On The Love Of Money

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 
It is dangerous to look at a single verse in isolation and out of context. How much more dangerous, then, can it be to dwell upon a single word?  Yet I am time and again struck by the presence of a single word in this passage from 1 Timothy--"money".

Consider the definition of "money".
something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment
 Consider also the definition of "wealth".
abundance of valuable material possessions or resources
We often use these terms interchangeably, as if to imply that money is wealth and wealth is money. Yet at their core they are not the same; their meanings tell us explicitly they are not the same.  Money is not wealth; wealth is not money. Money offers us nothing of comfort or of sustenance until we use it, and, once used, it is gone. Wealth is of a far more durable nature, it can be used, and enjoyed, time and again--indeed is meant to be used, and enjoyed, time and again.  

Which invites the question, why not counsel against wealth, against the love of wealth? Why rail against the love of money in particular? It is worth noting that words such as "wealth" and "riches" are found throughout the Bible, so it strains credulity to suppose the Apostle Paul was guilty of a slip of semantic slovenliness in this passage. The counsel here is to beware a love of money, not of wealth.

Why might this be?

It has long been my thought--truly, it is not my thought but one I first heard in high school economics that has stayed with me over the years--that it is a question of focus.  Money is a measure of value, but it is itself of no value. A house has value, as does the land it sits upon. Education has value. Money has none. Money is a distraction. Money can become a deception--to prize that which has no value is a waste of energy and of life. The prize--any prize--necessarily is something that has value. As money has no value, it can never be a prize.  To love money is to indulge in greed, to wallow in that crass and base and selfish desire, and to be misled by that crass and base and selfish desire, with an end result of our encountering many sorrows.

In the 1987 movie "Wall Street", Michael Douglas' character, Gordon Gekko, attempted to make a virtue out of greed, talking it up dramatically in one of the movie's pivotal scenes:

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.

In the "Gospel of Gorden Gekko," this selfish desire, this notion of greed, is what builds society, creates civilizations, allows each of us to evolve and to grow and to prosper.  But greed, in all of its forms, being as it is a selfish and self-centered desire, disregards any and all concepts of value.  Greed therefore is the pursuit of a distraction.  Greed becomes a deception.  Greed is a pernicious lie, for it leads us away from that which truly has value.

What do I mean when I speak of value? I mean simply what the word itself means:
a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged
Value means that for all I give, something is returned. For all I do, something is paid. For all I receive, I give, measure for measure. Perhaps it is a material exchange--money paid or goods traded--or perhaps it is a non-material exchange; a kindness given met with gratitude, an affection repaid with affection, a love met with love. Value means that something--or someone--matters to me. Value means also that I matter to others.  

Value mandates exchange. There can be no value without that essential act of giving and receiving. Value is of necessity an interaction. Value is engagement, between ourselves and the wider world surrounding us. Value cannot be realized until there is a doing--value exists as a potential without a doing, without an action, but if there should be no doing, no action, that potential is lost, and value is made meaningless. I have value in and of myself, but I must act in order to receive the measure and the benefit of that value. So, too, must those around me act if they are to yield up their value, and receive the full measure of that value. Value must flow in both directions--that of giving and that of receiving--or it cannot flow at all, and it cannot exist at all.

Thus we are counseled to look beyond the mere price of a thing, of the mere cost of a thing, and consider what value that thing has, either to me, or to my client, or to my employer, or to my friends and family. Thus we are advised to orient our daily thinking around notions of value, and not to focus solely on dollars and cents. If a focus on money leads to pain and sorrow, a focus on value may lead to pleasure and prosperity.

Thus we are not merely cautioned against crass greed, but are also called to action. We are challenged to engage in the world, to exchange--to give and to receive--that which we value, and to fully participate in all that goes on around us. We are reminded that, to improve our own lives, we must improve the lives of others. Truly, we must be the rising tide that lifts all ships.