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Kinds of Thieves: Stealing, Robbery, Shoplifting, Theft

Stealing, burglary, shoplifting, theftMost people know stealing is wrong, but there are many kinds of theft. What does the Bible say about robbery, burglary, shoplifting, looting, and petty theft? 

Are people thieves if they are dishonest in business, cheat on taxes, or refuse to pay debts? What about plagiarism, copyright or patent violation? What does the Bible say about various forms of stealing?

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When I was about 6 years old, my family visited a neighbor down the street. I saw lying on the floor a toy Mickey Mouse watch - it didn't really even tell time, but it looked like a wristwatch. I wanted it, so I picked it up, put it in my pocket, and took it home. Of course, I felt terrible, because I knew better. Besides, I couldn't wear it without my parents asking me where it came from. Next time we visited that neighbor, I took it back and put it where I had found it. I never told anybody, and nobody ever said anything about it, but I learned my lesson.

Most people do not want to think of themselves as thieves, because they know stealing is wrong.

Stealing is wrong for a number of reasons:

Many forms of stealing violate civil law.

Romans 13:1-7 - Civil law is ordained by God. If we disobey rulers, then we are disobeying God. [1 Pet. 2:13,14]

Stealing is specifically prohibited in the Scriptures.

Exodus 20:15 - You shall not steal.

Matthew 15:19,20 - Theft is one of many acts that come from the heart and defile a man.

1 Corinthians 6:9,10 - Thieves will not enter the kingdom of God.

[Deut. 5:19; Lev. 19:11; Matt. 19:18; Isa. 61:8; 10:2; 1 Pet. 4:15,16; Amos 3:10; Hos. 4:1,2; Prov. 22:22; 1 Cor. 5:10f; Jer. 7:9-15; Zech. 5:3,4]

Stealing violates the law of love.

Romans 13:9,10 - One who loves his neighbor will do good, not harm. Stealing violates the law of love, because it harms our neighbor.

Matthew 7:12 - Do to others as you would have others do to you. Do you want others to steal what belongs to you? No. Then don't steal from others.

[Luke 10:25-37; Eph. 4:28]

The fact is that there are many ways to be guilty of stealing.

Stealing is taking property or possessions that rightfully belong to other people, without the right or permission to do so. There are many different kinds of stealing.

While most people know that stealing is not right, many people still practice various forms of it! Some may not realize their guilt, but others justify it and even admire others who practice it.

The purpose of this study is to consider different kinds of stealing - different ways people can be guilty of stealing. Like that Mickey Mouse watch I stole, I suspect most of us have been guilty of some form of stealing at some time or other. Perhaps we are guilty now without knowing it. So consider the following kinds of stealing:

I. Armed Robbery / Illegal Entry

This kind of theft involves violence, threats, or breaking and entering in order to take the property of others. It includes armed robbery, mugging, house breaking, car theft, etc. This is probably the kind of stealing we think of first when someone mentions a thief.

This category would include the thieves that beat and robbed the man who was eventually helped by the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30. Such thieves are often portrayed in the Westerns and cops & robbers movies.

This would also include kidnapping, which is stealing a person. This was punishable by death in the Old Testament (Ex. 21:16). [Deut. 24:7]

This kind of theft violates all the principles we listed in our introduction: it violates civil law, it fits the definition of stealing as forbidden by Scripture, and it violates the law of love.

Hosea 4:1,2 - God has a controversy (disagreement) with nations that are characterized by stealing, etc. Yet, statistics indicate that about one of every 20 U.S. citizens is a victim of theft each year. So what would be God's attitude toward a nation like ours?

II. Shoplifting, Looting, Petty Theft

This kind of theft is committed mostly, not by violent thieves, but by "average citizens."

Many people view this kind of stealing as being justified in some cases.

A survey of 100,000 kids aged 9-12 revealed that 49% had shoplifted. Of those, 60% said they would do it again - Chattanooga News-Free Press, 7/26/82.

Many justify shoplifting on the grounds that large stores won't miss what they steal. Some young people do it on a dare and to get a thrill.

Many people defend looting because they claim the people who do it are oppressed by society or they are victims of discrimination, police brutality, etc.

Such "petty theft" is so common it has come to be expected. Paul Harvey told of a man whose car broke down on the highway, so he got out and looked under the hood. Hearing a strange noise, he looked around and saw a man removing his hubcaps. The owner said, "I beg your pardon." The thief responded, "That's OK, Mack. You take the battery, I'll get the hub caps!"

Yet all this is wrong and sinful.

It fits the definition of stealing: taking the property of others without their permission.

It is all illegal.

And it all violates the law of love. If you owned the store, would you want people to steal? Shoplifting adds up. If one person may loot or shoplift, so may everyone else.

Stores must make a profit, so they raise prices high enough they can make a profit despite the shoplifters and looters, or they make a claim on their insurance. That means, when honest citizens buy from those stores or when we buy insurance, we are paying for what the crooks stole.

