A lot of people think the Bible says “Money is the root of all evil.” But it says something quite different: I Timothy 6:10 says “The love of money is a root of all sorts of evils.” There aren’t very many kinds of trouble that loving money can’t get you into.
Misconstruing this verse could lead you to think that money itself is evil, or that only people with money can be evil, or some other fruitless idea. But as usual with misunderstood Bible passages, the worst thing is not what you mistakenly get, but what you lose. This mis-reading robs you of your chance to get the real reading. The context of the mis-quoted verse is a powerful exploration of all the traps and snares that money-loving leads to: “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… It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” It sounds like it was written yesterday.
Pick your sin, and inordinate love of money can get you there. In exploring this passage with young engaged couples recently, I noticed that love of money can mess up a marriage in every way. It exploits weaknesses in the three big kinds of sin: Pride, Sloth, and Deceit.
Pride: The desire to be more than you are, to grab at the higher rank, exalt yourself, and claim self-sufficiency. Love of money is especially good at this, because when you’re earning a good wage or generating lots of wealth, you feel like you’re self-made, immortal, and without any needs. Such people are bad to live with, like dragons.
Sloth: The tendency to be less than you are, to refuse to make the most of what you’ve got, to slink away and hide. Also, sloth in the broadest sense can include taking valuable things and devoting them to silly things. Spending hard-earned money on silly things is sloth, because it’s treating something valuable (your money, which you traded your time for) as if it were trivial. Remember John Wesley’s advice to “gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
Untruth: Lying about money is the dumbest kind of sin, because money is so traceable. In fact, why not start here and let God lead you into truthful ways? We fool ourselves about all kinds of things all day long, but if you keep a good record of your spending, there’s no more kidding yourself about where your affections are. And sharing finances with somebody is yet another opportunity to be relentlessly honest, down to the penny, about where time and attention are going.
Happy tax day!
(This is based on some remarks my wife and I made to the Engaged Couples Class at our church a few weeks ago)