The parable in Luke 12 tells of a rich man who had every appearance of success. He had been so successful in his farming endeavors that he had run out of room to store his crops. That was good, right? His good planning and hard work had paid off. He was financially secure. Today, money fund managers would have been lining up at his door to help him manage his wealth. As he considered his options, one stood out. He would tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Luke 12:18-19 says:
18 And 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ ESV
The New Living Translation captures some of the spirit of our rich businessman:
18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ NLT
In both translations, notice the dominant pronoun: my. He was rich towards himself. In thinking about “my” stuff, he forgot how things really worked in this world. He forgot who was really in control. Listen to verses 20 -21:
But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” ESV
Some may think, what a raw deal. How was this man supposed to know that his number would be up that night? Others may think he worked hard—he deserved to enjoy the fruit of his labors; after all, he would probably have a nice tithe to give with all of that profit. Still others may be confused, wondering just what was he supposed to do with his wealth, give it all away?
God had a clear perspective on what he should have done. Listen to the wording of his rebuke.
First, God calls the man a fool. In the Bible, “living as a fool” meant living as if there is no God, as if God did not matter. As we consider the man’s thoughts, we see that God was nowhere to be found in his decision-making progress. The man was making plans to suit his own agenda. God’s sharp rebuke instructs us that we really do not have control of the things that we own. The Lord can take us away from our things, or our things away from us, in less than a heartbeat. This constant reality is one we should not ignore, as this rich farmer did. The sharpness of God’s language is a warning, an urgent caution that we must acknowledge God’s existence and control in everything we do.
So, let’s go back to when the rich man realized the bounty of his crop. He already had barns for storage. Thus, God had clearly supplied him with more than he thought he needed. Instead of acknowledging God’s goodness and looking for a way to use this crop to bless others, he had only one focus—himself. I believe this is the point of the parable. Remember the question that was Jesus’ reason for telling the parable: someone in the crowd demanded that Jesus tell his brother to divide an inheritance with him. Jesus refuses to get involved and then reminds the brother who thought he was being unfairly treated about what is truly important. Jesus said:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
Jesus then proceeds to tell this parable that we have been considering. What was the brother looking for? If we take Christ’s response to the offended brother and connect it to his rebuke to the rich fool, the point becomes clear. Money, possessions, inheritances, retirement accounts, etc. provide no security. These items are gifts from God to be used to enhance the beauty of his kingdom, rather than to provide security for us. The bottom line of the parable is found in the question asked of the rich fool—this night your soul is required of you … and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’
I know that someone might be thinking, “You can’t live life constantly thinking this next moment may be your last. That would be impractical!” How practical was the rich fool’s perspective?
This next year you will have untold opportunities to teach your children what is truly secure in life. You will have multiple talks with your spouse and others about the use of your resources. How immediate and practical is the glory and honor of God in these conversations? I don’t believe that this passage is teaching you (as many have misunderstood it) to sell everything you have right now. Jesus is simply saying that what is important in life has little to do with possessions. The rich fool wanted security in this life, as did the brother demanding his fair share of the inheritance.
Life is not to be spent primarily providing for our well-being and security. Life that is truly life is to be invested in things that matter eternally. Talk about this with your children, your family and your friends. I don’t have rules or a blueprint of what that would be like for your family. I can’t tell you how much is too much and how little is too little. What I do know is that life does not consist in the amount of things that we have. It does consist of knowing and living for Christ. Life does consist of being rich towards God.
This sort of conversation can be unsettling because it calls for a realignment of priorities. But it is an ongoing conversation we all must join, we must all be on guard. We must live as if there is a God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth!
How will you be rich towards God in 2012?