When is the last time you broke the eighth commandment? (Depending on how you count them, that usually the one about “Thou shalt not steal.”)
Most of us would say we never (or almost never) break that one rule. We’re not thieves. We’re not swindler. We’re not plunderers. We don’t break that one at all.
Or do we?
As Kevin DeYoung (and the Heidelberg Catechism) point out, the eighth commandment forbids more than outright robbery:
In God’s sight, theft also “includes cheating and swindling our neighbor by schemes made to appear legitimate, such as: inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume; fraudulent merchandising; counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God. In addition he forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts” (Q/A 110). In simplest terms, the eighth commandment prohibits taking anything that doesn’t belong to us. That means kids swiping toys in the nursery to plagiarism in papers and sermons to online piracy. But that’s not all that can be filed away under this prohibition.
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The eighth commandment forbids injustice of any kind. The Bible has a lot to say about cheating scales and false measures, or any means by which you get more from a transaction than you deserve. One quickly thinks of current day accounting scandals or ponzi schemes. Especially grievous is swindling the poor, by obvious oppression, or by exploiting a lack education (think predatory loans), or by making false promises that hurt the people you are claiming to help (think casinos and the lottery). As Luther puts it, the eighth commandment is violated by “a person steals not only when he robs a man’s safe or his pocket, but also when he takes advantage of his neighbor at the market, in a grocery shop, butcher stall, wine-and-beer cellar, work-shop, and, in short, wherever business is transacted and money is exchanged for goods or labor.”
The eighth commandment is also broken when we are wasteful and lazy. Slacking off at work, fudging expense reports, stealing out of the warehouse, taking money from petty cash, falsifying sign in sheets, giving merchandise away, writing bottle return slips to yourself—all these rob our employer of his money and are offensive to God.