In “The Love of Money Is a Root of All Kinds of Evil,” we saw what the Bible says and doesn’t say about the love of money. We also reviewed how the first-century saints avoided this root of evil by loving each other instead. Now, let’s look at the love of money as the hallmark of our times and the driving force of the world’s economy.
Please keep in mind that I’m not trying to endorse a political point of view but to make us aware of the love of money. This is so we can avoid it in ourselves, so we can see its pervasiveness around us, so we be aware of the potential for catastrophe it’s creating, and so we can begin to think how we would behave should such a calamity occur.
The Hallmark of Our Times
The history in this section is necessarily very summarized and simplified. Nevertheless, I hope to summarize the essential points as accurately as such a brief treatment can allow.
The world has always loved money. Yet, it seems to me that each economic “advancement” made the love of money easier and more prevalent. It was the industrial revolution of the eighteenth century that ushered in the rise of an economic system that made the love of money a socially acceptable fine art.
The circumstances of the time created a class of business owners. Whether individuals or shareholders of corporations, they came to be called capitalists. The economic system, of course, was capitalism.
The capitalists’ prime motivation was ever-increasing profit. Of course, there were exceptions, but the survival-of-the-fittest nature of capitalism ensured that the most ruthless survived the longest.
People saw the rise of machine-enabled manufacturing as a marvel that would better humanity. Machines on farms increased food production, but also meant that less labor would be needed on the farms. At the same time, machine-run factories demanded more labor in the cities. Machine-made goods also meant the near destruction of the livelihood of craftsmen, who made goods by hand.
To survive, farm laborers and craftsmen migrated to the cities to become factory workers. The amount of goods and food certainly increased, but very little of the wealth from this went to the workers. Most of the wealth accumulated to the owners as profit. The owners paid the workers a wage valued at only a fraction of the wealth the workers actually produced.
This capitalist economic system was based on the private ownership of the means of production, the work being done by laborers for a wage, the accumulation of the profit by owners who didn’t work to produce it, and the idea of unlimited growth. Besides creating the wealthy industrialist class, it also created a new, poor class of laborers, whom many at the time called wage slaves.
As capitalist owners and corporations increased in wealth, the overall wealth of the country increased. After the early social shocks of the industrial revolution passed, the overall wealth of many workers also increased. And nations grew wealthy taxing the capitalists. Nevertheless, the wealth wasn’t evenly distributed.
The Love of Money: Twenty-first-century America
Much of what I say here applies specifically to the United States. Nevertheless, the general trend can be found in much of the world. And, we must keep in mind that what happens in the world’s superpower has ramifications throughout the globe.
Compared to slavery and feudalism, capitalism, along with enlightenment ideas of egality and rights, eventually brought relatively more prosperity to a greater number of people. But this seems to have been a passing phase. We can now see that it has serious flaws. One is that the system of capitalism itself inherently draws wealth from the labor of workers upward into the hands of the owners.
This time-proven reality contradicts an idea that politicians have promoted under various names since the nineteenth century. Today, it’s usually called trickle-down theory. Most economists, however, acknowledge that trickle-down economics is a myth.
We mustn’t err in our understanding by being naïve. The Bible tells us no one is righteous or good. All are sinful (Romans 3:9-18). This is the very reason we need to trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior (Titus 3:5-7).
By its very nature, capitalism incites a love of money that motivates the owners to increase profits by increasing the prices of their goods and services as high as the market will allow, and by keeping expenses, including wages, low.
Although all people—rich and poor and in-between—are sinful, it’s the rich who have the monetary clout to make or influence policies that have far-reaching impact. Driven by selfish motives, these policies regularly benefit the few at the expense of the many. We’re now in an age when the quest for short-term gain can end in devastating results. By having their incomes tied to quarterly earnings, corporate CEOs are encouraged to create policies that increase those quarterly earnings with no thought given to the possible long-term detrimental effects of the policies.
We’re living in an age when the quest for short-term gain can end in devastating results. Short-sightedness should have no place in a world where the pursuit of greater profits could bring on worldwide environmental destruction, encourage wars, bring an end to what people used to consider privacy, and cause extensive psychological and social damage.
Looking at the United States in the twenty-first century, we’ve seen the profit motive spark great technological advances. At the same time, the pursuit of profit at any cost has caused the wages of the average American to basically flatline since the 1970s (see below). It’s caused businesses in pursuit of even cheaper labor to move out of the country, turning once thriving cities into rustbelt wastelands of poverty, drug addiction, and crime. The technological advances have allowed employers to use one employee to do work that once took several, but not pay that employee the wages of several.
