One Sunday morning before the sermon the preacher informed the brethren that a thief had been visiting the building. Over the previous few weeks some sign stakes had been taken, a garden hose was missing, and some landscaping lights had been stolen. With each item on the list the gasps and moans across the congregation grew heavier with disgust and disdain. Mumbles rumbling across the room with phrases like, “Is there no decency any more”, “How could people steal from the Lord”, and “What is this world coming to”? The preacher paused... until the grumbling was replaced with silence.
The preacher went on to say, “And that’s not all. There are some other things missing too?” The collective gasp almost sucked all of the air out of the room. “A few weeks ago a visitor came into the building and nobody greeted him. He sat there in the back and nobody said hello. Nobody asked how he was doing. His welcome was ‘stolen’. Last week we had a young man come forward and confess sin in his life and ask for forgiveness and prayers and nobody came up front to hug him, console or comfort him. His encouragement was ‘stolen’. Last month, we had two weeks where nobody was willing to volunteer to clean the building. Everyone seemed to ‘steal’ the service of the Lord so they’d have time for their entertainment. And how many opportunities to share the gospel with others have been ‘stolen’ in the last week by fear or neglect? With good reason we look at the thieves who steal stakes, garden hoses and landscaping lights from the church and from the Lord and we are aghast in our judgement against them. I just hope that when we all individually look in the mirror, we don’t see an even worse thief staring back at us. If so, let’s change that.”
The Lord provides some powerful analogies in the scriptures to convict our hearts and turn us to penitence. For example:
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) This alludes back to verse 12 in discussing Cain who murdered his brother Abel. We may say, “I didn’t kill anyone!” Yes, but did you love? The absence of love (in word, deed and truth) is to hate. And we are no better than Cain, though we may seek to self-righteously judge ourselves so.
Or how about…
“You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) Here, we as Christians are compared to adulteresses when we try to love both God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24) Adultery is a brutal and powerful analogy. It is meant to drive into our hearts the truth of the 100% pure devotion we are to have to our Lord.
Is contemplating ourselves as spiritual thieves when we are not fulfilling our Christian duties going too far? Is it too harsh of a comparison? Some will choose to believe so, so that they can dismiss the teaching. So that they can avoid the discomfort of the self-reflection. Others will not think so, but will still not self-reflect simply because they don’t care. They are spiritual thieves. They know they are, and they don’t care. They are fine with it. But others still, those who have ears to hear (Matthew 13:1-9), they will open their honest hearts to self-reflection and evaluate their lives and not ask “if”, but ask “How have I been stealing from the Lord, and how can I fix it?”. I hope that person is you.
There are many thieves in this world. Let’s work, so as not to be one of them.