In Matthew 22:36-40, a Pharisee (or Sadducee) asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, to which our Lord replies,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
What if this religious leader had asked the negative of this question, i.e. what is the worst sin? Or perhaps, what is the root of all sin?
What if you were asked this question, how would you answer? Would you say pride? Maybe it’s a lack of faith or a failure to believe in God and His Son Jesus Christ? Perhaps idolatry? Or Self-centeredness? What about homosexuality, that always generates a lot of discusssion? Perhaps it is just the inverse of the greatest commandment, that is a lack of love for God? Perhaps, but is this the root?
When you get down to the root – not the cause, for it’s clear that is the total depravity that we are all born with – but the root, what is it? Is there a single spring out of which all other sins flow from this depraved heart? Can we put our finger on the pulse of sin and get down to the very bottom of the issue and say there it is….there’s our problem?
I think so. And I think Scripture tells us both directly and indirectly.
Perhaps the most obvious place to turn first is a passage that is often misquoted, 1 Timothy 6:10,
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”
Frequently, we hear this verse quoted as, “money is the root of all evil,” but that is not what the passage says. It is the love of money that is a root of all kinds of evils, plural. This phrase, the love of money, is translated from the Greek word, philargyria, which is only used here in the entire New Testament. It is related to the word translated as “covetous” in Luke 16:14 and 2 Timothy 3:2. It would not be a stretch to see then that the Scriptures have covetousness in mind with the reference to the love of money. From this verse, we can begin to see that this particular root for all sorts of evils is a desire for more, or we might say a dissatisfaction with a current situation leading to a sinful desire for increase, here applied to the case of money. While greed could be on the right track for identifying this root sin, it’s too simplistic of an answer and I think it lends itself to being more of a fruit sin than a root sin.
Next, let’s turn our attention to the original sin and see if we can compliment our understanding of what we’ve seen thus far regarding this root of sin. In Genesis 3:5-6 we read of the following account on the occasion of the original sin
5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Simply making some observations from the passage we may note some of the sinful rationale for making the choice to disobey God’s command. First, we observe Satan’s temptation as he plants the seeds of doubt and discontent, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Then we see the divine commentary on the desires of Eve and the failure of Adam that may be summarized as the following:
- Good for food
- Delight to the eyes
- Tree to be desired, to make one wise.
Some have summarized these desires as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, perhaps an application of 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world.”
If this is a fair summation, then there are a few questions we need to ask in order to arrive at a potential root for sin. First, why were Adam and Eve not satisfied with all of the other trees and sources for food that God had provided? Second, why was it not enough to be made in the image of God, that they would desire to “be like God” through consumption of that which God had strictly forbidden? Third, and finally, with the desire to be made wise, what was it that they felt they lacked? What wisdom could the tree have possible provided that they had not either been born with or had access to through communion with God?
Summarizing this entire episode of the original sin, including Satan’s temptation and the questions we’ve asked, along with our brief look at the love of money (particularly its context, included below) and we are left with a firm conclusion regarding the root of this original sin, discontentment.
Discontentment is rooted in a dissatisfaction with who God is and what He has done in Christ. It is a refusal to accept His providential rule. It objects to Him as Creator, rebels against Him as Judge, and rejects Him as Lord and Savior. Ultimately, Discontentment with God is the root of idolatry.
Sexual immorality is rooted in discontentment with sexual purity.
Adultery is rooted in discontentment with marriage.
Greed, and conversely theft, is rooted in discontentment with finances or material possessions.
Even murder, as the Apostle James states in James 4:1-3, is rooted in discontentment, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
Discontentment is inherent in our natures from the time of Adam’s fall down to this very day and while it is a damning sin for unbelievers, those of us who have been born again wrestle mightily (and daily) against discontentment of the flesh. Clearly, with Adam and Eve, contentment is not natural. How then does one gain contentment when everything pressing against us from within and without pushes us towards discontentment?
God provides for us a divine remedy through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul. Writing in Philippians chapter 4, the Apostle tell us the secret to contentment
11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
How does one become content? We’re not born with it. Not reborn with it. We cannot purchase it. It is learned.
The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment is learned from our experiences through which God works and whittles to mold and conform us more each day to the image of His Son. He teaches us contentment in abundance and contentment in poverty. Contentment can only be learned by those who have been born again and even then the learning curve is steep. It requires a submission to the providence of God in all circumstances and a trust in the faithfulness of God to His promises.
To aid in this lifelong process of learning contentment, God in His providence has gifted us with some helpful resources. Internally of course, we have His indwelling Spirit. Externally, second to none is God’s Word, through which we have the experiences of saints who learned contentment as well as verses exhorting us to contentment.
Additionally, there are two great books which will aid the believer in their pursuit of contentment. The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs and The Art of Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson.
May God’s Spirit and God’s grace aid us in our pursuit of contentment.
But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:6-10