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We’ve all been in Sunday School class when the topic of wealth has come up. Someone usually quotes 1 Timothy 6:10, reminding us that it isn’t money itself, but the love of money that’s the problem.
Many of us hear this familiar scripture and think, “Yes, I’m safe. I don’t have enough money to fall into temptation on that one!” and we remember Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof singing, “Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?”
But actually, both the wealthy and the financially struggling members need to address the same problem. Just because you may not be Scrooge McDuck with a glittering pile of gold does not mean you have attained what Paul was talking about.
In fact, sometimes lacking sufficient funds can lead to bitterness, envy, covetousness, and resentment of those who have more. Feeling we’ve been dealt an unfair financial hand can lead some to decide that those with means attained their wealth through cheating the system, or exploiting others. Sometimes we blame someone or something for our sorry luck—even God. Sometimes a person devotes his every waking moment thinking how to get rich, and leave his scarcity behind. Some even embark upon dishonest dealings in their zeal to acquire fortune. Poverty is not always ennobling; sometimes we allow it to poison our perspective.
No, the underprivileged are not automatically saintly in their modest circumstances. Many dream of the self-indulgent ways they’d spend their money if they had any, “loving” money as much as they think the fat cats do. The whole notion of bucket list spending comes to mind.
And, just as many in meager circumstances are not stereotypical paragons of humility, neither are all the rich stereotypically greedy or selfish. Many millionaires use their abundance to help others, becoming philanthropists with lives of devoted giving.
The key, whether rich or poor, is to examine your heart and honestly be able to answer to God that your priorities are straight.
So what should those priorities be? President Dallin H. Oaks once said, “Our priorities determine what we seek in life. ‘Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness’ (JST, Matthew 6:38), Jesus taught his disciples. As we read in modern revelation: ‘Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.’ (D&C 6:7.)”
President Spencer W. Kimball also advised those with excess to spend it building the kingdom of God. Can we honestly say this is what we would most like to do if we had a bit more money? It’s easy to say we’d build an orphanage or offer scholarships when we are poor, but it’s harder to resist the lavish lifestyle when we actually have both options.
President Harold B. Lee once said, “Today we are being tested and tried by another kind of test that I might call the ‘test of gold’—the test of plenty, affluence, ease—more than perhaps the youth of any generation have passed through, at least in this Church.” I once had a friend—someone with a great deal of money—express gratitude that she had never really been tested in life. I recall thinking, But that is your test.
You’ve heard people wonder what they will do “when the going gets tough.” But that might not be our greatest challenge. Maybe our hardest test will come “when the going gets easy.” Will we splurge on over-the-top luxury? Will we feel superior? Will we form cliques and look down upon the poor, as the Book of Mormon warns against time and again? Or will we help others, and use our means to make a positive difference for those around us?
A good barometer is to look at what you do with your excess now. It’s said that if you want to know a person’s priorities, look at what they spend their money on. Granted, many are lucky just to put food on the table, but even they can impart of their time or their talents to bless others, if they so choose.
U.S. President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshipped.” Seeing our wealth as a tool is a good way to keep from letting it slip into an end in and of itself, or a sign that we are somehow better than others.
Though our leaders have urged us all to become self-reliant and get out of debt, we mustn’t misinterpret this to mean that we must pursue get-rich-quick schemes as proof of our obedience. Yes, it is a righteous goal to provide for one’s family, but not at the cost of scams or risky investments that could lead to complete collapse.
We can also check our definition of “successful.” Society would have us believe this indicates a person with vast financial holdings. And yet God has never loved someone more for having accumulated mountains of material goods. The Book of Mormon and the Bible are both replete with examples of people attaining real success not by becoming wealthy, but through their loving deeds and pure hearts. As Albert Einstein once said, “Don’t become a successful man, become a man of value.”
So let’s take another look at 1 Timothy 6:10, only this time let’s look at the whole scripture: “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.” It doesn’t just clarify that loving money is a problem. It rightly says we are coveting when we do this. We err from the faith! And now the very visual image: We pierce ourselves through with many sorrows. What an unnecessary, self-inflicted injury, one which brings us not just one sorrow, but many.
May every one of us have enough, and when blessed with extra, see it as the opportunity it is: A way to bless our fellowman.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.