Is money evil?

Some of my missionary readers are thinking this is the only good title on this whole blogsite. Maybe you’re thinking:

Why all this talk about money, Mark? Money isn’t spiritual. In fact, money is the root of all evil!

Why do we think money is evil?

Well, we think that money is the root of all evil because that’s what the Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:10. The King James version says,

money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (Biblegateway).

Believing that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, I agree with everything it says, but is that what this verse says?

The false objection: All “kinds of evil”?

So some brainiac out there is going to object that modern translations like the NIV and ESV don’t say that money is the root of all evil but that money is “a” root of “all kinds” of evil. We can all agree that that’s a pretty big difference.

It appears that modern translators have discovered a mistranslation of the Greek text. I’ve heard from pulpits that that is the case. Sadly, I may have even said that “all kinds” was a better translation. It’s not.

The Greek text actually says, “pantōn tōn kakōn” which is literally “all evils.” John Piper concludes in his insightful article that modern translators haven’t so much discovered a better way to translate “pantōn tōn kakōn” as much as they have interpreted it in such a way as to avoid a problem of how to understand the verse.

This is blogsite isn’t about exegesis and isn’t only for missionaries, so I will suppress the teacher in me. I merely wish to point out that leaning upon more recent translations of 1 Timothy 6:10 is a false objection to the idea that money is evil or at least the root of all evil.

The true objection: Context is king

As I heard in seminary and have repeated endlessly to my friends in three languages now, “context is king.” We cannot take “money is the root of all evil” out of its context. Go ahead. Pull out your Bible or pull up your favorite Bible app and find 1 Timothy 6. What is the context here?

Who do you love?

First, we’ll immediately see that there are three key words before “money is the root of all evil” that we have conveniently ignored. Those three words are “the love of.” It is “the love of” money that is behind “evil.” That makes a difference, doesn’t it? Money is discussed frequently in the Scriptures, and it is not evil. I guess we could say it is neutral. Money is a tool. Money is a hammer. You use a hammer to build or destroy. The goal can be evil or good. Loving the hammer is just stupid. Loving money is…well…just stupid. You don’t love a tool.

Second, the greater context of the passage shows a dichotomy between things like “the love of money” (v. 10), the “desire to be rich” (v. 9) and “conceit” (v. 4) and things like “faith” (v. 10), “contentment” (v. 6 and 8), and “agree[ing] with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3).

The “love of money” is the root of all “evil” because it stands in the context of 1 Timothy 6 where we are challenged to decide between the love of Jesus and the love of money and all the evil that can represent – including pride, self-sufficiency, and so on. Do we depend on Jesus or depend on ourselves and “our” cash?

Jesus said it too!

Matthew 6 bears some similarities to 1 Timothy 6. It talks about giving generously to the needy but doing so quietly and without conceit. That is followed by the model prayer provided by Jesus which reminds us that God is above everything (including our money) and that He is the true provider of all that we have right down to our “daily bread” (v. 11).

After all this talk against pride and loving God above all things, it shouldn’t surprise us that Matthew returns to the idea of either loving God or loving our money, of either putting God in first place or putting our pride and possessions in first place.

Jesus summarizes like this:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…. 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 [or mammon, or possessions] (Matthew 6:19, 21, 24, ESV, Biblegateway).

Or, as Proverbs 11:28 says it,

Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf (ESV, Biblegateway).

The goal is not more money

You will see quotations from Matthew 6 and Proverbs 11:28 on nearly every page of Vagabond Finances. That’s because we want to keep our eye on the prize. Our goal is not to create a safety net in which we can trust. We don’t trust, love or serve our possessions. Our goal is to develop an adequate Mercy Mound, because that Mercy Mound will win us our Financial Freedom and the opportunity to be Recklessly Generous. We trust, love and serve Jesus and therefore plan, save and invest so that we can stay on the mission field and be a generous part of His work on earth.

We plan for the financial future, so we can focus less and less on our money and more and more on Jesus. We don’t trust our money to feed us, clothe us or help us retire in luxury. We do our part. We work hard, save diligently, plan carefully and give recklessly just as the Bible teaches, but we know all we have comes from His hands!

Money is an extremely spiritual topic. It is talked about often in the Bible with both positive and negative spiritual connotations. Money becomes a spiritual issue when we start to love it more than Jesus. Money is very spiritual for us when the lack of it causes us to leave the ministry God’s asked us to do or prevents our children from responding to the call to missions because we didn’t choose a college within our budget. Money becomes a huge spiritual problem for us if reach Financial Freedom and yet decide to use our Mercy Mound only for ourselves, forgetting the Lord and the needs of others.

For those of you who are not missionaries, I want to apologize for this mini-sermon. However, I wanted to remind all of us who are missionaries – me first! – that our first love is Jesus. Too much money can be a problem; too little money can be a problem. But the real challenge here isn’t our money; it’s our hearts. You who are not missionaries, watch our hearts. Do they beat for Jesus? If they don’t, call us out on it. Remind us that we have higher aspirations than possessions and pride. If you don’t see Jesus in us, let us know.

Do I love Jesus, trust Jesus and seek after Jesus above all else, or do I love my possessions, trust myself and seek after the almighty dollar above all else? Money isn’t evil, but our hearts sure can be.

Let’s avoid the “love of money” and nurture that sweetest of loves, the “love for Jesus.”

Mark Mason

Missions is my calling. Finances is my hobby. Helping you is my pleasure. "Mark" is my ultra-ego.