Money is the Root of All Evil
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
April 24, 2016
1 Timothy 6: 3-12, 17-19 (CEB)
3If anyone teaches anything different and doesn’t agree with sound teaching about our Lord Jesus Christ and teaching that is consistent with godliness, 4that person is conceited. They don’t understand anything but have a sick obsession with debates and arguments. This creates jealousy, conflict, verbal abuse, and evil suspicions. 5There is constant bickering between people whose minds are ruined and who have been robbed of the truth. They think that godliness is a way to make money! 6Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have. 7We didn’t bring anything into the world and so we can’t take anything out of it: 8we’ll be happy with food and clothing. 9But people who are trying to get rich fall into temptation. They are trapped by many stupid and harmful passions that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some have wandered away from the faith and have impaled themselves with a lot of pain because they made money their goal.
11But as for you, man of God, run away from all these things. Instead, pursue righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness. 12Compete in the good fight of faith. Grab hold of eternal life—you were called to it, and you made a good confession of it in the presence of many witnesses.
17Tell people who are rich at this time not to become egotistical and not to place their hope on their finances, which are uncertain. Instead, they need to hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment. 18Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. 19When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. That way they can take hold of what is truly life.
We’re now right in the middle of this series, “Bible or Not,” where we are exploring these phrases that are often used, and are also often considered to be Biblical, but which are not actually found in the Bible. These “Christianese” phrases we are exploring in this series may contain some truth about our faith, but they may also give a false picture of God, and can sometimes be more hurtful than helpful. We’ve talked about the fact that none of the phrases we are exploring in this series are actually in the Bible, though this week is somewhat of an exception.
This phrase, “money is the root of all evil,” is one that is often used by both Christians and non-Christians alike. And this phrase actually is in the Bible. You heard it just a few moments ago in the tenth verse of this sixth chapter from Paul’s letter to Timothy. The problem is, that’s only part of the sentence. Listen again to what the Bible actually says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Obviously, not much difference between what the Bible says and what we humans often say, but it turns out that those three little words, “the love of,” makes all the difference.
There’s a fantastic short story by Leo Tolstoy called, “How Much Land Does a Man Need.” You may be familiar with this story, or maybe you have read it, but let me try and summarize the story for you. There is a woman who has an estate with a lot of acreage that she has decided to sell. And many of the peasants who have worked the land on this estate decide that they want to approach the woman about dividing up the land and selling it to the peasants in smaller pieces which they can afford. The woman agrees to the plan and begins selling off pieces of her estate. One of the peasants, Pahom, culled together all his resources and struck a deal with the woman to buy 40 acres of her estate. But over time, Pahom became frustrated with the arrangement. He wasn’t satisfied with his yield of wheat because he had to let some of the land lie fallow each year. Then, some of the other peasants allowed their animals to graze on Pahom’s land, and so on. So when Pahom heard from a traveler of another place where land was plentiful and cheap, he decided to move his family, and he bought 125 acres of land in this town. Well, time moved on, and again Pahom became dissatisfied with his situation. The land wasn’t enough; he felt he could do so much more if he had a larger tract. Pahom was just about ready to buy thirteen hundred more acres when a traveler came through town and told Pahom about a place where he could buy 13,000 acres for the same price.
