A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Seventh Commandment

This is part 9 of 26 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Large Catechism

 

 

 

 

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
    be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
    and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
    and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
    though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
    and delight themselves in abundant peace.

12 The wicked plots against the righteous
    and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that his day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
    to bring down the poor and needy,
    to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
    and their bows shall be broken.

16 Better is the little that the righteous has
    than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
    but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
    and their heritage will remain forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times;
    in the days of famine they have abundance.

20 But the wicked will perish;
    the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
    they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
    but the righteous is generous and gives;
22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
    but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.

25 I have been young, and now am old,
    yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
    or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
    and his children become a blessing.

27 Turn away from evil and do good;
    so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
    but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
    and dwell upon it forever.

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
    and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
    his steps do not slip.

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
    and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
    or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
    and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
    you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
    spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
    though I sought him, he could not be found.

37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
    for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
    the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.

 

The Seventh Commandment.

Thou shalt not steal.

What does this mean?–Answer.

We should fear and love God that we may not take our neighbor’s money or property, nor get them by false ware or dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business [that his means are preserved and his condition is improved].

(Small Catechism)

 

These are the holy Ten Commands
Which our Lord God placed in our hands
Through Moses, His own servant true,
When he to Mount Sinai drew.
Kyrieleis!

Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt abhor
To wring their life-blood from the poor;
But open wide thy kindly hand
To all the poor in the land.
Kyrieleis!

God hath giv’n us all these commands
That thou thy sin, O child of man,
Might know, and also well perceive
How unto God man should live.
Kyrieleis!

Help us, Lord Jesus Christ, for we
A Mediator have in Thee.
With works we’d perish from the path;
They merit but endless wrath.
Kyrieleis! (TLH 287/LSB 581)

 

The Seventh Commandment.

222] Thou shalt not steal.

223] After your person and spouse temporal property comes next. That also God wishes to have protected, and He has commanded that no one shall subtract from, or curtail, his neighbor’s possessions. 224] For to steal is nothing else than to get possession of another’s property wrongfully, which briefly comprehends all kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor. Now, this is indeed quite a wide-spread and common vice, but so little regarded and observed that it exceeds all measure, so that if all who are thieves, and yet do not wish to be called such, were to be hanged on gallows, the world would soon be devastated, and there would be a lack both of executioners and gallows. For, as we have just said, to steal is to signify not only to empty our neighbor’s coffer and pockets, but to be grasping in the market, in all stores, booths, wine- and beer- cellars, workshops, and, in short, wherever there is trading or taking and giving of money for merchandise or labor.

225] As, for instance, to explain this somewhat grossly for the common people, that it may be seen how godly we are: When a manservant or maid-servant does not serve faithfully in the house, and does damage, or allows it to be done when it could be prevented, or otherwise ruins and neglects the goods entrusted to him, from indolence, idleness, or malice, to the spite and vexation of master and mistress, and in whatever way this can be done purposely (for I do not speak of what happens from oversight and against one’s will), you can in a year abscond thirty, forty florins, which if another had taken secretly or carried away, he would be hanged with the rope. But here you [while conscious of such a great theft] may even bid defiance and become insolent, and no one dare call you a thief.

226] The same I say also of mechanics, workmen, and day-laborers, who all follow their wanton notions, and never know enough ways to overcharge people, while they are lazy and unfaithful in their work. All these are far worse than sneak-thieves, against whom we can guard with locks and bolts, or who, if apprehended, are treated in such a manner that they will not do the same again. But against these no one can guard, no one dare even look awry at them or accuse them of theft, so that one would ten times rather lose from his purse. For here are my neighbors, good friends, my own servants, from whom I expect good [every faithful and diligent service], who defraud me first of all.

227] Furthermore, in the market and in common trade likewise, this practice is in full swing and force to the greatest extent, where one openly defrauds another with bad merchandise, false measures, weights, coins, and by nimbleness and queer finances or dexterous tricks takes advantage of him; likewise, when one overcharges a person in a trade and wantonly drives a hard bargain, skins and distresses him. And who can recount or think of all these things? 228] To sum up, this is the commonest craft and the largest guild on earth, and if we regard the world throughout all conditions of life, it is nothing else than a vast, wide stall, full of great thieves.

229] Therefore they are also called swivel-chair robbers, land- and highway-robbers, not pick-locks and sneak-thieves who snatch away the ready cash, but who sit on the chair [at home] and are styled great noblemen, and honorable, pious citizens, and yet rob and steal under a good pretext.

230] Yes, here we might be silent about the trifling individual thieves if we were to attack the great, powerful arch-thieves with whom lords and princes keep company, who daily plunder not only a city or two, but all Germany. Yea, where should we place the head and supreme protector of all thieves, the Holy Chair at Rome with all its retinue, which has grabbed by theft the wealth of all the world, and holds it to this day?

