Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
Financial security is one of life’s universal concerns. So it is not surprising that the issue of financial security was raised to Jesus by a worried Israelite. A man had a dispute with his brother about an inheritance he thought was due him. He asks Jesus to settle the dispute. But the response that Jesus gives is not what the man was expecting. Instead of issuing a ruling or giving a formula by which to settle the dispute, Jesus uses the opportunity to warn the man and the crowd around them about the dangers of covetousness. At first glance, Jesus’ reply seems to be a strong reaction to this man’s request–he is just concerned about his financial future and well being. But remember, this is the Lord of heaven and earth speaking. Christ knew this man’s heart. He knew there was a larger issue to be addressed. Here is the text in Luke 12:13-15 that records this encounter:
13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
This conversation took place in the context of the travel narrative of Luke’s gospel, when Jesus was traveling back to Jerusalem before his crucifixion. Crowds were following him and his disciples along the road. We know that the crowd comprised at least the Pharisees, tax collectors and sinners, as well as his disciples. So Christ took this opportunity to address the crowd as well. They heard the question that was asked. The Pharisees would have been particularly interested in his answer, because money issues were a consuming passion for them. Later on during this same journey, Luke describes the Pharisees as those who loved money (Luke 16:13-15). It is during this interchange that Jesus adds a strong and stinging commentary about the Pharisees’ love affair with money: Christ says that what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight!
Thus, in Luke 12, Christ is also speaking directly to those Pharisees who were in the crowd. He specifically warns the man worrying about his inheritance that he has missed what is really valuable in life. Christ warns the man and the crowd about covetousness because life is not about the accumulation of possessions, including money. If this was true 2,000 years ago, along a dusty road in Palestine, it is certainly true today in a culture obsessively driven to acquire material comfort. Here is the important point to teach to your children – money is a possession. It is a commodity. This culture believes that the more of this commodity one possesses, the better his life will be. This theme would have played well with the Pharisees and the man who asked Jesus about his inheritance. But Jesus is announcing a different set of values. Life does not revolve around acquiring possessions. That is not what life consists of. In the following verses Christ teaches about what is important in life. But for now, consider how striking these words are. The man that Christ rebukes is not coming to him with worries about how to win the lottery. He believes he has been treated unfairly and that financial stability is being taken from him. His confidence is in this inheritance. He believes that inheritance is rightfully his. His confidence for the future is based upon gaining this inheritance. Jesus knows that is what is in his heart. So, he explains that his life, his security, does not consist in the abundance of his possessions or in the amount of his inheritance. Your children are the targets of sophisticated, well financed advertising campaigns that have one unifying, constant message–life does consist in the abundance of possessions, including money. Christ is not condemning wealth in this passage. Rather he is condemning reliance upon wealth as security in life. Christ is saying that there is no security in the acquisition of wealth. A number of years ago I heard Tedd Tripp connect this passage in Luke 12 with I Timothy 6:17-19. In Timothy, Paul does not condemn wealth per se. What he warns against is trusting in wealth. Paul’s message in Timothy is the same as Jesus’ message in Luke 12. Paul urges his readers to take hold of life that is truly life. By implication, a life that is built upon the acquisition of possessions is not life at all. This concept gives you something concrete to discuss with your children. Life is not made better by having more Legos or matchbox cars or sneakers or iPods.
Jesus does not stop with the pronouncement that life does not consist of the abundance of possessions. Over the next several verses he elaborates upon what true riches are, and we will look at these words closely. But for now, consider the radical reminder of Christ’s words to this man and the crowd. May we examine our own lives to see if our lives consist in the abundant of our possessions.