In his assignment for this roundtable, Editor Harrison Funk has abbreviated a passage of Holy Scripture in a way that’s very common. Harrison asked us to “talk about (1st) Timothy 6:10”; then he added: “Is money truly the root of all evil?”
But what First Timothy 6:10 actually says is this: “the love of money is the root of all evil.” And that’s a big difference. Because nothing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have made is evil. Wealth is not evil; neither is food or sex or alcohol. What makes those things evil is when we are inordinately attached to them, when we need them in a way that is disordered or miss-directed.
So how can you tell if your relationship with money is out of whack?
Well, the short answer is that you know that your relationship with money is messed up when you love wealth more than you love the Most Holy Trinity. But that really just changes the focus of the question, because then you need to be able to figure out whether you love money more than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A lot of American Christians express their love for the Most Holy Trinity with what they call a ‘tithe’. Tithe is an English word, but it’s an Old Testament concept. The basic idea is that you are to give ten percent of your annual income to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But that formula still generates a whole lot of questions. For example, do you calculate that ten percent before or after you pay your taxes?
And it’s those sorts of questions which illustrate the fundamental inadequacy of tithing: Because if you have to figure out the ‘cut’ which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are supposed to get, that’s not love. If you can set up a bank draft for a particular amount each month and walk away and know that you’ve met your obligation to the Most Holy Trinity, that’s not love. It may be really good stewardship; it may very well be responsible financial planning, but it’s most definitely not love.
Because, more than anything else, love is grateful. And grateful people are always looking for ways to be generous—in fact, grateful people give just as much as they possibly can. That’s why, in the New Testament, Christ Jesus actually tells people to give away everything that they have; that’s why, in that passage from First Timothy that is the focus of today’s roundtable, the Apostle Paul tells us that we should be content with the basic necessities of life.
In America, Christians don’t spend much time on those New Testament passages. Because we want to believe that we can love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and also own two jet skis, five televisions, and the latest, most-up-to-date phone. We want to believe that we can love the Most Holy Trinity and take an international vacation every other year. We want to believe that we can be grateful and generous Christians and still have a closet crammed full of clothes and shoes even after we have taken several bags of stuff to Goodwill.
And, of course, the huge irony is that even though the vast majority of us enjoy a lifestyle that far exceeds the wildest dreams of wealthy folks in previous centuries, each and every one of us are convinced—absolutely convinced—that we are just barely getting by.
So is there a way to get our relationship with money—and our relationship with the Most Holy Trinity—back on track?
In the Holy Gospels, Christ Jesus talks about how hard it is for rich people to be saved. That’s not because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit don’t like rich people; it’s because rich people often have a hard time with gratitude and generosity. So, if we want to be saved, if we want to truly love the Most Holy Trinity, the first thing we need to do is admit that, yeah, we really are rich. Not Bill Gates rich; not Warren Buffet rich, but, by any reasonable historical and cultural standard, we are rich.
That’s the first step; we need to own up to the fact that we’ve got a problem. The second step is to find simple ways to address the problem. If you tithe, add another fifteen percent to your ten percent. Sell the golf cart that you hardly ever use anymore and buy something beautiful for your congregation. When it’s time to get another car, instead of trading in the old vehicle for a few hundred bucks, just give it to someone who doesn’t have any reliable transportation. Speaking of cars, keep a roll of one dollar bills in the glove box so you can get to them quickly when you roll up on one of those folks who now stand at just about every traffic light.
When you get the hang of it, gratitude and generosity can actually be a lot of fun. Because there are always new ways to express our love for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But if you need some assistance getting started, send me an email. I’d love to help.