Do you like paying for what other people steal? If not, then do to others as you would have them do to you.

III. Dishonest Business Practices

Many businessmen knowingly cheat their customers.

Proverbs 11:1 - A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight. Some businesses use dishonest weights or measures. A customer pays for a certain number of gallons or pounds or yards of a product, but when it is measured he receives less than he paid for.

Some clerks deliberately ring up a greater price on the cash register than was advertised. If the customer catches it and points out the difference, the clerk just claims it was a mistake. A grocery store cashier once told me she quit a job, because the boss required her to earn her salary by overcharging as she entered items.

Many salesmen misrepresent their product, promising things they know the product cannot do. My dad worked in sales and often his bosses pressured him to misrepresent the product to make sales.

Con artists take money under false pretenses. In Ft. Wayne, a man called the church and claimed he needed help to pay his rent or his family would be sent back to Ireland. He had all kinds of study notes to show he knew "church of Christ doctrine," etc. After I gave him a substantial amount, he slipped away. When I checked on the address where he said he lived, the people had never heard of him. He was a con artist and a good one.

All such practices are condemned as forms of stealing.

It all involves lying and deceit, which are often associated with stealing.

Most of it is illegal.

It violates the principle of love. No one wants other people to treat them this way.

It fits the definition of stealing. It involves acting under false pretenses to take money that you have no right to take.

IV. Employees Stealing from Employers

This also takes many forms.

John 12:6 - Judas kept the bag for Jesus and his disciples, but he stole from it. People in positions of responsibility in businesses often embezzle from the company. They may hide their crime by changing the books or other such manipulations.

Titus 2:9,10 - Servants should not pilfer or purloin (steal) from masters. Many employees take company supplies, equipment, and even the manufactured product.

I have read that 60% of employees misuse company postage (using company stamps or postage meters to mail personal letters).

Some companies allow employees to take or use certain items. This is fine if we really have permission. If in doubt, ask.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you. If you steal from your company, they must raise prices and the customers pay the extra. If you don't like paying for what others steal, then don't make others pay for what you steal.

V. Citizens Cheating on Taxes

Many people lie or misrepresent to avoid paying taxes.

Romans 13:7 - Render to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs. Taxes are money we owe, just like any other debt.

On their income tax returns, many people deliberately fail to report income or overstate their deductions. Some workers insist they be paid in cash, then they don't declare the income and don't pay taxes on it.

I once read that tax cheating costs $100 billion per year.

This is again wrong for several reasons.

It involves lying and deceit.

It is a failure to submit to the law of the land.

It fits the definition of stealing. Taxes are a legal debt owed to others. If we don't pay, we are keeping money that rightfully should belong to others. That is stealing.

It also violates the law of love. When the government does not get sufficient income, it just raises the tax rates. Then honest citizens, who pay their taxes, end up paying for other people who don't pay what they owe. Do unto others...

VI. Refusing to Pay Debts

Psalms 37:21 - The wicked borrows and does not repay. When a person buys on credit or borrows money, he promises to pay in the future for goods or services he receives now. Yet when the time comes to pay, many refuse to pay.

This again is wrong for several reasons.

In most cases it is illegal.

Romans 13:7,8 - Pay what you owe. Even if some legality (like bankruptcy) lets you off the hook, still it is wrong to not pay your debts. If you can't pay now, you need to make arrangements to pay in the future.

James 5:12 - Let your yes be yes. Not paying a debt is a failure to keep your word.

It violates the law of love. You wouldn't want somebody else to buy or borrow from you, but then refuse to pay.

It constitutes a form of stealing. You have someone else's property or money. You have a right to that property only if you pay for it. If you don't pay, then you are keeping property that rightfully belongs to another. That is stealing.

VII. Keeping Property You Found, Making No Effort to Find the Owner

When we were kids we used to chant, "Finders, keepers. Losers, weepers." That rhymes, so it was supposed to prove that you can keep whatever you find. If the owner can prove it's his, you may give it back. But meanwhile you keep quiet and hope the owner does not find out you have it.

Deuteronomy 22:1-3 - The finder of lost property should make a diligent effort to find the owner. Check with the police or with the "lost and found" department, advertise, etc. But don't just keep the property and keep quiet.

The principle of love teaches the same today. If you lost property, would you want the one who found it to seek the owner? If so, you do the same when you are the finder.

You may not know who the owner is, but one thing you do know is that you are not the owner! So, it is not your property. If you keep it without the permission of the owner, making no attempt to find the owner, you are a thief.

VIII. Claiming the Work or Knowledge of Others to Be Your Own

A poll reported that 62% of students admitted having cheated on school examinations. Sometimes schools must achieve a certain average grade on achievement tests in order for the school to receive government funds, so I have read about teachers who changed students' test answers so the teacher's class would look good on test results. Then people wonder why students cheat! I have even seen students cheat on tests in my Bible classes!

