By Jessica Udall, Crosswalk.com
You may have heard the popular saying: money is the root of all evil. But is it? This saying has its source in the Bible but is usually misquoted. The actual verse is 1 Timothy 6:10 which says that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” This small change of expression changes the meaning a great deal, so it is important to compare the popular saying with the original biblical statement in order to discern how Christians are to think about and use money.
What Did Paul Mean by 'Love of Money Is the Root of All Evil' in 1 Timothy 6?
In his first letter to Timothy, Paul instructs his disciple on many matters having to do with leading a congregation. One of Paul’s main themes is the idea that a firm grasp of the gospel leads to a transformed and godly life. No corner of the true believer’s life remains untouched by the gospel, and this includes their finances. God’s love, Jesus’ work, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling have real implications for the way they interact with money.
In 1 Timothy 6, Paul laments that false teachers and those who are being led astray believe “that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:5). On the contrary, Paul explains that “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). He then concludes the section with a warning that includes the verse on which we are focusing: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). Through these verses, we see that Paul’s concern is not with money itself but with an unhealthy craving for it that causes people to become short-sighted and to lose focus on the things that are eternal, causing all kinds of problems for themselves.
What Else Does the Bible Say about Money?
The Bible never condemns money as such: it is a tool that can be used for good or for evil, depending on the heart of the person using it. Love of money and over-desire for it is universally warned against in Scripture: rather, followers of God are to work diligently for and then wisely steward the resources which are entrusted to them with gratitude and generosity.
Later in 1 Timothy 6, Paul assumes that there are rich people in the church, and rather than condemning them for being rich, he simply instructs them to love God more than they love money: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
Here are a few more representative verses about how followers of God should think about and use money:
- Proverbs 3:9: “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
- Ecclesiastes 5:10: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”
- Matthew 6:24: “‘No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.’”
- Luke 12:15: “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”
- Matthew 6:19-21: “‘Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”
How Should Christians View Money?
From 1 Timothy 6, we get a good summary of how Christians should view money:
We should be grateful to God for our money.
Deuteronomy 8:18 reminds us that “it is [the LORD your God] who gives you power to get wealth.” While it may be our names on the paychecks and savings accounts, it is God who has given us the abilities and positions we have which allow us to make money. Ultimately, it is he “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” , and remembering gratitude for this will keep us from the arrogance that Paul warns us against (1 Timothy 6:17).
We should put our hope in God, not money.
Money can feel like a security blanket, but it is a false one. It can all disappear in a moment even in this life, and as another famous saying also taken from 1 Timothy 6 reminds us: “You can’t take it with you!” Money is a temporary tool that will not persist in eternity, but there are riches that remain, stored up in heaven as a gracious reward for Holy Spirit empowered good deeds done on this earth (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
How Can We Avoid Sinning because of Money?
We should recognize the potential to idolize money.
Forewarned is forearmed. Paul spends a lot of time warning believers about the perils of loving money because he wants them to be aware of their potential for idolizing money. Money promises a lot--power, security, status, comfort--but it can only deliver those things in a transient, temporary way, if at all. It is a false God which turns us away from the true God, causing us to lapse into idolatry. God is worthy of our wholehearted devotion, and He both promises and delivers true and lasting power (from the Holy Spirit), security (being hidden in Christ), status (being a beloved child of God), and comfort (guarded by the peace that passes understanding) both now and in the ages to come. Recognizing the alluring promises of money as well as the superior nature of God’s promises will keep us from sin and on the right path regarding money.
We should be generous with our money.
Paul’s safeguard for the rich to avoid sinning because of money was for them to “be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). By regularly experiencing the small discomfort that comes when parting with possessions, Christians will remember that money is not ultimate and that the blessings that come with generosity far outweigh the pain. And God is so good to reward even simple obedience to his commands, relentlessly blessing those who follow His instruction: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:7).
Contrary to popular opinion, the Bible does not condemn money as the root of all evil. Rather, the love of money (especially when it eclipses our love of God) opens up a world of pain for those who are led astray by its false promises. For the Christian, money is a tool to be gratefully received and wisely shared with those who are in need, remembering that money will not last, but God and other people will. Loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves will help to keep money in proper perspective and will help us to use it in ways that please Him and care for others.
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Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.
This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.