"THE ESSENCE OF THIEVERY" (abridged)
1. In Second Corinthians 5.17 the apostle Paul wrote these words: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." For years the prevailing view among Christians was that this verse referred to a believer's position in Christ, not his practice in Christ.
2. That is to say, Second Corinthians 5.17 was thought to refer to how God saw you as a Christian, but that the verse had little to do with how you were expected to behave as a Christian. But as we slide into the great apostasy that characterizes the end of this age we see this wrong view of Second Corinthians for what it really is, a way to cover up and excuse the wicked behavior of people in our Churches who claim to be born again, but who have never trusted the Biblical Jesus the Bible way for the forgiveness of their sins.
3. And Paul's letter to the Ephesian congregation bears this out. You see, it is in Ephesians chapter 4 that Paul begins to sort out the details of just how it is a saved person is brought to show, on the outside, that he is a new man on the inside. It takes genuine conversion, it takes the ministry of a Church and a God-called pastor, and it takes practical Scriptural exhortations to the new Christian to establish godly goals to live up to.
4. Such practical exhortations we have before us. Let us stand as we read Ephesians 4.26-29 [Read]. You might have noticed a pattern in these four verses. First, there is an exhortation related to temper, Ephesians 4.26-27 [Read]. Next, there is an exhortation related to taking, Ephesians 4.28 [Read]. Finally, there is an exhortation related to talking, Ephesians 4.29 [Read]. Won't you please be seated?
5. My text for this evening is Ephesians 4.28. And in this single verse we find a prohibition, an admonition, and an a motivation. Shall we read the text again? [Read]
6. The prohibition is quite straightforward, but is more far-reaching than you might first imagine. "Let him that stole steal no more." You see, the English word "stole" gives the distinct impression of being in the past tense. And it is, in English. But the Greek word rendered "stole" is actually a present active participle form of the Greek word "kleptw." We get our word kleptomaniac, meaning compulsive thief, from this word.
7. From the form of this word we see that Paul is definitely not referring to someone who once stole things, but who no longer steals. He is referring to someone who is presently and actively engaged in thievery. And how can this be, since First Corinthians 6.10 clearly declares that thieves are not saved, though Paul is obviously writing this letter to saved people?
8. Folks, wrongdoing is so deeply ingrained into the behavior of the sinner that no saint can possibly stop sinning entirely this side of heaven. And while the newly saved person will stop shoplifting, and will stop stealing cars, it may take him longer to see the need to give his boss eight hours work for eight hours pay. And it may take her a while to get off food stamps and aid for dependent children.
9. So you see, some of these things can't be stopped in a matter of minutes or hours. Sometimes days or weeks or months are involved. But there will come a day when the child of God will no longer be taking property from other people in unethical ways, even if those unethical ways are technically legal, like having your undisciplined child declared to have attention deficit disorder just so he can get on the public dole for being "disabled." So, the admonition is far-reaching and has direct application to the believer after all.
10. After the prohibition comes the admonition: "But rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good." Have you ever thought about the number of spiritual problems that can be effectively dealt with by the proper application of hard work? "Labor" here means hard work. Think about it sometime.
11. The lazy sluggard, which is the say, the guy who will not keep a decent job, or the kid who will not do his homework, or the girl who will not clean her room, should be forced to work hard and do without food until the assigned tasks are performed. That advice comes from Second Thessalonians.
12. But what about the person who is a taker? Maybe you no longer steal candy from the store, now that you are saved, but you do short the effort you give to your boss, or you short the effort you give to your parents who pay the tuition so you can attend a Christian school. You see, the problem with a person who steals time and opportunity, and things like that, is you don't appreciate the value of a hard-earned dollar. And the only way you will ever come to appreciate the value of that which you takes from others is when you have to work hard to pay back what you have taken. Then and only then will you appreciate the value of what you take.
13. But that's not the end of it. Just as the fool who smokes cigarettes rarely stops smoking by deciding only to stop smoking, so specifically designated sinful behavior habits are rarely ended when you just decide to end them. The Biblical pattern of forming godly behavior patterns follows the put off and put on principle. Put off the old man and put on the new man. Put off stealing and put on giving. Listen to the motivation. "That he may have to give to him that needeth."
14. So, it's not enough to just stop stealing. God is not pleased with you when you only stop doing wrong. He wants you to also start doing right. So, the motivation for the stealing to end, for the working to begin, is so you will be able to complete the transformation from being a taker to becoming a giver. And when that happens you will have begun to show those around you that you are a new creature in Christ, if you are indeed truly saved.
15. My sermon this evening is titled "The Essence Of Thievery," and I would like to speak to you about the kind of person who doesn't give tithes and offerings, the kind of person who can't hold down a decent job, the kind of person who is unable to stand on his own two feet. Such a person is thief.
