Morning Sermon: Exodus 20:15, The Eighth Commandment

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 20:1–17

“And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’” (Exodus 20:1–17, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Ephesians 4:17–32

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:17–32, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


Brothers and sisters, we desperately need to grow in our moral maturity. By we I mean, we as a society. But even more so, we as the church. It would be wonderful to live in a society that was morally mature. But it is essential that the church possess moral maturity, for God has called his people to be holy as he is holy.  

Think of it. God has given his people his moral law. Yes, the moral law is displayed in nature for all to see. But it is revealed with great precision and clarity in the Holy Scriptures. 

When God redeemed Israel from Egyptian bondage to make a great nation of them, he gave them his moral law. He spoke these Ten Commandments to them from Sinai. Later, they would be written on stone by the finger of God and deposited in the ark of the covenant to be kept throughout Israel’s history. Clearly, God expected his people to live morally upright lives. He redeemed them from bondage and then gave them his moral law. That pattern is significant. It tells us something about the purpose for redemption. Israel was redeemed to worship and serve the Lord. 

And the same may be said of our redemption in Christ. When God redeems sinners from the domain of darkness and transfers them into the kingdom of his beloved Son, he writes his moral law, not on stone, but upon their hearts by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. That is what that often cited passage in Jeremiah 31 says. Speaking of the coming New Covenant, God says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33, ESV). So then, you can see that the moral law of God is central to the New Covenant too. We have been redeemed in Christ to worship and serve the Lord. 

When we compare the Old and New Covenants we find many differences.  In fact, we would say that the Old and New Covenants are not only externally different –  they are substantially different. But they are similar in some respects. And here is one way in which they are similar. God’s people under the Old and New Covenants are called to be holy as God is holy. This similarity can be seen in 1 Peter 1:14-16. The Apostle Peter wrote to the New Covenant people of God, saying, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14–16, ESV). There Peter quotes from the Old Covenant text, Leviticus 11:44, and applies it to the New Covenant people of God. We are called to be holy as God is holy, brothers and sisters. And what is our standard for holiness? Well, as we have just heard, God is. And God has given us his moral law.

So then, when God calls his people to be holy as he is holy, he means that they are to keep his law.  Jesus himself said, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (John 14:21, ESV). To love God is to keep his commandments, and to keep God’s commandments is to love him. 

You can see how this teaching is prone to misunderstanding. If the only thing I ever said to you was, “to love God is to keep his commandments, and to keep God’s commandments is to love him”, then you could accuse me of being a legalist.

But this is not all that the scriptures say. And neither is it the only thing that I say to you. You must be found in Christ, friends. You must trust in him for the forgiveness of sins. You cannot be justified before God by law-keeping, for we are all sinners. We have broken God’s law and stand guilty before him. For this reason, we can only be made right with God through faith in Jesus the Messiah, who lived for sinners, died for sinners, and rose again for sinners. This is the only way to life eternal. This is the gospel. 

Now here is my concern. While the error of leagalism must be avoided, there are many in our day who will preach the gospel to the neglect of the law. These are not legalists. No, these make the opposite error. These are antinomians. The legalist preaches the law to the neglect of the gospel, but the antinomian preaches the gospel to the neglect of the law. What we must see is that in the scriptures law and gospel go together hand in hand. The law (properly understood) and the gospel (properly understood) are not enemies, but dear friends. The Lord uses them both together to save and to sanctify his people. 

This is why you find these two statements on Jesus’ lips in the same Gospel. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), and “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). To state the matter another way, the ground of our salvation is faith in Christ alone, but the fruit of our salvation is obedience to God’s moral law. 

Brothers and sisters, God’s moral law has been disregarded by our culture. That is not surprising, is it? I’ll tell you what is surprising and much more concerning to me. God’s moral law has been disregarded by many within the modern church. We must regain it. We must know what it says, what it requires and forbids. We must learn to live according to it and with wisdom in this world. Yes, we have been made holy through faith in Christ. Through faith in him, his blood has washed away all our sins. But do not forget that those united to Christ by faith are called to be holy just as our Father in heaven is holy. Or to quote the words of Jesus to his followers: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV). And where is God’s standard for us found? In the Holy Scriptures in general, and in his moral law in particular. 

I hope you can understand why we are moving so slowly through the Ten Commandments. Here the moral law of God is summarized for us. 


