That’s In The Bible Somewhere…: Money Is the Root of All Evil

I Timothy 6:6-10

A year or so ago, many cell phones began to offer a handy little feature related to the voicemail function. The feature automatically transcribes the voicemail that has been left for you so that you can read the message rather than listening to it.

Again, it is a handy little tool. For instance, if you are sitting in a meeting and grandma calls, you may feel it is inappropriate to put your phone up to your ear and rudely listen to grandma’s message. But, since grandma doesn’t usually call you at 10am and you are concerned about what she may want or need, you may feel that you can hit the button and read the written transcribed version of her message. Maybe in the moment, reading, rather than listening, provides a less obtrusive and more appropriate way to quickly check the message and make sure all is well. (Not that I have ever done this, I have just heard tell that this is how it can be used!?!)

As handy as the transcription feature is, I have to say that there is a down side to using it. And, I’ll bet many of you have discovered this downside. This is still a relatively new tool and thus it often gets the words wrong. On a regularly basis, the transcription service mistakes one word for another and it struggles mightily to render places or names accurately when they are used in the message. In the end, the transcription helps one to get the general message but rarely does it give you the exact message. Sometimes the missed word or two isn’t all that critical. But, occasionally it is very critical.

Our human interaction with scripture often works this same way. We read scripture, we internalize scripture, we quote scripture, we share scripture with others. As scripture is carried from our reading of a verse to our sharing that same verse with others or to our trying to remember the passage merely for our own edification, sometimes we too struggle to transcribe or render the words exactly as they appear in the text. Sometimes we change a word or two around, forget a word or substitute a term. Often, a missed word or two, a rearranged word or two or a substituted word does not matter in our conveyance of the overall meaning of the passage. But, occasionally it does matter.

I Timothy Chapter 6 verse 10 is one of those places where we regularly change the words around and unfortunately, it is a place where getting the words exactly right makes a big difference.

Again, like all of these other sayings that we have been talking about in September and October that we carry around with us throughout much of our lives as significant handles for living, the words of I Timothy 6:10 are very, very familiar to us. We usually say them this way, “Money is the root of all evil”. But, most translations of scripture actually offer the statement this way, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. Those two little adjustments, the inclusion of the word love, and the change of the little article “the” to the article “a” and thus changing the statement from “the root” to “a root” makes a big, big difference.

To say that “money is the root of all evil” again as we often do, is to say that money, in and of its say, in all cases, is a bad thing. Further, to say that “money is the root of all evil” is to imply that of all of the evil in the world, money is at its very root, core, foundation and is the primary driver.

But, what Timothy actually says is, “the love of money” not just money in general is “a root” which is to say one of many causes of evil in the world. Again, remembering the word “love” as in the love of money and getting the little one letter word “a” rather than “the” right as in “a root” makes a huge difference. In turn, let me mention three things quickly that it seems to me that a proper transcribing of I Timothy 6:10 should lead us to take away from this passage.

First, to recognize our temptation to say “the root of all evil” in the midst of Timothy’s “a root of all kinds of evil” is to come face to face with our tendency to choose one sin or another as the sin to end all sins. I have seen this over and over again in my time as a minister. For many of us, there is one sin, whatever it might be, that all other sins pale in comparison to in our minds. Often, this happens because this issue has become our cause, or it happens because this social challenge is what is keeping us up at night or it comes about as this is the thing that we fear most for our children or our grandchildren. This becomes “the” not “a” root of evil and for a season we don’t care about, want to think about or concern ourselves with anything else.

The only problem is that the Bible doesn’t name any one sin as “the root” of all evil. The Bible, as with money in I Timothy, names a lot of sins as “a root” of all kinds of evil.

In turn, we must be very, very careful. What I have often found is that when we do find our sin that reigns supreme over all sins, our “the root” of all evil, it is interesting that it is rarely, if ever, a sin that we deal with personally. Instead, when we live with many sins as “a root” not “the root” we have to admit humbly, that while “this sin” or “that sin” is an issue for others, there is another sin that is just as much an issue, hindrance, struggle or challenge for us. Their sin might be drug abuse but ours might be greed. Their sin might be adultery but ours might be gossip. Their sin might be anger issues but ours might be apathy. The reminder that sins live on level ground keeps us humble, keeps us aware of our own issues and teaches us to be gracious toward others in their own struggles that are not any worse or more egregious than our own. “The root” versus “a root” is might important indeed.

