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July 8, 2018

“Being Faithful to God and to One Another”

 

So we have two weeks left to look at these last few commandments. The remaining four commandments are meant to guide people living in communities beyond the family. They warn against behaviors that are incompatible with life in the broader community. Today, we will look at Commandments seven and eight- You shall not commit adultery, and you shall not steal. Living with others requires respecting other people's marital relationships (v. 14), and their property (v. 15). The content of these commandments is not unique to Israel. They are the minimum standards of behavior for anyone who lives with other people. The law codes of other ancient Near Eastern peoples reflect similar standards. What makes this passage unique is its assumption that the quality of a person's relationship with others is a barometer of that person's relationship with God.

 

We begin with the seventh commandment, “Do not commit adultery.” What is God’s purpose behind this commandment? It is to protect the family unit, to keep it strong, to live in fidelity with our spouse, and have a stable environment in which to raise children.  As God blesses constant fidelity, so we are to uphold the fidelity of human relationships that are modeled after God's sworn faithfulness. As God's way manifests itself in abundant life, so we are called not to desire another when we have made our vows of faithfulness to God and to our spouses. Sadly, it is getting easier these days to break those marriage vows, and even encouraged.

 

About five years ago, I saw a commercial on television for a website known as “Ashley Madison.com.” The commercial seemed to target married women and advertised their site as a way to find a lover and have an affair. My wife and I sat there stunned. I thought perhaps I had misheard the ad and filed it away in my memory banks. Fast forward to this past week, as I got ready to preach on adultery and my memory reminded me I had seen that commercial. So I went to their website, and here is what I found: This is the opening statement on their website, “Life is short-Have an affair. Ashley Madison is the most famous name in infidelity and married dating. As seen on Hannity, Howard Stern, TIME, Business Week, Sports Illustrated, Maxim, USA Today. Ashley Madison is the most recognized and reputable married dating company. Our Married Dating Services for Married individuals Work. Ashley Madison is the most successful website for finding an affair and cheating partners. Have an Affair today on Ashley Madison. Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands sign up every day looking for an affair. We are the most famous website for discreet encounters between married individuals. Married Dating has never been easier! With Our affair guarantee package, we guarantee you will find the perfect affair partner. Sign up for Free today.” I then went to Wikipedia to see just how active a site like this is and found that there are currently OVER 34 million users worldwide, in 26 countries across the globe! So, at least 34 million people are actively searching in some way to have an adulterous affair. I did some more checking on the internet and even found that there is a top 10 list of Married dating sites, ranking their effectiveness, which means that the number of people actively seeking to sleep around on their spouse is much, much higher. It is no wonder that the family unit is crumbling all around us.

 

 

 

According to the Web Site, The Truth about Deception, (www.truthaboutdeception.com) “It is estimated that roughly 30 to 60% of all married individuals in the United States will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage.  And these numbers are probably on the conservative side when you consider that close to half of all marriages end in divorce (people are more likely to stray as relationships fall apart; also see, who is likely to cheat). Research consistently shows that 2 to 3% of all children are the product of infidelity.  And most of these children are unknowingly raised by men who are not their biological fathers.  Infidelity is becoming more common among people under 30.  Many experts believe this increase in cheating is due to greater opportunity (time spent away from a spouse) and young people developing the habit of having multiple sexual partners before they get married.” We live in a society which emphasizes the self over everything else. Individual feelings are paramount, and folks are encouraged to do what feels right at the moment. The result of that emphasis on such a high level of infidelity is an erosion of the family unit, which places children in unstable living environments. As we mentioned a couple of Sundays ago when focusing upon honoring one’s parents, the family unit is something God intended to be protected and strengthened through these Ten Commandments. 

 

Hopefully, you have been or are currently in a committed relationship and may look at this commandment as one of the easier ones to follow. Jesus, however, raises the bar higher, much higher than the original intent of the command. Beginning in Matthew 5:27, Jesus talks candidly. “You have heard it said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at another lustfully has already committed adultery with them in their heart.” Just by looking, Jesus says, we can be unfaithful to our spouses. He goes even further in Matthew 5:29 suggesting we pluck out our right eyes and throw them away lest we fall into sin. Yikes!

