The eighth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal” upholds the rights to private property since theft can only be theft if what you have stolen belongs to someone else. It also rules out collectivism and socialism as a means of forming a healthy society. What’s mine is not yours.
The first and most obvious point about property is that God owns everything.
…for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. (Psalm 50:10-12)
When God says that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, He does not mean that He doesn’t own the cow on hill 1001. In scripture, 1000 represents completion. And so, God owns everything completely.
The Bible places property in the hands of the family, not the state. He gives to man what He has created as a stewardship. It is ours to care for and enjoy but it is not ours absolutely, for we die, but God does not. Moreover, God ordains the responsibility for stewardship inequitably. God gives more to some than to others.
Because this is the case, sinful man will manufacture a demand for equal distribution of our goods on the grounds of compassion and love for neighbour. But these grounds are rarely loving nor compassionate because every demand to distribute wealth equally is a demand to steal it from someone else.
If one guy has two cars and his neighbour has none and he is made to hand over one of his cars under threat of penalty, because, you know, compassion and equality and all that, then all that has occurred is armed robbery. It certainly isn’t a compassionate act for the guy who worked hard and saved, and who used to own two cars.
When wealth is treated this way, we are not really talking about love or compassion. We’re not even talking about equality. We are talking about good old envy and greed. I want what you’ve got.
We tend to think of only the rich and wealthy as greedy and envious. But the poor are just as easily taken in by greed and envy. And it’s this greed and envy that the 8th commandment seeks to contain.
The antidote to poverty and inequality is not a false sense of compassion or state-mandated theft and redistribution of other people’s stuff. Poverty or neccessity does not justify theft. To show partiality to the poor is sin (Leviticus 19:15).
The antidote to poverty and inequality is a free and open society where man’s generosity is from a new heart and not from coercion or threat.
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. (John 10:17-18)
A key component in this commandment is the issue of consent. Stealing is any taking of another man’s property by coercion, fraud, through cheating, harming property, or destroying it’s value without free consent. It includes withholding wages, since wages are not a gift but a debt owed (Romans 4:4), and may also include, in some circumstances, property lost, found or borrowed and not returned (Deuteronomy 22:2).
True love for neighbour involves restoration, not robbery.
And so Christ came into the world, not to steal or rob but to restore what was lost, to mend what was broken.
Poverty and riches are given by God. Mankind is called to live with in his lot for his own welfare and prosperity. And, whether he has a little or a lot, he is called to do it with transparent honesty and dignity.
Finally, theft is a shortcut to the possession of property that seeks to bypass productive labour. And so, stealing is not only an aspect of greed and envy, but also of laziness.
The corrective to envy or laziness, which is the real problem, is not socialism, or forced equity, but productive labour and contentment with the lot God has given us.
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. (Proverbs 15:16)
There is no such thing as theft which does not harm. The biblical laws against theft protect not only God’s order but also protect our neighbour from undue hardship.
For this reason, where sinners have failed to meet the standards of God’s holy word, they need to not only confess and turn away from theft, but also offer restoration.