There is a prevailing myth among some in society that wealth is always a sign of virulent greed and that those who accumulate wealth have unjustly taken from others. There is sometimes truth in that; there are many times that people use unjust means to gain or hold their wealth. It would be wrong to draw from the abusive behavior of some that money is evil or being rich is a sin.
However, sometimes when people rightly argue against one wrong idea they fall into the trap of arguing for the opposite and equally wrong idea. Such errors are just as dangerous for people and societies as the ones that are rejected.
Money is not evil, but the love of it is the root of all evil. Being rich is not a sin, but it can open the door to a lot of misery in this world. Wealth is not good in an of itself, it is good when it is directed toward its proper purpose of glorifying God by helping people flourish.
Wealth is like a power tool. When a power tool is used for the purpose it is designed, then it usually produces a better result in a shorter amount of time than doing the same task by hand. However, when the wrong tool is used for the wrong purpose, terrible things can happen.
For example, a chainsaw can make cutting down a tree much quicker and easier than using an axe or a good old fashioned buck saw. But if that same chainsaw is used trimming toenails the results could be disastrous.
The comparison seems silly, but illustrates the purposeful nature of a powerful tool. The chainsaw was created for a purpose, which is not personal hygiene.
Everything God created was created for something. The world works best when we use created objects for their intended purpose.
Wealth can be an outstanding tool for encouraging human flourishing if it is used for that purpose. It can be a danger to people’s well-being if it is used or sought after for the wrong reasons.
In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he warns the young pastor to be content and not to chase after money. Though Timothy was a pastor, that warning is echoed throughout Scripture for all Christians to heed. Paul writes,
It’s dangerous to get caught into the trap of loving money and pursuing it as an end in itself. That is the essence of greed. As Paul notes, the love of money can cause people to “wander away” from the faith. That it, not to reject it out because it is wrong, but to neglect it because something else—the pursuit of riches—seems more important.
There is more to Paul’s warning, though. People that become greedy and come to love money fall into “senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” When money becomes the focus of our desires, it can draw us away from God and cause us harm in this life.
Paul doesn’t leave us without something positive to focus on, though. He goes on to urge Timothy to seek something better:
Some might think that Paul’s command to “flee these things” refers to money and see it as a call to poverty. That doesn’t make sense, though, since the phrase refers to plural objects to flee from. Most likely, Paul is urging Timothy to flee from the desire to be rich and the harmful traps it leads to.
More importantly, however, Paul gives Timothy something to focus by pursuing spiritual disciplines. He urges Timothy to become more like Christ.
Paul’s message here is not that the material world is evil, but, rather, he is echoing Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount:
In other words, make the worship of God and the flourishing of people the main focus in your life and the other parts will fall into place. Money can be a useful tool to build church buildings, to feed the hungry, to invest into businesses that encourage cooperation in society, and to educate your children, to keep you fed and warm when you can no longer work. However, when money becomes the object you worship and ultimately pursue, it’s like using a chainsaw to trim your toenails.