Christmas

Nativity Scenes and the Second Commandment

Originally published December 10, 2019

Have you ever heard someone say that nativity scenes, Christmas ornaments, Christmas pageants, and other Christmas items or activities which portray the baby Jesus (with a figurine, a doll, a live baby, pictures, etc.) break the second Commandment even though the portrayal of the baby Jesus isn’t being worshiped?

Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ believe that any representation of Jesus – be it in a manger scene, a painting, a movie, pictures of Jesus in children’s Bibles, flannelgraphs, Bible story pictures used for teaching children or on the mission field, etc. – violates the second Commandment…

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. Exodus 20:4-6

…whether or not that representation of Jesus is being worshiped. It is the mere act of making or displaying the representation which breaks the Commandment.

This is not something any church I’ve ever been a member of has taught, but because I’ve heard this point of doctrine from theologically sound friends I respect, I wanted to take a closer look at the pertinent Scriptures to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong. I’ve had nativity scenes and children’s Bibles and used flannelgraphs and been in Christmas musicals that depict Jesus all my life and never gave it a second thought. But if having and doing those things conflicts with Scripture, I want to stop.

But, having examined the Scriptures in context, while I respect and admire my friends’ desire to honor the Lord by not using representations of Him, I simply don’t find that the Bible prohibits occasionally depicting Jesus in reverent, not-for-the-purpose-of-worship ways. Here’s why:

1.

Consider the macro-context of Exodus 20. What was going on in the history and culture of Israel at that time? God was setting Israel apart from other nations as His own special possession and establishing Israel as a nation. And what was the preeminent characteristic that was to set Israel apart from the pagan nations? Israel was to be a witness to all the nations of the one true God. They were not to worship idols (which, at that time, were generally carved figures of created things). Not instead of God. Not in addition to God. Not at all. The second Commandment is a command not to worship carved figures as idols.

2.

Examine the immediate context of Exodus 20:4-6. It follows verses 1-3, which establish the supremacy of God above all other gods, and specifically state that Israel is not to worship any other gods.

3.

Take a close look at the content of Exodus 20:4-6. The passage doesn’t say anything about making a representation of God Himself. Jesus had not yet been born when this was written, so this passage could not have been talking about making a representation of Jesus. It talks about making representations of created things in the sky (planets, the sun, etc.), on the earth, and in the water, and worshiping them. And certainly, calling any graven images “God” and worshiping them as God would also be prohibited (Remember the golden calf incidents?)

4.

It would seem to me that to be consistent in saying “no representations of Jesus” folks who hold to this belief would also have to say “no representations of anything” because what Exodus 20:4 plainly says is “you shall not make for yourself…any likeness of anything.” No photographs of anything, no drawings, paintings, or sculpture of anything, no Xeroxing anything, nothing. In fact, I think that would be closer to the actual wording of the passage than “no representations of Jesus,” which, again, this passage does not mention.

5.

The cross references I found for Exodus 20:4 are Leviticus 26:1, Deuteronomy 27:15, and Psalm 97:7. All of them refer to idol worship.

6.

There are at least two occasions in the Old Testament in which God instructs Moses to make a graven figure, and both of these instances are far more conducive to actual worship of the figures than a nativity scene or a Sunday School flannelgraph.

The first instance – just five chapters after the second Commandment – is found in God’s instructions for the Ark of the Covenant. God instructs Moses to have the people make two cherubim (angels) for the mercy seat (lid) of the Ark. They were not to worship the cherubim (or the Ark), but the Ark was the holiest object used in Israel’s worship ceremonies. It would have been easy for the people to cross the line and worship it or the cherubim, yet God commanded the making of these not-for-worship figures to point the people to Him. (And guess what was put into the Ark right underneath those graven figures? The two tablets of the 10 Commandments, including the second Commandment.)

The second instance was when God instructed Moses to make the bronze serpent. Anyone who had been fatally snake-bitten could look up at the serpent and his life would be spared. How much more likely would an Israelite have been to worship the bronze serpent, commissioned by God and instrumental in saving his life than we are to worship a picture of Jesus in a children’s Bible? Jesus Himself said that this graven figure pointed ahead to His death on the cross, using it as an illustration of His crucifixion. Much like a nativity scene is an illustration of His incarnation.

Now, if God Himself commissioned the casting of these figures of created things, not to be worshiped, but as tools to point people to Himself, would it stand to reason that He would prohibit reverent representations of Christ that point to or teach about Him? Comparing the second Commandment with these two instances of graven figures demonstrates to us that God expects His people to be able to distinguish between using objects as tools or illustrations that point to Him and worshiping those objects.