The love of money by those at the top has so impoverished the rest of the population that many households have gone from one to two and now even more earners just to stay afloat. For example, of worker income falling behind national economic growth, we read, “On average, extreme inequality is costing the median income full-time worker about $42,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation using the CPI, the numbers are even worse: half of all full-time workers (those at or below the median income of $50,000 a year) now earn less than half what they would have had incomes across the distribution continued to keep pace with economic growth” (“The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure”).
Since 1976, the average income of the bottom 50% of earners increased by 31.9%, while, during the same time, the average income of the top 0.01% (which amounts to about 30,000 people) increased 534.6% When graphed, this difference is so sharp, that the income of the bottom 50% simply looks like the bottom line of the graph! (see Income Inequality, this graph is interactive).
These same statistics mean that the average earner of those 30,000 ended 2021 with an income of $33.5 million. Multiply that $33.5 million by 30,000 people and we see that the total income for that group was $1.005 trillion. Keep in mind that we’re just talking about total income, not total wealth.
The average wealth of one of those 30,000 people is about $446.2 million (see Wealth Inequality, this graph is interactive). That means that collectively, they control $13.4 trillion. That is about 11% of the total wealth of the United States, and it is more than the wealth of most countries in the world (“List of countries by total wealth”).
Think about that. It helps us grasp why the United States is a country in which the lawmakers pay no attention to what the majority of the people want. A study revealed that when 0% of the people want a law enacted, the chance of Congress passing it is 30%. When 100% of the people want a law passed, the chance of Congress passing it is still 30% (see the video below).
Who does Congress listen to? Who lobbies them, contributes the most to their campaigns, and offers them lucrative jobs when they leave Congress? Did you know that many corporations pay no federal taxes and some even get millions of dollars in refunds (“55 Corporations Paid $0 in Federal Taxes on 2020 Profits”)? How do laws that enable such things get passed? Follow the money.
What this extreme inequality has created is a country that is no longer what Abraham Lincoln once described as “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (“The Gettysburg Address”). The very thing Lincoln said we must resolve “shall not perish from the earth” has done exactly that! The United States is now virtually a plutocracy: A government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.
The Love of Money: Employees Becoming Slaves
Abraham Lincoln saw being a wage laborer as close to being a slave, but not quite. The reason he didn’t see it as slavery was because the wage laborer had the hope of saving some money so that he could free himself by going into business for himself (see “Abraham Lincoln on Labor”). That was the distinction. But under today’s economic conditions, this distinction fades away.
Many employees are only barely keeping themselves out of debt and can save nothing. Or, they are in debt, and, maybe sinking even deeper. These employees have no hope of freeing themselves.
Additionally, most businesses today can’t start up on small savings set aside. They require going into debt. And if the business fails, depending on how the business was set up, the owner can be held personally liable for the debt. Even if they do manage to start their own business, small business owners and the self-employed continue to be victims. The ultra-wealthy have made sure that the laws are written so that they favor only the large corporations and the wealthiest people. Close to half of new businesses will fail in five years, and 70% will go under within 10 years (“What Percentage of Small Businesses Fail?”).
Alternatives to the unbridled, hyper-capitalism we now have at the wheel of the United States exist. We know that at least some of these are viable because other, prosperous and happy countries, use them.
But can’t we just make rules and regulations to reign in the extremes of our capitalist system? No. Why? Because the tiny minority of people who have almost all of the wealth pull the purse strings. By playing a good chess game that most people didn’t even know is being played, they have come to control all three of the branches of government—regardless of what party is in “power.”
Am I in any way saying that we Christians should rise up in revolt? No! Far from it. I think it’s part of being wise as serpents to know that many of the worst evils we see arising around us have the love of money as a root. We see one war after another as nations try to gain economic advantage and get billions of dollars for their arms manufacturers at the expense of human lives. We see ruthless billionaires and their corporations ravaging our economies as they use all the tricks they can think of to suck every penny they can from the average person.
Turn the Other Cheek
Am I in any way saying that we Christians should rise up in revolt? No! Far from it. In Matthew 5:39, Jesus says, “But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).
I just recently heard someone teach from this verse by taking it out of context and twisting it. He correctly understood that Jesus meant we are not to violently strike back. But he then went on to misunderstand what we are to do instead of striking back. He said that because Jesus didn’t tell us to run away, we are to understand that Jesus was teaching that we are to stand our ground; that by turning the other cheek, Jesus is saying, I’m not going to let you strike me that way again. Jesus’ teaching of turning the other cheek, according to this person, is meant to be a bold and courageous standing of one’s ground. This man couldn’t have gotten Jesus’ teaching more backwards if he had gone out of his way to do so. A careful examination of the verse itself, as well as its context, reveals that Jesus is clearly teaching just the opposite.
