Wisdom ceases to be wisdom when it becomes too proud to weep, too grave to laugh, and too selfish to seek other than itself.
Luke 12: 13-24
Every day of our lives we are being pulled in a number of different directions on one hand we have family responsibilities pulling us one way; our obligations to the church pulling us another and friends pulling us in yet another. We are left wondering, “What is really important in life?”
The passage that we are going to examine today in Luke forces us to make a decision about what kind of life do we want? Do we want a life dependent on things of this world or a life with no guarantee of any of the world’s goods but close to God?
This passage is very relevant to us today because most people in America the main priority in life is to attain enough money to live the good life. We are bombarded on television with shows like, Lives of the Rich and Famous, Fabulous Wealthy Hideways. Etc. Today no matter what one possesses, someone else has something bigger, better or different. Especially in
American society the distance between comfortable and covetous may not be that great.
Jesus is in the middle of a sermon teaching his disciples to fear God alone, when he is suddenly interrupted by a man who is dissatisfied over what he considers to be an unfair division of his father’s estate between himself and his brother. I find it oddly comforting that even the Lord Jesus Christ could not keep everyone’s attention. One such man says in verse thirteen, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Down through history there have been a innumerable families that have been destroyed over a thing as simple as the distribution of assets. In my own family my grandfather became angry over the way his mother’s estate was divided and he did not speak to his brothers again for years.
This man really didn’t ask Jesus for a decision on what would be a fair division of the estate, he just demanded, “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me!”
Jesus did not answer as he was expected to do. In verse fourteen he says to the man, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Jesus refuses to be sidetracked from his mission of seeking and saving the lost.
Instead Jesus does not make a legal judgment but a moral one. Jesus knew that this family feud over inheritance was only a symptom of a greater problem greed. In fact the “you” in verse fourteen is plural indicating that both brothers have a problem with greed. As long as both brothers are suffering from greed no settlement would be satisfactory.
Jesus tells him that the most important thing is not for him to solve his problem but that his heart be changed. But if we are honest, “How often have we gone to God asking him to change our situation rather than asking him to change our heart?” I would dare say that most of our prayers are that God would solve a problem in our lives. Perhaps our prayer should be, “God here is my problem, please change my heart?”
Then in verse fifteen Jesus. “And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetous-ness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
When he says, “take heed and beware” he is literally saying “be on guard against all kinds of greed.” The area of danger for this man was “greed or covetousness” (pleonexia) and it means “the lust to have more than one’s fair share, a grasping for more that is never satisfied” or to put it another way covetousness is “wanting more of what you already have enough of!”
Proverbs 21:26 speaks to this very problem when
it says, “They are always greedy for more, while
the godly love to give.” (NLT) The writer of
Ecclesiastes says about the greedy (5:10), “Those
who love money will never have enough. How
absurd to think that wealth brings true happiness.”
(NLT) But is that not exactly what we think? How
many of us think if we could just win the
Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes we could
we could live the good life.
Charles Swindoll has pictured it this way, “Picture a shipwrecked sailor on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. His terrible thirst impels him to drink the salt water, but it only make him thirstier. This causes him to drink even more, which males him thirstier still. He consumes more and more of the salty water … until, paradoxically, he becomes dehydrated and dies.” [Charles Swindoll & Ken Gire. Study Guide. “Living Above the Level of Mediocrity.” (Anaheim, CA; Insight for Living, 1994). p. 83]
Jesus now addresses what we can term, “The Folly of Seeking the Comfortable Life” by his admonition, “Ones life does not consist in the abundance of His possessions.” But Greed tries to convince of just the opposite, “that life does consist in what we own.” Malcolm Forbes merely reflected our society when he said, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Mr. Forbes has since passed away and he now knows that this is not true.
Beginning in verse sixteen is what is referred to as “The parable of the Rich Fool” in which the Lord gives us five principles of what happens when our hearts are focused exclusively on ourselves.
1. When Our Hearts Are Focused On Ourselves We Do Not Give God The Credit For Things He Has Done. (v. 16)
“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully.”
This parable is addressed to the multitude, for it says that Jesus spoke this parable to them (plural), underline that word in your text. I think that it is important to note that this parable does not condemn this man for being rich. And to his credit it would appear that this man had come by his wealth honestly.
The rich man of this parable was farmer but he represents all human beings who are seduced by “all kinds of greed.” As this farmer looked at his amazing harvest he did not see the hand of God – he saw only his own effort. Yet he is a perfect example of greed because he has much and he expects to get more.
