Like many material things in the world, money and the way it is used has resulted in some catastrophic negative results. This has led to the often misquoted Bible verse: “Money is the root of all evil.” However, the Bible quote actually says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” In this quote, the Bible points to the heart of the user of money (their love) and how that focus leads to many sorrows. With this Biblical foundation in mind, it must be understood that the use of money begins with the heart, and not with how many zeroes are in someone’s bank account.
Timothy 6:10 refers to the idea of a love of money. Just prior, Timothy 6:9 states, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” Matthew 6:24 says, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” So when considering the topic of money, it is important to note the difference of looking at money as a tool vs. worshipping it as an idol. Matthew 6:19-21 says, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” A Christian ought to pursue God and His virtues first, such as the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:19-21. The pursuit of wealth and the fixtures of wealth (fancy cars, big houses, etc.) corrupts the heart and cannot satisfy like the Spirit of God. As Ecclesiastes 5:10 states, “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” A Christian ought not to pursue wealth, particularly for their own pleasure. The world places a great amount of confidence in how wealthy or successful someone is, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). John offers this warning to Christians in 1 John 2:15-17, saying, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
Sometimes, pursuing wealth is considered a positive thing so long as the goal is to use that wealth for godly purposes, such as becoming a millionaire and then starting a charity with that wealth. This has led to some Christians falling into “get rich quick” schemes. These can be schemes from purported evangelists that state a proper spiritual life will lead to immense wealth, to pyramid schemes that entice their victims with their Christian undertones. The Bible, however, is clear that a person’s wealth, whether great or small, should be gained by hard work: “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase” (Proverbs 13:11).
Additionally, the Bible says nothing about needing to be rich before you can be used by God. In fact, many of those that God used were some of the poorest people, such as the shepherds who declared Jesus’s birth, lepers, and fishermen. Oftentimes, the wealth of someone was seen as a snare, as will be discussed in regards to the rich young man in Mark 10. Matthew, known as Levi at the time of his calling, would have been a wealthy tax collector but left that lifestyle to pursue Jesus. It was not Matthew’s wealth that made him an asset to Jesus’s ministry, but his willingness to give up his career in order to follow Jesus.
On the opposite side of pursuing wealth, comes the idea of total asceticism of worldly possessions. This assertion is often justified by the passage when Jesus speaks to a rich young man in Mark 10:17-27:
And when [Jesus] was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
This story has been interpreted by some to mean that all Christians should avoid wealth at all costs, even to the extent of some suggesting that Christians should give up all earthly possessions. This story, however, is focused more on “where the treasure is” of this young man’s heart. He valued his wealth so much that he was not willing to give up his treasure in order to follow Jesus. He had a legalistic view on who Christ was: he was willing to follow the commands, but not willing to sacrifice. His wealth had become a snare to him. Throughout the Bible, people are called to make sacrifices in order to serve God. Abraham gives up his country and family, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego are willing to give up their lives, and Mary is willing to give up her reputation and social standing in order to become the mother of Jesus.
So wealth in itself is not bad, so long as the wealthy person remembers that they are a steward of the wealth and uses it in a way that honors God. As 1 Corinthians 10:31 states, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Another example of this is Joseph of Arimathea. There isn’t much known about him, other than that he was a secret follower of Christ who had opposed Jesus’s trial. He was also very rich (Luke 23:50, Mark 15:43, and Matthew 27:57). At the risk of being expelled from the Council and his reputation being ruined, he asks to be in charge of Jesus’s body. He uses his wealth to honor Christ by giving him a proper burial and taking on the responsibility of the expense.
Likewise, Solomon’s great wealth was used to impress the unbelieving nations around them of God’s great power (see the story of the Queen of Sheba 1 Kings 10:1-13). A rich person will certainly have to be careful of the lures of wealth, as the Bible cautions in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” A rich person must be a good steward of what they have been given, and protect their heart from trusting in “uncertain riches.”
So if money is not evil in itself, how does God want it to be used? The first way God commands money to be used is in tithing. The idea of tithing comes from the Old Testament, where God commanded the people to set aside “firstfruits” of their labor. Although there are some scholarly debates as to how much a tithe should actually be (anywhere from 10% to 20% is debated), 10% has been the traditional figure. We can find the origins of this in Genesis 28:22, after God has revealed himself to Jacob, who is on the run from his murderous brother whose blessing he has stolen. After witnessing angels going up and down stairs to heaven, Jacob builds an altar and proclaims, “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” A tithe is used to honor God and recognize that everything we have comes from God (1 Chronicles 29:13-14).
