust God to give them what they need or want. The Bible clearly states that God will give you the desires of your heart. That does not mean that you will get everything you desire, but it means you will get everything you should receive -  if, indeed, your heart is fully committed to the Lord. When He is your first desire, all the other desires will come in line with His will. That means we will not get caught up with the striving to have what someone else has or to get something in a sinful way.


We must have the right attitude about things. I am sure you remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves. They took his goods, beat him and stripped him of his clothing. A priest passed by without helping him. A Levite also passed by without aiding him. But a Samaritan stopped and helped the man. He took him to an inn and paid for his room. Here we see three philosophies regarding a view of material things.

The view of the thieves was: "What is yours is mine, and I will take it."

The view of the Priest and Levite was: "What is mine is mine, and I will keep it."

The view of the Samaritan was: "What is mine is God's, and I will give it."

Each of us in this room has a worldview when it comes to things. That worldview is not found in what we say about things, money and possessions; it is expressed by what we do with things, money and possessions.

Let us submit our hearts, minds, wills and possessions to God. He will direct your paths. He will allow you to have what you need and much of what you want without you having to succumb to taking that which is unlawful.

Most important of all, let us remember that Jesus came to pay a debt we could not pay. He died in our place. For those of us who have received Him as Savior and Lord, we are not above our Master. We are not our own. Let us submit all we have, all we are, and all we desire to have, into His hands!

For those who do not know the Lord as your Savior, you need to know that right now you owe God a pure life. That is something you don't have. You have sinned - we all have! You can't pay this debt. Are you aware that Jesus paid it for you? He did! He paid in His shed blood and death at Calvary. He had a perfect life and He gave it for you. You can't have this new life - this pure life - unless you are willing to admit you are a sinner, believe upon Him as the Son of God, and to confess Him as your Lord and Savior today. Come now. We are going to sing and God is inviting you to accept the gift of forgiveness. Come now. Don't wait. Don't hesitate. Don't flounder around with this decision. Just listen to His voice and come to Him now.