Thursday, October 17, 2019

That Pesky Root of Lots of Things

There’s a misconception that the Bible declares “money is the root of all evil.” That’s not exactly true, although that is pretty close to how it’s rendered in the King James Version. The KJV stipulates evil is rooted in “the love of money.” The way most translations express it is, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). 

Mankind has devised many kinds of evil that have nothing to do with money – at least directly. But love for money definitely has resulted in countless forms of evil thinking and behavior. One doesn’t have to look very closely at the realms of business, politics, entertainment and even education to confirm that.

Over my years of discipling and mentoring other men, I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon. Within these very personal, trusting relationships, men have confided in me about all manner of things – marital struggles, various forms of addiction, uncontrolled outbursts of anger, infidelity, and other behaviors they had never shared with anyone else. However, almost unanimously, the one topic that has been off-limits even within the secure confines of a discipling or mentoring environment has been money.

I remember a time when a man had just told me about difficulties he was experiencing in his marriage. We talked about those for a while, and I expressed some observations. I don’t tell people what I think they should do, but do offer perspectives they might find helpful. Then – and I don’t recall exactly why – I asked him about his income. He hesitated, and then said something like, “Well, I really don’t talk with people about money. That’s personal, you know.”

Trying to keep from laughing, I thought, “Wow! This guy has just given me some candid information about his relationship with his wife, but a simple question about money is ‘personal’?” It wasn’t like I was trying to hit him up for a loan. But I’ve learned this is not unusual; it’s more the norm than the exception.

Maybe this is why, according to theologians who analyze such things, Jesus spoke more about money in the Scriptures than any other topic – including heaven, hell, and eternal life. Someone has calculated more than 2,300 verses in the Bible concern money and material wealth. One of Christ’s most convicting statements on the subject is Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This doesn’t mean money – or any form of wealth – is inherently evil. Whether it was in the ancient times of the Bible or today, a means of exchange has always been necessary to acquire basic needs, pay bills, meet emergency expenses, and such. But money has a way of commanding our attention, for some becoming an object of worship.

How do you feel when your pastor begins a sermon about giving? Do you reach protectively for your wallet or purse? If we buy a new house or a new car, we proudly show off the fruit of our labors. But if someone were to ask, “How much money do you make, anyway?” would you feel offended, or think, “That’s none of your business”?

In the Ten Commandments, the last commandment is, “You shall not covet…” (Exodus 20:17). In other words, don’t envy or lust for other people’s stuff. When a reporter asked one wealthy business magnate, “How much is enough?” he purportedly responded, “Just a little bit more.” So even within the so-called “one percent” of society, there’s no limit to fascination with money and what it can supply.

Many years ago, industrialist R.G. LeTourneau, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, practiced a “reverse tithe.” The tithe, as the Bible defines it, is 10 percent of one’s income. LeTourneau flipped that around, giving 90 percent of his income to charitable causes and keeping just 10 percent for his personal use. Another businessman, Stanley Tam, took similar steps, drawing up legal papers making God a literal partner in his business, eventually giving Him full ownership, not just a percentage of the profits.

That seems to be a key to overcoming the insidious root of evil that money can become: Holding what we have – all that we have – with an open hand and giving the Lord full access to it, without reservation. Is that easy to do? Not in my experience. But one passage in particular serves as a reminder whenever we feel the need to hold tightly to “my money.” 

As 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 in the New Living Translationtells us, Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.”

This says that rather than owners, we’re merely stewards of what God entrusts to us. So to avoid the potential evils money can tempt us with, rather than wondering, “What should I do with my money?” a better question might be, “Lord, how would You like me to use Your money today?”

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