This article is part of a series from our monthly newsletter written by Pastor Steve. Read more from the series by clicking the button below:
The Seventh Commandment
Throughout the year, I will be reflecting upon the Ten Commandments in the newsletter. This month we continue by examining the Seventh Commandment. I plan to begin with Luther’s explanation and then move into what this might mean for us today.
The Seventh Commandment
You shall not steal.
What does this mean?
We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.
Luther concludes writing in his Large Catechism about the Seventh Commandment by stating:
‘Enough has been said about what stealing is. It should not be narrowly restricted, but it should pertain to anything that has to do with our neighbor. We will sum it up, as we have done in the previous commandments: First, we are forbidden to do our neighbors any injury or wrong in any way imaginable, whether by damaging, withholding, or interfering with their possessions and property. We are not even to consent to or permit such a thing but are rather to avert and prevent it. In addition, we are commanded to promote and further our neighbors’ interest, and when they suffer any want, we are to help, share, and lend to both friends and foes. Anyone who seeks and desires good works will find here more than enough things to do that are heartily acceptable and pleasing to God.’ (The Book of Concord, p. 419-420)
For Luther the commandments 4 – 10 can be summed up in two words: ‘LOVE NEIGHBOR.’ As Luther expands his explanations in the Large Catechism, he continually goes back to seeing the commandment as more than a simple command (do not steal) but wants us to see that this relates to how we treat our neighbors. Putting a positive spin on the command, Luther challenges us to help our neighbor and seek to improve and protect their property and income. How do you seek to live this out?
One of the ways I saw this very commandment get lived out was when I was serving in Kentucky. There was a young girl who was diagnosed with bone cancer that had spread to her lungs. She was sent to St. Jude’s for treatment. The dad worked at the major employer in town. When people heard about the situation, a large number of people went to the HR department and voluntarily gave some of their vacation days to him. The company policy allowed for this type of transfer of vacation days. This allowed him to be able to take off more time to be able to travel the 3 hours to St. Jude and stay for some extended time throughout the treatment. For she was in and out of St. Jude for almost a year in total during her treatment. This was a way in which the co-workers (neighbors) we able to help protect his income and employment.
We do not have to do gestures such as this, but in what ways do we seek to look beyond ourselves to help others? If you think about the Seventh Commandment literally (do not steal), it is a very self-centered act. For the most part, people steal in order to take something that they want or steal to make money to get something they want. It is about acquiring things for one’s self without paying or rightly acquiring it. Luther wants us to think not about what we want or to accumulate things for ourselves, but to use our good works for the benefit of our neighbor and others.
The other aspect of this prohibition against stealing is that I think we need to expand our understanding of what can be stolen. Most of the time, our minds (or at least mine) tends to go toward things and stuff. Taking material possessions from others or a store. However, what are some other things that we can steal?
Do we when we gossip or tell stories about others, in some ways steal their reputation or good name? Do we waste time at work, thus stealing time (or productivity) from our employer? Do we cheat at a contest or game and steal a win or prize from others? There can be other ways that we steal from others.
When we hear this commandment, it may seem simple and obvious about how to keep it (do not take stuff that doesn’t belong to you). However, like all the commandments if we truly seek to live it out, it calls us to do more than not take things. It calls us to seek to help our neighbor. And in the words of Luther, ‘anyone who seeks and desires good works will find here more than enough things to do that are heartily acceptable and pleasing to God!’