“You shall not steal.”
Today is affectionately (if you’re a shopper) known as Cyber Monday, a day for those who didn’t get all their Black Friday Christmas shopping done in person to still cash in on promised sweet deals via the Internet. Marketing companies created “Cyber Monday” just over a decade ago to boost sales, debuting the phrase on November 28, 2005, by way of a Shop.org press release entitled “Cyber Monday Quickly Becoming One of the Biggest Online Shopping Days of the Year”.
But not all that is glitters is gold…or good. According to RetailMeNot’s 2013 surveys (I’m sure there’s a 2016 update somewhere),
86 percent of working consumers plan to spend some time shopping during work hours this Monday, and that means employers could see more than $2.5 billion per hour in lost work productivity when taking into consideration the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistic’s data that there are about 115 million working Americans with an average hourly wage of $24.10. The survey found that 1 in 4 working Americans plan to spend four hours or more shopping online for gifts during work hours today, and more than 1 in 5 of those surveyed have been caught at work doing so.
Recently, my church’s youth pastor asked me to substitute for him and teach our high school students for a Sunday. As Scott had been going through one of the Ten Commandments each week, I looked forward to following suit, particularly since it afforded the opportunity to teach the Commandments not as the peak of God’s expectations, but as its floor…and all with its source in grace.
Christopher Wright, in his excellent treatise, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, writes:
God acts first and calls people to respond. This is the starting point for the moral teaching of the Old Testament. God takes the initiative in grace and redeeming action and then makes his ethical demand in the light of it. Ethics then becomes a matter of response and gratitude within a personal relationship, not of blind obedience to rules or adherence to timeless principals…He delivered them (Israel) and made them his people and then called them to keep his law. Ethical obedience is a response to God’s grace, not a means of achieving it.
Wright continues, emphasizing individual responsibility in the midst of community:
Many Old Testament laws, including the Ten Commandments, are framed in the second person singular, addressing the individual. But they are addressed to the individual as part of the community, and their purpose is not just individual uprightness but the moral and spiritual health of that whole community. For God’s purpose, as we have seen, was not to invent a production line for righteous individuals, but to create a new community of people who in their social life would embody those qualities of righteousness, peace, justice and love that reflect God’s own character and were God’s original purpose for humanity.
God’s words are not suggestions for us to individually achieve the highest possible morality; rather, they are the only foundation upon which we might build community that profits us by honoring His Person and Character. Wright (along with the rest of history) reminds us of the painful alternative: “Choose the wrong God, get the wrong society.”
Unfortunately, this truth is not taught to students in government schools, and rarely to adults in Christian churches. In fact, if the Ten Commandments are taught as “commandments” at all, they are usually presented as some pinnacle of Christian obedience rather than as the basics required for a functioning civilization. But can a culture flourish in truth, goodness, and beauty when built upon a foundation of murder, adultery, theft, slander, and covetousness that goes against God’s commands?
We don’t think so, which is why we strive to trust and teach the biblical virtues implicit in God’s prohibitions – honoring all life, supporting marital fidelity and singular chastity, caring for others’ possessions as much as our own, speaking honestly and for the edification of others, and praying for blessing for all involved, always.
While the instruction not to steal is ancient, it is hardly out of date – not for us as individuals, nor for us as a society. Stealing – taking something that is not yours to take – has never been good for people or honoring to God, whether on Cyber Monday or any other day of the week.