 

How is it that by merely looking we end up in sin or adultery? In today’s highly sexualized society, the advertising with scantily clad models, the huge amount of pornography available on our televisions, computers, and phones, how can there be any hope for us to follow this commandment today? For me personally, when I watch a movie with one of my favorite female stars, Jaime Lee Curtis and think of her as beautiful and sexy, am I in Jesus’ words committing adultery? I have to admit, Jaime Lee is the only celebrity I ever wrote to asking for a signed photo. (She did not send me a photo, alas…)

 

Jesus’ enhanced understanding of the 7th commandment is this: Adultery and sin all begin with the eye. The seeing can lead to thinking, to planning and then to sinning. It begins with the look. The eye truly is the window to the soul and can affect us at our very core. I believe God wants us to have strong, committed relationships with our spouses/partners, and this commandment encourages that. Jesus just reminds us how it all can start.

 

This brings us to the next commandment- No stealing. This is a commandment from God against any kind of theft. Webster’s Dictionary defines stealing as follows: “to take and carry away (something that belongs to another person) without permission and with the intention of keeping.”

 

What is the purpose behind this commandment? The first issue is trust within the greater community. An erosion of trust would occur with widespread theft, which weakens the greater community. Also, any act of theft violated the property owner’s dignity and worth, which also violated the holiness of God, as we human beings are a reflection of God and God’s creation.

 

This commandment was not followed very well by the people of God. Theft continued to be an issue, even 3-400 years later. In Hosea 4:2, the prophet says, “ There is only cursing, lying, stealing and adultery. They break all bounds.”  It wasn’t much better in the Christian community of the 1500s either. 16th century Protestant Church reformer Martin Luther once said, “If we look at mankind in all its conditions, it is nothing but a vast, wide stable full of great thieves. If all who are thieves ...were hanged on the gallows, the world would soon be empty, and there would be shortages of both hangmen and gallows.”

 

What about today? Is thievery still that widespread or have we gotten better? Let’s look at some statistics in the United States- Shop Lifting- There are an average of 5550,000 shoplifting incidents per day, with more than 35 million dollars’ worth of merchandise taken per day, which ends up totaling up to 13 Billion dollars’ worth of goods per year. Approximately 27 million people in the U.S. shop lift.

 

Auto Theft- According to the Insurance Information Institute, Vehicle thefts have been trending downward in the 25 years since they peaked at 1,661,738 in 1991, falling 46 percent to 765,484 in 2016, according to the FBI. The National Insurance Crime Bureau credits law enforcement efforts, along with the creation of specific antitheft programs, technology and insurance company-supported organizations such as the NICB for contributing to the theft reduction. However, there was an uptick in the number of vehicles stolen in 2015 and 2016, up by 3.8 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively. In addition, preliminary data from the FBI show that in the first half of 2017, vehicle thefts increased by another 4.1 percent.

 

 

Home Robberies- According to “Safeguard the world.com,” There are an estimated 2 million home robberies per year, with 66% of them being residential break-ins and the rest rental break-ins.

Identity Theft- on the rise- According to Comparitech,  over 11 million people in the U.S. each year, have their identities stolen, for a total financial loss of 21 billion so far this year was 13.2 billion in 2016.

 

Embezzlement-Cases in the U.S. at five year high, primarily by female bookkeepers and rising sharply. There were 735 million cases of embezzlement in 2016. There has been a 10% increase each year since 2010.  I went through an embezzlement case at my last call in Fort Bragg, when one of our long-time trusted teachers was convicted of stealing over $30,000 from families over a period of time. When we began the legal process, we were told our case might never get to court, because there were so many cases of bookkeepers embezzling between 30-50k, that the caseload for the courts was overwhelmed, and they were trying to focus on prosecuting just those cases where $100,000 or more was embezzled.