Have you considered the fact that this is stealing? The person who cheats on a test is taking someone else's knowledge and passing it off as though it was his own knowledge. He claims to have done the work that someone else did. That is cheating, but it is also stealing.

Plagiarism involves taking ideas that others wrote, and putting it forth as though it was your own idea, without giving credit to the source. Some sell such material and make a profit. This too is a form of stealing.

Copyright violation involves taking a book, video, music CD, or computer program and copying or using it, without paying for it, in violation of the copyright law or the terms of use. As a result, the owner of the copyright does not receive the selling price that he ought to receive.

Patent violation involves a company that manufactures and sells a product using a procedure or product that someone else invented. So one company invents the product, but another company produces it and makes the profit from it in violation of patent laws. That too is stealing.

Often such actions are also a violation of the law or of those in authority (school, etc.).

It also violates the law of love. If you did the work, would you want others to pass it off as their work, even make a profit from it, giving you no credit? Do unto others ...

IX. Cooperating with Thieves

Some may not directly practice anything we have described, yet they may still be guilty by aiding or assisting a thief, protecting him from punishment, or knowingly sharing in what he stole.

Psalms 50:18 - When you saw a thief, you consented with him. The context shows that such people are wicked (v16). When we justify or defend people who steal, if we laugh at them and encourage them, we too are wicked.

Ephesians 5:11 - We must not have fellowship with sin, but must reprove it. [Rom. 1:29-32]

Proverbs 29:24 - Whoever is a partner with a thief hates his own life; he swears to tell the truth, but reveals nothing. When we refuse to testify against one who is guilty, we become his partner. Civil law also requires us to be willing to testify. [Lev. 5:1]

So, we don't have to actually steal to be guilty of stealing. Just cooperating with a thief makes us his partner, and God holds us guilty.

X. Teaching Religious Error

Jeremiah 23:30 - God is against the prophets who steal His words from their neighbors. How can this be done? The context shows God gave His message, and the teachers were responsible to give it to the people. To withhold that truth is stealing!

To illustrate, suppose a family buys steak and gives it to a servant to cook and feed to the children. Suppose the cook withholds the good meat and gives the children spoiled meat instead. The cook is a thief. He was entrusted with good food, but did not give it to the children.

Note v28 - "... he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully." The Bible is God's possession. Teachers are responsible to give the message to the people God wants to have it. To withhold it or to change it is to keep that which belongs to someone else, without His permission. That fits the definition of stealing, and that is what God calls it.

[John 10:1,8,10]

XI. Using God's Blessings Selfishly

It is possible to steal things that legally belong to us!

We can steal money that God has given to us.

Malachi 3:8,9 - God accused people of robbing Him in tithes and offerings. Our possessions ultimately belong to God [Hag. 2:8]. He gave them to us to use as He directs. If we keep them for ourselves, withholding them from His work without His permission, then He says we are thieves.

We may think we are just using what belongs to us, but God says we are keeping for ourselves that which belongs to Him.

In the same way, we can steal our time and our lives from God.

Everything on earth belongs to God, including the people (Psa. 24:1,2). He made us and put us here to keep His commands (Ecc. 12:13). If we are thieves when we use our money to please ourselves and not serve God, then aren't we also thieves when we use our lives to please ourselves instead of serving God!

A Christian who neglects to use his time and effort to serve God, has just stolen from God. He is a thief the same as if he failed to give as he has prospered to do God's work.

The person who ought to become a Christian but does not, has stolen his whole life from God. He too is a thief!

Now consider the person who intends to become a Christian someday, but meantime he postpones. If you do this, consider the fact that each day you live is a day God gave you to serve Him. If you postpone obeying, every day you wait is a day you have stolen from God. He gave you that day to serve Him, but instead you kept it for yourself.

Most people do not want to be considered thieves. But in a very real sense, whenever any person fails to serve God, that person is a thief.

Think for a moment what it means to steal from God! Stealing from anyone is wrong, but consider how much greater the consequences would be if you stole from a great king. Now consider the consequences of stealing from God!


The good news is that thieves can be forgiven.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - The Corinthian church included thieves who had been forgiven by Jesus' blood. By God's mercy, thieves of all kinds can be saved.

Ezekiel 33:15 - The thief who repents must give back what he stole. It is not enough just to say "I won't steal anything else." We must return what we unlawfully took.

Then, to be forgiven, you must be baptized (or pray if you are a Christian).

If you have stolen your past life from God, unfortunately you cannot turn back the clock and relive the past. But you can determine to live the future for Him, and this is what he requires.

Do you need to make your life right with God?

Note: If you would like to study further about related Bible topics, we have a number of other study materials on our web site that should interest you. Please see the links listed below.

(C) Copyright 2011, David E. Pratte;
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