RICH TOWARD GOD
Luke Ch 12:13-21, Key Verse 12:21
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Today’s passage is continuation of last week’s passage where Jesus gives us warnings and encouragements. Last week we learned we should fear God not men, because God has ultimate power over our soul and body, and our eternal destiny. We were also warned to be on guard against hypocrisy which God despises very much. Now, Jesus warns us against all kinds of greed. So, we get another warning today from Jesus. These warnings are for our own good, like highway signs warning of a sharp turn in the road ahead. Through a parable we are cautioned about living a selfish and foolish life. From this lesson today we can gain wisdom that comes from having an eternal perspective on life. This wisdom can help us become rich in God’s eyes. That sounds pretty good!
First, Be on Your Guard Against All Kinds of Greed (13-15)
Jesus was teaching to a large crowd, during his sermon a man spoke out, saying “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” He was not listening to the truth Jesus was teaching. He was tuned out. His thought world drifted toward matters concerning his inheritance. To him, Jesus seemed like an authoritative person he could use as leverage against his brother. This man had a petty nature, like a grade school kid telling on a classmate to the teacher. Apparently, the parents of these brothers were deceased, and it had come time to divide the inheritance. The brother of this man was likely the executor of the will and also was likely the eldest. Inevitably he had to make some discretionary decisions about how the property was divided. According to Jewish custom the oldest son usually received more. Perhaps the brother divided it fairly and still the man was still unhappy, we do not know. But what we do know is that he interrupted Jesus’ sermon and he revealed what was in his heart.
Sadly many siblings fight over the inheritance after their parents die. It should be a time of mourning and family unity, but that is not always the case. A person I know had a wealthy grandfather who had a large estate and left a lot of money to all of his grandchildren. But no one was happy about what they were getting, so many cousins all fought each other in court for years. All the lawyers were being paid from the estate assets, so there was little left to divide at the end, and of course in the end the family relationships were permanently ruined. Money gets a hold of people and they become irrational and even crazy.
How did Jesus respond to the man who interrupted him about this trivial matter? “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” He was not happy that the man’s focus was on material things and not on God. The man was just plain demanding and inappropriate. But Jesus turned the situation around to help the man and also teach the crowd an important truth.
He said in verse 15, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Greed has many forms and can latch onto a person in different ways. Greed, like most sins may start out small, and without repentance it grows bigger. The end result that is that we will have a disproportionate focus on ourselves, in comparison to how much we focus on others. Striving for an excessive amount of money is a classic example of greed, it is the one we most commonly think of. A person giving all their time to work and make money and none to their family or to God is greedy. There is also another kind of greed, which is to want to have something simply because you don’t yet have it. Adam and Eve succumbed to this kind of greed in the Garden of Eden. God said they were free to eat from any tree in the Garden, but not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or……they would surely die. They already had so much abundance! Yet the one tree that they could not eat from was the tree that they had desire for. How greedy! When they ate the forbidden fruit they sinned against God and the results were catastrophic, they lost immortality. There is another type of greed which involves excessive material possessions. Many people want to collect material possessions just to look at them. Some people collect classic cars that cannot be driven because they will depreciate from mileage. They just enjoy looking at their shiny possessions, and enjoy just having them. I have seen these homes in the wealthy South Barrington area and the extra garages that had to be built for their classic car collection. But I realized I am a little like that too. I have this type of greed when it comes to wanting to have more musical instruments than I actually need. I enjoy having my American made Fender Stratocaster and Gibson Les Paul, Fender P-bass, and my acoustic guitar. Then I think I really need a classical guitar, a Martin acoustic guitar, a J-bass, and maybe an upright double bass. If I fill out my collection, I think I will be happier, even if I only play these instruments once in a while.
But Jesus’ warning in verse 15 unveils a common deception– that our quality of life does not improve with the number of possessions we have. This delusion is what makes people want more and more. Ironically, instead of improving a persons’ life - material abundance can cause many problems. There is an expression, the more things you own, the more your things own you. One person really wanted a hot tub in their house. But after getting it, it required a lot of maintenance, and it broke a few times and needed repairs, then after a short time they stopped using it because of all the work. After seeing that I thought, “I’ll never buy a hot tub.” There is a television show called “Buried Alive” about people with problems hoarding many material possessions. They collect anything and everything, some have more than 10 televisions, some have 15 motorcycles many do not even work. They have so many possessions they are encumbered and cannot live a normal life. This is an ugly form of greed.
