Thou shalt not steal.Exodus 20:15 ASV
This commandment recognizes and safeguards the right of property. In this context, it should be remembered that it is impossible to eliminate private property from any society anywhere or at any time.
Without property, life itself is in jeopardy.
Frequently, the human family have attempted to get rid of private property and to inaugurate some form of communal living, but thousands of years of experience have demonstrated invariably the futility and failure of all such systems.
Jamestown Colony (1603), William Lane in South America (1883), Robert Owen on the banks of the Wabash, Indiana (1825), the Brook Farm Transcendentalists (1830), and, of course, the Russian fiasco (1917), are but a few of the historical failures.
During the middle years of the 19th Century, there were literally scores of such social experiments in North America alone.
Such societies cannot even feed themselves, and the undeniable conclusion to be drawn from a study of all of them is that the abolition of private property also constitutes the abolition of virtues such as industry, thrift, ambition, and prudence.
A study of the N.T. reveals that private property was a recognized institution among the earliest Christians.
A prayer meeting was held in the home of the sister of Barnabas; it was a big house with a garden and a gateway, which was monitored by Rhoda, an employee (Acts 12).
And Philip the evangelist owned a large establishment in Caesarea Palestina where he lived with his family of four daughters, and that place was large enough to entertain for days at a time an evangelistic company of a dozen persons.
Besides that, an apostle instructed the Christian to “work … that he may have (private property, of course)” (Ephesians 4:28).
Despite this, it is part of the genius of Satan, that, through his followers, he has sought to propagate the false idea that the godless, Communistic, slave states of this era are, merely carrying out the basic ideals of Christianity!
Even some believers have been deceived by this, due to their failure to understand properly certain N.T. passages. We shall notice these:
(1) Christ commanded the rich young ruler to go sell all he had and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21).
In this, Christ required the young man, as a prospective follower in company with the Twelve, to sell everything and give it away, not because that was a basic requirement of Christianity, which it is not, but because, it was A REQUIREMENT FOR THOSE WHO PERSONALLY ATTENDED JESUS IN HIS TRAVELS ON EARTH, these not even being allowed to own a purse or wallet.
All of the Twelve had “forsaken all” (Mark 10:28).
How impossible it would have been for Jesus to have accepted that rich young ruler in that company without his first disposing of his wealth.
This requirement of those persons was never extended to become a precondition of becoming a Christian.
(2) Then, there is the instance of Ananias and Sapphira who were stricken by God in the presence of the church, an event that in no sense is connected with the lawfulness of private property.
They were not stricken for owning property, or even for keeping part of it, but for “LYING to the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 5:1-11)
As a matter of fact, PETER AFFIRMED THEIR RIGHT TO HAVE KEPT ALL of their property or any part of it, as stated succinctly in Acts 5:4.
(3) And then there is that great “communal experiment” (Acts 2:43-47).
Yes, it is true that the early church experimented with this plan, without any commandment, without any apostolic injunction, or even a suggestion from any of the apostles that they should have done this.
Christians in all ages have been tempted again and again to try it, but IT DID NOT WORK then, nor at any later time, nor ever. It failed here in Acts. Of course, God used their well-intentioned experiment to continue a preaching mission in Jerusalem indefinitely, but the plan never worked.
The Jerusalem church was impoverished.
For years to come, after Paul entered the kingdom, that great soul would travel all over the Gentile world raising money to support “the poor saints in Jerusalem.”
If a man gives away all of his property, he at once becomes poor, an object of charity on the part of others, and thus an impediment to progress and not a participant in progress.
We believe that the following is based upon excellent reasoning:
You are MORALLY OBLIGATED TO HELP a destitute neighbor.
Then, may you shirk this responsibility by deliberately keeping yourself so poor that you can never be in a position to help anyone but yourself?
By willingly avoiding the accumulation of an economic surplus, you are flaunting your neighbor’s rights in two ways:
(1) by deliberately risking the possibility that your own sudden destitution may throw a burden on him.
(2) by your willful improvidence making it impossible for you ever to help him in case he needs it.
Again, reference is made to Ephesians 4:28, where CHRISTIANS ARE COMMANDED TO WORK that they may “have, to give to him that hath need.
Only certain ways of ACQUIRING PROPERTY are recognized as valid for Christians:
(1) through gift
(2) through inheritance
(3) through investment
(4) through finding it
(5) through merchandising
(6) through working for it. It should be noted that gambling is simply not on this list.
All of the listed methods of the acquisition of property are verified either from direct statements in the sacred text, or from deduction based upon the approving reference of Jesus to such things as investment and merchandising.
The stealing which characterizes our day is evident in the following words of the vocabulary: theft, fraud, dishonesty, larceny, swindling, cheating, embezzlement, misappropriation of funds, violations of trust, robbery, watering of stocks, excessive charges, padded expense accounts, inaccurate tax returns, double bookkeeping, sale of damaged or worthless goods, obtaining benefits under false pretenses, non-payment of debts, bankruptcy, crooked auctions, lotteries, bingo games, gambling, purloining, shoplifting – all these are crimes and sins forbidden by Commandment VIII.
They are not for the child of the loving Father.
To here, we have been speaking of stealing money or goods, but there are also other forms of stealing:
(1) Men may rob God by withholding the contributions which they should make to support the gospel (Malachi 3:8).
(2) The Medieval Church stole the Word of God from mankind for more than a millennium by refusing its translation into the vernacular.
(3) States, cities, and governments may steal through oppressive and unfair tax laws, confiscation of real estate, and by other means.
Many of the great corporations today have been defrauded and robbed by godless states which have confiscated or expropriated billions of dollars worth of other peoples assets.
In such situations, the right to vote is the right to vote as one has been commanded!
The right to work is the right to toil when, where, and at what wage, his oppressive “owners” may decide.
The right of resistance is the right of immediate and brutal death!
The Christian religion is against every form of disregard for the property rights of mankind, whether violated by institutions, individuals, corporations, unions, cities, states, or governments.
The principle that a benign government should indeed regulate the rules of commerce and business is obvious, but, when government, beginning as a referee, concludes by seizing the ball, entering the game as a contestant, insisting upon making the rules as well as refereeing the contest, and designating the winner, nothing but injustice is likely to be the result.
One more word about stealing the Word of God. This is going on today (NOTE: as of the mid-1980’s) in Russia and many other places.
It is easy to deplore this, but what about the millions of parents right here in the United States who are stealing the Word of God from their children, never reading it to them, never discussing it with them, never enrolling them in Bible classes, and, in fact, rearing them exactly as if they had never heard of God.
How black will be that day when a great nation, totally secularized and having turned away from God, shall suddenly reap the consequences of irreligion!
God grant that that day may never come for America.
But it will come; it must come, unless parents resume their responsibility, man the strongholds of faith, and teach the citizens of future generations the true principles of Almighty God.
The theft of the Word of God through the failure to teach it is such a colossal sin, that it was probably invented by Satan himself.