One of the scourges of daytime television is Kidz Bop. It’s one of the most annoying commercials on TV. I’d prefer the sound of a dentist’s drill. You know the commercials … The dozen or so carefully styled and manicured tweens prancing and singing karaoke to the most inappropriate radio hits of today. The online Urban Dictionary defines “Kidz Bop” as follows: “The soccer mom’s attempt to make most of today’s music suitable for young children. This leads to butchering good songs or making crappy ones even worse. See cruel and unusual punishment.” If you’re wondering why a bunch of 5 years know vapid pop songs like “F— You” by Cee-Lo Green or “Baby” by Justin Bieber, totally blame Kidz Bop.
Case in point: A few years back, it really struck me strange seeing a bunch of Kidz Bop models/singers(?) performing the Travie McCoy song “Billionaire.” You might know the song: “I want to be a billionaire so (expletive) bad … Buy all the things I never had.” Listen here! It made me start to think: How many of those professional child actors with the professional stage moms/dads really do want to be a billionaire so (expletive) bad? How many would willingly sell their soul for a billion dollars? And – like the song – would they seemingly find happiness and contentment in being so rich that they could play basketball with the President and save all of the Hurricane Katrina victims?
Here’s the critical question for today’s blog: Is it OK for a Christian to want to be a billionaire so (expletive) bad? How ‘bout just hood rich? How ‘bout just winning a $1000 lottery ticket every now and then? Doesn’t the Bible say that “money is the root of all evil”?
Sorta. This well-known maxim (“money is the root of all evil”) is not extraordinarily far off base from the actual Bible verse, but there are subtle nuances that make a critical difference. The actual passage is found in 1 Timothy 6:3-19. I know this passage is rather long, but it is one continuous argument about wealth from Paul to his protege in the ministry, Timothy. So here is Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in its entirety:
[6:3] If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,  he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions,  and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.  But godliness with contentment is great gain,  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 will be content.  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.
 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,  to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,  which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.  They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,  thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:2-19 ESV)
So the actual Bible verse in 1 Timothy 6:10 has a few more words, which actually makes a critical difference. First, “the love of money” is the source of the problem. Paul does not condemn money or wealth itself. The relentless pursuit and desire for money is the problem. Second, the love of money is a “root of all kinds of evil.” Not every evil in this world comes from the love of money. It is a misplaced desire for something other than God – whether it be money, sex, ambition, pride and litany of other created things – that ultimately causes the failure to worship the Creator God. This is the essence of idolatry. Martin Luther defines idolatry as follows: “Whatever your heart clings to or relies upon, that is your God; trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and idol.” If the heart clings to and relies on money, money will become your god. We cannot love something that God created more than the One who created.
In this light, the idolatrous love of money is so dangerous that Paul cautions that it causes many to wander away from the faith. In verse 9, Paul vividly describes the love of money as a shiny lure that causes us to want the wrong things. The love of money is also described as the traps that ensnare the wild animal. Ultimately, the lured and ensnared man will drown in an ocean of destruction and pain. The love of money turns you into a fish on a hook, a wounded animal caught in a trap and a man drowning in a sea of sorrow and pain. Many will abandon God for the love of money. The love of money is deadly.
In digging deeper, Paul has two central admonitions about the love of money in this passage:
Warning #1: Pursue contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 is an interesting verse, urging the believer to pursue “godliness with contentment.” The word for “contentment” used here essentially means to be independent from everything but God. God should be the only person having a grip on the believer. The issue is not whether a believer has money or not … The issue is where the believer’s trust and dependance lies. Believers have the most gracious gift of all, which is eternal life through Jesus Christ. If the birds, flowers and other parts of nature are content with what God has given, the children of God that have received the full measure of grace should be even more content. Furthermore, if God has given you the wherewithal to get food, clothing and meet your most basic needs, then be thankful and be content. If God blesses you with more money than you need, then still be thankful and be content – but also be extremely generous to those who are without. God desires for us to be increasingly more content in His provision.
There is a clear danger of having godliness without contentment. God desires for His followers to be content in His grace alone, and not to experience the discontent that comes with the longing and desire for material things. This concept of contentment is especially critical for American Christians living in a culture essentially based on a lack of contentment. There’s an essential rule of marketing: Explain why the person needs that product. Explain why the person will have sleepless nights without it. Explain why the person will collapse into a puddle of incompleteness without it. I was mildly amused one evening when my six-year old said to me: “Did you know that joy is found at McDonald’s? We should go sometime.” Apparently, she learned this concept from a TV commercial: McDonald’s brings joy. Wow. But it was effective marketing. My daughter and I had a good discussion about it, and I explained that nothing other than God will bring us true love, joy or contentment. Believers must not be ensnared by the culture of discontent.