What Does The Eighth Commandment Require And Forbid?

Today we come to the eighth of the Ten Commandments, which is “you shall not steal.” This is such a brief commandment, but do not let its brevity fool you. This commandment is profound in its implications. 

To steal is to take what rightfully belongs to another person either by deceit or by force.

One of the moral truths implied by the eighth commandment is that people have a right to possess personal property. That may seem obvious to you, but it is not obvious to all. There have been many in the history of the world, and indeed there are many in the world today, who do not respect personal property. Some even regard personal property as a selfish evil. Friends, this view does not square with God’s moral law. The second table of the Ten Commandments teaches that human life is to be honored. And the eighth commandment is clear that one of the ways human life is to be honored is by respecting personal property. How are we to come to have possessions of our own – food to eat, clothes to wear, and shelter? Not by taking what belongs to others by force or deceit, but by our own labor. We are to work, and thus earn a living.

You know, in our highly affluent and materialistic age, we can sometimes forget that human beings cannot survive without personal property. God alone has life in himself. We live because God gives us life and sustains us in this world that he has made. We are not independent creatures, but dependent. We are needy. We depend upon God to sustain us. And how does he sustain us except in and through the world that he has made? We need food, water, shelter, and clothing. The point that I am here making is that the eighth commandment really is about honoring human life. To take away a man’s possessions, if done enough, is to take away his life. The eighth commandment helps us to see this. When the law says, you shall not steal, it means that human life is to be honored by respecting the property of others.

Please remember the connection. The fifth commandment, “honor you father and mother”, establishes that honor is to be shown to all human beings in a way that fits their God-given position in life. The sixth commandment, “you shall not murder”, teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to the end of it. The seventh commandment, “you shall not commit adultery”, teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to its beginning of it. And now the eighth commandment, “you shall not steal”, teaches us to honor human life as it pertains to the maintenance, flourishing, or prosperity of it from conception to the moment of death. One of the ways that we are to honor people is by respecting their property. 

When we teach the eighth commandment to little children we may apply it by teaching them not to take candy from the store without paying or something like that. But as we grow up, we must learn to think about the eighth commandment more maturely. Not only does this commandment forbid what we might call “petty theft”; it requires and forbids much more by way of implication. 

It has been my custom to refer to our catechism in this sermon series when asking what each of the Ten Commandments requires and forbids. Our catechism is very helpful. It does not only help us to see what the commandments require or forbid in an obvious and superficial way, but to see the implications of the commandments as they are fleshed out by reason and in accordance with the example set forth in Holy Scripture. This morning I will read from three catechisms: the Baptist Catechism, the Westminster Larger, and the Heidelberg. Each one is beautiful in its own way. 

First, the Baptist Catechism, which is beautiful in its brevity: 

Q. 79. What is required in the eighth commandment?

A. The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others. (Prov. 27:23; Lev. 25:35; Deut. 15:10; 22:14)

Q. 80. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?

A. The eighth commandment forbideth whatsoever does or may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbor’s wealth or outward state. (1 Tim. 5:8; Prov. 28:19; 23:20,21; Eph. 4:28)

Now the Westminster Larger Catechism, which is beautiful in its thoroughness: 

Q. 141. What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?

A. The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to every one his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits, and suretiship, or other like engagements; and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.

Q. 142. What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving anything that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing landmarks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits, unjust enclosures and depredation; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us.

Now the Heidelberg Catechism, which, in my opinion, is beautiful in its style:

Q. 110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?

A. God forbids not only outright theft and robbery,

punishable by law. But in God’s sight theft also includes

all scheming and swindling in order to get our neighbor’s goods for ourselves, whether by force or means that appear legitimate, such as inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume;

fraudulent merchandising; counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God. In addition, God forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.

Q 111. What does God require of you in this commandment?

A. That I do whatever I can for my neighbor’s good, that I treat others as I would like them to treat me, and that I work faithfully so that I may share with those in need.

I have read these catechism questions and answers to you, not only so that they might be a help us now as we seek to understand what the eighth commandment requires and forbids, but to encourage you to make use of them on your own as you seek to grow in your understanding of the Christian faith in general and of God’s law in particular. These are rich resources, brothers and sisters. They were written by brothers and sisters in Christ who lived long ago. And they themselves drew upon those who lived before them. There is wisdom here.  

