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But the reverse is also true. An obsession with acquiring wealth is a self-feeding fire. It consumes not only time and energy but also values. Strangely, this panacea, money, leads more to ruin than to wealth. People will do anything necessary to obtain it. As St. John Chrysostom said, "Riches are not forbidden, but the price of them is." Nowadays it is difficult to decide which is more dangerous--the love of money in a materialistic society or the Christian's rationalization for joining in the chase.
Paul sets out for his readers the dangers of the love of money in both general and specific terms. First, the pursuit of wealth leads down a road filled with every variety of pitfall. The words temptation and trap may well be used with Satan's manipulations in mind (3:7), and the Enemy is certainly capable of using the hope of wealth to blur the moral distinctions of believers. Foolish and harmful desires not only are for wealth itself but are probably also immoral cravings unleashed by access to wealth. Wealth leads people into circles where the rules are different, the peer pressure is tremendous, and the values are totally distorted. What, for the believer, might have been unthinkable from the outside becomes quite natural once on the inside. And the end of this is utter devastation, which Paul emphasizes with a verb that means to plunge (as if to drown) and two nouns that combine to describe complete destruction. Let the reader beware, for there are no such warning signs along the path to riches.
The then-current proverb, for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, is meant to give to the warning a kind of popular authority. Beyond this, however, the root metaphor contains an important truth. The hidden root is the source of life. If one is to rid a garden of weeds, the roots must come out. Similarly, Paul's hearers must not simply treat the problems caused by greed. They must tear out the root that produces the problems.
But how? We know from the story of the rich young man (Mk 10:17-31) how hard it is to loosen this particular root. Jesus' own assessment which follows is no easier: "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle" (10:24-25). But the same passage points to our only hope: "all things are possible with God" (10:27). The answer must lie in seeking God for the strength and determination to do what is impossible for us--to somehow take control of the lust for money and things, to somehow bring about the paradigm shift that will allow God and others to occupy the places of priority in life (Mt 6:33; see below on 6:17).
Paul's readers knew that financial motives and greed had helped destroy the testimony of some who turned (perhaps) from positions of leadership in the church to become teachers of heresy. If it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, it is relatively easy for those who strive to be rich to turn away from it. Wandering from the faith describes the apostasy of these false teachers, whose avarice Paul denounced in 6:5 (1:19; 6:21; 2 Tim 2:18). Fueled by greed, the opponents "lost their way," a sobering illustration of how the desire for riches drives a wedge between the believer and God (Mt 6:21, 24; 13:22; Lk 12:16-21). Paul describes the toll taken in spiritual loss, broken relationships and damaged reputations as griefs that pierce like thorns.