15 “You must not steal." (Exodus 20:15 New Living Translation)
In a very "technical" sense, stealing is taking anything without someone's permission, or the right to take what it is we are taking. Even more telling is the ability to take something without even acknowledging an awareness of the issue in taking the item. I think God knows we may end up with a pen in our pocket on occasion, quite by accident. I don't think he is very pleased when we justify why we are pocketing the extra ten dollars!
Look at our simple command: You must not steal. The one being addressed is "you" - that includes all of us. The imperative in this sentence is the word "must not". It does not say, try your best not to, or if the circumstances are right, then don't. It is quite plain - we "MUST NOT" steal.
What kinds of things do we "steal" on a daily basis? How about time? Have we ever had an opportunity to lolly-gag around when the boss was looking the other way? Probably. What we do in secret is as important as what we do when we are being observed. If we are surfing the net on company time, we are probably stealing our employer's time. How about credit? Have we ever known someone else did all the work on a big project which made our work easier, the outcomes we realized possible, and then not given them credit for the work? God tells us a laborer is worth his hire - in other words, if he is due credit for a job well-done, we ought to point it out.
God takes this whole idea of stealing so seriously. He made additional "rules" around stealing such as:
- Take a man's ox and repay him five in return (Exodus 22:1)
- Take a man's sheep and repay him four in return (Exodus 22:1)
- A thief is to make full restitution - if not able, his life was to be sold in order to accomplish it (Exodus 22:3)
So, if God takes it this seriously, shouldn't we? If we become aware of our sin, God's plan is for us to make restitution - to restore it. So, at the point I realize I am in possession of my friend's favorite writing instrument - it is time for me to let them know I will return it when we meet next, if not sooner. If I get the extra change in my grocery "bounty" - I may have to make a trip back to the cashier with the money in hand. God may ask you to point out where credit is due. He may ask you to do little extras around the workplace in order to "give back" what you have been taking in non-productive time. Whatever it is, do it! The reward of a clear conscience is much better than anything else we could imagine!