Remember, Jesus taught turning the cheek immediately after quoting the Old Testament “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38; see Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; and Deuteronomy 19:21). After referring to the teaching of the Old Covenant, Jesus says, “But I tell you.” This signals that He is introducing God’s standard of righteousness, a standard that is perfect as compared to the shadow standard in the Mosaic dispensation.
Even in the World English Bible quotes above, we read Jesus say, “don’t resist him who is evil.” That alone should be enough to make us suspect the teaching of anyone who says that Jesus is telling us to stand our ground. The Greek makes Jesus’ teaching transparent: mē antistēnai tō ponērō—”Do not stand against the evil.”
Jesus didn’t intend that we take turning the other cheek to be a bold and courageous standing of one’s ground or a statement that we are not going to let the evil doer strike us that way again. It was Jesus’ way of saying that, by not resisting, we should expect another blow. Our Lord’s teaching was not only that we must not meet violence with violence, but that we must not even non-violently stand in resistance.
Contrary to those who believe in non-violent resistance—well-meaning people who block roadways or doorways and are dragged away to jail by the police—Jesus taught a harder way. He said that if someone “raps you upon the right jawbone,” as the Greek literally says, “turn to him also the other.” Make it easy for him to hit you again by turning the other jaw to him.
Surely, He didn’t teach this! No? Think again. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden, did the soldiers have to drag him away? No. Jesus ended the violence and went with them quietly. Did the Roman guard have to drag Jesus to His crucifixion? No, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter” (Acts 8:32), carrying His own cross (until, apparently, He needed help, John 19:17; Mark 15:21).
But what good is this non-violent non-resistance? We can see the good when we understand that even non-violent resistance contains a violence of sorts. But by both not being violent and not resisting, we don’t inject even more evil into the world. But if we defiantly stand against evil as we are abused, we inflame hatred in the enemy, in observers, and even in ourselves. An attitude of defiance is not what Jesus advocated. Instead of merely standing in passive defiance, we must proactively love.
Look at the context that follows Matthew 5:39. Matthew 5:40-42 tell us that, rather than resist, we should expect to lose even more. No, further than that, we should anticipate that those who want to take from us will want more, and we should give it. What others intend for evil, we can turn into an act of love. So, instead of defiantly standing our ground, we can set the agenda by actively showing love.
The way we resist evil is with good. So, Jesus continues with this teaching by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Paul details this same teaching:
Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.Romans 12:17-21
When we’re mistreated by others, what should we do? Pray for them. Keep walking as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8). Let’s not forget that the Good News is that we were sinners but God freely gave us the undeserved gift of salvation. Now, we can express that gracious and forgiving attitude toward those who owe us far less than we owed our Lord (Matthew 18:21-35).
Great evil is done in the world. By returning it with love in action, we either cause the evil doer to see his or her own guilt and repent, or we open up the way for God’s vengeance without our interference, all of which is what is meant by “heap coals of fire on his head.”
Christians who support through their political choices a Marxist revolution or a Fascist insurrection or the slow violence of obscene wealth disparity or any number of other forms of malevolence are turning their backs on the clear, Scriptural instructions we’ve just seen.
I think it’s part of being wise as serpents to know that many of the worst evils we see arising around us have the love of money as a root. We see one war after another as nations try to gain economic advantage and get billions of dollars for their arms manufacturers at the expense of human lives. We see ruthless billionaires and their corporations ravaging our economies as they use all the tricks they can think of to suck every penny they can from the average person. Now, it’s time to start thinking how we can respond with acts of love.
Discerning the Times
Please understand, brethren, that we’re living in a unique season. History has had many dangerous periods. But we have never yet had a time when so many potentially incendiary conditions have existed at once. When an economics system that encourages the love of money flourishes in combination with rapidly developing new technology, fierce disunity and intolerance between people of differing opinions, the aspirations of rising China, Russia pushing back against NATO, a looming environmental crisis, and many other potential flashpoints, the chances for national and global cataclysm greatly increase.
I hope I won’t be accused of being a doomsayer. I’m not trying to scare anyone. But we mustn’t be simple and put our heads in the sand (Proverbs 22:3; 27:12). Jesus chided the Pharisees for not discerning the times (Matthew 16:2-3). We mustn’t be like them. We should be discerning, wise, trusting in the Lord, and loving.
In the next article in this series, “The Antidote to the Love of Money: The Love of God Poured Out in Our Hearts,” we’ll take a closer look at how the early saints lived their lives in a way directly opposed to the love of money.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good. In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate one to another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints; given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless, and don’t curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Don’t set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Don’t be wise in your own conceits. Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.Romans 12:9-21
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