1 Timothy 6:6-10 – Money and the Root of All Evil

Paul stands in the tradition of Judaism in warning about the folly of relying on riches. Godliness itself can be of great gain (the same word is repeated), but only if it is combined with contentment (αὐτάρκεια). The book of Ecclesiastes warns against relying on one’s wealth in this world.

Having sufficient blessings from God is found also in Psalms of Solomon 5:18-20. Having too much wealth can cause a person to sin

Psalms of Solomon 5:18–20 (LES)  Blessed is he whom God remembers in due proportion to sufficiency; 19 if the person abounds too much, he sins. 20 Moderation in righteousness is sufficient, and in this is the blessing of the Lord for satisfaction in righteousness.

Moderation and self-sufficiency was also a virtue among philosophers, the Cynics, Stoics and Epicureans. Describing the views of Epicurus, for example, Diogenes Laertius says:

 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.130-131 Again, we regard independence of outward things (αὐτάρκεια) as a great good, not so as in all cases to use little, but so as to be contented with little if we have not much, being honestly persuaded that they have the sweetest enjoyment of luxury who stand least in need of it, and that whatever is natural is easily procured and only the vain and worthless hard to win. Plain fare gives as much pleasure as a costly diet, when once the pain of want has been removed, [131] while bread and water confer the highest possible pleasure when they are brought to hungry lips. To habituate one’s self, therefore, to simple and inexpensive diet supplies all that is needful for health, and enables a man to meet the necessary requirements of life without shrinking, and it places us in a better condition when we approach at intervals a costly fare and renders us fearless of fortune.

Paul says that having food and shelter (σκέπασμα can refer to clothing or a house) we will be content.  This is not far from Phil 4:10-13, where Paul says that he has know what it is to have much, or very little.  The secret to contentment (αὐτάρκης, same root as the word in 1 Tim 6:6) is the realization that he can do all things through Christ.

But Paul is not teaching self-sufficiency like a Stoic or a Cynic, rather he is consistent with Philippians 4:10-13, he emphasizing “Christ-sufficiency.”  If your motivation is money, then you are in danger.  If your motivation is being “in Christ,” then personal gain is not relevant.

Grubbing for MoneyThe real problem with wealth is that the desire for wealth is a snare. Notice that it is the person who desires to be rich that will fall into temptation. As with the proverb which follows, wealth itself is not condemned, but the desire is a snare.  The second word Paul uses here (παγίς) is a trap used to catch animals, the same word which he used in 3:7 to describe the “snares of the devil.” This is perhaps another hint that Paul is dealing with leaders appointed too soon (Cf. 2 Tim 2:26).

Wealth tempts people into senseless and harmful desires.  Senseless (ἀνόητος) is a softer translation, the word means dull-witted or unintelligent.  It is sometimes translated as “fool” (Gal 3:1; Prov 17:28; 1 Clement 21:5; 4 Macc 8:17).  But these desired are not merely foolish, they are harmful (βλαβερός). Someone might do something foolish that does no harm, to rely on wealth will lead to some sort of disaster.

The ultimate end of the person that desires great wealth is to sink into ruin and destruction.  Paul uses the rather picturesque metaphor of sinking (βυθίζω). The word was used to describe the utter ruin of Sparta (Philostrat., Vi. Apoll. 4, 32). Destruction (ὄλεθρος) is used by Paul in 2 Thess 1:9 “eternal death” (Cf. T.Reuben 6:3, the destruction of Beliar;” “Destruction brought about by Satan” IEph 13:1).

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. While this saying sounds like a proverb and is common in contemporary culture, there is no real source for the line.  There is no exact form of this saying in the Hebrew Bible or in Greco-Roman philosophy.   The Hebrew Bible warns that desire for wealth corrupts (Exod 23:8, Deut 16:19). This is another hint that the opponents are elders or deacons in Paul’s churches, since in 3:3 he said that the elder is not to be a “lover of money.” (Luke 16:14, Pharisees are called “lovers of money.”)

Paul’s concern is not that Christians have wealth, but that Christians are motivated to serve in order to enrich themselves.  It is the use of godliness, religion, “the Faith” to become rich that is the problem.  He does not appear to be condemning wealth, but the love of wealth.

Paul concludes by saying that some of those who have “wandered away from the faith” did so because they craved wealth.  Rather than gaining wealth, the opponents in Ephesus have destroyed themselves. The opponents have “pierced themselves” (περιπείρω), a rather violent metaphor, the word is usually used in military contexts, they impale themselves!

It is easy to read this passage and think about “someone else.” You may not really consider yourself “wealthy.” In America, from the perspective of history, we are the most wealthy, prosperous people who have ever lived!  The American church over all is wealthy and most Americans are the 99%, from a global perspective.

To what extent does the American church “use religion as a means to gain wealth?”

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