231] This is, in short, the course of the world: whoever can steal and rob openly goes free and secure, unmolested by any one, and even demands that he be honored. Meanwhile the little sneak-thieves, who have once trespassed, must bear the shame and punishment to render the former godly and honorable. But let them know that in the sight of God they are the greatest thieves, and that He will punish them as they are worthy and deserve.

232] Now, since this commandment is so far-reaching [and comprehensive], as just indicated, it is necessary to urge it well and to explain it to the common people, not to let them go on in their wantonness and security, but always to place before their eyes the wrath of God, and inculcate the same. For we have to preach this not to Christians, but chiefly to knaves and scoundrels, to whom it would he more fitting for judges, jailers, or Master Hannes [the executioner] to preach. 233] Therefore let every one know that it is his duty, at the risk of God’s displeasure, not only to do no injury to his neighbor, nor to deprive him of gain, nor to perpetrate any act of unfaithfulness or malice in any bargain or trade, but faithfully to preserve his property for him, to secure and promote his advantage, especially when one accepts money, wages, and one’s livelihood for such service.

Now that we have covered a person’s life, and their relationship with their wife/husband, we now move on to the next most important thing, their possessions.  This commandment is broader than just simple obvious theft. It includes cheating anyone out of what is rightfully theirs. Being lazy or despising your work (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).  Being shoddy in your workmanship or not giving your best effort. Overcharging for wages or fees (Proverbs 20:10).  Cheating men out of their rightful wages. Also bank, mortgage, and securities fraud of any kind.

It also includes driving hard bargains. Over taxation, that is taking what rightfully belongs to the citizens. Taking from the rich to feed the poor without their consent (i.e. playing Robin Hood). Forcing everyone else to pay for something that you could and should pay for yourself.  Being rich and not being charitable to others (Luke 14:12-24). Charging for church services, especially for false and manufactured services that are portrayed as necessary for salvation.

In our modern technologically advanced age we have several more methods of theft.  Information theft, such as sharing, distributing, or downloading data that is not rightfully yours.  This includes downloading pirated videos, music, books, articles, and any other data that people have worked hard to produce.  In short, this commandment governs our interactions with the things of this life that are manufactured, distributed, and/or owned by people.

Now it is a fact that in this world those who are in great positions and steal are honored.  After all how many celebrities and politicians have built their careers and fortunes on shady deals and off the backs of underpaid staff. How many have trumpeted having the government do something when they will not give a dime of their own money to charitable organizations.  They are seen as doing good while living in splendor.  They escape the hardships of this life by theft and are heralded as great beacons of morality and honor. There will be no prosecution of their wickedness but rather laud and praise for their ability to amass wealth for themselves. Meanwhile, those who do minor theft must bear shame and punishment.  Given all this, the Seventh Commandment must be preached not only to Christians but to all people. Especially those in of high station in society, church, and the government.

234] He now who wantonly despises this may indeed pass along and escape the hangman, but he shall not escape the wrath and punishment of God; and when he has long practiced his defiance and arrogance, he shall yet remain a tramp and beggar, and, in addition, have all plagues and misfortune. 235] Now you are going your way [wherever your heart’s pleasure calls you] while you ought to preserve the property of your master and mistress, for which service you fill your crop and maw, take your wages like a thief, have people treat you as a nobleman; for there are many that are even insolent towards their masters and mistresses, and are unwilling to do them a favor or service by which to protect them from loss.

236] But reflect what you will gain when, having come into your own property and being set up in your home (to which God will help with all misfortunes), it [your perfidy] will bob up again and come home to you, and you will find that where you have cheated or done injury to the value of one mite, you will have to pay thirty again.

237] Such shall be the lot also of mechanics and day-laborers of whom we are now obliged to hear and suffer such intolerable maliciousness, as though they were noblemen in another’s possessions, and every one were obliged to give them what they demand. 238] Just let them continue practicing their exactions as long as they can; but God will not forget His commandment, and will reward them according as they have served, and will hang them, not upon a green gallows, but upon a dry one, so that all their life they shall neither prosper nor accumulate anything. 239] And indeed, if there were a well-ordered government in the land, such wantonness might soon be checked and prevented, as was the custom in ancient times among the Romans, where such characters were promptly seized by the pate in a way that others took warning.

240] No more shall all the rest prosper who change the open free market into a carrion pit of extortion and a den of robbery, where the poor are daily overcharged, new burdens and high prices are imposed, and every one uses the market according to his caprice, and is even defiant and brags as though it were his fair privilege and right to sell his goods for as high a price as he please, and no one had a right to say a word against it. 241] We will indeed look on and let these people skin, pinch, and hoard, 242] but we will trust in God,-who will, however, do this of His own accord,-that, after you have been skinning and scraping for a long time, He will pronounce such a blessing on your gains that your grain in the garner, your beer in the cellar, your cattle in the stalls shall perish; yea, where you have cheated and overcharged any one to the amount of a florin, your entire pile shall be consumed with rust, so that you shall never enjoy it.