Even worse, our discontent breeds other dangerous behaviors: conceit, lack of understanding, desire for quarreling and controversy, envy and strife. And that’s the tip of the iceberg (1 Timothy 6:4-5). Our illicit discontent with material possessions makes us behave in selfish and irrational ways. I am continually haunted by the images from “black Friday,” when shoppers stampede, main and use all manner of violence against one another to get the discount flat screen TV, basketball shoes or hot Christmas toy. Selfish irrationality. I was at a bookstore the other day, and I overheard a woman have the following telephone conversation with her significant other: “Hey honey … Guess we won’t be able to pay the rent this month … I spent all our rent money at the bookstore.” Selfish irrationality. When we don’t pursue contentment in God, our discontent breeds more sinful, selfish and rebellious behavior. And our selfishness leads into more discontent which forms a vicious cycle that is difficult to escape.
Does this mean that believers should not pursue higher education, a better job, a pay raise or better job benefits? Should we perpetually be content in the place God has put us? Not necessarily. A higher education may be needed to pursue the job into which God is calling you. A better job or pay raise might be able to provide better for the needs of a growing family, bigger utility bills or the stewardship of your church. Those better job benefits might more effectively pay for a medical need or condition that would otherwise leave your family destitute. Like Abraham, God might just call you on a moment’s notice to do something completely different somewhere different for His glory. As with anything, check your heart and seek God’s will through prayer first. And remember that those who find happiness in money will never be content, because true contentment is found in Christ alone.
Warning #2: Pursue certainty. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul gives his advice to believers who are already rich: Don’t place your hope in the uncertainty of riches. There is a difference between being rich in the “present age” and the coming kingdom of Christ. Paul doesn’t tell those with wealth to give up all their stuff. However, he tells them to pursue the “sure thing.” As believers, our future is certain, and we are headed to spend an eternity with our Lord. If the promised future of Heaven is truly what you believe, materialism is completely irrational. The pursuit of money makes exactly zero sense. “You can’t take it with you” turns out to be a very accurate – if not Biblical – statement. The certain “sure thing” is the treasures being stored up in Heaven: generosity, sharing, compassion and love. Pursue the eternal things that God values. Hope in a certain future with God.
While most people on the street would agree with the philosophy of “you can’t take it with you,” our actions ultimately state otherwise. In 2005, there were 1.875 billion square feet of self-storage units in the U.S., and approximately 1 in 11 American households were renting a self-storage unit. That’s a lot of people paying to have their junk stored or eventually auctioned off on the TV show “Storage Wars.” The National Association of Homebuilders reported that the size of the average American house went from 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,400 square feet in 2004. The reason for the change in home size isn’t because we’re having more babies or larger families … It’s because we’ve got more junk to store. A recent study showed that 2 to 5 percent of Americans exhibit behaviors associated with “hoarding,” which is habitually storing stuff of little or no value. Not to mention the phenomenon of TV shows ranging from “Antiques Roadshow” to “Pawn Stars” with “experts” telling you how much all the junk stored in grandma’s attic is really worth. The whole culture is screaming: “Don’t throw out your stuff … It might be really valuable one day!”
When my family moved from Fort Worth, TX to Martinsville, IN, the deal for the house we were going to purchase fell through two days before our move, and we were effectively homeless for two months. We lived off the generosity of church members and kept our belongings in the church basement. Some of our stuff wound up being stolen in the process. After those two months, we came to a very interesting realization: We didn’t really need all of the stuff that we were storing. We began to question why we rented a moving van in the first place. We made out perfectly fine without it, and we’re in the process of getting rid of many things we don’t really need. How many of us would admit that we are storing boxes of stuff that we haven’t opened in ten years?
Do you own stuff or does stuff own you? Far too often, we allow things other than God to own us lock, stock and barrel. We go to extremes to keep, store and protect our stuff and hardly think at all about pursuing spiritual wealth. The Christian rock band Disciple has a great song about this concept called “Dear X, You Don’t Own Me.” The singer starts running though the litany of things that used to control him before knowing Christ. Pain held him tight. He was safe in the arms of shame. He was faithful to anger and hate was never far away. He then boldly declares to these things: “You don’t own me!” Only God owns him.
How you live this life essentially comes down to who owns you. Does the Creator own you? Or do things that God created own you? In order to be a slave, you have to give your undivided attention to your master. As a slave, you cannot split your attention between two masters with two different standards (Matthew 6:24). Inevitably, you will love one and despise the other. You will be devoted to one and disobedient to the other. Living for Heaven is incompatible with living for this world. God desires our exclusive loyalty.
Only God owns me. I belong to Him. And I’m content.