16. Thievery, at its root, being understood in its most basic form, is not limited to taking someone else's stuff. The essence of thievery is taking anything which belongs to another, instead of giving to meet another person's needs. And what's wrong with the essence of thievery?
17. Thievery is wrong on all counts. Remember, God created you and He expects, no He demands, that you be your brother's keeper. So, when you take from your brother instead of give to your brother, whatever it may be, you are in rebellion against God's will for your life. Additionally, since God made you and me in His Own image and after His likeness, anything that you do to me that is wrong, or any right thing that you have opportunity to do that you withhold from me, is an assault against the very image of God.
18. In short, being a taker instead of a giver, being a person whose very life demonstrates the essence of thievery, even if you never actually violate a single law by stealing another person's real property, is being selfish and is being sinful. Let me bring to your attention three observations that I have made about thievery.
1A. FIRST, AN OBSERVATION ABOUT THE EXAMPLES OF THIS WICKEDNESS
1B. First, The Example Of Fornication And Adultery
1C. This sin is a violation of the seventh commandment. This is a sin which directly or indirectly attacks the institution of marriage and the home. It's adultery and fornication that immediately or eventually robs children of their parents and the security of their homes. Why? Because it's adultery and fornication that causes far and away the most divorces.
2C. Do you see how sexual sin is the essence of thievery? Stealing parents from their children. Stealing security from the home. Stealing virtue from the virgin. Stealing and cheapening God's precious gift of sexual communion from the institution of marriage. Fornication and adultery is the essence of thievery.
2B. Second, The Example Of Murder
1C. What does the manslayer take, but the life of the victim? Perhaps the life of an ex-wife and a waiter is snuffed out in a fit of rage. Perhaps the life of a little girl is extinguished by cowardly gang members who are afraid to admit that they are disgusting curs who prey on children.
2C. Regardless of the reason, the taking of a human life is a heinous crime in the sight of God, even if the child is as yet unborn. Why? Because human life, being as it is in the image of God, is sacred. Murder and manslaughter, and abortion which is the same thing, is the essence of thievery.
3B. Third, The Example Of Lying
1C. What does the liar take? He takes the truth and perverts it. You see, liars mostly tell the truth. Lies simply have to be nestled in a context of truth to be believable. So the liar, in order to deceive, has to tell mostly the truth.
2C. Liars take from others in this way: They take from those they lie to a clear comprehension of the truth, a willingness to believe the truth at face value. What liars leave behind is deception, doubt, mistrust. And since the Lord Jesus Christ indicated that it's the truth which sets men free, a liar is someone who's preoccupation results in bondage. Dealing in lies, the liar does not set men free. Quite the opposite. He enslaves men. Tell me that taking men's freedom by the telling of lies is not the essence of thievery.
4B. Fourth, The Example Of Idolatry
1C. Do you bow down to statues? Do you cross yourself? Do you pray to statues? If you do those things you are guilty of the sin of idolatry, which is the second of the ten commandments listed in Exodus 20. But do you realize that idolatry is also the essence of thievery?
2C. Here is how: God is the only true and living God. All other beings have been created by God and are greatly inferior to Him. So inferior are all other beings, in fact, that God has specifically declared, "My glory will I not share with another." He is willing to share your worship, your adoration, your veneration, with no one besides Himself.
3C. So, when you bow to a statue, when you pray to or show reverence to a statue of the virgin Mary or to a so-called saint you are taking from God what is His and His alone. This is the essence of thievery.
5B. Fifth, The Example Of Witchcraft And Sorcery
1C. In Galatians 5.20 we find the word "witchcraft" in a list of sins. In Revelation 21.8 we find the word "sorcerers" in a list of sinners. Both words translate the Greek word "farmakeia," from which we get our English word pharmacy or pharmaceuticals. "Witchcraft" and "sorcerers" in the Bible has to do with the use of drugs. And by this is meant not just the illegal use of drugs. Oftentimes the perfectly legal use of drugs is, despite its legality, quite sinful. Drug use doesn't have to be illegal to be wrong.
2C. How is this so? Drugs, like alcohol, can be used in a strictly medicinal way, which is appropriate and sanctioned by God, or used quite wrongly. When drugs, like alcohol, are used to control your mood, to mask the guiltiness of sin, to artificially counterfeit joy that should only come from God, then the use of drugs is wrong.
3C. Look, there are only two things that can make someone feel badly, a physical problem or a spiritual problem. And when you attempt to address spiritual problems by medical or pharmaceutical means you are taking away from God the right to remove your joy when you commit sin, the right to convict you when you do wrong, and the right to give to you bliss when you obey Him.
4C. What better example of the essence of thievery is there than the taking from God, through the inappropriate use of stimulants, depressants, and mood altering drugs, His right to exercise control over your emotions?
