Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Love of Money


Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,


"The love of money is the root of all evils." (I TIM. 6:10)

"Money (That's What I Want)" - The Beatles and various other artists


In all of his epistles, the Apostle Paul proves to be an admirable pastor.  His epistles are filled with theological insights, moral/ethical teaching, exhortations, and even chastisements that are meant to be practical and applicable to the life-situations within the local churches that he was instrumental in establishing throughout the Graeco-Roman world of the first Christian century.  Thus, we could say that the Apostle was a pastoral theologian. His theological insights were meant to impact the lives of these earliest of Christians, so that Christ would be alive in each and every one of them. He was guiding his newly-formed Christian communities in the new way of life that was now being shaped by the Gospel. Each and every one of his epistles is filled with remarkable pastoral direction and guidance.

Be that as it may, there are three epistles that are now specifically called "the Pastoral Epistles" - I & II TIM. & TITUS.  These epistles are addressed to specific individuals - Sts. Timothy and Titus - who were appointed by St. Paul to guide, establish and organize the Christian presence in both Ephesus and Crete into vibrant and Christ-centered communities, or "parishes" as we would call them today.  In other words, Sts. Timothy and Titus are to be worthy pastors who can lead others in fulfilling the precepts of the Gospel. There were two main concerns of the Apostle Paul in the pastoral training of both Sts.Timothy and Titus: the teaching of sound doctrine and the organization of a responsible leadership in the churches under their supervision to ensure their continuity with the Gospel as St. Paul received it and handed it down.

Yet, there are many other issues covered in these epistles by St. Paul in his desire to prepare his co-laborers in the area of pastoral guidance. In one of many well-known passages in these pastoral epistles the Apostle Paul addresses the thorny question of money and its proper use and potential abuse.  The issue of money has at least two sides to it, so the Apostle's pastoral comments and insights are both positive and negative.  In fact, I believe that it is his initial negative assessment of money that is the most well-known aspect of his over-all treatment of the subject. That passage reads as follows:


There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.  (I TIM. 6:6-10)

We should point out that the famous phrase "for the love of money is the root of all evils" is not a specifically Christian insight.  This was a commonplace teaching within the moral/ethical norms of Greek philosophy.  Be that as it may, we should further notice that St. Paul is placing his negative assessment of money within the context of the potential godliness that comes with contentment. If only we could learn to be content with what we have!  Clothing and food should suffice!  In a complicated and capitalist society driven by the need for money just to survive - let alone the persistent drive to accumulate as much money as possible as the key to "happiness" - that will certainly sound na├»ve and unrealistic. We have a seemingly endless number of bills to pay; and unexpected expenses are all but inevitable.  And, we have "appearances" to maintain.  For many it is a real struggle just to keep up - and many do not. However, if we make the necessary adjustments, we can easily understand what the Apostle Paul means by "contentment." It is an interior attitude that a person aiming toward "godliness" can assume in any and all cultural and social environments. Contentment is the sign of the person who can say: "enough is a feast."  But it is discontent that is fueled by an inordinate love of money.  And discontent will manifest itself in a tangled web of bad consequences that result from the craving for money that will pierce the heart "with many pangs."  St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on this passage, expands on the horrific consequences of the love of money to a universal dimension:


What evils are caused by wealth!  What fraudulent practices, what robberies!  What miseries, enmities, contentions, battles!  Does it not stretch forth its hand even to the dead, even to fathers and brothers?  Do not they who are possessed by this passion violate the laws of nature and the commandments of God?  Is it not this that renders our courts of justice necessary?  Take away therefore the love of money, and you put an end to war, to battle, to enmity, to strife and contention.  (Commentary on I TIM. 17)

Hardly a rhetorical exaggeration!  (On a more personal level, how many families do you know of that were torn apart because of enmity over money matters?) We can, of course, politely wave off the Apostle's warning by assuring ourselves and others that we do not love money. We may explain that denial by arguing that since we live and move and have our being in a society in which money is so essential, we have to live and act accordingly.  But we are free of the love of money, we may again assure ourselves and others. This is fine if we can honestly say that we experience the contentment that St. Paul refers to.  Or, a bit more bluntly, this would be fine if we are certain that our hearts are more inclined toward the Gospel than to our personal portfolios.

Perhaps less well-known in I TIM. is the Apostle Paul's further pastoral comments on the positive use of money that should characterize members of the Christian community - especially those who are blessed with some measure of prosperity or wealth:


As for the rich in this world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life which is life indeed.  (I TIM. 6:17-19)

It is no little accomplishment for the rich to be humble rather than proud or "haughty."  For according to St. Augustine:


Praise to the rich if they remain humble.  Praise the rich for being poor.  The one who writes to Timothy wants them to be like that, when he says, "Order the rich of this world not to be haughty in mind."  I know what I am saying:  give them these orders.  The riches they have are whispering persuasively to them to be proud; the riches they have make it very hard for them to be humble.  (Sermons, 14.2)

With this teaching, it is made clear that wealth in and of itself is not a sinful or evil thing.  Such a position would distort both the teaching of Christ and that of the apostles.  It seems as if there were wealthy members of the church in Ephesus. St. Paul was providing them with a Christian philosophy about money and its beneficial use. The wealthy need to remain humble and are not to scorn or look down on those who have less or perhaps next to nothing. In fact, they are responsible for their care and well-being as brothers and sisters within the Christian family. Liberality and generosity are expected of the Christian blessed with any semblance of wealth.  Care for the poor and destitute is essential for the true follower of Christ.  However, there is no room in the Apostle's exhortation for "conspicuous consumption."  A contemporary Christian cannot take refuge in any particular political or social philosophy in order to avoid being "rich in good deeds."  It does not matter if a Christian is a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian.  Or, for that matter, a capitalist or a socialist.  To cling to one's wealth is not to "take hold of the life which is life indeed."  In fact, it could lead to spiritual death.

If we read the New Testament in its entirety with care, I believe that will see that it takes a basically neutral stance toward the "thorny issue of money."  Wealth is neither praised or condemned.  It is one's attitude and use of money that is either praised or condemned.  However, the New Testament with its utterly realistic and unbiased understanding of human nature is thoroughly sensitive to temptation and the abuse of a commodity such as money.  The teaching of Christ is filled with stinging rebukes toward those who succumb to such temptations that lead to abuse. And it was Judas who "sold out" Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Generosity, combined with compassion toward those is need is blessed; while the passion of avarice combined with indifference toward those in need is blameworthy.  If this over-all Christian philosophy of money was more readily practiced today, we would not be experiencing the tilt toward a society torn between the "haves" and "have-nots."  The moral and spiritual well-being of any society is determined by how that society cares for its dispossessed fellow citizens. Especially if it still wants to be called a Christian society. The insight that "the love of money is the root of all evils" may be at its most acute today - though sinful tendencies seem to hold a steady grip on the human heart throughout the centuries.  Christians, therefore, need to be as vigilant as possible when faced with such temptations. And our use of money is a good place to begin in our quest to be vigilant.


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