Though it is sometimes violated by the government today, the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides that no citizen should be deprived of his or her “property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Given the unquestionable influence of the Ten Commandments on constitutional law, the eighth commandment, found in Exodus 20:15, clearly shaped the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition.
Respect for private possessions is a fundamental principle found in the Bible, as a command not to steal makes sense only if people have the right to own possessions that can be taken unlawfully by those to whom they do not rightfully belong. There is at least one instance in Scripture when the early church lived in a communal setting and individuals shared their possessions freely (Acts 2:42–47), but it is clear that this arrangement was voluntary rather than compulsory. In other words, this communal living coexisted with an acknowledgement of the right of private possessions. Nowhere do we see in Scripture a diatribe against economic differences within the covenant community, only cautions about arrogantly putting hope in wealth and commands not to favor individuals based on their income (Ex. 23:3, 6; 1 Tim. 6:17).
Our right to private possessions must be considered in light of all the Word of God says about riches. Wealthy people are not to be given preference in the church simply because they are wealthy (James 2:1–13). Believers who have been richly blessed with abundance must provide voluntarily and eagerly for the poor (Lev. 19:9–10; 1 Tim. 6:18), including such things as feeding the hungry, creating jobs, supporting relief programs, and more. Ultimately, everything we have belongs to the Lord and we are but stewards of it (Ps. 24:1). Thus, we enjoy His good gifts and give of our increase as He commands.
Finally, the eighth commandment can be broken in a multitude of ways other than rank burglary. We steal when we vote tax increases on other people and not on ourselves as well. Thievery is the rightful charge when we steal time from our employers. Extortion, fraud, and other crimes are likewise examples of theft. May we walk by the Spirit so as not to steal from our neighbors.
We have no right to another person’s time, income, or property, and so we must be very careful never to steal any of these from our neighbor, whether directly or indirectly. For example, we should keep the appointments we have made in order to keep from stealing time from others. We must also be faithful employees by not lazily wasting (stealing) time, expecting to get paid for doing very little.