jQuery Slider

You are here

MINE OR THINE? - by Ted Schroder

Possession or Provision?

by Ted Schroder
March 12, 2006

The eighth commandment is "You shall not steal." Martin Luther gave us a definition of the essence of stealing: "Whenever I secure some advantage at the expense of another; that is theft." When one person achieves an advantage quickly and cheaply and in so doing deprives others; that is the essence of stealing.

Former American Red Cross chief executive Marsha Evans received a severance package valued around $780,000 after she was ousted from the organization in December. Is this a form of stealing from funds donated for the alleviation of suffering?

In 2005, Tyson Foods Inc. paid a $1.5 million Securities and Exchange Commission fine for not disclosing perks it had given to former Chairman Donald Tyson. They included a $8,000 horse, a $15,000 London vacation, $84,000 in lawn maintenance at his five estates and more than $1 million for income taxes. The Springdale, Arkansas-based poultry producer and Tyson, who personally paid a $700,000 penalty, didn't admit to wrongdoing in the settlement.

CEO compensation in the US has tripled in value from 1990 to 2004 compared with an 87 percent rise in corporate earnings. Yahoo Inc. CEO Terry Semel topped the compensation list in 2004 when he exercised $230 million in stock options. American CEOs at companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue earned an average of $2.2 million last year.

Chief executives pocket exorbitant pay even when their companies deliver woeful performance. Last year, Morgan Stanley paid ousted CEO Philip Purcell $44 million in severance even though the investment bank's stock had dropped 37 percent during the last five years of his tenure. Home Depot's gave CEO Robert Nardelli an average of $31.4 million in salary, stock and bonuses annually from 2002 to 2004. It also paid more than $3 million in Nardelli's federal and state income taxes, when Home Depot's stock has fallen 17 precent, while shares of rival Lowe's have jumped 47 percent. Lowe's CEO Robert Niblock earned $2.4 million in 2005. Who is paying? The shareholder and the customer presumably. Is this a form of stealing?

Executives who fail to manage their businesses responsibly, and renege on their commitments to shareholders who have invested in their company, and their employee's pension plans, while pocketing millions in golden parachutes, are thieves and robbers. The senior management of Enron used their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of their shareholders and the public. They used the company as a cash cow. They were stealing.

The United States of America is like a company, with its voters being the stockholders. We elect representatives to serve on our Board: Congress and President, who make decisions for us in the best interest of our company, i.e. the nation. If they do not act in our best interests we can vote them out, and elect new representatives. At least that is the theory. But what happens if we, as voters, want to use the company credit to enrich ourselves with stock options, and increased dividends, and we reward our representatives for voting us these benefits? We re-elect those representatives who will give us what we want even if the company isn't turning a profit, or can pay for the benefits we are receiving. In other words, we are depreciating our capital and assets, at the expense of the future. So, to keep us happy, and to secure their own future, our representatives vote for excessive farm subsidies, prescription drug bills, transportation bills, other entitlements and earmarks galore. Is this not a form of stealing. Where are the statesmen who are willing to act responsibly, say no to favors, and put the national fiscal welfare, and the future above pork barrel politics?

Jesus said that "the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) Ezekiel prophesied against the shepherds (leaders) of Israel, who cared for themselves rather than for the flock. (Ezekiel 34) Nowhere is this seen more dramatically than in the story of Naboth. King Ahab wanted to buy Naboth's vineyard but he would not sell his birthright. His wife, Jezebel, arranged for Naboth's execution on trumped up charges. King Ahab took possession of Naboth's vineyard. Elijah was commissioned to confront King Ahab with his crime. (1 Kings 21) When those who have the power and opportunity to steal from others what is not theirs, we have injustice. The recent action of the U.S. Supreme Court on the right of cities or counties to take property by eminent domain to enhance their tax revenue, smacks of the same injustice.

The Scriptures teach us that our possessions are on loan to us from God. We are not owners but stewards of all that we have. We are accountable for how we use them. God is the rightful owner. We only have use of what we have been provided for our lifetime. He has entrusted them to us so that we may in turn pass them on. We are the property of God by virtue of our creation and our redemption. "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19,20) We owe God our whole life. We owe God our gratitude and our service.

Jesus said that "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." (Matthew 6:24)

You cannot be both a thief and a servant of God. You are either a thief or a servant of God. You are either out for yourself or out for God. You are either a taker or a giver. You are either a robber or a disciple.

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse - the whole nation of you - because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in the house." (Malachi 3:8-10)

We steal when we take what should be devoted to the Lord and to the benefit of his people, and use it for ourselves. There is an incident in the history of Israel, as they were entering the Promised Land. Their army was routed by the men of Ai. The Lord condemned the taking of the plunder from the battle of Jericho for personal use. "Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions." (Joshua 7:11) Achan confessed that he took a beautiful robe, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels and hid them in the ground in his tent. He was executed for being a thief.

Stealing is not just taking away what belongs to someone else, but also not giving to him what is really his rightful possession. That applies not only to material possessions but also spiritual inheritance. We can rob God of that which he has given us for the benefit of others. We can rob God of our time and talents when we don't use them for his glory in his service. We can rob others of the Gospel when we don't share our faith in Christ with others.

We can fail to be good stewards of the environment and exploit it to our material advantage. Sustainable development is a meeting of the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. An unsustainable process is one that takes from future generations what should be theirs. We mustn't steal the future from our own children.

"Beyond our basic right to things we need to survive, our right to ownership is highly relative. We cannot take it for granted that what we have may never be taken from us. We cannot assume that our owning is blessed by God. Much depends on the answers to three questions: Is it fair? Do we take care? Do we share? If we obtained it unfairly, if we do not care for it responsibly, and if we refuse to share it with others, we are morally dispossessed, regardless of bills of sale and deeds of trust. And we are in as much moral danger for keeping as a thief is for taking." (Lewis Smedes, Mere Morality, p.201)

Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector in Jericho. Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus's house. As a result of encountering Jesus, Zacchaeus is converted. He becomes transformed by the presence of the Savior. The result is that his attitude to his possessions changes. "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." (Luke 19:8)

Zacchaeus is changed, he is turned around, he repents of his former life as a thief and a robber, licensed by the state to fleece the flock, and instead becomes a steward of all that God has given him. Jesus described what happened to him. "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost."

What is needed today is our conversion from stealing the inheritance of others. Zacchaeus represents all of us. We need Jesus to come to our house and save us. We need conversion in management, conversion in board rooms, conversion in Congress, conversion in the White House, conversion in the heart of every citizen. We need to be converted from putting self interest and short term gain ahead of responsible stewardship to God and others.

When we welcome Jesus into our hearts and homes he brings salvation. We are saved from guilt, from judgment, from hell, and given forgiveness, acceptance, and heaven. Such a work of saving grace changes a person from being self-centered and grasping, to being unselfish and giving. We see that we don't possess anything, but are provided by God with what we need. That is what is supposed to happen when a person becomes a Christian. Such an attitude can not only change us individually, but also as a society and a nation.

A Prayer.

Almighty God, whose loving hands has given us all that we possess: Grant us gratitude of heart for all your provision, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your generosity, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

An audio version of this presentation is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel
Amelia Island, Florida

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top