“The love of money is the root of all evil.”
It’s one of the most commonly quoted verses in the Bible.
And yet, it can be a very confusing phrase without any context.
None of us really act like money is a bad thing.
None of us even act like the love of money is a bad thing.
Most Americans work 40+ hours a week just to make money. If that isn’t love, what is it?
But this phrase, which the Apostle Paul said to Timothy in a personal letter, carries a much deeper meaning than “money is bad and you shouldn’t want it.”
The Apostle Paul was making a deeper point about how to live our lives for a vision and a purpose that is bigger than money so that we know how to use that money well.
Here, we’re going to unpack that Bible verse, its context, how it’s been explained throughout the history of the church, and a few ways to apply it in a sermon.
Translations of 1 Timothy 6:10
The Bible verse in question here is 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” First, let’s read through a few different translations of this Bible verse to get a sense of how the Apostle Paul is using it:
ESV: But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
NIV: Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
The Message: “But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after.”
The Context of 1 Timothy 6:10
First, note that the Apostle Paul is talking about a style of life that makes money its god. Paul is writing against a way of life that puts money above people, relationships, God, virtue, and charity.
Second, note that Paul is not writing against accumulating wealth. He is writing a young pastor to help him care for the souls of the churches he is planting. In summary, he is saying: “People who live like this often suffer these kinds of ends.” People who worship money often go down dark paths. That’s a more commonsense truth than “Loving money is evil.” And, it is much closer in spirit to what the Apostle Paul was saying.
Third, Paul wasn’t writing a textbook on business. He was, again, helping a young pastor to help his people focus on God. If Paul was writing a business book, he might have said: “If your goal is to make a profit, here’s how you do it.” Paul himself was a businessman—he owned a tent making business (Acts 18:3).
Paul was a tentmaker so that he didn’t have to take money from churches. If tent making enabled Paul to do ministry without taking money from churches, then this means he turned a profit—more than that, it means he desired to turn a profit. Therefore, Paul wasn’t writing against money. Paul wasn’t mean you can’t desire to build wealth. He was saying that the desire for money is a dangerous desire, and in the grand scheme of things, we can’t take any of it with us when we die, as he says a few verses earlier: “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim. 6:7).
Church History's Understanding of 1 Timothy 6:10
This verse has been used throughout church history to comment on the spiritual power that the desire for money can gain over our souls. Here, we will look at examples from three Johns—John Chrysostom (4th century), John Calvin (16th century), and John Wesley (18th century).
“Ver. 9. ‘But they that will be rich’; not those that are rich, but those who wish to be. For a man may have money and make a good use of it, not overvaluing it, but bestowing it upon the poor. Such therefore he does not blame, but the covetous. ‘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.’ He has justly said, ‘they drown men,’ since they cannot be raised from that depth. ‘In destruction and perdition.’
Ver. 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.’ Two things he mentions, and that which to them might seem the more weighty he places last, their many sorrows. And to learn how true this is, the only way is to sojourn with the rich, to see how many are their sorrows, how bitter their complaints.”
“‘They who wish to be rich’ After having exhorted him to be content, and to despise riches, he now explains how dangerous is the desire of having them, and especially in the ministers of the Church, of whom he expressly speaks in this passage. Now the cause of the evils, which the Apostle here enumerates, is not riches, but an eager desire of them, even though the person should be poor. And here Paul shews not only what generally happens, but what must always happen; for every man that has resolved to become rich gives himself up as a captive to the devil. Most true is that saying of the heathen poet, — ‘He who is desirous of becoming rich is also desirous of acquiring riches soon.’ Hence it follows, that all who are violently desirous of acquiring wealth rush headlong.
Hence also those foolish, or rather, mad desires, which at length plunge them into perdition. This is, indeed, a universal evil; but in the pastors of the Church it is more easily seen; for they are so maddened by avarice, that they stick at nothing, however foolish, whenever the glitter of gold or silver dazzles their eyes.”
“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.”
“They that desire to be rich” — To have more than these; for then they would be so far rich; and the very desire banishes content, and exposes them to ruin.
“Fall-plunge” — A sad gradation! Into temptation - Miserable food for the soul! And a snare - Or trap. Dreadful "covering!" And into many foolish and hurtful desires - Which are sown and fed by having more than we need. Then farewell all hope of content! What then remains, but destruction for the body, and perdition for the soul?
How to Preach 1 Timothy 6:10
We can apply several of these things to the Christian life. When preaching a sermon, consider these three points as you craft your application for this text.
1. Money is a good means, but a bad God.
Christians often feel guilty about making money—especially because of a misunderstanding of 1 Timothy 6:10. Take this opportunity to ease people of that guilt and change their understanding of this text from a prohibition against wealth to a warning about wealth.
2. We often lose what we think money will give us by pursuing it above all else.
Many wealthy people reach the end of their lives and wish they had spent more time with their families, pursued more virtues paths, and done more honorable things with their lives. On the other hand, many wealthy die leaving legacies of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars given to charity, and a world changed for the better. In your pursuit of money, follow John Wesley’s advice: "Make as much as you can and give as much as you can." Don’t sacrifice family, friendship, or integrity at the throne of money. Use money as a tool to invest in the betterment of everyone within your reach.
3. Giving to the church is God’s way of keeping a check on our love of money.
God commands his people to give to the church. This practice helps Christians to maintain a financial margin in their lives so that they refrain from spending money on frivolous things, and so that their time and money can be a service to God’s work through his kingdom on earth: the church.
As you continue to study 1 Timothy 6:10—“For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”—keep in mind the nuance and beauty of the truths this sentence aims to convey. If you feel guilty about money because of this verse, liberate yourself from that guilt. If you guilt others about money because of this verse, you are now free to stop.
But most of all—in Christ, we are free not to pursue money above all else, but to live for something bigger than ourselves: loving God and neighbor. This freedom should bring us joy, not guilt. And that is fundamental point that Paul is making in 1 Timothy 6:10 when he says “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”