Those who desire riches
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. 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. 1 Timothy 6:9-10
In these verses, Paul reminds us of the destructive end of covetousness. Those who “will be rich” – that is, those who inordinately desire it – plunge into an ocean of hurt. First, they expose themselves to special temptations (all men are tempted, so the temptations Paul speaks of here must be unique to greed) which then lead to a snare. Often, when Paul speaks of a snare, he has the devil in mind as the one who sets it, and this might be the case here (cf. 1 Tim. 3:7; 2 Tim. 2:26). The result is “foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction.” This is a sad description of men and women whose greed has led them to make choices that they otherwise would have viewed as both foolish and hurtful. The words for “destruction and perdition” are very strong; in other contexts they can refer to perishing eternally. In fact, this might the case here, for Paul is describing those who have abandoned Christ for other things. One is reminded of the words of the Wise Man: “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death” (Prov. 10:2).
Paul’s words remind me of a short story by Leo Tolstoy, entitled “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” It is about a Russian man named Pahom, which begins with his wife quarrelling with a cousin over the merits of country life versus city life. Pahom’s wife argued that the peasant’s life was better, and Pahom agreed, but thought that he would be better off if he just had more land. So throughout the story, Pahom acquires more land and more status, thinking that by the next purchase he will finally be satisfied. Satisfaction never comes, however, and when he is told of cheap land in another part of Russia where only some ignorant tribesmen live, Pahom leaps at the chance to get it. When he arrives to look over the land, he learns the amazing condition with which the land is acquired: he can have as much land as he can traverse in a day for a relatively small amount of money. The catch was that he had to end where he started at the end of the day or he would lose his money. So early the next morning, Pahom sets out to mark out his possession. Greed gets the better of him, however, and he ends up traversing too much land, so much that he has to run without stopping for the last few hours in order to make it back by the end of the day. The result was that he died of exhaustion as he reached the end. Tolstoy ends the story with these words: “His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it. Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.” What irony! In the end, Pahom only ended up with six feet of land, the result of his insatiable greed for more land than he really needed. Tolstoy was trying to teach the same lesson Paul wants us to learn: that by seeking to possess all things we end up losing everything (cf. Mk. 8:34-38).
It’s not that money itself is bad, or even wealth. After all, Paul will later exhort the rich to enjoy their wealth, albeit with an attitude that is consistent with faith in Christ (6:17-18). And here, Paul does not say that money is the root of all evil, but that the love of money is the root of all [sorts of] evil. Poor people are just as susceptible to this as the rich. It’s not the possession of wealth that is wrong; it's the way we enjoy it. If we don’t make it our god, and see these things as gifts which are less than the Giver, we will be all right. But if we put God’s good gifts on the throne of our heart, we will err from the faith and pierce ourselves through with many sorrows (ver. 10).
There is a song that goes, “I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” Every Christian should be able to echo this sentiment. Why? Because he alone can give us true satisfaction. Money and status and ease and comfort can never give you eternal life or forgive your sins. Things cannot fill a heart that was made for God. Gold rises and falls in price but Christ alone is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Riches can be taken away and lost, but the salvation that is in Christ can never be lost. Wealth cannot give you love – though it might win you many false friends – but Christ is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, who is with you to the end (Matthew 28:20). Therefore, should you not “flee these things” (ver. 11) and flee to Christ? May the Holy Spirit prompt you to do so! And if you have, may he enable you to continue to flee to him and away from the passing pleasures of sin.