As I read the answers these catechisms provide to the questions, what does the eighth commandment require and forbid?, five key points emerged. 

One, God’s moral law forbids men and women, boys and girls, from taking what rightfully belongs to others either by dishonesty, deceit, or force.

Some violations of the eighth commandment are blatant and obvious. When a man robs a bank, he violates the eighth. When a child steals candy from the store, she violates the eighth. But do not forget the employee who adds an hour to his time card that he did not really work, the mechanic who overcharges a gullible customer, or an employer who fails to pay his employee the agreed-upon wage. These are violations of the eighth commandment too. 

Proverbs 11:1 speaks to the dishonest violations of the eighth when it says, “A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight” (Proverbs 11:1, ESV). The balance being referred to here is the balance of a scale used for measuring material. Merchants and bankers could defraud their customers through the use of false balances and the scriptures say this is an “abomination to the LORD”.

Two, the eighth commandment requires us to work faithfully to provide for ourselves and those under our care. This is the flipside of the coin, if you will. How are we to provide for ourselves and those under our care? How are we to furnish ourselves with the provisions we need to live? Not by stealing, but by doing honest work.   

Notice that this is how Paul interpreted the eighth commandment in his letter to the church in Ephesus. He wrote to them saying, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV). Brothers and sisters, we are to provide for ourselves by working, so long as we are able. And our work is to be “honest work”, that is to say, work that is good and God-honoring. 

Evidently, this was a problem in the early church. Some in Thessalonica refused to work, and so Paul wrote to them saying, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–12, ESV). The eighth commandment, which is “you shall not steal”, requires this. To refuse to work, if you are able to work, is to steal. You must be fed, clothed, and sheltered. These things cost money. If you will not provide for yourself, and others are then forced to provide for you, this is a form of theft.  Clearly, what I am saying here does not pertain to those who are retired, to stay-at-home mothers, to those who are independently wealthy, to those who are ill or infirmed (we have the responsibility and privilege to care for these). When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he had in mind those who were able to work, and those who needed to work, and yet they refused. It was concerning these that he said, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat”, and “we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” 

You know, the fourth commandment speaks to the issue of work too. In the fourth, we are commanded to honor the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. The Sabbath day is to be a day for rest and worship. But we should not forget what the other six days are for. They are for work. As we live in this world we are to be faithful in work and also in worship. 

Three, the eighth commandment forbids us from squandering or wasting our possessions. Instead, we are to manage them well and use them for good and for the glory of God. I think here of the parable of the prodigal son who “gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living” (Luke 15:13, ESV). We are to remember that the possessions we do have are a gift from God. We are to appreciate them. We are to use them wisely as good stewards. We are to use them for good, for the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom, and for God’s glory. 

Four, the eighth commandment requires us to not only seek our own prosperity but the prosperity of others too. I hope you are not bothered that I have said we are to seek our own prosperity. Yes, I agree that the so-called prosperity gospel is to be rejected. It is a distortion of the truth and is no gospel at all. But we must be careful not to overreact. The scriptures have an awful lot to say about money and the attainment of wealth. Christians should be diligent in their work, careful with their money, and wise in their savings and investments. There is nothing at all wrong with prosperity. The trouble is when we love money, live for money, and when, and believe that God’s will for all of us is that we have lots of money. In fact, many sincere and beloved Christians have been quite poor, as our Savior was. But we are to be responsible, brothers and sisters. We are to be hard-working, diligent, and wise. We are to seek our own prosperity, but not in a selfish way. We are to be concerned with the prosperity of others too. 

Listen again to Ephesians 4:28. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28, ESV)

And consider what Acts 2:44ff. Says about the early Christians. “All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:44–47, ESV). No, this passage is not promoting communism. Notice, those who were well to do chose to sell what they had to care for those in need. They were not forced to do so by those with authority in the civil or ecclesiastical realm. And there is the difference. Personal property is to be respected by those with power. If aid is to be given, it should be given freely, otherwise, those who take from some to give to others are guilty of theft. That seems to be one of the points of the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Remember, they sold some land and gave some of the proceeds to help those in need but lied and said they gave it all. “Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:3–4, ESV). You see, the problem was not that Ananias did not give it all, but that he lied. But notice that Peter respected his personal property, saying “while it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?”

