The root of all kinds of evil

1 Timothy 6:6-10; 17-19

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

17 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. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 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.

The Church Growth Movement is often said to have begun in the 1960’s with the publication of The Bridges of God. Since then many books, articles, and programs have been written in order to teach the secret of how to get a church to grow well into the 1,000’s.

I’ve not read [m]any of those books, articles, or programs, but I can guarantee you none of them suggest preaching one week on peacemaking and following that up with a sermon on money.

To say that God wants you to love your enemy rather than your money is not a recipe for church growth.

Or maybe it is. If we look at church growth only from a numerical perspective, no, preaching about peacemaking and giving away your money isn’t going to fill the pews. However, if we are talking about church growth from the perspective of faith development, then indeed, preaching peacemaking and simple living is essential to church growth.

Last week I spoke about how we too quickly put things in binary categories and a number of people gave me a little pushback after the service. I appreciate the pushback when it is done in a helpful way and not in a way meant to tear me down or make you feel superior. We grow through these challenging interactions. However, I think that some of you misunderstood what I was trying to say so today I want to open with a brief follow up to last week’s teaching.

To start with, I want to present you all with one more binary: there either are binaries or there are not.

I hope that you did not hear me saying that there is no such thing as binaries such as right and wrong, good and evil. It is evident in the life and teaching of Jesus that he believed that there are a number of things that are clearly right and wrong. So I wasn’t trying to say that there is no such thing as an appropriate binary. What I wanted to challenge you all with is that we too often put things in binary categories that are not as black and white as we would like them to be. Again, my point was to illustrate how we are all called to be praying and acting for peace, even if we don’t agree 100% with others what it means to be praying and acting for peace.

Today we are going to be looking at an issue that I believe can be binary, but we would do much better thinking of it as a continuum. We are talking about money. We can think of money as something we have or something that we don’t have. But it is probably more accurate to think of money as something some people have a lot of and some people have very little of, while most of us are somewhere in between.

Our scripture for today from 1 Timothy chapter six contains one of the most well-known passages in the Bible. Verse 10a says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”

We have probably all heard this passage misquoted at some time. Many people think that this verse says that money is the root of all kinds of evil. But the Greek word used here is φιλαργυρία, which I believe is a compound word beginning with philia, one of the Greek words for love.

Money isn’t bad or evil. It is a pretty neutral thing. Money is a piece of paper or metal that we assign worth to. Paper isn’t evil and neither is metal. It can even be a good thing if used according to God’s will. If someone donates a large amount of this green paper to build a new orphanage or homeless shelter, I think we would all agree that money was a good thing.

The trouble comes when we begin to see money as power or money as something to use to get ahead or to find true happiness. It is the love of money, or the coveting of money for those of us that don’t have a lot of it, that is the issue.

However, I have heard a number of well-off individuals use this verse, reading it correctly, to justify accumulating large amounts of wealth. And I believe that is exactly what Paul is advising against here because you don’t accumulate things unless you love them.

I tried to think of a helpful example from my life, but had some problems in doing this because I really don’t collect anything — except some pounds around the holiday season. So let’s make up an example. The first thing that I thought of was Beanie Babies.

Beanie Babies were first released in 1993 with nine different BB’s offered to the public. Soon, these small, stuffed animals became a collector’s item. Some people went nuts over these things! The highest-valued Beanie Baby today is “Peanut the Royal Blue Elephant,” who collectors claim to be worth about $4,500.

Sometimes I look over into the car sitting beside me at a stop light and I see their dashboard filled with Beanie Babies. I go into people’s homes, retired people that I am visiting, and they have rooms dedicated to these things. And for some reason I always get the feeling that they are watching me.

There are two things that would cause a clear-minded person collect these stuffed animals. One is the potential to re-sell the toy for a profit. Peanut the Royal Blue Elephant was originally sold for under $10. We call this an investment and I guess that I can understand why someone might collect an item that has the potential to appreciate. The other thing that might cause someone to collect as many beanie babies as possible is that you just love them so much.

