There’s a common misconception the Bible teaches money is the root of all evil. What the passage (1 Timothy 6:10) actually says is, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” There’s a big difference.
Throughout history money – the love of it, that is – has served as stimulus for many forms of evil: Greed, envy, jealousy, unethical behavior, arrogance, murder, robbery, burglary, muggings, bribery, extortion, and many others we could name.
But if there’s a singular root of evil, it’s not money. It’s pride. If you look at the list above, you’ll note in one way or another, each form of evil is a manifestation of unhealthy pride, unrestrained emphasis on self and self-interest at the expense of others.
This isn’t to be confused, of course, with proper expressions of pride – like satisfaction with a job well done, or being pleased with the accomplishments of a loved one. But pride presents its sinful side when “I” and “me” become paramount.
We see pride manifested in competitions for “biggest” and “tallest,” for instance. The Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (did you know there was such a council?) reported developers of new super-skyscrapers all over the globe are installing huge, useless needles atop their buildings in a quest to market their structures as the world’s tallest. The still unfinished One World Trade Center in Manhattan and Dubai’s Burj Al Arab are just two examples.
At this time of year, football fans across the country are caught in “We’re No. 1!” hysteria. For some reason, when our favorite team excels, it’s our chests that get puffed up.
Even some churches display pride in its worst forms – practicing one-upmanship with the size of worship facilities, flaunting statistics about membership and baptisms, even seeming downright self-righteous about “correct” doctrine, traditions and teachings.
This is hardly new, however. If you believe in the biblical story about what theologians call the “original sin” and “the fall of man,” it seems the first sin was not disobedience by eating the forbidden fruit, but Adam and Eve’s being suckered in by a prideful appeal.
In Genesis 3:1-7, the serpent (Satan) approaches the first couple and asks, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Eve replies they were told to avoid only one tree, explaining God had said, “you must not touch it, or you will die.” Then the serpent responds, “You will not surely die…. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
At that moment pride, in all its insidiousness, reared up. The passage doesn’t record this, but I can imagine Adam and Eve eyeing each other and saying, “Hey, that’s right! Who does God think He is, anyway? Who is He to tell us what to do?” The rest, as they say, is history.
In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people…ever imagine that they are guilty themselves…. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves…. The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit; and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.”
The world around us tells us pride is okay, even commendable. “Look out for yourself,” the mantra advises. Baby Boomers (I’m a card-carrying member) have been called the “Me Generation,” describing our zeal for “self-realization” and “self-fulfillment.” But for those of us who have become followers of Christ, such attitudes pose a contradiction. If we take a deep, honest look at Jesus, pride should be instantly dispelled. His life – and death – personified humility.
Jesus had every reason to burst with pride, to “lord it over” everyone around him. But instead, God incarnate became humble. Philippians 2:8 states, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” He calls His followers to die to self as well.
The Old Testament records what God said about pride: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).