May 16, 2010: God Wants to Build your Christian Character

Let us pray: Dear Lord Christ, as Christians we are greatly blest by You in all things—especially when it comes to spiritual gifts, the forgiveness for our sins, a cleansed heart, and a positive outlook on life. As You have told us: when we seek first Your kingdom and put our faith in Your righteousness, all that we truly need for life will be provided. Today, keep that thought in our minds as we labor, work, earn a living, and try to stay away from the greedy nature of this world. For thereby, with Your strength, we will live up to the high honor of faith that You alone can bestow. Amen


TEXT: Exodus 20:15: “You shall not steal.”

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

About a month ago most of us signed our names under threat of perjury to our tax statements. We swore, on oath, that we had been truthful in reporting our income and paying our tax levy. So, were you? Or perhaps you conveniently forgot about a few of those cash transactions? Maybe the tax man will never find out, but God knows the truth, and so do you.

The chief modern-day idol is: money. Our world is built around money. Our lives revolve around money. Most people from tweens to retirees are aware of the gyrations of the stock market. We keep track of bank balances, stock portfolios, and every other source of money. When we hear about some crime in the news, the old adage: “follow the money” almost always proves correct. Yes, we humans are born with an insatiable desire for money because we think it means safety, security, and power. And so, the temptation to cut corners to gain human wealth is pervasive.

God knows all this. He knows our hearts better than we do. Recall what He says from His word: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” That pretty well sums it up. Scandals in Washington, corruption on Beacon Hill, the local developer suddenly getting a building permit for land that was always deemed “unbuildable” before, even the under-ground economy fueled in part by the explosion of illegal aliens in our midst—it all goes back to money, greed, power, and a denigration of personal honor and personal responsibility. Follow the money trail. For “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

God laid out the 7th commandment bluntly and specifically: “You shall not steal.” Taking something that belongs to another by force, coercion, or cheating—is wrong. It is a sin before God. The Almighty has provided people with the backbone to work and through such work He also provides material blessings. So, stealing them goes against His good order. Stealing is really the height of selfishness, isn’t it? It is a total lack of “loving your neighbor as yourself.”

As I said, the physical “stuff” that people usually steal is to be acquired by us according to God’s good order. That means we are to work for it, or receive it through gifts or even an inheritance. In each case, God wants us to experience the self-satisfaction that comes through hard work and the love of others behind personalized gifts. Those build up our character, whereas stealing tears it to shreds. That’s the rationale behind the words of St. Paul: “If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.” In short, laziness benefits no one, least of all the person who is lazy. Every needs to learn responsibility in life. And if you get hungry enough, eventually you’ll seek work and experience the satisfaction it brings!

I find it sad that the famous WASP—White Anglo Saxon Protestant—work ethic is mocked today. Because when you really examine it, that work ethic of being responsible for your own life and honorably paying your debts is neither white, Anglo-Saxon, nor exclusively Protestant. No it is really quite Christian. It stems from the 7th commandment and the practical application of it.

It also amazes me how people, even Christian people, often don’t see the direct connection between this 7th commandment and many of the social issues plaguing our nation. For example, if ½ of Americans can legally not pay any taxes, but instead receive huge benefits on the backs of the other half that does, isn’t that really a form of legalized stealing? Or how about the Catholic bishops who actively look the other way on the illegal alien issue? Being paid under the table, stealing another’s identity to attain work, and taking out of the “system” without ever paying into it via social programs, how does any of that stack up against: “You shall not steal?” Likewise, how about the modern financial system and its use of something called “derivatives” which no less than Warren Buffet says are “legalized gambling.” Isn’t betting with another’s money, losing the bet, and expecting the average citizen to bail you out, stealing? Yes, I know, we may pass laws saying otherwise, but God’s laws are higher than man’s laws. And as Christians, we must obey God rather than go with the flow of human greed….

I bring all this up today because every one of us has been impacted by various forms of stealing, especially over the past couple of years. I’m not an economist nor a politician and I’ll let them answer for themselves before God someday. However, I am a Christian pastor. And God expects me to proclaim all His truths, apply them directly to your lives, and thereby keep you from sin while building up your Christian character. And so, I lay before you Dr. Luther’s explanation of the 7th commandment: “We should fear and love God, so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or goods, nor get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his goods and his means of making a living.”

That little explanation says it all. On the one hand, we’re told to actively work at keeping our conscience pure and avoid the pitfalls of greed, and on the other hand we’re told to promote a work ethic in others which leads to personal honor and self esteem. So, are you doing so? Are you encouraging others to do so? And are you leading by example?

In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses the issues quite well. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also….No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

The one great treasure any human possesses in their eternal soul, their heart. That’s the one treasure God desires, too. He wants your heart. He wants your soul to reside with Him forever in glory. And so, God sent His Son Jesus to win your heart, to pay your debt of sin on the cross. Jesus has purchased your heart and soul with His infinitely valuable blood. He has cleansed you from all sin—including the sin of greed. He has put faith into your heart whereby He has shown you a better way to live—with honor instead of dishonor, with appreciation instead of ungratefulness, with satisfaction for what His grace has given you instead of dissatisfaction over what you have received.
Today God lays before each of you all the ins-and-outs of the 7th commandment. He does so because GOD WANTS TO BUILD YOUR CHRISTIAN CHARACTER and everything connected with this commandment works towards that end. So, ponder, learn, and put into practice His ageless truths. After all they truly are the only way to live—forever. Amen