Of what does life consist?
We are looking at Christ’s teaching in Luke 12 on possessions and money. In the last post we looked at verses 13-15 of this chapter. Christ makes a dramatic observation to a man who was quarreling with his brother about his inheritance. He says that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. This was a counter cultural proposition then–and it certainly still is now in the 21st century! But Jesus does not leave us hanging with that statement. He tells a parable to go along with his teaching to the man in the crowd. In the gospels, a parable is a literary device used to underscore a particular truth. The point of a parable is to make the teaching memorable so that it can be easily recalled. In the next five verses, Jesus does exactly that. He gives us a vivid–even shocking–word picture of a man who did think that life consisted of the abundance of his possessions. Also, we are shown the alternative–being rich towards God.
Let’s take a look at this parable:
16And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Remember the immediate context. This parable elaborates on the truth that life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions. Christ begins by talking about a rich land owner who had an abundant crop. Anyone who knows anything about farming knows that abundant harvests are no accident. This rich man had planned wisely and worked hard. He was rewarded with a plentiful harvest. The harvest was so successful that he had inadequate space to store what he had reaped. After a bit of reasoning he hit upon a plan. He would tear down the barns that were too small to hold this bounty and build bigger barns in their place. The wisdom of this plan seems obvious. With his new storage facilities he will protect his harvest and benefit from the profits for many years into the future. He has worked hard and made good decisions; building bigger barns will secure his financial future. Verse 19 indicates that this man is quite pleased with himself.
So, what is not to like? He made a wise investment with his land. He had an abundant crop. He chose to protect his harvest carefully so that it would provide for him for many years. He is now ready to kick back and enjoy life. This has every appearance of being a wise plan. He may even decide to give generously to his church. After all, now that he has acquired savings, he is able to give.
However, Christ has a radically different evaluation. To say his response is unexpected is an understatement. Look at verse 20:
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
Fool is a strong word. The biblical word does not carry the meaning that we give to it in our culture. The Psalms tell us that the fool has said in his heart that there is no God. Recall from Luke 16 that what is highly valued by men is detestable in God’s sight. The problem with our rich landowner was that he planned as if there were no God. He had forgotten that it is God who blesses the labors of man. His harvest was bountiful because God had caused it to be so. He had also forgotten that he must be oriented to God’s commands and not his personal well-being. He had made something that was a good thing into the ultimate thing. The Bible commends hard work and wise planning. But these good things must be done from the perspective of being a stranger in a foreign land. This life is not all there is!
This parable is addressing a man who demanded fair treatment. He appealed to Jesus that he be treated fairly by his brother. But In response, Jesus uses this parable to confront the man with his faulty thinking. His priorities were wrong! His first priority should have been to be rich toward God. Living for the moment, for this life, is what Jesus calls “laying up treasure for yourself.” To live this way is to live as a fool–to live as one who does not know God. In the parable, Christ acknowledges that the man had “earned” his possessions. But his mistake was in thinking that his earnings were his to do with as he pleased. He forgot that his life was in God’s hands. As Jesus says, what was his would belong to someone else by morning.
So Jesus is urging the man who was worried about his inheritance to first consider being rich towards God. He is warning him not to be concerned about building personal wealth at the expense of being rich towards God. Let these words of Christ sink in. They are truly counter-cultural. Today, even Christians have bought into the thinking of the rich fool. Many believe that one must first save in order to give. That is not Christ’s message in this chapter.
One good way to examine your own perspective is to look at the attitude of your children toward their own “possessions.” Do your children live for the acquisition of Legos, MP3s, or spring clothes? If they do, they are following the thinking of the rich fool. They are thinking that life consists of the abundance of possessions.
So, what does it mean to be rich towards God? We will look at this in the next post.