There was a well-known Greek proverb in Paul's day which said, "The love of money is the mother-city of all evil." Paul adjusted this to his own purposes when he wrote in 1Timothy 6:10 that money is a root of all kinds of evil. Perhaps if he had heard Saddam Hussein at the start of Operation Desert Storm, he might have written, "The love of money is the mother of all evil".

We all know that it is the love of money, not wealth itself, that is so insidious. There are accounting techniques to figure out how much money you have, but it is much harder to quantify one's love of money. We probably have more of it than we realize. A rich man and a poor man can have equal amounts of the love of money, even if they have vastly different bank balances. In one it may take the form of greed, and in the other the form of envy. But the truly Christian virtue whatever the bank balance might be is contentment.

So how do we recognize the love of money in our own soul? Perhaps one clue, as with other forms of love, is in the things we focus on. That which we love is always in our thoughts; often in the first thoughts that we find in our minds when we wake up. We can be sure that we love money if it is often in our thoughts - either thoughts about how we could get more or how we can hang on to what we have. Thomas Brooks once suggested that earthly riches give us a head ache (the worry of getting them) and a heart ache (the grief in parting with them).

Either way, the pain has nothing to do with the amount in the bank. It is in the focus. And the damage caused by a wrong focus is in its ability to blind us to what is worthy of our love. That's why the rich have such a hard time entering the kingdom - their focus is so preoccupied with material possessions that they have no sight of God.

However, it does not take much money to fall into this trap. Christian novelist Michael O'Brien (in A Cry of Stone) writes these profound lines about the main character, a young, handicapped and very poor native Indian believer:

Rose found a new penny lying on the sidewalk by the steps of the school. It was shiny, the crisp picture of the queen and the date reminding her that the world was very large and time very long. When she held it to her eye, she discovered that even a penny can blot out the sun.