 

Then, of course, there is corporate stealing-Consider financial institutions who take advantage of others. In the mid-2000's, remember the home loans given by financial firms to low-income families whose sole intent was to make money off of folks who could not afford the loans nor the homes they bought in the first place?  Thieves are constantly taking advantage of those in less position to fight back- Officers of large corporations manipulate the stock market, while Main Street has little or no power at all on Wall Street. Politicians are in the paper it seems almost weekly(From both sides of the aisle) regarding stories about being on the take, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from lobbying groups or wealthy corporations trying to steal their votes while they steal our tax dollars. In the book of  Amos 2:4-7 the prophet says, “For 3 transgressions of Israel, and four 4, I will not revoke punishment because they sell the righteous for silver and the needs for a pair of sandals- they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.”

 

I haven’t had a lot of experiences of personally being robbed, thank God.  Other than the embezzlement case, I can only remember 4-My new bicycle stolen when I was an eight-year-old kid - It was a 5 speed with a shift handle below the handlebars, banana seat, small wheel in front, known as a “Cherry Picker”. I had one cool ride in my neighborhood. I was able to ride it for about ½ a year before it was stolen while I was swimming at the rec center. I got to where my bike had been parked and locked, only to see the lock cut in half, bike missing. I had to walk home and remember being really mad that someone would take my bike. The bicycle theme continued when another bicycle was stolen from the porch of our apartment in Concord. And later that year, I had my third experience with theft. I parked my car, a 1974 Blue Metal flake Firebird in the church lot which was on the street. I got in one morning to go visit someone and noticed an unfamiliar smell, like cigarettes (Didn’t smoke).  The seat also seemed to be in a different place, and the steering wheel was down too low. I then put my key in the ignition, only to find the key slot in the ignition had been broken off, and there were wires sticking out from the steering column. It slowly dawned on me that someone had tried to steal my Firebird. I felt two things at the same time- first that my personal space had been violated, and I also felt gratitude that the car was still there. My fourth was quite recent. We lived in Fort Bragg for almost 15 years, and rarely if ever locked our cars at night. When we first moved here, we followed that pattern. I stupidly left my keys in the car when I got home late one night, after having parked the car in the driveway. The next day, I got in the car and noticed that the glove box was open, and things had been gone through. The same was true of the other car in our driveway. The thieves were looking for items to steal, and they actually DID take the car keys… but NOT the car! I considered myself lucky for only having to change the locks on our home and that now we park the car in question in the garage, just in case someone comes back to try to swipe our car.

 

Those encounters with having something stolen from me remind me that personal property is valuable and should always be respected. God wants us to respect the property of others, and not to steal. As it says in Hebrew, plain and simple, “no stealing.”

 

So, are there levels of stealing? Are there things we do which don’t really count as stealing, but are more like cheating the system to get a good deal? Consider a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell which depicts a woman buying her Thanksgiving turkey from the butcher. As the turkey lies on the scales, both the butcher and the buyer have a pleased look on their faces, as if each knows a secret. When you look down at their hands, you can see the butcher is pressing down on the scale with a big thumb, while the woman is pushing up on the scale form the bottom with her finger. Author Cecil Myers writes, “ Both the butcher and the lady would resent being called thieves. The little lady would never rob a bank or steal a car. The butcher would be indignant if anyone accused him of stealing, but neither saw anything wrong with the little deception that would make a few cents for one or save a few cents for the other.” (Thunder on the Mountain, pages 119-120)           

 

Stealing can be either active or passive, and really the passive acts of stealing are the ones that may seem a little less easy to define as stealing- failure to pay extra wages that are due, cheating on income tax returns, fraud in buying or selling, taking financial advantage of someone, not going back to the store to pay for something that got put in your bag.

 

So, in sum, Do not steal. Labor honestly. Share what you have with those in need. Honor God and one another in your relationships. Don’t let your eyes cause you to stumble into something that will hurt you, your spouse and your family. And may God be with us, as we continue to wrestle with these commandments. Alleluia! Amen.

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