243] And indeed, we see and experience this being fulfilled daily before our eyes, that no stolen or dishonestly acquired possession thrives. How many there are who rake and scrape day and night, and yet grow not a farthing richer! And though they gather much, they must suffer so many plagues and misfortunes that they cannot relish it with cheerfulness nor transmit it to their children. 244] But as no one minds it, and we go on as though it did not concern us, God must visit us in a different way and teach us manners by imposing one taxation after another, or billeting a troop of soldiers upon us, who in one hour empty our coffers and purses, and do not quit as long as we have a farthing left, and in addition, by way of thanks, burn and devastate house and home, and outrage and kill wife and children.

245] And, in short, if you steal much, depend upon it that again as much will be stolen from you; and lie who robs and acquires with violence and wrong will submit to one who shall deal after the same fashion with him. For God is master of this art, that since every one robs and steals from the other, He punishes one thief by means of another. Else where should we find enough gallows and ropes?

Those who do this evil will be punished, God does not forget any trespass against His Law (Galatians 6:6-10). It may seem like we live in peace and comfort now but the Day of the Lord is coming quickly (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).  Those who steal will have their thefts paid back to them.  No one escapes God’s justice. Men will be paid back for their deeds in this life and the life to come.  God will bring retribution on those who steal (Matthew 6:19-24, Luke 12:16-21, 19:45-58, James 5:1-6).

246] Now, whoever is willing to be instructed, let him know that this is the commandment of God, and that it must not be treated as a jest. For although you despise us, defraud, steal, and rob, we will indeed manage to endure your haughtiness, suffer, and, according to the Lord’s Prayer, forgive and show pity; for we know that the godly shall nevertheless have enough, and you injure yourself more than another.

247] But beware of this: When the poor man comes to you (of whom there are so many now) who must buy with the penny of his daily wages and live upon it, and you are harsh to him, as though every one lived by your favor, and you skin and scrape to the bone, and, besides, with pride and haughtiness turn him off to whom you ought to give for nothing, he will go away wretched and sorrowful, and since he can complain to no one, he will cry and call to heaven, then beware (I say again) as of the devil himself. For such groaning and calling will be no jest, but will have a weight that will prove too heavy for you and all the world. For it will reach Him who takes care of the poor sorrowful hearts, and will not allow them to go unavenged. But if you despise this and become defiant, see whom you have brought upon you: if you succeed and prosper, you may before all the world call God and me a liar.

248] We have exhorted, warned, and protested enough; he who will not heed or believe it may go on until he learns this by experience. Yet it must be impressed upon the young that they may be careful not to follow the old lawless crowd, but keep their eyes fixed upon God’s commandment, lest His wrath and punishment come upon them too. 249] It behooves us to do no more than to instruct and reprove with God’s Word; but to check such open wantonness there is need of the princes and government, who themselves would have eyes and the courage to establish and maintain order in all manner of trade and commerce, lest the poor be burdened and oppressed nor they themselves be loaded with other men’s sins.

250] Let this suffice as an explanation of what stealing is, that it be not taken too narrowly, but made to extend as far as we have to do with our neighbors. And briefly, in a summary, as in the former commandments, it is herewith forbidden, in the first place, to do our neighbor any injury or wrong (in whatever manner supposable, by curtailing, forestalling, and withholding his possessions and property), or even to consent or allow such a thing, but to interpose and prevent it. 251] And, on the other hand, it is commanded that we advance and improve his possessions, and in case he suffers want, that we help, communicate, and lend both to friends and foes.

252] Whoever now seeks and desires good works will find here more than enough such as are heartily acceptable and pleasing to God, and in addition are favored and crowned with excellent blessings, that we are to be richly compensated for all that we do for our neighbor’s good and from friendship; as King Solomon also teaches Prov. 19:17: He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will He pay him again. Here, then, you have 253] a rich Lord, who is certainly sufficient for you, and who will not suffer you to come short in anything or to want; thus you can with a joyful conscience enjoy a hundred times more than you could scrape together with unfaithfulness and wrong. Now, whoever does not desire the blessing will find wrath and misfortune enough.

All people need to be instructed in this commandment and warned of the coming judgment.  Those whom you cheat and betray will cry to heaven and the Lord will hear it (Psalm 20, 37, 146, Isaiah 61).  As such we should take this commandment very seriously.

Conversely, this commandment calls for us to not only protect our neighbor’s possessions but also help to increase them.  We are to help the poor and needy (Matthew 5:38-42).  We are to be diligent in our work.  We are to pay a fair wage and price for goods.  We are to support the Church financially with our tithes and be a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:6-15).

