Is Money Just a Necessary Evil?

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Editors’ note: 

This excerpt is adapted from Business for the Glory of God. Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,

People sometimes say that “money is the root of all evil,” but the Bible does not say that. Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “love of money is a root of all kinds of evils,” but that speaks of the love of money, not money itself.

In fact, money is fundamentally good because it is a human invention that sets us apart from the animal kingdom and enables us to subdue the earth by producing from the earth goods and services that bring benefit to others. Money enables all of mankind to be productive and enjoy the fruits of that productivity thousands of times more extensively than we could if no human being had money, and we just had to barter with each other.

Beyond the Barter System

Without money, I would have only one thing to trade with, and that is copies of my books. I would have hundreds of copies of my book Systematic Theology, for example, but in a world with no money I would have no idea if one volume was worth a loaf of bread, or two shirts, or a bicycle, or a car. And the grocer might not be interested in reading my book, so he might not trade me a basket of groceries for even 100 books! Soon even the merchants who did accept my book in trade would not want another one, or a third one, and I would end up with piles of books and no ability to find more people who wanted to trade something for them. Without money, I would soon be forced to revert to subsistence living by planting a garden and raising cows and chickens, and maybe bartering a few eggs from time to time. And so would you, with whatever you could produce.

But money is the one thing that everybody is willing to trade goods for, because it is the one thing that everybody else is willing to trade goods for. With a system of money, I suddenly know how much one volume of my book is worth. It is worth $40, because that is how much thousands of people have decided they are willing to pay for it.

Money also stores the value of something until I spend it on something else. When I get the $40, that money temporarily holds the value of my book until I can go to the store and tell the grocer I would like to trade the $40 for some groceries. The same grocer who would not have traded any groceries for a theology book now eagerly accepts my $40 in money, because he knows that he can trade that money for anything in the world that he wants and that costs $40.

Medium of Exchange

So money is simply a tool for our use, and we can rightly thank God that, in his wisdom he ordained that we would invent it and use it. It is simply a “medium of exchange,” something that makes voluntary exchanges possible. It is a commodity . . . that is legally established as an exchangeable equivalent of all other commodities, such as goods and services, and is used as a measure of their comparative values on the market” (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).

Money makes voluntary exchanges more fair, less wasteful, and far more extensive. We need money in the world in order for us to be good stewards of the earth and to glorify God through using it wisely. If money were evil in itself, then God would not have any. But he says, “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts” (Hag. 2:8). It all belongs to him, and he entrusts it to us so that through it we would glorify him.

Money provides many opportunities to glorify God: through investing and expanding our stewardship and thus imitating God’s sovereignty and wisdom; through meeting our own needs and thus imitating God’s independence; through giving to others and thus imitating God’s mercy and love; or through giving to the church and to evangelism and thus bringing others into the kingdom.

Heavy Responsibility

Yet because money carries so much power and so much value, it is a heavy responsibility, and it presents constant temptations to sin. We can become ensnared in the love of money 
(1 Tim. 6:10), and it can turn our hearts from God. Jesus warned, “You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24), and he warned against accumulating too much that we hoard and do not use for good:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

But the distortions of something good must not cause us to think that the thing itself is evil. Money is good in itself, and provides us many opportunities for glorifying God.