GAINESVILLE, Ga. (BP)--Think of a Bible verse about money -- just anything that pops into your head. Odds are pretty good you landed on "For the love of money is a root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).
1 Timothy 6:10 may be the best known but least understood Bible verse by Christians and non-Christians alike. A lot of people can quote it, but few really know what it means.
On a plane traveling to Colorado recently, I sat next to a couple in the bulkhead row. We had a very brief exchange when they asked me what I do for a living. I gave them a straight but gentle answer. "Well, I teach people what the Bible says about money."
Without hesitation, the husband offered his thoughts, "I know what it says. I know exactly what the Bible says about money." He paused as if to think briefly: "Money is a root of all evil."
As he waited for my reply, there was an awkward moment because the look on his face indicated he was confident he had properly answered a tricky trivia question. He seemed pretty proud of himself, even though his answer was wrong.
Of course, that's like a hanging curveball for anyone who's spent more than a few hours studying Bible verses about money. It's easy to hit that one out of the park.
"Well, not exactly," I said with more than a hint of smugness as I corrected the man. "There's another word in there. The verse you are thinking of actually says the love of money is the root of all evil."
My fellow passenger gave the required "ah," feigning he was impressed with my profound biblical acumen, yet I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that I, too, had missed something in the often-misquoted verse.
After the flight, I decided to revisit 1 Timothy 6:10. As I studied the verse, I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me to a deeper understanding. I looked at each word and meditated on the major elements: love ... money ... evil. What was I missing? Then, as if the Holy Spirit were speaking right to me, I heard, "You're missing a key word here. Look closer at the word root."
I had missed it the whole time. Why is it there? Why is the love of money, an evil that Christians are to avoid, described as a root?
Let's put the verse in context. First, it was given as a warning from the Apostle Paul to Timothy. Paul knew that his young protégé one day would carry on his work of advancing the first-century church. The apostle wanted to protect the church and enable it to grow.
Digging deeper, we see that the love of money is a sin we internalize, taking it deep into the heart. It requires a suitable analogy to give it meaning. That meaning was vital not only to Timothy 2,000 years ago; it's just as important for you and me today.
Dwelling on that meaning caused me to think of the roots of a tree. Lots of things have roots, but they always make me think of trees. Trees have roots -- big ones.
Then there was that voice again. "How many trees are mentioned in the Bible?"
Almost as a lark, I decided to check. You know what I found? There are far more trees mentioned in the Bible than I ever imagined.
I found pomegranate, mustard, balsam, olive, tamarisk, poplar, fig, nut, incense, sycamore, pine, apple, cedar, oak, broom, myrtle, almond and palm trees mentioned throughout God's Word. The Bible often uses the image of a tree to illustrate a truth, sometimes describing a given tree as good or bad.
Perhaps the best-known example of this occurs in Genesis, when the Lord plants two trees in the Garden of Eden. We see the tree of life, a good tree, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a decidedly bad tree that Adam and Eve were warned to avoid at all costs. The very beginning of mankind's existence is related to the choice between two trees.
Of all of the trees mentioned in the Bible, including those revealed in the Garden, I believe those most crucial for us to understand today are the trees used to describe us, you and me.
I'll leave it to you to ponder whether you're a good tree or a bad tree. Just understand that Scripture compares us to trees. We are to become like trees that bear good fruit.
"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit," Jesus said (Luke 6:43-45). "Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes or grapes from briars. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart. And the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart."
Let's call this evil tree, as described by Jesus, the "Me Tree." It represents a person born into this world in a natural state (what the Bible defines as a fallen state) without the Spirit of God living in him or her. This tree sees the world as something we can own and possess. It looks at acquiring riches through possessions.
Then we have the good tree, a person who has the Spirit of God living in him or her. Let's call that person the "He Tree," representing that He, God, lives within. The term has nothing to do with human gender. There are male and female He Trees.
When we ask Christ to come into our hearts as Lord, we become His possession, a He Tree. This tree understands that God owns everything. It looks at riches from God's perspective, knowing that it is a steward and not an owner. The tree and everything on it comes from and belongs to the Lord. Psalm 24:1 makes this clear: "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it."
If we are trees and expected to bear good fruit, it's important to understand the root system, because it's crucial to our ability to bear good fruit.
This is adapted from Chuck Bentley's new book, "The Root of Riches: What if Everything You Think about Money Is Wrong." Baptist Press will run excerpts from the book over the next few months. Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries and host of Crown's MoneyLife podcast (Crown.org/media/MoneyLife). To learn more about Crown's resources, including Bentley's new book, visit Crown.org or call 1-800-722-1976. Cofounded by Howard Dayton and the late Larry Burkett, Crown Financial Ministries (Crown.org), Crown Financial Ministries (Crown.org) is an interdenominational ministry dedicated to equipping people with biblically based financial tools and resources through radio, film, seminars, small groups and individual coaching. Based in Georgia, the ministry has offices in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Africa, Europe, India, Asia and Australia.
Article reprinted from Baptist Press. Used with permission. All rights reserved.