There are many good works in this commandment that we do not even normally consider being a good work.  Such as calling a plumber, mechanic, or doctor to do their days work for you for a fair wage.  Going out and purchasing goods on the market, even luxury goods. The money spent on those goods and service goes to support people’s vocations and families.  Using your money wisely and not being a miser blesses your neighbor’s businesses, allows them to use their talents to do good, and enriches your community.  All wealth is given so that we can enjoy our lives and help our neighbor.  We are called to be generous in all that we have and do, even if we have very little.  In all of this and so much more we will find more than enough good works to do.

1 Son of God, eternal Savior,
Source of life and truth and grace,
Word made flesh, whose birth among us
Hallows all our human race,
You our Head, who, throned in glory
For Your own will ever plead:
Fill us with Your love and pity,
Heal our wrongs, and help our need.

2 As You, Lord, have lived for others,
So may we for others live.
Freely have Your gifts been granted;
Freely may Your servants give.
Yours the gold and Yours the silver,
Yours the wealth of land and sea;
We but stewards of Your bounty
Held in solemn trust will be.

3 Come, O Christ, and reign among us,
King of Love and Prince of Peace;
Hush the storm of strife and passion,
Bid its cruel discords cease.
By Your patient years of toiling,
By Your silent hours of pain,
Quench our fevered thirst of pleasure,
Stem our selfish greed of gain.

4 Son of God, eternal Savior,
Source of life and truth and grace,
Word made flesh, whose birth among us
Hallows all our human race:
By your praying, by Your willing,
That Your people should be one,
Grant, O grant our hope’s fruition;
Here on earth Your will be done.

(LSB 842)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

Comments

A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Seventh Commandment — 5 Comments

  1. Nice little study, Doctor! Thanks. I’ll be sure and check out the rest of the series.

    Cheers!

    P.S. Shouldn’t Karma be in quotations since the Hindu version isn’t true, but the Christian “version” is? Thanks, Brother.

  2. Yeah, I debated that with using the term karma. It is easier to explain properly in a class context than in a blog post. So I debated whether to include it or not.

    Certainly I don’t mean it in its Hindu formulation. By karma I mean if you do bad things, they will come back to you at some point, and if you do good they will come back to you as well. I think that is the popular understanding of what karma is, unless Hinduism has crept even more into the psyche’s of American’s than I thought. If so then karma is definitely not the right word. However if defined as above then certainly in a Christian context that is true, but the end result is not proximate in time as one would normally consider. Not only that God pays back good and evil in view of His Son. Still it can be said that God does general give benefits in this life to those who follow the Commandments. If evil is not punished here, it will be at the Last Judgment. Just like good will be rewarded as well. To me term karma sort of covers all of this, if you strip it of its Hindu origins and meaning (which how I think most people understand it). I can’t really think of a good term that covers all of that in one single idea.

    Often as Lutherans we tend to forget that our deeds will be measured back to us and the Lord does punish and reward both temporally and eternally. The term karma brings back that connotation, but sadly with that Hindu baggage. After all even though we are rewarded in heaven for our deeds, we don’t know the shape of those rewards. Scripture is silent on that for good reason. The true reward is Eternal Life which we all have in Christ. All our deeds are only seen as good through the blood of Christ. So while rewards will be given, that is not the important thing. It is certainly a reason to good but not the only reason, or even most important. So the Scriptures remain silent so we don’t focus on the sweet stuff we will get in heaven for all the good we do. That would be to fall back into greed.

    Anyways that’s why I used the term karma as I viewed the baggage of that term as not as significant as the benefits of using it. That said there is definite baggage, and I would reject any distinctly Hindu theology attached to it. Really all I was getting at was the idea of reward and punishment for good and evil, both temporally and eternally. Certainly if there is a better term for it that encapsulates that in a word I am all ears. After all as Christians we tend to view God’s judgement as being in the distant future rather than being played out in the here and now, which is certainly how Scripture and Luther see it.

    Glad you enjoy the series. I hope it is beneficial.

  3. @helen #3

    Of course! Well stated Helen. Unlike Karma, God’s Justice is not an impersonal force but rather an action by a loving God. This is far superior to Karma as one can trust that God will act and fully pay back good and evil with both mercy and full justice.

    For those reading the post currently I have redacted Karma from it. So the above discussion will make less sense. Suffice it to say that God’s Justice is infinitely superior to Karma, we just must understand that God’s Justice is not just at the end of time but imminent both in proper authority but also in recompense from the world at large. After all even in this broken world the Commandments are still in effect.

    Thanks for the assist both Helen and Stephen.

  4. My dear husband, often would repeat, “the manner we treat others sometimes comes back to us, “what goes around comes around”.
    I hear “karma” often and I knew it was a pagan term although pagans know what is right and wrong. Romans 1 speak clearly everyone is accountable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.