(Reprinted from Larceny in the Heart [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2002], 55-59)
According to D. B. Knox, “The view of the Old Testament and of the New Testament is that wealth is a blessing from God.”1 A statement like that is very upsetting to many modern churchmen, who are bent on establishing wealth as a mark of sin. Some ministers have maintained that to make more than $30,000 a year is sinful; other churchmen, whose salaries perhaps approach that sum, have set the sinful level somewhat higher! Abraham, blessed by God, was made rich (Gen. 13:2). Psalm 112:1–3 declares,
- Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments.
- His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed.
- Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever.
Men are called to be faithful in the use of wealth (Luke 16:11), and to be liberal toward those in need (1 Tim. 6:18). Riches are a blessing to be enjoyed, but with a sense of responsibility (1 Tim. 6:17–18). We are not to trust in our wealth but in the Lord (Ps. 62); those who trust in their wealth or riches are denounced (Luke 6:24–25; James 5:1–6), and their trust is productive of evil.
However, the Bible does not say that wealth leads to sin; rather, man’s sinful heart uses wealth at times to increase the scope of its sin.
Moreover, it becomes clear from 1 Timothy 6:9–10, that, when “riches” are condemned, it is a particular kind of wealth, or, to be precise, the love of a particular form of wealth, money. Paul declares,
- But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
- For the love of 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. (1 Tim. 6:9–10)
(In the parable of Luke 12:15–21, it is not wealth but covetousness which is condemned. Covetousness is a sin which strikes rich and poor alike.)
Why is the love of money, and not other forms of wealth, condemned? Why not the love of large farms or ranches, or a prosperous business? If we miss this point, we miss a basic fact of Scripture.
The love of money is essentially a love of irresponsible wealth and power. If I have a million dollars in hard money, I am rich in a particular way. My use of that money can be responsible, but, even then, the responsibility is a rather two-edged thing. Most men who are rich in money are responsible to themselves, not to God nor to men, and more than a few are irresponsible to themselves and their future, i.e., their family.
If I have land as my wealth, that land is only a source of wealth if it is productive. Money loaned out can stimulate the economy and be productive to that degree, but the production is incidental, not basic. My love of a ranch or a farm, a business, or a production center, is the love of a directly producing form of wealth. I am then involved in the responsible use of wealth, and the responsible production of wealth. My wealth is then future oriented, not present or consumption oriented.
In the world of pagan antiquity, men, lacking the limited but real restraints later imposed by the church fathers and Christianity, had an inordinate distrust of monetary wealth and therefore of its means of self-perpetuation, interest, or usury. Their ban on usury (unsuccessfully) was wrong, but their fears of monetary wealth were well-grounded. The insane display, irresponsible conduct, and moral degeneracy which accompanied monetary wealth led pagan moralists to condemn its ability to survive by means of interest (a wrong solution), but their fears represented a clear perception of a moral fact: monetary wealth is readily irresponsible and potentially a danger in society.
The Bible, however, does not say that the problem is money, but the love of money, i.e., the love of irresponsible wealth and power.
Consider the social implications of a love of money. It creates not a production-oriented, but consumption-governed, society. Where men are governed, in their desire for wealth, by a love of the land, or of commerce, or industry, they will be working and productive members of society. In their industry, they will be working and productive members of society. In their health, they will seek freedom for production, for the marketplace, from statist controls. In their decline, they will seek protection and subsidies, but they will still be production oriented.
When, however, men are governed by a love of money, they will be consumption and leisure oriented. They will demand a social order which produces more money, because money is at the top of their list of priorities. This means, of course, an inflationary society. All segments of society want welfarism; the indigent will take it in the form of outright handouts. Others will receive their welfare checks and “free” money in more respectable ways. By means of inflation and debt, they will expand their holdings and pay off good debts with bad money, a disguised form of subsidy and welfarism. Not only civil government but most corporations have become adept at this form of welfarism. The welfare cheating by the poor is amateurish by comparison.
Let us look again at Paul’s statement. He does not say that the love of money is our key and original sin. That central sin is the desire to be our own god (Gen. 3:5). Rather, Paul tells us that this sin, the love of money, is the root of all evil in society, in its implications in the lives of men. The whole point of 1 Timothy 6:9–10 is, first, to warn against this love of money, and, second, to call attention to what it does to men.
The word translated as evil is in the Greek kakos, a word which has a very ancient and continuing usage in Greek and other Indo-European languages: it means feces. Very bluntly, Paul says the love of money, not money itself, but the love (and hence the people possessed by such a love) of money is the source of all $#[email protected] in a social order.
It warps society from production to consumption; it produces inflation; and it dirties the whole of civilization with evil, kakos. It gives us the politics of kakos, and the politicians thereof, who reflect what the people themselves love and are.
The ironic fact, however, is that a society which prizes and lusts after monetary wealth quickly destroys wealth, because it liquidates productive wealth in favor of negotiable and consumer-oriented wealth, money. It sells out the future in favor of the present.
A modest California ranch was happily sold by its owners in the late sixties for almost a million dollars. The sale meant travel, security, and no work to the sellers. The property, worth a million in inflated paper, was actually producing a net of about 3 percent a year of its market value. Money in the bank, they reasoned, would do better.
By their sale, they sold out their son’s future. After their capital gains tax, realtor’s commission, and various penalties of an inflationary welfare economy, and after their year of travel, they had far less left than they had anticipated. Their capital was being diminished by inflation at a rate exceeding their dividends and interest. Moreover, by stepping outside the realm of production into consumption, they invited death, and the man soon passed away. Irrelevance always exacts a price, and the love of money is a love of irresponsible wealth, and hence irrelevance. Men and nations possessed by that love soon pass away.