Greed can cause a person to behave immorally and sin. They may cheat on their taxes, cheat their employees, steal from their employer, and engage in all kinds of unethical or criminal behavior even. In the case of Solomon, we can see how many mistakes he made and the bad fruit of his life caused by his affluence. He was the king of Israel, so he had great wealth. He completed many fantastic building projects, had harems and concubines, and was like a celebrity- people came from far away to meet him. However, he had a spiritual downfall and his legacy is marred by his many mistakes. He married women who did not worship God but pagan idols. He then participated in idolatry too and built temples to pagan gods of Canaanite people. The Bible teaches that greed is idolatry. Ephesians 5:5 says, “For of this you can be sure; no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolator – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” The consequences of greed are not confined to this life but they are eternal. This is why Jesus gave a stern warning “Watch out!” And “Be on your guard…..” We should not be deceived by material things that do not give us life, and even threaten to take away our life.
Second, The Rich Fool (16-20)
Jesus taught us a parable in this passage, about a man who had abundant worldly wealth. He thought he was smart and had a good idea about what to do with his wealth, but he turned out to be a fool.
In the parable he was already rich, and became even more rich after he had an abundant harvest. Then what did he do? He said, “This is what I’ll do, I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.’” Initially there seems to be nothing wrong with his future plans. He could have some justification for building bigger barns. God had apparently blessed him, so he thought it was all his. He needed the extra space, or his other barns were old. Or maybe he already worked hard in the past and wanted a break, or he needed to be ready for the apocalypse. But these would just be excuses for his true motive which is revealed by his self-centered plans. In these two short sentences he says “I” and “I’ll” four times. He does not mention God at all, and does not mention helping anyone, and does not mention making an offering on his new wealth. He just wants to take care of himself. He wants to become spiritually lazy, and live what he thought would be a good, easy life. This reminds me of a song by Jimmy Buffet, about a man who lives near a tropical beach and does nothing all day but sit on his porch drinking margaritas, appropriately titled - Wasting Away in Margaritaville. It’s a popular song because many people think this would be a good easy life.
The Bible subtitles this parable “The Rich Fool.” These are two words we don’t often hear together, rich-fool. We may have an idea that rich people have some special wisdom that enabled them to make more money than other people, and that they are smart. We may think poor people are the ones who made foolish mistakes. But this kind of Darwinian thinking is not necessarily true. The Bible is full of spiritual irony about those who appear foolish but are actually wise, and those who appear wise but are actually foolish like the rich fool in this passage.
What happened next to this rich man? Look at verse 20, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” Right when he was booking his flight for a very long vacation God showed up and his life was “demanded” from him. His life was not his, and he misused it. Certainly, God tried to enter his life many times but he would not let him in. Under no circumstances are spiritual laziness and a life without God acceptable. From an eternal perspective a man’s or woman’s life is a mist, or a cloud or vapor, according to James Chapter 4. It’s there shortly, and then it vanishes. At one point, our lives will be demanded from each of us because our they are not ours, they are God’s. Life in this world is temporal, so putting our hope in temporary things is foolish.
Third, Be Rich Toward God (21)
Now that we learned about greed, let’s learn about being rich toward God. Jesus summarized the parable in verse 21, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Jesus uses the expression “rich toward God.” We could also call this being spiritually rich, or having treasure in heaven. Fortunately, eternal riches do not correlate at all with our riches on this earth. So you could log in to your bank account and see it has very little, especially the day before pay day, while at the same time you can have riches in heaven worth more than even billions of dollars.
The Bible teaches that money used selfishly for one’s own purposes leads to destruction. However, the Bible also teaches that money can be used with the right motives for God’s kingdom, and we can be spiritually rich when we do this. People often misquote the Bible, saying that money is the root of all evil. The book of Timothy does not say that, what does it say? It says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1st Timothy 6:10) If money by itself was evil then we would be afraid to have it in our wallets. Money is a neutral object, and alone is neither good nor bad. Therefore, saving money is not bad and neither is getting a promotion or a raise at work, or being an entrepreneur. It is interesting Jesus talked more about money in the Bible than any other subject with the exception of the Kingdom of God. Jesus said in Luke 16:9, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” There is one person who did not argue with his family about his inheritance, but gave his portion away to his brother-in-law and sister. So his sister recognized he is a true Christian not a fake one and she listens to what he says about God and has become a Christian herself. So, we can say this is an example of how worldly wealth can be used for God’s eternal purposes.
We are wise when we give our offerings to God, and we are foolish when we keep our money only for ourselves. I have been called foolish before by worldly people for giving my time and money to a church. There are many good examples of wealthy people in our ministry supporting missionaries around the world. They are wise and spiritually rich people and they will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
Finally, where do eternal riches come from? We can obtain eternal riches only from Jesus. We cannot find it on the stock exchange. When we believe in Jesus and repent of our sins, we receive eternal life. Our priorities change and we recognize that this world is temporary and the kingdom of God is eternal and the kingdom of God is what we long for. 1 Peter 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This is an inheritance kept in heaven for you.”
In this passage we are challenged to repent of greed. We are also prompted to think about our motives and future plans and our spiritual value system. We learn that we are wise when we have an eternal perspective and put our hope in God’s kingdom. May God help each of us to do so.