In the end, this issue is an issue of Christian liberty. It is not a sin nor a violation of the second Commandment to use occasional reverent representations of Christ to point people to Him. It is also not a sin to desire to honor the Lord by refraining from using representations of Christ and finding other ways to point people to Him. Whichever side of the issue we come down on, let us make sure we are respectful and loving to those on the other side, not making a law for them where no law exists, nor accusing one side of sin or the other of legalism.

Additional Resources:

When We Understand the Text Podcast (at the 13:36 mark)

The Ten (10 Commandments Bible Study)

The Ten: Lesson 13

the-ten

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Exodus 20:18-20

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”

Exodus 24:3-8

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”


Romans 3:19-20

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Romans 7:1-12

Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Galatians 3:23-26

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.


Romans 13:8-10

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

1 John 5:2-3

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. In Exodus 20:18-19, how did the Israelites react to God’s appearance to Moses? What was Moses’ response to them? (20) What did Moses say would be two results of God testing the people? (20) How many times does the word “fear” appear in verse 20? What is the difference in meaning between the first “fear” and the second one?

2. Briefly skim Exodus 20:21-23:33. In addition to the Ten Commandments, what are some of the other laws, or categories of laws, God gave Moses? In the Exodus 24 passage above, what was the people’s response to hearing all of these laws? (3) Describe the sequence of events taking place in Exodus 24:3-8. Why did the people respond twice? (3,7) Was there any difference between these two responses? Compare the people’s response in this passage with their response in Exodus 19:5-8. What events transpired between the response in chapter 19 and the response in chapter 24?

3. In Exodus 24:6,8, why did Moses sprinkle the altar and the people with blood? How did this formalize Israel’s agreement to the Mosaic covenant? How does the Mosaic covenant point ahead to the new covenant in Christ? Are Christians still bound by the Mosaic covenant?

4. In what ways did the giving of the law and Israel’s agreement to the Mosaic covenant help officially establish Israel as a nation and set Israel apart from the surrounding pagan nations?

5. Examine the Romans 3 and 7 passages. What does it mean that the law makes us “accountable” to God? (3:19) Why can’t we be made righteous in God’s eyes by simply striving to keep His laws? (3:20) Read Romans 3:20 and 7:7-8 together. What do these verses tell us about the connection between knowing the law and sin?

6. Explain the analogy of dying to works of the law that Paul is trying to convey in Romans 7:1-6. Compare verse 6 to Galatians 3:23-26. What does Galatians say was the purpose of the law, and what is our obligation to it now? What does the latter part of verse 6 – “we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” – mean? Does this mean we no longer have to obey God’s moral laws such as the ones in the 10 Commandments? (12)

7. Study the Romans 13 and 1 John 5 passages. What is the theme of these two passages? What does Paul mean when he says, “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”? (13:8) Who are the two parties we demonstrate love for when we keep God’s commands? How does loving God and keeping His commands automatically translate into loving others? (5:2) How does loving God and our neighbors, thus keeping God’s commands, demonstrate to others that we belong to Christ?


Homework:

This week, view your sin or obedience through the lenses of love. Examine the sins you commit. How do they demonstrate your failure to love God and love your neighbor? Examine instances of your obedience to God’s commandments and think about how they demonstrate your love for Him and for your neighbor. As you pray, ask God to increase your love for Him. Increased love leads to increased obedience.

The Ten (10 Commandments Bible Study)

The Ten: Lesson 12

the-ten

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Exodus 20:17

“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.”

Ephesians 5:3,5

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints…For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

James 4:1-3

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.


Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

Hebrews 13:5

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Colossians 3:5, 12-15

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

1 Timothy 6:6-11

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. 10 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. 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. Read through all of today’s passages. What does it mean to covet? How are coveting, jealousy, and greed related? Compare the tenth Commandment to the other nine. In what way is the sin of coveting different from the sins in the other Commandments? Is coveting observable? What specific things does the tenth Commandment tell us not to covet (Exodus 20:17)?

2. How is coveting at the root of murder, theft, adultery, and lying? The Ephesians and Colossians passages say that coveting is idolatry. Why? Can you think of any other sins coveting could lead to? How could recognizing coveting and putting it to death help prevent it from snowballing into more sin?

