The love of money is the root of all evil — so what kind of warnings should be sounded to Christian entrepreneurs who have embarked to raise a lot of cash for a new business venture? It’s a really good question from a listener named William.
“Hello, Pastor John! First Timothy is really an exhortation against false teachers and problems in that church because of them. Knowing then that 1 Timothy 6 deals with false teachers, I’ve always had a hard time fully understanding verse 9 about ‘desiring to be rich.’ I’m an entrepreneur and business owner, and with my business, I want to fund myself and my team in order to do missions together. Therefore, I desire to raise a lot of money. Is this contradictory to the Bible? Is it in a context of greed or desiring money as ultimate? What does it mean to be rich, and to what level does this cover? Is there a godly way to pursue a lot of funding?”
Let’s start with the words of Jesus, and then make our way to the text he referred to — 1 Timothy 6.
Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).
“The heart that loves money needs money to be content, so it’s not content in God. That kind of heart produces evil.”
Later, Jesus illustrated the dangers of this laying up treasures on earth by describing the fool whose business prospered so he kept building bigger and bigger barns to accumulate more and more profits that he was earning.
The man said this to himself: “Soul, you have ample goods” — way more than ample — “you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19).
God said, “Fool!” Boy, you don’t want to be called a fool by God. You can be called a fool by man, but you don’t want to be called a fool by God. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you’ve prepared in all those barns, whose will they be?” (see Luke 12:20).
Now, the problem here is not that this man’s business prospered. It’s almost inevitable that gifted, hard-working business people with integrity are going to run businesses that prosper. By and large, they’re going to be successful. They’re going to make a lot of money.
That’s not what Jesus condemned here, as though he would say, “You know, if you’re good at what you do, you should stop doing it.” That’s not the way Jesus dealt with things.
The problem was the bigger and bigger barns. The problem was accumulation accompanied by — I say accompanied by because it could be both cause or effect — a sense of self-reliant, self-satisfied ease in this world as though the next world, or the world in need over there (in who knows what neighborhood), don’t really matter to me.
Jesus correlates excessive accumulation with the place where your heart is resting: “Where your treasure is, there’s your heart” (see Matthew 6:21).
If it’s not evil to be successful in business, but it is evil to accumulate and accumulate and accumulate because of your sense of needed security, your pride, your indifference to the world, and your indifference to coming judgment, then the implication would be that something else should be done with the proceeds from all that God-given success.
Let’s turn to 1 Timothy 6 and see what he says.
Using Christ to Get Rich
Paul says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:6–8). This is the kind of witness which may attract the world because it’s unusual.
“If we have food and clothing, we’ll be content. Christ has made an incredible future for us and provides all our needs.”
This would cause the world to ask, in the words of Peter, “What’s the reason for the hope that is in you?” (see 1 Peter 3:15). They will ask that because they can see that our hope is not based on what they base their hopes on — getting richer and richer and richer. That’s why they say, “What’s the reason for the hope that is in you? You seem to be content with food and clothing, and you’re somehow making yourselves a conduit of extraordinary generosity.”
This is the difference between true Christianity and the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel believes that the world will see the material prosperity of Christians and be motivated to embrace Christ. Well, that’s not the way it works. What they are motivated to do is embrace the money that the Christians have accumulated. If Christ can be a good stock investment to get that, they will use Christ for that — to get what they really want. That’s not saving faith.
If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content, because Christ has made an incredible future for us and provided all our needs. That might cause the world to wake up and ask a reason for the hope that is in us, because it seems to them like we’re not hoping in the same stuff they’re hoping in — namely, the accumulation of wealth.
Paul continues, “But those who desire to be rich . . .” (1 Timothy 6:9). Now, that is not necessarily the successful businessman. Let’s make this distinction again. That’s the man who sees his business prospering and falls for the temptation that he needs to continually increase his lifestyle with the symbols of wealth and power — with what he wears and what he lives in and what he drives and the vacations he takes.
They all have to look rich, rich, rich, and opulent. Otherwise, people won’t know how much money they are really making and how successful they are. That’s the “falling into temptation and into a snare, into senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (see 1 Timothy 6:9). For the love of money, and all those symbols of wealth, is the root of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).
I think that sentence, “the love of money is the root of all evil,” should be translated that way, rather than “all kinds of evil,” because the heart that loves money needs money to be content, and is not content in God. That is the kind of heart that produces all evil.
All evil comes from that kind of heart: “It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). So that’s Paul’s version of the warning about wealth-loving and barn-building in Jesus words.
Money Will Rust
Paul then gives an alternative vision for the successful Christian entrepreneur. So listen up, because this is the answer to the question that was really being asked. Paul says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty” (1 Timothy 6:17). Know yourself and your sin and your weaknesses and your dependence and your God. Know them so well that money can’t make you proud.
“We pursue a heart that is so satisfied in God that we are freed from the craving to accumulate.”
He continues, “nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches” (1 Timothy 6:17). Know how fragile your body is, how fragile your mind is, Mr. Rich Man. Know how fragile the economy is. Know how fragile the culture is. Know how fragile the economic theories are. Know how fragile and temporary this whole world is. Know that so well that you cannot be so foolish as to bank on something so fragile as riches.
He continues, “But [set your hope] on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). That enjoyment is not only the simple delights of eating and drinking and reading and gardening, but even more, the delights in sharing those resources with others, because it is more enjoyable to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
Finally, Paul then closes, saying, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works” — that’s the alternative to bigger barns: rich in good works — “to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18).
Remember, Jesus said, “Don’t lay up treasures on earth. Lay up treasures in heaven” (see Matthew 6:19–21). Well, here’s Paul’s interpretation of that: “In doing all those good works and making all that glorious entrepreneurial success a means of doing good in the world, you are storing up treasures for yourself as a good foundation for the future, so that you may take hold of life, which is life indeed.”
William, it seems to me that the bottom line in answering your question is that we pursue a heart that is so satisfied in God and all that he is for us in Christ through the gospel that we are freed from the craving to accumulate. We turn our great earnings, which are not evil, into doing good for others.
I don’t simply say, “giving away to others.” I don’t want to be simplistic here. I’m not saying, “If you’re rich, give your money away.” That’s not wise, necessarily.
Here’s why I say that. Giving away your money may not be nearly as effective in doing good as creating an industry that employs ten thousand people. Which would be better? To give ten thousand jobless people jobs? Or to give ten thousand people $100 each? Or $1,000, for that matter.
It’s way better to get them working, and you might have the way to do it. This is a profound and beautiful work of God in the heart of the diligent, creative, honest, humble, unashamed, Christ-exalting entrepreneur who has not deceived himself, but truly longs to live for the glory of God and the good of others, especially their eternal good.