Paul wrote, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Maybe you’ve heard, “Money is the root of all evil.” Is money the root of all evil? Check out this post to find out why the love of money (versus money itself) is the problem.
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I once watched a fascinating video of a man trapping a monkey. He hollowed out a space on the side of a mound and put food in it. The opening was large enough only for a monkey to insert his hand to get the food. Then the man stood behind a tree a little distance away and waited. A monkey went to the opening, put in his hand, and grabbed the food. The opening wasn’t big enough for the monkey to remove its hand with the food, and because it wouldn’t let go, it was trapped. While the monkey tried to free itself, the man came up from behind and captured it.
While it’s easy to mock the monkey because it was caught by its own foolishness, the same can happen to us. Paul said those who love money “fall…into a snare” (1 Timothy 6:9 ESV). The Greek word translated snare is pagis, and it refers to a trap in which animals are entangled and caught unexpectedly, like the monkey. Let’s consider why the love of money Is the root of all kinds of evil as 1 Timothy 6:10 says, so we can avoid being trapped.
1. The Love of Money Leads to Sin
Murder, adultery, and lying are clearly evil, but it is the desire to be rich really that bad? It is, because of the sin it produces.
We would expect Paul to say desiring to be rich is the temptation, but instead, he said if we “desire to be rich [we] fall into temptation” (ESV). In other words, loving money causes us to be tempted. The Greek word translated desire is boulomai, and it means “to will deliberately.” This speaks of people who have decided they will be rich, versus allowing God to make them rich (assuming that is His will for their lives). The desire to be rich leads to temptation because this leads people to be willing to do almost anything to reach their goal. Nothing—including resisting sin—will stand between them and the money they’re committed to obtaining.
Once the love of money has taken root in people’s hearts, rare is the evil that can’t be perpetrated. Many crimes are motivated by greed, jealousy, covetousness, or all the above. People will lie, cheat, steal, and even murder to become rich. So instead of saying money is the root of all evil, because the problem is actually the love of money, a fitting statement would be that the lack of money is the root of their evil.
The Resulting Discontentment
A few verses earlier, 1 Timothy 6:6 says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” People who love money lack contentment. If they were content, they wouldn’t desire to be rich. Instead of being filled with godliness, they’re filled with ungodliness, which leads to their sinful behavior. Here are some examples from Scripture:
- Achan was willing to steal and then deceive to get what he wanted (Joshua 7:10-26).
- Balaam was willing to go against the expressed will of God to get what he wanted (Numbers 22:4-41).
- Gehazi coveted the money Naaman offered, and he was willing to engage in numerous sins to get it (2 Kings 5:15-27).
- Judas was willing to betray the Lord for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).
People who love money have broken the first of the Ten Commandments because they have made money their god, and they have broken the second commandment because they have made money their idol. Then, it is only slightly more compromising to break the other commandments, which forbid lying, stealing, adultery, taking God’s name in vain, and murder:
Let us all be on our guard against the love of money. The world is full of it in our days. The plague is abroad. Thousands who would hate the idea of worshiping [an idol] are not ashamed to make an idol of gold. We are all liable to the infection, from the least to the greatest. We may love money without having it, just as we may have money without loving it. It is an evil that works very deceitfully. It carries us captives before we are aware of our chains. Once it becomes master, it will harden, paralyze, scorch, freeze, blight, and wither our souls. It overthrew an apostle of Christ: Judas. Let us take heed that it does not overthrow us.1
2. The Love of Money Hurts Others
We might think loving money only affects the sinner but, as is the case with all sin, there are far-reaching consequences that affect everyone around the sinner, such as family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. These people must
- experience the sinner’s obsession and discontentment
- suffer through the compromise and deceit
- shoulder the financial and legal problems caused
Achan is a perfect example. Think of the cost to his family! Proverbs 15:27 says, “Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household” (ESV). Could there be a better example than Achan? The “greedy for unjust gain [trouble their] household” as they
- neglect their families—how many people have sacrificed marriages for jobs, or put the next promotion ahead of their children?
- fight over money—how many families have been destroyed after someone died and the relatives quarreled over the inheritance? These people love money more than their family members. As a lawyer will tell you, “Where there’s a will, there are relatives.”
3. The Love of Money Ruins and Destroys
Loving money is also a trap because it will “plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9 ESV). Here, the words “ruin” and “destruction” are synonymous. God repeats Himself to drive home the devastating consequences.
The Greek word translated “plunge” is bythizō, and it means to sink into the deep, or drown. The only other place it occurs in Scripture is when the disciples experienced the miraculous catch of fish: “They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink [bythizō]” (Luke 5:7). Just as the disciples began to sink and inevitably would’ve drowned, people’s love of money—figuratively speaking—causes them to sink and drown. The form of bythizō presents a continual action, which means that as long as people love money, they will keep sinking, drowning, and heading toward ruin and destruction.