3. Think about coveting, a secret sin of the heart, in the immediate context of the tenth Commandment (God is setting apart Israel as His own special people and establishing them as a nation). How would obedience to this Commandment have been conducive to keeping law and order in civil society?

4. Do you think the nations surrounding Israel who worshiped pagan gods had laws against coveting? Why or why not? If any of them did, what would be the difference between a false god making and enforcing a law against a secret sin of the heart and God making and enforcing such a law? How would a law against a secret sin have pointed Israel’s pagan neighbors to the one true God who sees and judges the hidden secrets of the heart? How would this have been a testimony to God’s power and omniscience?

5. According to the Ephesians and James passages, is coveting characteristic of Christians or lost people? What does James say are some of the results of coveting? How might having a covetous heart affect our prayer life? (James 4:3) What does Ephesians 5:5 say is the consequence of unrepentant coveting?

6. What role did coveting play in the parable Jesus told in the Luke passage? Explain Luke 12:15 in your own words.

7. Examine the Hebrews, Colossians and 1 Timothy passages and compare them with the tenth Commandment in Exodus 20:17. Is the Old Testament instruction about coveting singular (one part) or binary (two parts)? The New Testament instruction? What are the “thou shalt not” and the “thou shalt” instructions about coveting in these New Testament passages? Instead of coveting, we are to be c_____. (Hebrews 13:5) Why, according to Hebrews 13:5, are Christians to be content? How does it demonstrate to others that Christ is sufficient when we are content instead of covetous? Read Colossians 3:15. How can thankfulness counteract coveting?


Homework:

When we covet, we are essentially saying to God, “What You have so lovingly and graciously provided for me isn’t good enough. I deserve better.” Coveting brings with it the sin of ingratitude toward God. Spend some time in prayer asking God to bring to mind any areas of your life in which you’re coveting, and ask Him to forgive you.

Make a list of the things, people, and life circumstances God has blessed you with and keep it handy (maybe in your notes app in your phone?). This week if you find yourself coveting something, someone, or a certain circumstance, drop what you’re doing, go back to that list and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for what He has already provided for you. Ask Him to make your heart content.

The Ten (10 Commandments Bible Study)

The Ten: Lesson 11

the-ten

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Exodus 20:16

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Exodus 23:1

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.


Proverbs 6:16-19, 19:22

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,18 a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, 19 a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.

Revelation 21:8

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”


Numbers 23:19

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

John 8:44-46, 14:6

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.


Proverbs 30:5

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.

John 17:17

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

2 Timothy 2:15

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.


Psalm 101:7

No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my [David’s] house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my [David’s] eyes.

Colossians 3:9-10

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Ephesians 4:15

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. Examine the two Exodus verses. What does the ninth Commandment mean by “bear false witness against your neighbor“? Is bearing false witness limited to an adjudicative scenario? What are some other ways to bear false witness against someone?

2. Is lying that does not involve a neighbor bearing false witness? (Ex: “I ate two cookies,” when you really ate three or “This car you’re considering buying has never been in an accident,” when it really has.) Is God OK with these kinds of lies since they aren’t specifically prohibited in the ninth Commandment? Why or why not?

3. Going back to the immediate context of the ninth Commandment, (God is setting apart Israel as His own special people and establishing them as a nation), why would it have been important to civil and criminal law and order for Israelites not to bear false witness in court cases? How would this standard of truthfulness in legal matters have set Israel apart from the pagan nations surrounding them and have been a witness to those pagan nations of the one true God?

4. Study the Proverbs 6 and Revelation verses. How does God view lying? What are the two types of lying mentioned in verses 17 and 19? Consider the following words and phrases. How are each of these a form of lying: concealing facts, slander, libel, gossip, breaking promises, failure to tell the whole truth, deception, white lies, cheating, spinning or slanting the facts, embellishing, exaggerating? According to Revelation 21:8, what is the punishment for liars? Which liars?

5. Consider what the Numbers 23 and John 8 passages say about the nature of God and the nature of Satan. Whose nature is truth? Whose is lies? What are some ways God exemplifies truth and Satan exemplifies lies? Whose nature are God’s people to emulate? Why? Are we representing God well to others when we lie, break promises, or fail to be people of our word?

6. Examine Proverbs 30:5, John 17:17, and 2 Timothy 2:15. Why is the Bible called “the word of truth”? Has anyone ever been able to prove any part of God’s word to be untrue? Why is it crucial to mankind’s relationship with God that the Bible be true? How is truth foundational to trust? How does it malign God’s truthful nature when we don’t trust Him? Why is it important that Christians handle God’s word correctly and truthfully?