As you can imagine, Pahom jumped right on that opportunity. He traveled to this place to learn more. He met with the people who owned the land and they told him a day’s worth of land would be 1,000 rubbles. Pahom didn’t understand what they were saying, so they explained that if he would pay them 1,000 rubles, he could have as much land as he could walk out in a day. The only caveat was that he must return to the place he started before the sun set. Pahom figured he could probably walk about 35 miles from sun-up to sun-down, so he felt like he could mark out an impressive tract of land in a day’s time. The next morning as dawn broke, Pahom and the people headed out. Pahom laid his hat on the ground along with his 1,000 rubles to mark the starting point, and when the sun peaked above the horizon, he set out. He walked about six miles, marking the first boundary as he went, then he turned left and again walked about six miles along a second boundary line. But then Pahom saw a promising piece of land a little further ahead and decided he needed that as well, so he continued on a little ways before making another left to begin the third boundary of his tract. By now, afternoon was quickly giving way to evening, and the heat was draining Pahom. After a relatively short distance, Pahom decided he had to get back to the starting point or he would not make it, so he set himself on a direct line back to his hat and the waiting people. His walk turned to a jog, and then a run in an all-out effort to make it back before sun set. Exhausted, Pahom reached out and grabbed his hat just as the sun dipped below the horizon. But as the people bent to congratulate him, they saw he was dead. The story ends this way; “His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”
Pahom’s problem was not the land. The land was good for Pahom, even when all he had was forty acres, Pahom was able to grow grain and feed his livestock and make a living to care for his family. The land wasn’t the problem; the problem was Pahom’s LOVE of the land. In the end, it led to his complete and total demise. This is the reality that Paul is pointing out as he writes to Timothy. Money, in and of itself, is not inherently bad, just as land is not bad. The problem emergse when these material things become like idols that we worship, and in particular idols that usurp God’s place in our lives.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the trappings of this world, isn’t it? There’s always more we want. There’s always something else we “need.” And, of course, the only way to acquire those things is with money. So we get into the job market, and once we have a job, we start focusing on how we can be promoted so we can make more money so we can get more stuff. Before we know it, our whole life is focused around material possessions! I don’t think any one of us could say that we have not wanted something at some point in our lives, even into our adulthood. Pahom wanted more land, and I want a new laptop. Does either of us need those things? Of course not. Is it bad for Pahom to get more land and for me to get a new laptop? Paul seems to say that having material goods is not bad in and of itself. When the problems begin, though, is when all of our energies are focused solely on wealth and material gain.
As we heard in our reading from Luke earlier in the service, Christ taught his followers that, “No household servant can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” The problem with money and material possessions, as we all know, is that they steal our focus, they sap our strength, and they consume our minds. The love, which should be focused solely on God in Christ Jesus, is consumed by love of worldly, fleeting things. What should be directed to God becomes focused on something else entirely. In a word, it’s idolatry. And the problem with such idolatry is that it leads us to make poor decisions, decisions that lead us into temptation, decisions that are sinful, and decisions that ultimately separate us from God.
So, to say, “money is the root of all evil” is only true to the extent that we allow money to control our lives. And in all truth, money can be used to do amazing, wonderful, beautiful, helpful things that further God’s work and build up God’s kingdom. It’s the love of money that can lead us astray from God’s kingdom and God’s work. So that’s why it’s so important to have a healthy perspective about money and about life in general. That’s what Paul is really getting at in this first letter to Timothy. Our lives can’t be focused on money and material gain; our lives have to be focused on God. Not only must we resist the urge to seek monetary gain simply for the sake of monetary gain, but we must also choose to use the resources we do have in ways that are consistent with God’s will and even God’s own generosity.
So, here’s what this all boils down to, I think. As with so many things in life, we have a choice. We can love money and material goods, and we can drive ourselves crazy with worry and want, all for something that will just disappear when we die, anyway. Or, we can love God, and thus see money as a resource for serving God, knowing that our “reward will be great in heaven.” Think about it this way, what do we do when we find out we’re going to get a raise? We immediately start thinking about how we will spend it, right? Maybe we can get a new car, we think, or upgrade our cable subscription, or buy some new clothes. But, what if we got a raise, and instead starting thinking about all the ways we could “give the money back to God” as we serve God in the world. What if we looked for the good ways we can use money, rather than allowing money to lead us astray.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, figured out early on in his life the amount of money he needed to live off of from month-to-month, and over the course of a year. Early in his career, that was about 90% of his income, and of course he tithed to the church. Well, Wesley was fortunate to have a successful career and to make more and more money over time. But do you know that Wesley never took more money for himself to live off of? He lived always by the same modest means as when he began, and he gave all the extra to the church, to the poor, and needy. By the time he died, he was living off 10% of his income and giving 90% back to God.
So my question for you this morning is this: what’s your perspective on money? Because remember, money is not the root of all evil, but how we handle money can lead to much evil. Do you love money, or do you love God? Because if you look at your life and see that all your energy is focused on your material possessions, you are following in Pahom’s footsteps, running toward your “death.” But, if you love God and know that money is a way to serve God, you have set yourself on the path to life. This stuff really matters. During his ministry, Jesus talked about money more than any other subject besides the kingdom of God. If you find that money is controlling your life, you might want to start by giving back to God from your first fruits, rather than your “leftovers.” If you already give, but still find yourself “loving money,” maybe this is God telling you it’s time to give more.
God doesn’t want anyone to be poor, but God also doesn’t want money to be the Lord of our lives because “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” Instead, God wants us “to do good, to be rich in…good things…to be generous, and to share with others… That way [we] can take hold of what is truly life.”