We collect things we love and many people collect money. Or more precisely, they love the power, they love getting ahead, or they love the temporary sense of happiness that comes when we buy something new. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Money can buy happiness. I don’t deny that. When I get a new electronic device, I am happy. I enjoy having technology. I enjoy having a nice car. I enjoy dining out. Money can buy happiness. But that happiness doesn’t last. It is an addiction and we soon need to buy something else to achieve that feeling again. So we spend more, buy more, just to feel that temporary sense of happiness.

But get this: what Paul is calling us to here isn’t happiness. It is contentment.

Look what Paul writes in verses 6-8, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

Boom. How counter-cultural is that? Every ad on television, radio, and the internet is trying to tell you something different. It is the job of advertisers to tell you that you deserve happiness and that they hold the key to your happiness. Buy our soda, drink our vodka, smoke our cigarettes, drive our car and you will have friends, money, an attractive mate, and will become more attractive yourself.

I do not think that Paul is trying to say that we should never be happy. I sure am not saying that we should never be happy. But if the only way we can achieve happiness is connected to buying and spending more, we have a problem. No, Paul is saying that true happiness is found in being content with the things that we have.

There seems to be three different financial approaches that people can adopt toward finances. The first one is the most obvious option to avoid, though I am pretty sure that many people in our country fall into this category. This category we will simply call “Living beyond your means.”

When Sonya and I were looking to purchase our first home in 2005 we found ourselves in the unfortunate position of being buyers in a seller’s market. The housing market was at its peak, and lenders were looking to throw money at anyone that walked through the front door of the bank.

Sonya was working her first real job after college and I was just starting seminary. So we would be living off one, entry-level job’s income for the next three years. But that didn’t seem to bother the lenders. I think we were approved for a loan of up to $300,000, or something in that area.

We really didn’t take the time to figure out how much we could actually afford. I remember thinking that since the bank had our income information that surely they knew what we could afford and they wouldn’t give us a loan that we couldn’t pay off. That, my friends, is what you call naïveté.

A $300,000, 30 year fixed loan at 5.85%, which was the rate we were offered in 2005 comes to a monthly payment of $1,700 per month. That does not include insurance or city taxes. I am very glad that we made the decision to crunch the numbers because we were looking at a house that was selling for about $250,000 and there is no way we could have made the payments on that home. Add to this scenario that the housing market crumbled a few years later and we would have been looking at options like foreclosure and bankruptcy.

This is how many people in world operate today. They don’t take the time to ask if they can afford something. Instead they simply ask themselves if they want it. And if someone is willing to finance it, they get it. They may end up spending twice what something is worth, but they don’t need to deny themselves of that new stereo, iPad, or designer purse.

People make these purchases out of hope that things are going to improve for them financially. They buy the expensive house because they think that they are going to get a new, better paying job. They are going to get a raise. Or they are certain that it is their turn to win the lottery. So they live beyond their means.

Look at verse 17 from today’s text. “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.”

Money and wealth are so uncertain. Jobs are uncertain. How many of us could survive on our savings for more than a week or two if we lost our jobs tomorrow? Banking on our income to improve and taking out loans on things that we don’t need anyway is a poor decision.

Now there are a few exceptions. I think that purchasing a reasonable home that you can afford is a good investment because houses tend to appreciate over time, or at least maintain their value. Education seems to be a good investment as well.

I remember being a high school student working on my father’s farm when the veterinarian pulled in with a brand-new pickup truck. Dad had an employee at the time that was rather outspoken and maybe didn’t think things through really well before he spoke. So when the good doctor pulled in the driveway, this employee shouted out, “If I had your paycheck I could probably afford a new truck too.”

The truck wasn’t anything fancy, and it was necessary for him to have a vehicle to make these trips to various farms. But the vet wasn’t really defensive in explaining himself to the employee. He simply said, “When I was in my 20’s I made an 8-year, $100,000 investment and it is paying off well for me today.”

