People might be unfamiliar with many verses in the Bible and yet many people are familiar with the statement, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Sadly, like many other Bible verses this verse often ends up being misquoted and the result is something like, “Money is the root of all evil”.
The Positives about Money/Wealth
When the Bible talks about money, riches or wealth, it is not all bad. In fact, the Scriptures often talk about the positive use of one’s wealth:
- “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17-18).
- “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first fruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9).
- “So that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:29).
Wealth can be a very useful and positive tool. With it people in the past helped the spread of the gospel (Philippians 1:5), supported men like the Apostle Paul (4:15), helped care for the needs of Christians in need (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and in general helped their neighbors (Galatians 6:10).
The Benefit of Universal Statements
When it comes to this topic and many others, we find a number of universal statements, such as:
- “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
- “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).
Some people resent such statements. They do not like absolutes, they just cannot believe that a statement can be true for all people, in all places and for all time. Yet these passages remind me that God has seen everything. While people might be tempted to think, “Maybe I could be an exception to such rules. I think I might be that rare person who could serve God and wealth and make it work. Or I might be such a unique person, that I just might be happy with nothing more than material things. Or, that was then, but people now are different”. Yet such statements remind me, “Mark, God has seen it all. If you decide to place your affections and heart on wealth, it will not satisfy you”. The end result to be the same, even if I try to do everything in my power to make sure that the result is different for me.
The Honest Truth about Wealth
It Cannot Protect You
On the one hand, it can offer some very limited protection, such as having money can keep a roof over your own head, keep the heat and the lights on, or give you the freedom of having some reserve to take care of an unexpected bill or expense. Money is handy when the car breaks down and you can have it fixed right away. Yet, such protection is very limited:
- “Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4).
- “He who trusts in his riches will fall” (Proverbs 11:28).
- “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination” (Proverbs 18:11).
That last line, in his own imagination reminds us that one of the dangers of wealth is that it can give one a false sense of security. Timothy instructed the rich not to fix their hope on the uncertainty or riches and to avoid being conceited (6:17). The word “conceited” reminds me that wealth can bring a false sense of where we stand before God. I might be tempted to think, “God would not be blessing me with all these things unless I was living right”. And, if I have God’s favor, then maybe He will cut me some slack, or maybe it means that He is presently approving of everything that I am doing. Or , that all this stuff that surrounds me proves that I am a little smarter than the next guy and that I really don’t need to read my Bible or worship with other believers that much. In addition, if everything seems to be working from an earthly perspective then there is the danger to refrain from examining my motives and goals.
Very, Very Temporary
- “Fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches” (1 Timothy 6:17).
- “For riches are not forever” (Proverbs 27:24).
- “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens” (Proverbs 23:4-5).
This last verse reminds me to check my ambition. Or, to examine where my heart is fixed. Solomon is reminding us that we are only setting ourselves up for a lot of disappointment and heartache if we allow ourselves to think that it will make us happy and fulfill our needs.
The Truth about Forever
“Basketballer Kobe Bryant wore numbers 8 and 24 during his 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers. The week before Christmas, ESPN exuberantly reported a ceremony during which “the Lakers great had both of his numbers retired, and they will hang in the Staples Center rafters forever.” No, they won’t. Someday that arena will fall down or be torn down. I put ‘forever’ in a search engine and visited a website for ‘Forever,’ which calls itself ‘The only full resolution online storage guaranteed for your lifetime +100 years’. Guaranteed? What dead person will enforce that? I saw the Forever 21 retailer advertising a $25-off promo code, but it expired the next day. The U.S. Postal Service sells ‘Forever Stamps’. but someday the Postal Service will no longer exist” (World Magazine, “Forever and Ever”, Marvin Olasky, 3-3-2018).
Slow and Steady
- “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth and does not know that want will come upon him” (Proverbs 28:22).
- “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it” (Proverbs 13:11).
- “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction… and some longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
Jesus said, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed” (Luke 12:15). One red flag when it comes to wealth is the desire to get rich quick. If I tend to gravitate towards offers or presentations that offer or promise a lot of money for very little effort, then that might be a sign that there is an element of greed residing in my heart. Again, I like the universal statement in 13:11, the one who gathers by labor increases it. The path to legitimate and honest wealth is the same in every culture and every generation. Lasting wealth is the result of hard work and diligence, rather than the quick and lucky strike.
Without God/No Enjoyment
- “There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, ‘And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?’” (Ecclesiastes 4:8).
- “For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?” (Ecclesiastes 2:25).
- “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).
Such passages remind me that without a relationship with God, all the earthly rewards and pleasures that this life can offer will end up feeling very empty. In addition, without God, wealth will have the tendency to twist me into a weird sort of individual. Like the man in Ecclesiastes 4:8, who is wealthy, but also isolated and lonely and unable to really enjoy what he has accumulated. Or the statement that Solomon had observed riches that were hoarded that had actually hurt the owner (Ecclesiastes 5:13). Another wise man had noted that one of the dangers of wealth is that you can start thinking that you don’t need God anymore in your life (Proverbs 30:9), or that your focus on them can end up preventing any real spiritual or personal growth (Mark 4:19). So, let us cling to God and what is really “forever” and wisely use our temporary possessions to further His kingdom and help others in this world.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017