Most of us are familiar with the saying from the Bible, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10a). But I wonder if we’ve considered what those evils are and how we can avoid getting caught up in them. This seems particularly relevant right now as the rich get ever richer while raging inflation far outstrips wage increases, begins to eat into savings, and throws some people into debt just to pay bills. And, now we’re hearing that the economy may plunge into recession. Under such circumstances, the temptation to obsess on money can easily raise its head. What I want to do is help us keep our focus where it belongs by pointing out some of the ways in our society and our personal lives that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
If you’re familiar with my work, you know that I’m apolitical. By that, I mean that I hold that we believers are citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Philippians 3:20). As such, I maintain that we should not involve ourselves in politics, in holding office, in campaigning, or in voting. Nevertheless, some discussions can’t avoid mentioning topics that sound political and may even have political implications.
In this article, I want to focus on what the Bible says and doesn’t say about the love of money and give some Scriptures that show that the love of money and the love of God are contrary to one another. In articles to follow, I plan to explain that the love of money is an underlying principle of contemporary economics, give some examples of the evils our society faces because of the love of money, and show how our first-century brethren lived in a way that actively rejected the love of money in favor of love for each other.
My point in all this is to raise our awareness of the love of money so we can personally avoid it, so we can see its pervasiveness, so we can know that its evils are now rapidly bringing about numerous simultaneous crises—any one of which could result in national or worldwide catastrophe, and so we can begin to think how we would behave should such a disaster occur.
I trust the Lord will care for us as He knows is best. He tells us, however, to not only be as harmless as doves, but also to be as wise as serpents. We must discern the love of money in ourselves and be heedful of it in the world if we are going to avoid it and be mindful of the dangers that may lie ahead.
The Love of Money: 1 Timothy 6:6-10
What Paul Said
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we certainly can’t carry anything out. But having food and clothing, we will be content with that. But those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful lusts, such as drown men in ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some have been led astray from the faith in their greed, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.1 Timothy 6:6-10
There are controversies over whether the correct translation is “a root” or “the root,” and whether it should be “all evils” or “all kinds of evil.” But these issues obscure Paul’s point. He isn’t trying to say that every evil act always has the love of money at its root. He’s speaking of evil as categories of evil, not the individual, historical acts. So, what he’s saying is that the love of money can be a root of any evil. The love of money can, and often does, lead people to do any sort of evil act you can think of. Paul’s point is that he’s giving a strong warning against the love of money. As I hope to establish, the reason Paul gives this warning is that the love of money and the love of God are contrary to one another.
When we look at the world around us, we can see greed run amok. This is the way of the world, but it should not be so in the Body of Christ. We can, for a time, fall into the temptation. There are also those for whom, “the cares of this age and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22b). Notice that Paul also says caring about riches makes us unfruitful, drowns us in ruin and destruction, and pierces us through with sorrows. How does the love of money have this effect?
The Love of Money: Colossians 2:20-23
What Paul Did Not Say
Before continuing, I want to point out that Paul says nothing about taking vows of poverty. Such asceticism has no value and is really an exercise in fleshly pride (Colossians 2:20-23). There’s a line in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when, after Clarence the angel states, “We don’t use money in heaven,” George Bailey says, “Comes in pretty handy down here, bub.” Yes, we need some money. But remember that Paul told Timothy in the quote above, “But having food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Jesus taught:
Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, “What will we eat?” “What will we drink?” or, “With what will we be clothed?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:31-33
Why did Jesus and Paul say these things? Do we earn the kingdom by living simply? Not at all! But the weeds choking the word, the snare, the leading astray all show us why they said these things. We have a mission in this world, and seeking after money pulls us away from it.
Paul said that “those who are determined to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare….” When we’re seeking money more than is necessary, we don’t have time for God’s Word. We don’t have time for prayer. We don’t have time for our family, our brethren, and our neighbors. And, soon, we won’t even think of these things. Those around us will suffer. We’ll no longer be lights in the way we live our lives. Our goals in life will become warped and worldly. We’ll look like everyone else.
When the love of money fills our hearts, we don’t have room for the love of God. Money motivates us more than love for our brethren, our neighbors, and our enemies.
The Love of God: Matthew 6:24
The Best Things in Life Are Free
Money can’t buy the most important things in life. God gives them to us freely: “He who didn’t spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how would he not also with him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). You can’t buy regeneration or justification or sanctification or adoption or eternal life or any of the precious gifts we receive from God.
God’s gifts are free, so let’s stay focused on His love and not turn to the love of money.
Jesus made a distinct dichotomy between loving the earthly and loving the heavenly (Matthew 6:19-23). Then He drives home the point in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.” Mammon is a god of riches, the personification of wealth. Jesus states the principle two different ways, apparently so as not to be misunderstood. No middle ground exists. You can’t love both God and Mammon. “Devoted to” in the verse is antechomai, to hold with one side as being against the other. Some people think they can skirt this rule, but it is impossible. If you hold to the love of money, you are standing in opposition to the love of God.
In the verses that follow, Jesus says that God will take care of our needs. And then He says, “But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Let’s not confuse our priorities.
The Love of God: John 13:34-35
Love of Money Not Found Among the Faithful
If our world were suddenly turned into the world of the first century, most of us reading this would consider that a disaster. That’s because we would see life for most people back then as primitive and basic. It was a tough world. How did the Christians of that time cope with it?
In their interactions with each other and the world, they had certain rules. These rules weren’t burdensome, and they weren’t done to earn anything. They made life, even in difficult circumstances, joyful.
Primary of these rules was this:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:34-35
This commandment is repeated many times. As one way of showing their love for one another, they also lived by this rule:
Jesus summoned them, and said to them, “You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”Mark 10:42-45
They were all brethren, they loved each other as brethren, and no one exercised lordship or authority over them. They were to esteem others better than themselves: “Doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). In other words, they were to keep an eye out for one another.
I want to emphasize that none of this added to anyone’s salvation or righteousness, and not following these rules of behavior had no condemnation attached. Nevertheless, those in whom Christ dwells are motivated to live this way, although none of us will achieve perfect behavior in this life.
The next article in this series, “The Love of Money: A Hallmark of Our Times,” examines the love of money in the twenty-first century, exposes it as the basis of our economy, and points out some of the troublesome conditions it’s created.
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