Second, understanding that Timothy teaches us that the right phrase is “the love of money” helps us to understand that Timothy is not saying that money in and off itself is evil. Instead, what Timothy is teaching is that it is how we approach money, what we do with money and the hold that we allow money to have over our lives that dictates whether or not our relationship with money has or can lead to evil in our lives.

Many people in this world with significant amounts of money have and do use that money every day in very redemptive ways just as there are people with moderate amounts of money who think of nothing else but how to get more and who never share what they do have with others. Again, the real question is does money control us or do we control it? Sure, we can enjoy what we have while not being dominated by it. We can also become obsessed with and in love with money and thus destroy ourselves.

Has money been a conduit to do good for others in our lives or has it mainly given us an excuse to be greedy or self absorbed? Generally speaking, the litmus test for each of us is our level of generosity. How generous are we – with our church, with community non profits, with people in need – how generous are we? I can’t say it any other or more practical way than this – our checking account and where our money goes each month says as much about the love of money and greed in our lives as anything else. If we are wondering if we control our money or if money control us, this is a good place to look.

One of the reasons that I love Chick Fil A is not only their food and their ethics but also the man who started Chick Fil A, Truett Cathy. I heard Mr. Cathy speak in person one time toward the end of his life and I have always appreciated him as an excellent model in our day for managing resources in a balanced way. Obviously, Cathy was very successful. Over his life, he sold a lot of chicken sandwiches. Without question, he didn’t give all of his earnings away. He built a comfortable life for himself, his family and their children. He enjoyed life. But, he refused to develop an unhealthy love for what he had. His life was defined more by generosity than by greed. You may or may not know that Cathy taught the 13 year old boys Sunday School class in his church each week for over 50 years. He also gave very, very generously to his church and its causes which was First Baptist Jonesboro, Georgia. Beyond that, Cathy and his wife Jeanette founded The WinShape Centre Foundation which provides foster homes and summer camps for boys and girls to this day. Likewise, Chick Fil A has given away thousands of college scholarships to students who have worked in their stores. And, I have no doubt there is much more. Again, it wasn’t money that Cathy saw as evil it was the love of it which leads to misuse, hoarding and selfishness that he tried to steer clear of with how he lived. In turn, he provides a great example of balance that suggests we can have things and resources, enjoy them and yet not be controlled by them.

This gets me to the last point. What I Timothy 6:10 is really communicating through the statement “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” is that God wants us to find a life of contentment and to understand that such a life is found whether we have a lot of money or not. We intentionally read I Timothy 6:6-10 this morning not just verse 10. Verse 10 is the culmination of a longer passage where the over-arching theme is contentment and the reality that things, possessions and wealth never guarantee peace. Sure, knowing we can pay the bills or put our kids through college lowers our anxiety and helps us to sleep at night. It is not insignificant. But, in the end contentment in life is found in who we are in God and in what we do with our days not in what we have.

There is a wonderful statement that says this: when our days end, we take two things with us into God’s presence, ourselves and our soul. We don’t take our possessions, bank account or our resumes. The real questions are how did we live our lives and what have we done with our soul. That is it. That is all. Those are the questions that really define us and nothing else. (Gleaned from William Barclay in The Letters of Timothy, Titus and Philemon, WJK, Louisville, 1975, pg. 130)

I end with this. One of the first couples I really got to know in ministry was a middle aged couple that were members of our first church while in seminary. We liked them almost immediately. They had a joy about them, they loved our church, were faithful to our community and really seemed to live a rich and meaningful life. In short, there was a lot about them to admire. After we had lived in that community for quite some time, they invited us to Sunday lunch one day. Truth be told, I knew where you turned off the highway to go back to their house, but, I had never actually been to their home and I certainly had never been inside of it. When we pulled up for lunch, what we found was a house that was literally falling down. In fact, it was a big, old farmhouse that I believe had been in their family for years and only about twenty percent of it was livable and thus was the only section they occupied. What I discovered that day, was there was really a very small connection between what they had and who they were. There was a very small relationship between their possessions and their joy. That day, they helped me to see, and I still think about it, that joy, meaning and contentment in life comes from somewhere else. Amen.