(This article was written by a friend of ours several years ago.)
St. Paul wrote a letter to a young Christian, and said that the root of all evil is the love of money. (1 Timothy 6:10) This is an amazing claim.
Perhaps too much love for too much money we could go along with, or perhaps we could agree that it is the cause of some evils… maybe even a lot of evils. But to just come right out and say that all love for any amount of money is the cause of all evils is a bit much for most people to take.
You only need to quote the verse as it is written, to get a reaction from the average churchgoer. Try it, and see if they don’t say something like, “It’s the love of money, mind you, not money itself.” They then go on to tell you how they know of a lot of rich people who have accomplished a lot for God.
What is happening when they respond like this? Let’s change the issue slightly to make it clearer. Suppose someone says that drug addiction is ruining Western society, and a reaction comes back, stating that it’s not the drugs themselves, but addiction that is the problem. Suppose they go on to inform you that they know of many people who take drugs regularly, but that they are confident that these friends are not addicted, and that taking drugs does not affect their ability to live a happy, normal life. Why do you suppose the person would react in such a way? There is a line from Shakespeare which says, “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.” In other words, when someone feels heavily convicted by the truth in a statement, they tend to overreact, and this overreaction (or “protesting” too much) actually gives away their guilt.
Modern Bible translators have had a problem with this verse, because they know it is offensive to most church people. The King James Version faithfully expresses the thought of the passage. The original Greek does say that greed is the source of all evils. So how could the translators soften it and still avoid being accused of distorting the original message? The Bible Society came up with an ingenious solution for the Today’s English Version. They wrote: “The love of money is a source of all kinds of evil.” Apart from the dishonest use of the word “a”, they have technically used the word “all”. The problem is that they have used it in a phrase which has an idiomatic meaning that is rarely taken literally. “All kinds of” just means “lots”. It does not mean “all” at all.
Surely, if greed is the root cause of all other evils, then it should be the fundamental target of any campaign to bring righteousness to the world. It stands to reason that if we could rid the world of the root of all evil, then the eventual consequence would be a world without any evil in it at all. But where is the church, denomination, or religion that is waging such a campaign against greed? The truth is that the entire topic of greed, and especially greedy people (presumably the rich) get very light treatment from religions everywhere.
But let us start by taking the more popular approach to this passage, which is that for one reason or another, Paul never intended to say what he is recorded as having said in 1 Timothy 6:10 . Let us assume that the love of money (while harmful if overdone) isn’t all that bad, and certainly is not the cause of all the problems in the world. Let us assume that the 1 Timothy 6:10 passage slipped into the Bible by mistake, or that it was placed there by an overzealous monk in the very early days of the church.
If that is so, then we would expect the subject to be dropped. We should not be bothered by other passages promoting such an extreme teaching. We would certainly not find Jesus or the apostles teaching such nonsense. The battle between good and evil for them would be more of one between God and the devil, perhaps with something like pride or a lust for power (and not greed) being the real source of evil in the world.
In the gospels, Jesus tells us that we have a choice between good and evil, and we cannot “serve” both “masters”. The picture is that of an employee, or servant, trying to work for two employers or bosses at the same time.
Presumably one employer would be God, and the other would be the Devil. Right? But no, that is not how Jesus describes them. He does say that one employer is God, but he says that the other employer is (wait for it) money, or “mammon” (mammon is a term for money which also includes the material things that money can buy). Jesus says that we cannot work for God and work for money at the same time. (Matthew 6:24 , and Luke 16:13 ) How amazing! He goes on to say that we are going to end up despising or hating one employer or the other. Between this approach and the one taken by Paul, there is no room left for a person to be neutral, either with regard to God or with regard to money. We are going to end up loving one and hating the other. It’s not a matter of loving one just a little bit more than the other, but rather a matter of putting them on opposite ends of the spectrum.
One is going to be our god, and the other is going to be our worst enemy. We must choose.