7. How would you restate the ninth Commandment as a positive (a “Thou shalt ____.” statement rather than “Thou shalt not ____.”)? What are some ways the Psalm, Colossians, and Ephesians verses indicate that God’s people should walk in truth? Can you think of other passages that exhort Christians to be truthful?


Homework:

Are there any areas of your life in which you’ve failed to speak and live truthfully? Repent to God and to anyone you have deceived, lied about, or been dishonest with and tell the truth.

Ironically, sometimes the hardest truths to tell are God’s truths. Is there someone you’ve failed to share the truth of the gospel with? Have you been dishonest with others, yourself, or God about a sin in your life? Have you “softened” the gospel or any of God’s teachings about sin and difficult issues when speaking to others because you’re trying to be nice or keep the peace? Have you overlooked an issue that needs to be addressed with God’s truth because you’re afraid? Are there any parts of the Bible you refuse to submit to because you think they’re wrong? Ask God to reveal to you any situations in your life that need a healthy dose of biblical truth, and pray that He will give you courage and wisdom to “speak the truth in love.”

The Ten (10 Commandments Bible Study)

The Ten: Lesson 10

the-ten

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Exodus 20:15

“You shall not steal.

Leviticus 6:1-7

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the Lord by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby— if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering.And the priest shall make atonement for him before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.”


Isaiah 61:8a

For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong;


Luke 19:1-10

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

1 Corinthians 6:10-11

nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.


Ezekiel 18:16

[He] does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment,

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.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. Going back to the immediate context of the eighth Commandment, (God is setting apart Israel as His own special people and establishing them as a nation), why would it have been important, on a societal level, that Joe Israelite refrain from stealing? How would respecting their neighbor’s rights of private ownership of property have pointed the pagan nations surrounding Israel to the one true God? How can being a law abiding citizen today be a step toward witnessing to lost people?

2. According to verses 2,5-7 of Leviticus 6, whom has a thief sinned against? Are the consequences in this passage for a repentant or unrepentant thief? (4) How was a thief to repent to his victim? (5) How was a thief to repent to God? (6-7) Were the Old Testament consequences for stealing the same as the consequences for stealing where you live? How are they alike or different? Are the OT consequences more punitive or more focused on restitution? Why do you think this was?

3. What attribute of God does Isaiah 61:8a tell us that stealing is an affront to? In what ways is stealing unjust? The Bible tells us that God is jealous for His name and reputation and that we are ambassadors for, and representatives of, Him. Are we representing God well if we steal? How does it mar God’s reputation in the eyes of others if a Christian steals?

4. Study the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Tax collectors in Jesus’ time were despised for various reasons, one of which was that they would often lie to people about the actual amount owed, charge them much more, and pocket the difference, which certainly qualifies as thievery. What impact did the gospel have on Zacchaeus’ thievery? Was he repentant or unrepentant? Compare verse 8 with verse 5 of the Leviticus 6 passage. How does Zacchaeus’ amount of restitution compare with what was required of him by the law? How does Zacchaeus’ story demonstrate to us that truly being regenerated by Christ moves us from merely fulfilling the letter of the law to “going the extra mile” in obedience and servanthood?

5. What does 1 Corinthians 6:10 tell us is the penalty for unrepentant sinners such as thieves? What does verse 11 tell us about the forgiveness available for all repentant sinners? What do the words “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified” mean in this verse? What is the difference between the people mentioned in verse 10 and those referred to in verse 11?

6. Examine the Ezekiel and Ephesians passages. In light of these verses, how would you restate the eighth Commandment as a positive (a “Thou shalt ____.” statement rather than “Thou shalt not ____.”)? What actions does God give as examples of the opposite of stealing in these two verses? What are some ways Christians can live out the opposite of stealing?


Homework:

Stealing isn’t just absconding with a tangible item that belongs to someone else. Have you ever cheated on your taxes? Stolen someone’s spouse through adultery? Stolen someone’s virginity? Pirated music or movies? Fudged your hours at work? Failed to tip appropriately or pay a worker as promised? Taken credit for someone else’s work?

Ask God to reveal to you any way you may have stolen something from someone, then follow the principles in the Leviticus and Luke passages. Repent to God and, if possible, to the person you stole from. Is there any way you can make generous restitution?

If you haven’t stolen anything, go back to the Ezekiel and Ephesians passages and think of one concrete way you can live out the opposite of stealing this week.