The apostle Paul, in his first letter to his young disciple, Timothy, had this to say: “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” (1 Timothy 6:10). Now this verse is often misquoted as saying, “Money is the root of all evil.” Notice how “money” is substituted for “love of money” and “the root of all evil” is substituted for “a root of all kinds of evil.” These changes, while subtle, have an enormous impact on the meaning of the verse.
The misquoted version (“money is the root of all evil”) makes money and wealth the source (or root) of all evil in the world. This is clearly false. The Bible makes it quite clear that sin is the root of all evil in the world (Matthew 15:19; Romans 5:12; James 1:15). However, when we reflect upon the correct citation of this verse, we see that it is the love of money, not money itself, that is a source of all different kinds of trouble and evil. Wealth is morally neutral; there is nothing wrong with money, in and of itself, or the possession of money. However, when money begins to control us, that’s when trouble starts.
With that said, let’s consider the question before us: Why is the love of money a root of all kinds of evil? To help us answer this, we must look at the passage in its greater context. Near the end of the letter (1 Timothy 6:2–10), Paul is exhorting Timothy regarding the need to “teach and urge these things” to his congregation, “these things” referring back to earlier material in the epistle. Paul then warns Timothy about false teachers who will seek to warp and pervert the content of sound doctrine for their own greedy gain (verses 3–5). Now notice what the apostle says at the end of verse 5: “Imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” These false teachers do what they do for the fame and notoriety they achieve, along with the financial rewards it brings.
Paul wants to steer Timothy away from that trap. In doing so, he tells him the real source of “great gain;” namely, godliness with true contentment (verse 6). Contentment, in a biblical sense, is the recognition that we come into the world with nothing and that everything we have is a gift from God’s hands (verses 7–8). Yet those who desire to be rich (i.e., those who have the “love of money”) are the ones who are led into temptation and fall into a snare (verse 9). Paul concludes the passage by telling Timothy that the love of money leads to all sorts of sin and evil.
Simple reflection on this principle will confirm that it is true. Greed causes people to do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do. Watch any number of TV courtroom dramas, and the crime under consideration is usually motivated by jealousy or greed, or both. The love of money is what motivates people to lie, steal, cheat, gamble, embezzle, and even murder. People who have a love for money lack the godliness and contentment that is true gain in God’s eyes.
But the Bible makes an even stronger statement about the love of money. What we have discussed thus far simply describes the horizontal level of the love of money. In other words, we have only mentioned how the love of money can lead one to commit greater sins against his fellow man. But the Bible makes quite clear that all sin is ultimately against God’s holy character (Psalm 51:5). We need to consider the vertical dimension to the love of money.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 6:24). This verse comes at the end of a passage in which Jesus tells us to “lay up treasures in heaven” (v. 19). Here, Jesus likens a “love of money” to idolatry. He refers to money as a “master” we serve at the expense of serving God. We are commanded by God to have “no other gods” before the only true and living God (Exodus 20:3; the first commandment). Anything that takes first place in our lives other than our Creator God is an idol and makes us guilty of breaking the first commandment.
Jesus had much to say about wealth. His most memorable conversation about money is His encounter with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16–30). The young man asks Jesus what he must do to obtain eternal life, and Jesus tells him to follow the commandments. When the man tells Jesus that he has done all that, Jesus tests his ability to obey the first commandment and tells him to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor and to follow Him. The young man couldn’t do this; his wealth had become an idol—it was his master!
After this encounter, Jesus turns to His disciples and says, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23–24). This is a hard saying, especially for 21st-century people living in North America. Jesus is saying that wealth is one of the biggest obstacles to coming to faith in Christ. The reason is obvious: wealth becomes a slave master in our lives and drives us to do all sorts of things that drive us further and further away from God. The good news is that what is impossible for man, entering into the Kingdom of God, is possible with God (Matthew 19:26).