Personal property must be respected in the civil realm and also in the church. What is yours is yours. You may do with it what you wish. But moral maturity is needed too. We must not only be concerned with our own prosperity, but also with the prosperity of others. 1 John 3:17-18 comes to mind.   “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17–18, ESV).

Five, we must keep our hearts free from covetousness and discontentment. To covet is to want what others have as your own. Covetousness is directed towards our fellow man. To be discontent is to be dissatisfied with your place in life. Discontentment is directed toward God. It is not hard to see that the sins of covetousness and discontentment lead to violations of the eighth commandment 

1 Timothy 6:6 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:6–10, ESV)

And the tenth commandment is, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17, ESV)


Suggestions For Application

This sermon has already been filled with many suggestions for application. I’ll conclude now by rapidly stating a few more to further stimulate your thinking on this important matter.  

First, let us take the eighth commandment, “you shall not steal”, into consideration as we formulate our political views and see promote justice within our society according to our gifts, callings, and opportunities.   

Yes, the eighth commandment is to be applied by individuals acting as individuals, but it is also to be obeyed by individuals acting with governmental authority. Stated differently, individuals do often violate the eighth commandment, but governments do too. In fact, I’m sure it could be argued that the greatest violations of the eighth commandment throughout history have been perpetrated, not by individuals acting as individuals, but by individuals acting with government power. 

Given what has been said regarding the eighth commandment, what should our views be concerning taxation, government spending, and the redistribution of wealth? What should we think of political and economic theories such as socialism, communism, and various forms of capitalism? What should we think about forms of currency, the manipulation of currency, and the manipulation of markets? What should we think about government-enforced lockdowns which drive businesses under and force people into unemployment? On and on I could go. My point is this, governments are to concern themselves with matters of retributive justice as it pertains to crimes against persons. But beware, governments can quickly become the perpetrators of great injustice. Let us not forget that those who govern are accountable to God. They are to honor God’s moral law as they seek to establish and uphold the laws of the land. Not all Christians are called to engage in politics to the same degree. But we ought to seek the good of the cities and nations in which we live. Let us all pray, and for those who are gifted, called, and have the opportunity to make an impact in the civil realm, let us be sure to act according to God’s moral law. 

So much of what goes on in the world is outside of our control. The one thing that we can control is our personal behavior. Let us be sure to keep the eighth commandment in thought, word, and deed as we trust in Christ. 

Do not steal, brothers and sisters. Do not take from others what is rightfully theirs either by force or deceit. Be honest and upright in all of your dealings.

And be faithful in your work. Do honest work – that is to say, work that is not inherently sinful – work that provides some good or service to others –  work that provides for your own needs and the needs of those under your care. Whatever your calling – no matter if you are blue-collar, white-collar, a stay-at-home mom, or retired – do not be idle. Use your time and energy for good and for the glory of God. Take pleasure in your work, brothers and sisters, even if it is not your “passion”, knowing that God has called you to provide for yourself and others in this way. All work, provided that it is honest work, is good work. Whatever you are doing, do it with thankfulness in your hearts, to the best of your ability, and to the glory of God.

I feel compelled to say just a brief word about gambling, brothers and sisters. Gambling has grown in popularity, I think, largely because it is so accessible online. I’ve grown convinced that gambling is a violation of the eighth commandment, properly understood. In gambling, if you win, you are a thief. If you lose, you squander what the Lord has given to you. I do not have the time to flesh this out for you. I think I have done this before, perhaps in an afternoon sermon on the eighth commandment. In brief, when the gambler wins, he only takes, but he does not give. This is a form of thievery. In honest work, both the worker and the employer receives. Done right, both go away with a smile on their face. Not so with the gambler. The goal is only to take, and not to give. Stated differently, the goal is to better your position while worsening the position of others. It makes no difference that the others have agreed to it. Gambling is not an honest and God-honoring way to procure wealth.  

Lust us be faithful in our honest work, and let us live simply in this world.

Do not squander your time or money on games or on meaningless pursuits. Let us live in a way that counts for eternity, and that includes the use of our resources.  

Let us be sure to manage our possessions wisely.

And finally, let us pursue contentment in God and in Christ. Indeed, we know that true satisfaction is found, not in the things of this world, but in him.  

Comments are closed.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church