What Is Wrong With the Love of Money?
PAUL and Mary managed a supermarket in a poor African community.* By working hard night and day, they made a lot of money. In time Mary could boast of a large new house filled with luxurious furniture. As for Paul, he was able to drive around in a luxury car.
One day Paul was approached by a group opposed to the government. They demanded: “We want your business to donate [$100] per month to support our cause.” Not wanting to take sides in the political struggle, Paul and Mary courageously refused. Because of their neutral stand, they were suspected of receiving financial support from the government. One weekend, while Paul and Mary were out of town, their shop was looted, and their car and lovely home were set aflame.
A sad account, indeed, but can we learn from it? Many who have worked hard to become rich may not have been struck by a calamity that robbed them of their riches, yet what about the future? Why does the Bible say that “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”?—1 Timothy 6:9.
A Balanced View of Money
According to the Bible, a true Christian must provide for the material needs of his or her dependent family members. Circumstances, such as unemployment or health problems, can sometimes make this difficult. On the other hand, a Christian who willfully neglects to provide for his family “has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.”—1 Timothy 5:8.
In some rural communities, people live off the land by growing their own food and raising livestock. Some make little use of money, obtaining the necessities of life by bartering for goods and services. However, the most common way breadwinners provide for their families is by engaging in some sort of employment in return for wages. They use money earned to buy food and other items that contribute to the welfare of their family. In addition, money wisely saved can provide a measure of protection in times of hardship or calamity. For instance, it may be used to cover medical expenses or to make vital repairs to one’s home. That is why the Bible realistically states that “money is for a protection” and that it “meets a response in all things.”—Ecclesiastes 7:12; 10:19.
Because money accomplishes so much, there is danger of developing an unrealistic view of its power. A Christian needs to be aware of its limitations in comparison with other more important things. For example, the Bible compares the value of money with godly wisdom, saying: “Wisdom is for a protection the same as money is for a protection; but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom itself preserves alive its owners.” (Ecclesiastes 7:12) In what way does godly wisdom have this advantage over money?
A Lesson From the Past
Events that took place in Jerusalem in the year 66 C.E. illustrate the advantage of godly wisdom over money. After repelling the invading Roman armies, the Jews in Jerusalem apparently believed that business prospects were now good. Indeed, they began to mint their own money in celebration of their newfound freedom. Their coins were stamped, in Hebrew, with such expressions as “For the freedom of Zion” and “Jerusalem the Holy.” Each new year, they struck new coins with inscriptions that identify them as of “year two,” “year three,” and “year four.” Archaeologists have unearthed even a few rare coins with the inscription “year five,” corresponding to the year 70 C.E. Did Jewish Christians view the new Jewish money as a valid symbol of lasting freedom?
No. Because they kept in mind their Master’s words of wisdom. Jesus had foretold the Roman invasion that took place in 66 C.E. He had advised his followers that when it happened, they should ‘withdraw from the midst of Jerusalem.’ (Luke 21:20-22) History testifies that Jewish Christians did just so. They were evidently willing to suffer the loss of property, possessions, and business opportunities because of leaving Jerusalem. Four years later, the Roman armies returned and laid siege to the city.
“There was a great deal of gold in the City,” according to an eyewitness, the historian Josephus. But vast amounts of money could not save Jerusalem from famine, which steadily “grew worse” and “devoured whole houses and families.” Some inhabitants swallowed gold coins and tried to flee the city. But they were killed by their enemies, who ripped open their bellies in order to extract the money. “For the wealthy,” explains Josephus, “it was just as dangerous to stay in the City as to leave it; for on the pretext that he was a deserter many a man was killed for the sake of his money.”
In less than six months from the start of the siege, Jerusalem was destroyed, and over one million of its inhabitants died from famine, pestilence, and the sword. The love of money had blinded many, plunging them into destruction and ruin, whereas applying words of wisdom had enabled Jewish Christians to escape.
That was not the only case in history when money failed people in a time of crisis. What a cruel master the love of money can be! (Matthew 6:24) Moreover, it can also rob you of present happiness.
Pleasures Money Cannot Buy
The obsession to become rich can blind a person to many pleasures that do not require a lot of money. Consider, for example, happy family relationships, true friends, natural wonders, a spectacular sunset, an impressive thunderstorm, the starry heavens, the antics of animals, or the flowers and trees in an unspoiled forest.
True, some rich people have more time to enjoy the above pleasures, but most of them are extremely busy trying to preserve or increase their wealth. Strange as it may sound, happiness often eludes even those with leisure. This surprises modern researchers. “How are we to account for the fact that something so eagerly desired by so many people, and believed in as a kind of cure-all, when obtained should have a range of effects varying from the disappointing to the traumatic?” asks Thomas Wiseman in his book The Money Motive—A Study of an Obsession.
