What Is the Love of Money?
Who has it? Why is it dangerous?
UNDER the present economic system how long could you live in your home without money? How would you be able to feed and clothe yourself and your family without it? Money is necessary for practically everything you need and do. In this world it is essential for daily living. But this very usefulness of money can have a damaging effect upon you.
When your pursuit of money for providing the necessities and comforts of life changes into a consuming desire to be rich, money ceases to be your servant and becomes your master, your god. It becomes the thing for which you live. Like a degenerative cancer, greed for money eats away Christian qualities, plunging you to a bestial level where your only code becomes self-interest. It can cause you to lose sight of justice, truth, honesty, generosity and mercy. Because of money’s usefulness extreme love for it can develop. Against this wrong attitude the apostle Paul gave warning a long time ago. Writing from Macedonia, Paul told Timothy, who was in the city of Ephesus, a big commercial center of that time: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.”—1 Tim. 6:9, 10.
It was not money itself of which Paul gave warning. He did not say money itself was the root of injurious things or the cause of hurtful desires and destruction. What he warned against was the greedy love of money, the avaricious desire to be rich. The same warning had been given long before his day and is recorded in the book of Proverbs: “Do not toil to gain riches.” (Prov. 23:4) This toiling for riches has caused no end of misery, unhappiness and bloodshed. Paul’s warning was especially appropriate for the Christians in the commercially prosperous city of Ephesus as well as Christians living in other prosperous cities, such as Laodicea, which was only forty miles east of Ephesus. Places such as these where there were big money transactions and lots of trade could be a materialistic quagmire for unwary Christians.
Apparently the Christians in Laodicea failed to keep Paul’s warning in mind. By the time John wrote the book of Revelation, a little more than thirty years later, the Laodicean Christians had succumbed to the love of money. Because of it they had lost their spiritual beauty and spiritual riches. Addressing them, Revelation 3:17 says: “You say: ‘I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all,’ but you do not know you are miserable and pitiable and poor and blind and naked.” They were spiritually poor and falling into spiritual ruin because they were placing a higher value on material wealth than on spiritual riches. Their attitude toward money had become bad.
POVERTY NOT REQUIRED
In some non-Christian religions it is thought that religious merit is achieved by seeking a life of poverty. Forsaking all material goods, Buddhist monks, for example, spend their lives in monastic contemplation. Their possessions consist of very little more than a garment, a begging bowl, a needle, a string of 108 beads used as a rosary, a razor and a filter to strain insects from their drinking water.
A life of poverty is not required of Christians in order for them to receive the approval of the true God. He never instructed his worshipers to practice asceticism. A Christian is free to earn money and to buy necessities, even comforts and luxuries, with that money. He is not forbidden to purchase the material things he can afford.
If a man with above-average business ability has succeeded in achieving a substantial financial income without succumbing to the dangerous desire to be rich, it would be a mistake to accuse him of being a lover of money. What indicates whether a person is a lover of money or not is not the amount of money he has or the number of possessions he has or the quality of his possessions. It is, instead, his attitude toward such things.
WRONG ATTITUDE TOWARD MONEY
A person can be poor and still be a lover of money because of his greedy desire to be rich and to have things he does not now possess. A person of average means in another country may seem to be rich in the poor man’s eyes, and yet that person may not have the wrong attitude of the poor man. Lovers of money, whether poor or rich, are condemned by the Scriptures because of their wrong attitude.
At Jeremiah 9:23 it is written: “Let not the wise man brag about himself because of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man brag about himself because of his mightiness. Let not the rich man brag about himself because of his riches.” Jehovah does not say here that a man should not be wise, mighty or rich, but that a man should avoid the wrong attitude toward these things by bragging about them.
The Laodicean Christians of the first century made the mistake of trusting in their riches and thus developed a wrong attitude toward them. They were like the able-bodied man mentioned at Psalm 52:7 “that does not put God as his fortress, but that trusts in the abundance of his riches.”
The folly of trusting in perishable riches is repeatedly stressed in the Scriptures. By greedily reaching out for riches some dedicated servants of God have been, as Paul said, “led astray from the faith.” (1 Tim. 6:10) They have failed to maintain their Christian innocence and have been swept into the world’s law-defying course. “A man of faithful acts will get many blessings, but he that is hastening to gain riches will not remain innocent.” (Prov. 28:20) The man of faithful acts is the man who is hastening to serve Jehovah and whose toiling is chiefly for spiritual treasures.
Storing up spiritual treasures is far more rewarding now and in the future than hungrily seeking to store up material riches as your source of security. Jesus emphasized this when he said: “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”—Matt. 6:19, 20.
Jesus was not condemning the practice of thrift. What he was telling his followers was that they should not store up in a miserly fashion material riches and put their trust in them. Not earthly treasures but heavenly treasures, such as the approval of God, bring eternal benefits. Death tears the money lover from his money, leaving it for someone else to use. It cannot save him. “So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.”—Luke 12:21.
RIGHT ATTITUDE TOWARD MONEY
While this present system of things remains, money can be used by Christians as a useful instrument to supply their needs, to bring them some of the comforts of modern times and to further the ministry. Because of the many things it can bring them they must exercise self-control, always keeping money in its place as an instrument and not as an object of love.
The apostle Paul stressed the right attitude toward riches in his letter to Timothy. After warning against the love of money he acknowledged that some Christians were rich in material goods, but, instead of condemning them and instructing them to get rid of their riches and live a life of poverty, he urged them to maintain the right attitude toward them. “Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.” (1 Tim. 6:17-19) Christians who maintain this right attitude, although they may be materially rich, are not lovers of money. Their trust is in God, not in their riches. If they had to choose between the two, they would gladly give up their possessions and choose the service of God.
No amount of money can compare with the treasure of serving Jehovah with your complete attention, as did the apostle Paul. He had no financial obligations that required him to maintain regular employment in tentmaking; so he spent all his time in the ministry. Like him there are Christians today who devote all their time to the ministry as pioneers or special overseers in the New World society. Having the right attitude toward money, they consider the spiritual blessings they have of far greater value than the material possessions they could have if they were spending most of their time in secular business.
Whether a person has a substantial income, a moderate income or practically no income, the rule that must govern his attitude is that set down by Jesus Christ: “Keep on, then, seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness.” (Matt. 6:33) With the right attitude, a Christian can use money as an instrument and never succumb to the degenerating love of money that leads to spiritual ruin.