This commandment is again about our relationship to others.
This commandment shows importance of personal belongings, respecting others, acknowledging the existence and rights of others (sometimes over our own rights), and manners. From childhood we are taught the importance of not stealing. When a child takes a toy from another child, the parents instruct the child that it is not OK to take from others. Yet how often do we steal time from employers, steal trust from family, and rob God of his tithes? There is much more than just material goods that can be stolen.
A great article on this commandment is found here: Richard D. Draper, “‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’,” Liahona, Oct 1998, 27. He has many points worth repeating.
“Often that is the way it is with theft—more is stolen than material goods. When someone breaks the eighth commandment, victims lose not only their peace, but also possessions that represent bits of their lives.”
It’s not just the item or thing that is stolen, but it’s the time and effort the individual put into making or caring for the thing.
“The Bible emphasizes that stealing belongs to the set of sins that includes murder, adultery, and false swearing. All of these are directly related, and theft is the common link; murder is the unlawful taking of life, adultery concerns the taking of virtue, and false swearing usually involves the taking of reputation, property, or goods.
The sentence “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15) includes no object. Its prohibition is broad and unconditional: You shall not steal anything.”
I like how he emphasizes that the law is broad. We should not steal anything. That includes so much, even things covered in the previous commandments. It enforces the fact that there are God given rights and responsibilities.
Brother Draper suggests that this commandment teaches us at least three important principles.
- Private ownership of property is a God given right and responsibility. God commanded Adam and Eve to eat their bread by the sweat of their own work, not through the work of anyone else.
- God is the source of the right of private ownership, not man or the state. He is the one that dictates the laws that govern humanity.
- Stealing is a sin against God. All divine laws originate from him, so breaking this law is a sin against God.
Draper also points out that regardless of the circumstance, stealing is still a sin.
“Stealing is a sin against our Heavenly Father even when motivated by need and poverty. The act dishonors God (see Prov. 30:9). Conversely, the honest person who chooses not to steal, even under stressful circumstances, shows trust in God. He is conscious of a covenant relationship with the Lord and chooses to sustain it.”
To take without permission, even if you’re starving or your children are starving, is still stealing, and is a sin. Ironically, just today, a co-worker used that condition (starving family) to justify being dishonest.
Stealing violates another commandment given to us by God. We were commanded to subdue the earth and have dominion over the animal kingdom, but only as we followed God’s counsel and laws. When we misuse our dominion and seek power over others, we are stealing.
“If we are wise, we will love people and use things, as our Father intended. Immorality occurs when we love things and use people. The awful idea Satan taught Cain was how to turn human life into property, how to make a child of God less than chattel.”
Draper concludes by admonishing that we need a return to the basic first law of God, that we love Him and one another.
“President Spencer W. Kimball pointed out that “honesty can be taught but not legislated. ‘There ought to be a law,’ many say when corruption raises its ugly head, and our answer is that there are laws—numerous laws which are not enforced; but our further answer is that you cannot legislate goodness and honor and honesty. There must be a return to consciousness of those values.” When people practice those values, the power of the Spirit and the force of love can do what the law cannot—overcome the greed and covetousness that lead to stealing.”
If all people were to follow this commandment, there would be less greed, less hate. Greed is the source of most stealing, I would say. When people respect others and their property, there is no thievery.