“You must not steal.” (NLT)
Most of us know that stealing is wrong. In some cases it is criminal. Robbing a bank, shoplifting, plundering coins from the purse of the elderly, misusing credit cards. All pretty obvious forms of stealing. Not to mention the more subtle forms such as souveniring company stationery or manipulating tax returns.
But why is stealing condemned by God as part of his general principles for humankind? Perhaps we can suggest a few reasons. One is respect for personal property. While we are to be generous with what we possess, there is usually no sin in actually possessing it. Another is the harm it does to others. That harm could be physical violence or a more general sense of our being violated by someone grabbing hold of our property.
Yet another reason is greed. When I steal, I am indicating I am not content with what I have and insist on having more even if it does not legitimately belong to me. Nothing wrong with ambition in its place, but restless greed arising from chronic discontent is a menace.
And then theft destroys community trust. Stealing corrodes community because it corrodes trust. How can we live graciously and generously if we are under constant threat from thieves? Living behind batteries of security cameras and high walls is no way to engage with others in neighbourly community.
Stealing, like most wrong acts, begins in the heart and mind. A greedy or selfish or thoughtless heart is what gives rise to theft. So the command not to steal is ultimately a command to have a contented, generous, wise heart.