Tithing is not only meant to show a reliance on God, but also to support God’s churches, as is shown in the gathering of the exiles’ riches in Exodus to build the Tabernacle and pooling of financial resources to help those in the first churches mentioned in Acts 4. Many of Paul’s New Testament letters reference gathering money for the churches and supporting those who are in ministry. He calls on those he writes his letters to trust in God’s provision as they give.
Although we are not to deliberately test God by doing certain things to see if He will provide (Luke 4:12), God does require acts of faithfulness in order to show our trust in Him. For example, in Malachi 3:10, God challenges the Israelites to see how He provides for them saying, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” This also goes back to the idea of Matthew 6:21 in how our use of money expresses our position on God. If we truly trust and depend on God, then the “firstfruits” of our income ought to be given to Him as a sign of our faithfulness to His promises.
In addition to using money to give to the church, the Bible mentions quite a bit about being generous with our money. Acts 20:35 says “I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The Bible charges those who are more fortunate financially to care for those who have less through charitable giving. This is not given as a suggestion either. As previously mentioned in 1 Timothy 6:17-19, wealth is not forbidden, however it is to be used in the service of others. This point is brought more forcefully home in James 2:15-17: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” Here, the Bible points to the need for faith in action. A person’s income should be used in service, first to God and then to others.
The Bible, however, does not say that those who are poor cannot contribute. In fact, those who are poor have an opportunity to make their contributions even more meaningful. This can be seen most clearly in Mark 12:41-44:
And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
This poor woman, despite giving so little, made such an impression on Jesus that the New Testament writer chose to include it. There may be times where finances are tighter, but the Christian can take confidence that however little they give, God can use it. As Paul notes in Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” We should not let our current state in life affect our ability to serve God or others, but continue on in faithfulness.
Apart from tithing and giving, there is something to be said on how money should be spent on ourselves. As has been mentioned, God is the source of all that we have been given. Thus, it is very important to be good stewards of our money. In no area is this more apparent than the taking on of debt. In “The State of Debt Among Americans” study found on Ramsey Solutions¹, the study finds that the most common source of debt is credit cards and that the average American has over $7,000 in credit card debt. There is also a considerably high amount of student loan debt. Proverbs 22:7 states “the borrower is servant to the lender.” This can be seen in that 46% of Americans are stressed by their debt level (The State of Debt Among Americans). As has already been stated earlier, money can become an idol and a master, so if someone gets caught up in debt, they may only be able to focus on their own anxieties and become enslaved to their worries.
The Bible also discusses the importance of having wisdom when planning to pay for expenses. In Luke 14:28, Jesus says, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” Here Jesus points to the idea of “having enough” for the things which we purchase. Paul pushes this idea further when he writes in Romans 13:8, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.” The Bible encourages the Christian to have only God as master of their life, not their possessions. The Bible calls on the Christian to be content, knowing that God is always with us (Hebrews 13:5). 1 Timothy 6:6 states, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” As referred to previously, the Bible does not take issue with material possessions, but it does suggest wisdom for making sure that those nice things we want are paid for. Debt should be avoided at all costs and paid off faithfully if taken on.
In addition to avoiding debt, the Bible also encourages saving. Proverbs 13:22 “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” Proverbs 21:20 warns, “There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.” No matter how much or how little one makes, the Bible points to the idea of being diligent with money and content with what one has. Many people live paycheck to paycheck, without any plan or preparation for the future or emergencies.
The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 also points to the idea of good stewardship. A master is going away and provides money to three of his workers “according to his several ability.” The first two workers are provided with money from their master and invest it wisely so that it can grow interest. The third worker just buries it in the ground. When the master returns, he rewards the first two workers and punishes the third. God requires good stewardship of the gifts He has given us and He gives to us within our ability, so that there is no excuse for poor stewardship.
The Bible has a lot to say about money. Unlike the world, God doesn’t look at fancy possessions or second hand clothing. What matters is stewardship of what rightfully belongs to God. As the Bible points out, none of our wealth can come with us, so we ought to lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt (Psalm 49:17, Matthew 6:20).
1 "The State of Debt Among Americans Study." https://www.ramseysolutions.com/debt/state-of-debt-among-americans-research