Catechism lesson 38: Respect for property (LD 42)

The eighth commandment teaches us to deal with other people fairly. That includes not stealing in any way; in fact, we are called to help others to prosper as much as we can.

LD 42 q&a 110.

What does God forbid
in the eighth commandment?

God forbids not only outright theft and robbery
but also such wicked schemes and devices as
false weights and measures,
deceptive merchandising,
counterfeit money, and usury;
we must not defraud our neighbour in any way,
whether by force of by show of right.

In addition, God forbids all greed
and all abuse or squandering of his gifts.

LD 42 q&a 111.

What does God require of you
in this commandment?

I must promote my neighbour’s good
wherever I can and may,
deal with him
as I would like others to deal with me,
and work faithfully
so that I may be able to give
to those in need.

At first glance, the eighth commandment is about possessions and property. Do not steal. Respect the property of others. But the catechism has a broader perspective. It almost turns it upside down. Not just: Hands off the property of others; but: use your own property for the sake of others.

Stewardship

Read Gen 1:28-29; Ps 24:1; Ps 115:16. To whom belongs the earth? Give two answers and explain how they are related.

In ancient times, rich and important people had a steward. A steward was the manager of the household. He orchestrated the everyday activities. He made sure the servants did their job. He took care of finances. A good example of a steward in the Bible was Joseph, when he was at Potiphar’s house in Egypt. Gen. 39:6 say that Potiphar “left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.”

“It’s my stuff and my money. I get to decide what to do with it.” What is wrong with that attitude?

What does the catechism mean by “squandering” God’s gift? Why is it wrong?

Does the idea of stewardship say anything about our relationship to the environment?

A steward who is lazy, cares only for his own interests, or allows the household to become a mess must be fired! In the same way, if we are unfaithful in the care God has given us over his world, we disrespect him and deserve punishment.

Fellow property owners

All other human beings are stewards like us, created by God to manage the part of the world given to them. Some do it well, some do it poorly; some have a lot, others but little. But what is theirs is theirs, and we must respect it as a gift of God to them.

Therefore every attempt to take their possessions is wrong. “Outright theft and robbery” is clearly a crime. But what about subtle deception? To take a little more than you pay for? Round up the price so you make an easy few cents? Goofing off on the job and still claiming it as an hour worked? The catechism even denounced “deceitful merchandising”: that is when a salesman makes a product look and sound better than it really is.

The catechism, following the Old Testament, says that “usury” is forbidden. What is usury? Do we have that practice today? Is it always wrong?

A positive challenge

Especially q&a 111 of the catechism turns the eighth commandment into a great, positive challenge. Instead of trying to compete with and “win” from our fellow human beings, our stewardship should aim at helping others do better. When taking care of other peoples things, do it so that they gain from it. When doing business with another person, make sure that it is beneficial for both—a “win-win” transaction.

Fairness in dealing with your possessions may seem difficult. Jesus gave a simple rule: treat others as you would like them to treat you. Would you like to pay more than something is worth? No? Don’t make another do it. Would you like to be forced into a bad deal? No? Then don’t do it to others.

But it goes one step further. If you are deliberate about your stewardship, you never have a reason to simply goof off—in school, at work, or wherever. If you use your time profitably, you can always earn a bit more money to give away to people in need. That is the direction in which God’s law eventually pushes us: in what way can my stewardship over my possessions become a blessing for others as well?

What examples did Jesus give of this principle? What are some ways in which you can follow him in this regard?

Discussion

Homework

All: Memorize q&a 111.

Older students: Also memorize q&a 110.

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