ARE YOU A THIEF?
T. PIERCE BROWN
Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need.” I realize that a verse taken out of context may be but a pretext, but although I feel sure that Paul was talking about stealing material things, this verse is a powerful reminder of the fact that stealing is not limited to taking a tangible object that belongs to another. Shakespeare said, “He who steals my purse steals trash. But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.” There is an old proverb that says, “A person with a bad name is already half hanged.” When a person gossips about another and causes him to lose the second most important thing in his life, he has stolen that which may never be replaced.
Probably one of the most despicable kinds of thievery is that of robbing God. Malachi 3:8 is still a haunting question and the answer is as applicable today as it was then. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye rob me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.” Any time we owe God something and do not give it to him, we are robbing him. This includes our time, influence, money or any other thing we think we own. The truth is found in 1 Corinthians6:19, “Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? And ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body” (1 Corinthians6:19-20). Everything we are and have belongs to God, so when we do not use it properly for His glory, we are robbing Him.
Husbands and wives rob each other in various ways. Paul mentions one way in 1 Corinthians 7:5 when he says, “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency.” Husbands and wives owe each other special consideration and attention when they want to communicate with each other. I have known husbands who hide behind a newspaper and grunt in response to a comment or question from the wife. It is almost beyond understanding how one who loves the spouse can treat that spouse with less courtesy than would be offered to a complete stranger, yet it is not uncommon to find that happening. Probably it is because we tend to take each other for granted and feel that we do not need to be as careful with family. That may be true, but it is no excuse for one robbing his family of the courtesy and concern that he owes them, whether it is parents or children.
Many of us who preach have robbed their families of time and interest that was due them while we were concentrating on the needs of unsaved persons or indifferent church members or some other work of the church. We need to distinguish between the selfishness that would cause us to rob the church members of the time and attention that is rightfully due them in order to gratify some minor interest or pleasure of ours and maintaining the proper balance between the needs of our physical family and our spiritual family. It is possible to sit with your family watching television, calling it “spending quality time with the family” and leave undone some task that you owe the congregation. On the other hand, it is possible to run around visiting and socializing with church members and let your children grow up without the presence of a loving father. If you are working for a company and waste the time you should be working for them in selfish or unrelated activities, you are stealing.
Although most preachers probably do not think much about it, it is my judgment that a preacher who takes 30 or 40 minutes of time of each person in his audience and does not give them something of equal value, he is a thief. Time is a very precious thing, for it can never be replaced, and if a person has wasted his time listening to me, I should be ashamed, and repent. . This is as true of any teacher of a class as it is of a preacher. I have often grieved as I have been in some Bible classes where the teacher carried on with some useless inconsequential chatter instead of dealing with the subject of the lesson. When either the teacher or class member does this, they are stealing time, and may be doing far more damage than that. If our preaching or teaching is so boresome or insipid that we either cause a person to quit coming, or so quench his spiritual hunger that he becomes satisfied with mediocrity, we have stolen more than his time.
It behooves each of us to examine all aspects of our lives and see if we are thieves. If our time, energy, influence or material possessions should rightfully be devoted to another and we use it for ourselves or throw it away, we are thieves. How much we may lose in eternal rewards for these activities, I do not know, but that there will be eternal loss of some sort for those who are thieves and for those from whom the stealing is done, I have no doubt.