The veterinarian wasn’t living beyond his means when he purchased the new truck. And he was able to afford the new truck because he had invested in education. Education doesn’t always pay off, but in his case it did.

The second lifestyle approach seems to make good sense to me, especially with the ups and downs in our economy. That lifestyle we will call “living within our means.” Quite simply put this means that you don’t spend more money than you make. If you make $100, you don’t spend $101.

I have some friends that got into a little bit of financial trouble while they were in their young adult years because they thought when they finished college that they would be making big bucks and living the life. So they made purchases on their credit cards with the intention of paying them off “one day.” Something came in after graduation, all right, but it wasn’t the big bucks. It was the credit card bill. It turns out that just paying the minimum payment isn’t a good financial practice.

So they cut out expenses, ate Ramen noodles, and drove the same car for a long time. And finally, they were able to pay off their credit cards. The next thing that they did was to take out a pair of scissors and cut their credit cards into pieces.

They went to an all-cash system because, unlike with a credit card, you can’t spend cash that you don’t have. Eventually they did start to use a debit card, but still they were limited and only able to spend money that they had on hand or in the bank. If they wanted to make a major purchase, like a stereo or a new designer purse, they had to do something radical: they had to save up money until they could buy it. Living within your means is a good idea.

But when we look at these options, I would say that none of them are actually biblical. The Bible actually calls us to the third and least popular option: living below your means.

Let’s think through a hypothetical scenario. To make the math easy, let’s say that you make $100 per month. $25 immediately goes toward rent and another $25 for food. You pay your telephone, electric, and water bills and you pay for things that wear out like shoes and maybe a few other consumable items.

At the end of the month you are left with $10. To live beyond your means would mean that you go out and spend $20 on something that you really don’t need anyway. If you go out and spend just the $10, at least you are living within your means.

But verse 18 tells us that we need to be generous and willing to share. The Old Testament declares that all Israelites are to give a “tithe,” that is 10% of your income. This money was used to support those who make their living by performing the religious acts on the behalf of the people, toward the maintenance of the temple itself, and to help the widows, orphans, and the strangers in the land. This 10% was to be given right off the top of your income, it was the “first fruits” of your earnings and would necessarily cause the Israelites to live below their means.

So is the biblical tithe still relevant today? Some say no and some say yes, and they often come to their conclusions for the same reason. The New Testament doesn’t say anything about the tithe. That means Jesus never said that the tithe is still  required, but Jesus doesn’t say that the tithe isn’t required.

I tend to be more in the latter camp. I don’t think the tithe is a New Testament teaching and therefore we are not required to give 10% like the Israelites were. The New Testament doesn’t teach the tithe, so neither do I!

What the New Testament does teach, however, is radical generosity and living well below your means. Jesus instructs his followers to sell everything and give their money to the poor.

No, Jesus never commanded that all of his followers sell everything and give the money to the poor. But remember what the believers did in Acts 4:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

There is nothing in the New Testament about giving a tithe, this is true. The New Testament teaches radical generosity. This means living well below your means so that you can help others that are not able to make a decent living, whether that be because of injury or family situation, or bad luck, or a bad economy.

I’ll never say that you need to give 10% of your income to the church and I would invite you to be a little skeptical of the person whose income comes out of the church budget that commands you to give 10%. But 10% is a good guideline and it is clear that the early Christians blew right past that.

We could go on and on about radical generosity in the New Testament. We could talk about the Macedonians found in 2 Corinthians 8 who gave out of what Paul says is their extreme poverty toward God’s people. Did they give much? I doubt it, but they gave something and lived below their means.

My friends, we need money to buy food, clothes, and shelter. I believe we need to handle money wisely, investing it with prudence and not spending money that we don’t have. Money in and of itself is not bad and it is not evil. But how we approach money can be evil. Do we see it as a good that we use and share or do we see it like a Beanie Baby that we can collect for our own enjoyment? The love of money is the root of all evil, but the radical generosity of the New Testament is at the heart of the Gospel.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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