By Larry Ray Hafley
And he said onto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which be possesseth. And be spoke a parable unto them, saying, the ground of certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou bast much goods laid up for many years; take thine emu, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou bag provided? So Is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Lk. 12:1521).
The word “beware” is an intensive term. Because it is inherently emphatic, it is rarely followed by an exclamation mark. We would not expect to see a sign, “Beware of wet paint,” or “Beware, new grass sown,” because the word is too strong for the occasion. But we have all seen signs saying, “Beware bad dog,” or “Beware bridge out.” Thus, when Jesus used the word “beware,” He was indicating great danger (cf. Matt. 7:15; Lk. 12:1; 2 Pet. 3:17).
The Lord also treats us to the essential, fundamental evil and error of covetousness; that is, covetousness makes one think that the life is comprised and composed “of the things which he possesseth. ” And do we not judge it so? If we have material goods, we are “better off” or even just plain “better” than those who do not have them. This is what the Lord was attacking when He asked the rhetorical question in the sermon on the mount, “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” (Matt. 6:25) Your life’s value, your soul’s worth, is not measured by what you own. “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk. 8:36) That question could never have been posed if covetousness’ theme (my life does consist in what I possess) were true. It is not what you own, it is what owns you that really matters.
The Rich Fool
The parable of the rich fool is given to illustrate and demonstrate the truthfulness of Jesus’ opening statement.
It is not wrong to be rich. Abraham, Solomon and Job were not simply rich; they were “very rich” (cf. Gen. 13:2). The rich man of our text is not criticized or condemned because he was wealthy. Wealth itself does not damn. Poverty does not save. Wealth is not a vice. Poverty is not a virtue. Many will go to hell over riches who never had money in the bank. At least, Paul intimates as much when he says, “they that will be (not, “they that are”) rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Tim. 6:9). It is not riches but the “trust” in riches that dooms men (Mk. 10:23-35).
It is this trust, this belief in material substance, that condemned the rich man. Five times he used the personal pronoun “my.” He referred to “my fruits, my barns, my fruits, my goods, my soul. ” That is not evil, either, for there is a sense in which things do belong to us; we “own” them (Acts 5:4; Matt. 20:15). However, it was the absorbing, consuming thought of his life, and that is wrong. He acted wisely in building greater barns for his surplus lest it rot or be devoured by scavengers. He acted foolishly in allowing his goods to secure, as he thought they did, his soul.
He imagined “many years” of solace, succor and security. “Take thine (another possessive pronoun) ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” How does the rest of it go? “For tomorrow we die” is how it ends, but the rich man did not consider death. He stopped with “merry.” He forgot, “for tomorrow we die.” But even if he had said it, he would still have been in error. It was not, “tomorrow, ” but “this night thy soul shall be required of thee.”
“Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” Neither the devil nor this world can give you one itern that will not be snatched and taken from you the moment you die. We go into bankruptcy at death. We leave and lose it all (Eccl. 5:15). The wise man of Ecclesiastes wondered whether his riches might not go to a fool who would throw it all away (Eccl. 2:18,19). “He heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them” (Psa. 39:6). The rich man did not foresee this eventuality. He was oblivious to eternity. “They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him . . . that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption” (Psa. 49:6-9).
Being “rich toward God” is the antidote to covetousness. It is the man who has his priorities in order who sees to the wealth and prosperity of his soul. “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Do not ever forget who the real beggar turned out to be in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). Ironic, is it not, that the rich man of our narrative will also be the impoverished beggar in spiritual rags in the day of Judgment?
Guardian of Truth XXX: 18, p. 549
September 18, 1986