And the tenth commandment is presented as follows:
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s (Exodus 20:17).
Coveting—desiring that which belongs to someone else—is unhealthy. Instead of being engaged in acquisition through one’s own labor, to want what someone else has, to want it so that one covets it, is to want to take it from them without having labored for it. It is to seek a shortcut. Efficiency is healthy, but shortcuts are not. A shortcut introduces a deficit between reaping and sowing. The Bible insists that what one sows one reaps; to seek a shortcut is to seek to reap what one has not sown.
God does not want us to covet the property of others, as we have already seen, because He has created the world with basic assumptions about property rights. Private property ownership is inwrought in the Ten Commandments. His law begins with having no other God’s before God—who is owner of all, and ends with the directive that we are not to covet—again, having to do with our interfering with His ownership of all.
Let’s unpack this a bit, recapitulating some points of interest. God owns everything, and gives it to whom He wills. God owns the Sabbath, but He made it for man. God owns the world but He made it to be inhabited by man. He did not make man an appendageless lump; He gave us hands, feet, muscles, and minds. He intends for us to live amidst His creation—His property. He made us to be productive.
That being said, we consider afresh the attitude of covetuousness. If we see something that we like, then simple good will toward our brother suggests that we would look for ways to reproduce that or to copy it or to fairly acquire it; that is, no shortcuts, no secret desire to get, no devaluation of the other person as in the mercenary thought: “I wish I had your stuff!”
God wants us to be productive and to respect the property rights of others. “Thou shalt not steal.” Paul warned concerning some that if they would not work they should not eat. What was he saying? There are no shortcuts.
Christians should be among the most productive people, and often they are. All the comfortable atheists sitting in air conditioned glory in hotter climes have Christian inventor Willis Haviland Carrier to thank for their comfort. Christians should be the most realistic. We should be practical, responsible people, rather than dreamy and antihuman seekers of shortcuts and smokers of pipe dreams.
God’s law is so practical and so appealing to the anarchist perspective precisely because it was not cooked up by any legislative assembly, any state, mass meeting, crowd, or republic. It did not come through Mao’s little red book or Mein Kampf, nor is it any 18th century manifesto. The Bible indicates that this Torah is given by revelation and reveals in compact form the mind of God. It is a positive; not a negative. It cannot give life, but it points the way for the life that God can give. Salvation is not through the law but through Jesus Christ. He is the Law. The Ten Commandments fit the gospels so well because they are the very mind of Christ. The Testaments Old and New are intimately related; there would be no “New” Testament without the Hebrew Scriptures that preceded it. Take away the earlier Scripturea nd you would shrink Paul’s writings quite considerably.
I am a Protestant, but I recognize that there is a soft place in Protestant history at the law. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their iimediate associates mostly trained as lawyers before switching to theology and eventually becoming reformers; they viewed questions about salvation through the window of Western Christianity, which in their day had a decidedly juridicial focus. No wonder, then, that the law was seen from the perspective of condemnation rather than as a helpful psychological MRI showing God’s ways. Their focus was on guilt, condemnation, acquittal, while the Radical Reformation and Eastern Christian perspective was focused on the restoration of the image of God in man. From that point of view, the law is not nearly so negative.
Finally, from the Christian anarchist perspective, God gives a law directly and commands men to be men and to obey it. This includes men with fallen natures. See Cain contemplating doing violence to his brother in Genesis four, and God’s intervention, pleading with him to “rule over” his desire to kill (Genesis 4:6, 7). God was not being idle with Cain; He would have fully helped him to subdue his violence had Cain laid hold of His help. Likewise, with us; the power is no more in us to obey on our own than it was in Cain. But God will help us to rule over such desires, whether thoseare to submit to idols (including the idol of political power), to kill, or to covet. The Ten Commandments is a law direct from God to man; and that is anarchist to the core.