It is consistent with the picture of one employee trying to work for two employers at the same time. The employee is obviously going to have to cheat one employer in order to turn up at work for the other. His or her “hate” for the cheated employer will take the form of trying to rip off wages for something that he or she is not entitled to.
Could it be that many religious people are trying to rip off, or claim something from God (eternal life) when they are not really entitled to it? The immediate argument that we face with regard to such a question is the widespread belief amongst professing Christians that we do not have to do anything to be entitled to eternal life. Salvation, they say, is our “right”; we’re entitled to it, whether or not we ever turn up for work.
But this is totally false. When questioned more closely, they will all admit that salvation only comes through faith. And almost all of them will say that this faith must be placed in Jesus Christ. So how much faith do they have in what Jesus has said about working for God in preference to working for money? For that matter, how much faith do they have in anything that Jesus instructed his followers to do?
Jesus said that unless we stop working for mammon, or material wealth (John 6:27 ) and start working for him (Matthew 11:29 ) we will be regarded as an employee who has tried to rip off the most powerful Employer in the Universe. He said to stop worrying about food and clothes, and how we are going to get them (Matthew 6:25-33 ), and seek first to build God’s multinational kingdom of love instead. He said that, if we will do that, God himself will take care of our material needs. He said that we should forsake all of our material wealth if we want to be one of his disciples. (Luke 14:33 )
So what has the church done with these and other specific instructions about challenging the root of all evil? They have told us that all of these teachings of Jesus and Paul mean little more than that we should try to moderate our greed. It’s okay to spend your life making money if you are doing it for your family, and if you don’t engage in anything immoral or illegal to do so, and if you make a point of giving a percentage of it to the church. “Forsaking” wealth, they say, just means sharing a bit of it with the right people from time to time.
There is a kind of mythical image in the churches of an incredibly greedy person who swims in pools full of diamonds and rubs money all over himself or herself as an act of worship. Church people know that they should not want to be like that person.
On the other hand, is there a record anywhere in the history of the entire institutional church (of all denominations) of anyone ever being excommunicated because of being too greedy?
The truth is that absolutely any excess of greed can be tolerated by any church in the world. As long as you don’t break a short list of other rules, you can swim in all the diamonds you like, and just between you and me, the more diamonds you have, the more profusely they will welcome you! It is precisely because of this unwillingness to forsake wealth and to attack greed, that the church has been largely ineffectual in saving the world. Love of money in the world has caused wars, exploited the poor, led to drug trafficking, corrupted politicians, and much more. And love of money in the church has made the church virtually useless in changing present trends away from God. Daily, the world grows richer materially, but it also grows daily more and more destitute spiritually.
In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, and in the middle of his discourse on greed, Jesus said, “The eyes are like a lamp for the body. If your eyes are clear, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eyes are bad, your body will be in darkness. So if the light in you turns out to be darkness, how terribly dark it will be!” (Matthew 6:22-23 , TEV) In other words, if the church, and individual Christians cannot get it clear with regard to his teachings on money, then Jesus is saying that they will not only be useless, but they will be seen as contributors to the “terrible darkness” that the world is in today.
I have found that this teaching on money is the key to understanding all of life. It is in this same chapter that Jesus makes reference to King Solomon, who was believed to have been the wisest person on earth when he was alive.
Jesus says that Solomon, with all his riches, was not clothed as beautifully as God has clothed the flowers of the fields.
In another place (Matthew 12:42 ) he refers to a story that is recorded in the tenth chapter of 1 Kings, when he says that the Queen of Sheba travelled halfway around the world to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and yet “one greater than Solomon is here”. There is, in accepting this teaching of Jesus about money, the key to discovering wisdom that Solomon barely scratched the surface of.
The final book of the Bible continues with the theme of good and evil. It describes evil as a Prostitute (Revelation 17:5 ) and good as a Bride (Revelation 19:7 ). Both women give what our modern society has come to call “love”, but one does it freely, while the other does it for money.
Artists commonly refer to “prostituting” themselves if they let greed influence their work. And each of us does the same thing when we use the life and gifts that God has given us, to make money rather than using it to freely share him and his message of faith and love with the rest of the world.