2. When Our Hearts Are Focused On Ourselves We Make Plans But Leave God Out. (vv. 17-18)
“And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ (18) “So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods.”
There was nothing wrong with his desire to build more barns, it was both wise and prudent. The problem lays in the fact that there is no thought of sharing. In the original Greek the personal pronoun “my” occurs four times and “I” eight times. Even in the English we see the pronoun “I” five times and “my” four times. Notice he how he says my crops, my barns, my goods. He is confused between ownership and stewardship. It is not ours to own it is ours on loan.
3. When Our Hearts Are Focused On Ourselves We Consider Spending Our Resources Only On Ourselves. (v. 19)
“ ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”‘
In this verse although he addresses himself as “soul” it is the physical life that he is really concerned about.
This man thought that when he put his plan into being that he would he would have it made for years to come. But all of this is based on the fact that this man expected to control the fate of future crops. He envisioned the future as continually expanding and under his control. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The book of James speaks to just such an attitude (4:13-16) when he says, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; (14) whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. (15) Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”(16) But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” The Bible does not discourage us from looking to the future with great expectation. However as we make our plans, whether in business, in relationship or in our personal lives, we are to do so from the perspective that ultimately God is in charge. In other words, we need to plan with humility.
I wonder what this says about our American concept of retirement. I am not against retirement, I would like to be able to do so one day. But perhaps God would have us to look at it differently; perhaps to see it as a time when we have more free income and greater time on our hands than ever before to do some for the kingdom of God.
4. When Our Hearts Are Focused On Ourselves We Store Our Treasure In The Wrong Places. (v. 20)
“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?”
This man is pronounced a “fool” (aphron) by God. A fool in biblical language was not a description of mental ability but of spiritual discernment. According to Scripture a fool is a man who leaves God out of any consideration. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God.” This man is a fool not because he has said this but because he has lived his life as if God did not exist. He is a fool in that he did not recognize that his material blessings came from God, nor did he recognize any obligation to God in the use of his possessions. Fools leave God out of their lives. “Greed is “the logical result of the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can while we can however we can and then hold on to it hard.” [Sir Fred Catherwood. Evangelicals Now, September, 1994 http://www.bible.org/illus/g/g-83.htm%5D
“Leo Tolstoy once wrote a story about a successful peasant farmer who was not satisfied with his lot. He wanted more of everything. One day he received a novel offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown.
Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost.
As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth. In a few minutes he was dead.
Afterwards, his servants dug a grave. It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide. The title of Tolstoy’s story was: How Much Land Does a Man Need? [Bits and Pieces, November, 1991 – http://www.bible.org/illus/g/g-83.htm%5D
To be a fool is to have missed the point of life. The remarkable thing is that this person that God calls a fool, we would very often call a success.
Jesus says, “this very night your soul will be demanded of you.” The Greek verb translated required or demanded (apiteo) literally means “to demand back or require back” conveying the idea of life as a loan that must be repaid to God upon demand.
He goes on in the second half of verse twenty to say, “Then whose will those things be which you have provided” Long before the great philosopher Solomon made comment on this very problem in Eccles. 2:21-23. Write this reference in margin of your Bible. “For though I do my work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, I must leave everything I gain to people who haven’t worked to earn it. This is not only foolish but highly unfair. (22) So what do people get for all their hard work? (23) Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night they cannot rest. It is all utterly meaningless.” (New Living Translation)
Since you cannot take it with you, there is no need to wear ourselves out accumulating it. Everything you have will one day be left behind. It is yours now to use or to abuse, but one day it will be taken from you and you will stand before the Lord and give an account of how you used it.
It would do well to remember the words of missionary Jim Elliot at this point, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
5. When Our Hearts Are Focused On Ourselves We Will Find Ourselves In Conflict With God’s Plan For Our Lives. (v. 21)
“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Riches have one major weakness, they have no purchasing power after death. The “rich towards God” are those who use what God has given them for others. There are numerous examples in Scripture. People such as the centurion who build a synagogue for the people to worship in (Luke 7) and the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus where Jesus often found rest (LUKE 10) were rich toward God. The way we become rich towards God is to invest in His church and in the lives of His people. But don’t misunderstand me; it is not that the church needs your resources in order to survive, but that generosity will add an richness to your life that you would otherwise miss.
We began this study by noting that daily we are pulled in many different directions and are left wondering “What is really important in life?” The answer is found here in verse 21, life in spite of all its complexities can be reduced to the very simple decision “Are you going to live life for yourself or are toward God? “