We know there are negative consequences to loving money in this life, but what about the next life? In other words, are we talking only about temporary ruin and destruction, or are we talking about eternal ruin and destruction? There are eternal consequences too!
The following verse, 1 Timothy 6:10, says, “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (ESV). We are saved by faith, so when people have “wandered away from the faith,” they have wandered away from salvation. This isn’t to say they have lost their salvation, but that they have abandoned the way to be saved. The imagery is of people straying off a path and finding themselves in thorn bushes where they “pierce themselves with many pangs.”
Other verses also communicate the eternal consequences. First Corinthians 6:10 says, “[The] greedy…will [not] inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:10 ESV). The rich man who ignored Lazarus loved money and went to hell (Luke 16:23). The rich young ruler serves as a sobering example of “[wandering] away from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:10 ESV). Let’s examine his account so as not to miss the warning it provides.
Learning from the Rich Young Ruler
Nobody wants to think they would walk away from the Lord, but when people do, what would you imagine causing them to do so? Would it be the loss of a child, an unfaithful spouse, a terminal disease, or a Christian friend’s betrayal? The rich young ruler did because he loved money:
As [Jesus] was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”Mark 10:17-19
So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”
There’s much to appreciate about the ruler. He looks humble and genuine. He thinks highly of Jesus and is interested in spiritual matters. He believes in God and wants to go to heaven. Jesus’ response to him shouldn’t be interpreted as though He is not good or not God. Instead, He is saying the opposite: There is only One who is good, and that is God—so if the ruler calls Jesus good, he must also recognize Jesus is God.
Jesus answered the ruler’s question by telling him he could inherit eternal life if he kept God’s commandments (obeyed the law) perfectly. Because none of us can do that, God graciously provided a way for us to be righteous by faith apart from the law: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:21-22, 28 ESV).
If we can’t be righteous by the law, what purpose does it serve? It reveals our unrighteousness: “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). Paul said, “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Romans 7:7 ESV). Recognizing our sin reveals our need for the Savior; therefore, Jesus shared the Ten Commandments with the ruler so he would see his need for Christ:
You know the commandments: “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not bear false witness,” “Do not defraud,” “Honor your father and mother.”
And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”
Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.Mark 10:19-22
In a truly remarkable demonstration of pride, self-deception, or both, the ruler said he had kept all the commandments. Because the ruler didn’t recognize his sin, Jesus told him to sell his possessions. This ended up revealing the ruler’s sin of covetousness.
4. The Love of Money Requires Repentance
Part of Jesus’s dealing with the ruler is descriptive (describing what happened), and part is prescriptive (prescribing, or instructing, us to do the same). Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. This is descriptive of what happened, but it is not prescriptive for us—we don’t need to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. John 2:24 says Jesus “knew all people” (ESV), and Hebrews 4:12 says He “is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Because Jesus knew the ruler and what was in his heart, He knew what he needed to repent of: covetousness and idolatry.
While we might not need to repent of the same as the ruler, the part that is prescriptive is the need to repent. The ruler needed to repent of loving money, and we might need to repent of bitterness, lying, pornography, or theft. Because each of us struggle with different sins, repentance looks different for each person. But the commonality is we must all repent.
5. The Love of Money Chokes Christ Out of Our Lives
In the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “He who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). The love of money chokes the spiritual out of our lives, and the ruler is a good example of what it looks like when this happens.
Jesus told him to choose between his possessions and the Lord. Sadly, he chose his possessions. Regardless of how sincere he was and how much he wanted to inherit eternal life, he was not willing to part with his wealth. Jesus told him, “You will have treasure in heaven,” but earthly treasure was more important to him. He might be the best example in Scripture of disobeying Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:19-20: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” In response:
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”Mark 10:23-25
There are different opinions about what it means “for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” but the main point is obvious: It’s hard for rich people to enter heaven. Their riches are an obstacle to salvation. Whatever “the eye of a needle” is, a camel can’t fit through it. Similarly, people who love money can’t “fit” into the kingdom of God. Their wealth doesn’t leave room for Christ.
The issue is competition. We can have only so many things occupying space in our hearts. To let one thing in is to keep out something else. This is good if we let in Christ, but bad if we let in loving money. As we discussed earlier, money can become an idol, and we don’t have room for two gods in our hearts. We can have Christ, or the love of money, but not both. Let’s make sure we choose wisely. While the ruler thought about the next life, another wealthy man in Scripture thought only about this life, and that’s the rich fool. Before we start learning what to do with our wealth, the parable about the rich fool will show us what not to do with our wealth. In the next chapter, we will learn important ways to avoid being foolish with money.