Money can buy a lot of things in this world: fast cars, nice clothes, a bigger house, exotic vacations, prestige, and public respect. As outlined earlier in this chapter, responsibly enjoying good things in this life with peace is a blessing from the Lord (Eccl. 5:19). But in the sinfulness of the flesh, this enjoyment can be perverted into a consuming and relentless lust. In sin, the desire for riches can spiral men into a seductive destruction of insatiable appetite.
“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:9-10)
Paul reveals that a destructive chase after riches flows first from a longing, then a lust, and then eventually a love of money. This love “is a root of all sorts of evil,” temptation, and compromise that can ultimately lead to forsaking one’s very faith in God. This disastrous pursuit leads one to try to attain riches at any cost.
A Christian’s building of wealth must be cautious. He must remember and reflect on the stern warnings of scripture.
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on? The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep. There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt. When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him. As he had come naked from his mother's womb, so will he return as he came He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. This also is a grievous evil- exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind?” (Eccl. 5:10-16)
“You were blameless in your ways…until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned.” (Ezek. 2815-16)
“A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth, and does not know that want will come upon him.” (Prov. 28:22)
“Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” (Prov. 23:4-5)
“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money…avoid such men as these.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
The love of money destroys lives because it is by nature an un-satisfiable love. There is never enough: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income…when good things increase, those who consume them increase,” “Does not know that want will come upon him,” “When you set your eyes on it, it is gone.”
Amidst his trials Job gives a simple illustration of this principle: “My prosperity has passed away like a cloud.” (Job 30:15) Do you remember being a kid and staring up at the summer sky wondering what it would be like to walk around on the clouds? What would they feel like...what would they...? Then you grow up, ride on an airplane, and realize they are nothing more than fog--water vapor. Remember how disappointing it was the first time you flew through a cloud? This is the love of money. From a distance great wealth, abundance, and luxury look perfect, almost dream-like. Many spend their whole life chasing it, only to find out when they finally arrive that it is only fog. If you love money, its satisfaction will pass just as surely as the clouds sweep across the sky. Here now, gone tomorrow.
In America, a land of unprecedented prosperity and unimaginable levels of personal wealth, we witness this law at work: multimillionaires, multibillionaires decimated by despair, consumed by consumption, and obliterated by their own ambitions. This love has, can, and will destroy lives at any level of income.
The Bible’s most extreme example of the love of money literally costing a person their life is found in the account of Ananias and his wife.
“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife's full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.” (Acts 5:1-11)
Ananias and Sapphira were not sentenced to death because they refused to give all of their money to the Lord. Quite the contrary. In fact Peter questions, “Did it not remain your own…was it not under your control?” The land was sold and presented as a gift, but Ananias and his wife lied about the amount of the sale, thus presenting a sizable gift to the Lord in public while secretly keeping a percentage for themselves. This act of deceit was driven by a desire to publicly be known as generous, giving, and wholeheartedly committed to the work of the Gospel (perhaps even announcing to the church, “We will sell this land and give the money to the work of God”) while secretly keeping a portion for themselves. We should not take lightly the ridiculous idea that we can hide our secret motivations and desires from the Lord. A seed of loving money took root in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira and bloomed into strategic dishonesty and purposeful deception towards the Lord and His people. Ultimately, it cost them their lives, and it could cost us ours if such seeds are not uprooted.
The word “love” in America has been so cheapened and devalued in our everyday usage of the word that we miss the true impetus of the scriptures’ message. We love pizza, we love to sleep in, and we love to go the beach. Even the love between husband and wife ends in divorce approximately half the time. In this light, the Bible’s use of the word escapes our notice. Instead, think of, “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) Only then do we begin to see the true strangle-hold money has on its obsessors.
Personally, the Lord has used these verses to humble me a great deal. I am a person who has always been quite interested in financial matters, yet I, along with the average Christian, have always pictured these passages to describe the evil greedy Scrooge sitting in the corner counting coins. This is simply not the case. Any person, at any income or net worth, is susceptible to this danger. Just as a slight smile across the classroom can begin to spiral a couple of teenagers down the path of “falling in love,” any overemphasis on the value, importance, or attractiveness of money in the life of a believer can lead towards the destructive love these verses warn us to avoid. While writing this book, the Lord called me on several occasions to put the manuscript down and leave it completely alone for a week, a month, or a couple of months because my thoughts were beginning to fixate on financial matters, money was beginning to preoccupy my mind, and I was in danger of being consumed by the very evils I was writing against. These lessons and warnings of scripture should never be taken lightly, nor should one assume that various financial situations and philosophies will prevent a person from being susceptible to them.
It is now obvious that a believer’s life should be free from the love of money, yet we are called to steward our resources with great responsibility and diligence. How are Christians to manage their money with Godliness, yet not be consumed with its ills? To do so, a believer must focus on and pursue true riches. Then, and only then, can the deceptions of money be seen for what they truly are. Our deep passions, heart-felt pursuits, and dreams should be of eternal value.
“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (1 Tim. 6:9-12)
The greatest defense the Christian has against the love of money is a hearty pursuit of righteousness, Godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Actions of Godliness are far more effective than attempts of avoiding evil.
Money is a powerful instrument for good and evil, to be a blessing or a curse. A believer must understand and respect both realities in order to handle his finances for the glory of God. To avoid money’s potential blessings or neglect its dangers is equally naïve. Many Christians have a one-sided view of this dichotomy, while the Bible clearly advocates balance. It has always surprised me that many churches only teach the ills of money and then wonder why their congregation shows such a lack of responsibility and generosity in their financial management. The believer must be aware of all of money’s potential in order to evade its evils yet harness its power for blessing.