6B. Sixth, The Example Of Not Giving Tithes And Offerings
1C. What could be more obviously stealing than refusing to gives tithes and offerings to God? In Malachi 3.8 we read that refusing to give God tithes and offerings is described by God as robbing Him. And isn't robbery stealing? Isn't someone who steals a thief?
2C. But what does the tithes and offerings thief steal when he refuses to give God's tithe and when he refuses to give his own freewill offerings? In addition to stealing from God he is stealing from his Church and from his brothers and sisters in Christ.
3C. When you withhold your tithe and offerings, in addition to stealing money and obedience and submission from God, you are stealing ministry from your fellow Church members and taking away from them the material resources God would provide to the Church through you.
4C. If you hold back God's tithe, ten percent of your gross income, and offerings on top of the tithe, you are demonstrating the essence of thievery.
7B. Finally, The Example Of Unbelief
1C. If idolatry is a sin against God the Father, unbelief is a sin against the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, it is not good enough for you to "believe in God." James tells us that even the demons of Satan believe in God. And the Lord Jesus commanded His followers with these words: "Ye believe in God? Believe also in me." And in the world of Jesus' day the word "believe" was a far weightier word than it is today.
2C. The sin of unbelief, then, is the sin of not trusting Jesus. It's the sin of not placing your confidence in Him to save your sinful soul. It's the sin of not thinking you need to be saved, as well as the sin of not being saved. And how is unbelief the essence of thievery? It denies Jesus what He deserves. The Bible declares, "worthy is the Lamb." My friends, Jesus is worthy. "Worthy of what?" you say. He is worthy of everything. Chiefly, He is worthy to be trusted to save you. And when you deny Him that you are guilty of the essence of thievery.
2A. SECOND, AN OBSERVATION ABOUT THE END OF THIS WICKEDNESS
My friend, you came into this world on Satan's side of the Conflict of the Ages. You came into this world a sinner. You came into this world a taker. You came into this world wickedly willing to see yourself as a poor victim of circumstances. And as a result of all this your life is the essence of thievery. Maybe as a husband you only take from your wife. Perhaps as a wife you only take from your husband. You may be a kid who only takes from your mom or dad. You never give anything in return. Selfishness and sin, sin and selfishness. Take, take, take. Where does that get you?
1B. First, The Standing Of You Who Are Guilty Of Being Takers
1C. The sins I reviewed, and it was not a complete list of sins by any means, includes sexual sins, murder, lying, idolatry, thievery, and illicit if not illegal drug use. Now, perhaps you're not a cold-blooded killer. Perhaps you've just aborted your unborn baby. Or perhaps you persuaded your girl friend to abort the unborn child you fathered.
2C. Hey. Maybe you're a drunk. Maybe you're a slothful slob. Perhaps you're a gossip. On the other hand, you could be a complainer who always takes other people's joy away from them. A member who doesn't tithe takes away from other members the better Church they could have had if you had only obeyed God.
3C. Folks, this is all just sin. And the Bible says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The standing, therefore, of every taker, every sinner, everyone who is essentially a thief, is a standing of guilt. You stand before God guilty of sin.
2B. So, What Is The Sentence Of Those Of You Who Are Guilty Of Being A Taker?
1C. Let's read: Matthew 25.31-46; Ephesians 5.1-6; Revelation 21.8 [Read]
2C. Unbelievers, sorcerers, covetous. All takers. All lost men. All going to perish in the lake of fire. That is your fate, my lost friend, my unsaved friend, my taking acquaintance.
3A. FINALLY, AN OBSERVATION ABOUT THE ESCAPE FROM THIS WICKEDNESS
1B. John 3.16 [Read]. Is It Not Wonderful That Escape From Being A Taker, Getting Saved From Being A Sinner, Comes When A Sinner Gives To Jesus His Trust. "Whosoever Believeth In Him" Jesus Said.
2B. Acts 16.30-31 [Read]. Paul Said The Same Thing Another Way To A Man Who Thought He Was Going To Die And Wanted To Be Ready For Death. "Believe On The Lord Jesus Christ And Thou Shalt Be Saved."
3B. My Friend, Being A Taker Is The Same Thing As Being A Sinner. A Sinner Is A Taking Person, Not A Giving Person. But Jesus, The Son Of God, Came From Heaven's Glory And Shed His Blood On The Cross To Wash Away Your Sins, You Who Will Trust Him. Will You Trust Jesus Now To Forgive Your Sins, To Save You From Your Sins, To Cleanse You From Your Sins, And To Give You A New Life...The Life Of A Giver, Not A Taker?
Jesus, Who now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, is ready to save you. If you will turn away from sin once and for all and trust Him, He will cleanse you from all your sins. Won't you come and trust Him now?