One thing that can rob a rich person of happiness is the difficulty in knowing who his real friends are. Rich King Solomon experienced that “when good things become many, those eating them certainly become many.” (Ecclesiastes 5:11) Many rich people also suffer anxiety in trying to maintain or increase the value of their wealth. This often robs them of pleasurable sleep. The Bible explains: “Sweet is the sleep of the one serving, regardless of whether it is little or much that he eats; but the plenty belonging to the rich one is not permitting him to sleep.”—Ecclesiastes 5:12.
The love of money can damage relationships between family and friends because it may tempt someone into acts of dishonesty and crime. Money lovers often turn to gambling. Sadly, the craving for just one more gambling experience drives many into debt. “By the time they come to me,” said a South African psychiatrist, “[compulsive gamblers] are usually beyond the point of return, they have lost jobs, businesses, homes, and their families have often left them.” How true the Bible’s warning: “A man of faithful acts will get many blessings, but he that is hastening to gain riches will not remain innocent.”—Proverbs 28:20.
“It Makes Wings . . . and Flies Away”
Another reason the love of money is so dangerous is that human governments have proved unable to cooperate fully or ensure that money retains an internationally stable value; nor have they been able to prevent recessions, depressions, and stock-market crashes. Fraud, theft, and inflation also underscore the truth of the inspired words: “Do not toil to gain riches. Cease from your own understanding. Have you caused your eyes to glance at it, when it is nothing? For without fail it makes wings for itself like those of an eagle and flies away toward the heavens.”—Proverbs 23:4, 5.
Inflation. That problem certainly is not confined to poor countries. Earlier this century, galloping inflation struck industrialized nations of central Europe. For example, before World War I, a German mark was about equal to a British shilling, a French franc, or an Italian lira. Ten years later, the shilling, the franc, and the lira were more or less equal to 1,000,000,000,000 marks. What effect does soaring inflation have on people in wealthy societies? “If what happened to the defeated Central Powers in the early 1920s is anything to go by,” states Adam Fergusson in his book When Money Dies, “then [monetary collapse] unleashes such greed, violence, unhappiness, and hatred, largely bred from fear, as no society can survive uncrippled and unchanged.”
In 1923, Germany revalued its currency by striking off 12 zeros so that 1,000,000,000,000 old marks suddenly became equivalent to one new mark. This move halted the inflation but had other disastrous consequences. Fergusson explains: “The re-establishment of monetary sanity, which bankrupted thousands, robbed millions of their livelihoods, and killed the hopes of millions more, indirectly exacted a more terrible price that the whole world had to pay.” Evidently, the “terrible price” that the author had in mind was the rise of Nazism and World War II.
That large bank accounts have failed so many in the past should come as a sober warning in these times of worldwide economic uncertainty. The Son of God himself warned that money would fail, which it certainly has done many times. (Luke 16:9) But the greatest and most widespread monetary failure will come when Jehovah God executes judgment upon this wicked world. “Valuable things will be of no benefit on the day of fury, but righteousness itself will deliver from death.”—Proverbs 11:4.
How important, therefore, that each of us strives to maintain a righteous standing with our true Friends, Jehovah God and Jesus Christ!
The Source of Lasting Happiness
Paul and Mary, mentioned at the outset, were Jehovah’s Witnesses. For many years they shared in the full-time evangelizing work. However, their desire for riches caused them to stop attending meetings of the Christian congregation, and they stopped sharing their faith in the public ministry. But they woke up. “Now I can see how senseless it was to spend all my time and energy on something that can go up in smoke in a few minutes,” said Mary after being robbed and having her home vandalized. Happily, this couple learned a lesson before it was too late. Yes, the greatest harm the love of money can cause is that of robbing a person of an approved relationship with Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. Without these Friends, what hope can we have of surviving the end of this wicked world into the promised new world of righteousness?—Matthew 6:19-21, 31-34; 2 Peter 3:13.
So regardless of whether you consider yourself rich or poor, guard against developing a love of money. Work at attaining and maintaining the greatest treasure—an approved standing with Jehovah God. This you can do by giving constant attention to the urgent invitation: “The spirit and the bride keep on saying: ‘Come!’ And let anyone hearing say: ‘Come!’ And let anyone thirsting come; let anyone that wishes take life’s water free.”—Revelation 22:17.
Their real names are not used.
[Pictures on page 8, 9]
Both sides of a coin minted during the Jewish revolt with the inscription “year two”
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.