The Prostitute is given a name. She is called “Babylon”. The name symbolises all of the worldly empires of human history. Babylon in particular is most famous for having invented money. They did not invent greed, because greed existed even in the days of bartering, but they did invent a much more efficient way for people to satisfy their greed.
Gold coins were the first form of money, but it has evolved through various forms over the centuries, as the rich have become more and more rich.
The Revelation also compares God to a “Lamb” that loses its life to save the world (Revelation 5:6 ). The antithesis of this poor slain lamb is a warring “Beast”. The Beast is represented by a “Mark”, which will eventually be placed on the back of everyone’s hand or on their forehead, and without which they will not be able to buy or sell (Revelation 13:16-18 ). This is the ultimate step in the evolution of money, and it was prophesied in the Bible almost 2,000 years ago!
It is gradually becoming common knowledge that the world is just about at that point in history when the prophesied Mark will be put into worldwide circulation, in the form of a microchip implant on the back of the hand (or on the forehead if your hand has been amputated). People will be able to wave their hand in front of a scanner to electronically transfer funds from one account to another in the fast approaching “cashless society”. This is not fanatical raving. It is all coming together right now. You can read about it almost anywhere in the secular Press.
The Bible says that anyone who accepts that Mark will be eternally damned. (Revelation 14:9-10 )
So is the church concerned about it? Are meetings being held to adjust their financial structure in order to survive without taking it? Of course not. In fact, if the subject comes up at all, it is quickly followed by arguments in favour of the Mark, and against those who see it as evil. The root of all evil is leading the institutional church straight into the hands of the Prince of Darkness himself, and all it took was the love of money to do it.
There is an interesting little note in the passage from The Revelation about the Mark of the Beast. It says, “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the Beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.” (Revelation 13:18 )
Here is wisdom. Wisdom has gradually become the all-consuming goal of my life, from the time that I first heard about King Solomon being given one request, and how he asked for wisdom. I want to know the truth. I want to have a sincere heart. I want to hunger and thirst after righteousness. I want wisdom. And so this passage tells me that I should seek to understand the meaning of the number 666 if I wish to have it.
I decided to get a huge Bible concordance and see if the number 666 appears anywhere else in the Bible. I found that it does. The number 666 appears in only one other place, and that, strangely enough, is the very same chapter that Jesus was referring to when he talked about having greater wisdom than Solomon. It is in 1 Kings 10:14 .
This is the chapter that tells us that the Queen of Sheba brought many gifts to Solomon, in exchange for hearing his wisdom. Others also came bearing gifts. And in one year, Solomon received 666 talents of gold as payment for hearing his wisdom. See, Solomon had a wisdom of sorts, but then he used it to make money. Jesus had greater wisdom, which saw through the money myth. He saw that love for money was the root of all evil.
My search for wisdom had started with Solomon; but it had taken me full circle back to Solomon. And the paradox is that, on returning to Solomon, I discovered that he was the counterfeit of the real thing. There is something better than Solomon, and it is the teachings of Jesus. The teachings of Jesus tell me that 666 talents of gold is worthless (whether it is in goods, gold ingots, cash, cheques, stocks, or e-money), that faith in God and a handful of wild flowers is worth more than all of this. The teachings of Jesus tell me that I could have all the wealth of the world, be a powerful king, have women circling the globe to listen to me, and still I would have nothing if I would not follow God. The teachings of Jesus tell me that the relatively short history of the human race has been little more than an experiment, to see whether we would spend our lives working for the source of all goodness or whether we would spend our lives working for the root of all evil. Our eternal destiny rests on which “master” we chose to work for.
What I have covered in this article has been the root of all evil, and the “key” to destroying it. There is so much more that could be said. But none of it will do us any good unless we are prepared to act on the truth of what Jesus has said. Our talk about faith and love and sincerity all crumbles into meaningless babble unless we are prepared, in obedience to the Creator of the Universe, to turn loose of our wealth and dedicate our lives to helping others and obeying God… without thought for food or clothing.