By Mike Willis
While Jesus was teaching regarding God’s concern for our welfare (the very hairs of our head are numbered, Lk. 12:67), a man came to him saying, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me” (12:13). Jesus refused the role of judge or divider of inheritances and then warned, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (12:15).
Being overly concerned about material things was a danger in Jesus’ day and is still a danger today. The Christian living in America in the twentieth century who is not alert to the threat of materialism to his soul is not aware of the devices of the devil. We have lived in a prosperous time; we have accumulated many possessions. The warning which God gave through Moses is relevant today: “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the, Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God …. lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein: and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God . . .” (Deut. 8:10-14).
Jesus warned about the danger of “covetousness.” The word pleonexia means “striving for material possessions” or “greedy desire for more.” He gave the following parable to illustrate the danger:
The ground of a 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 hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, 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 hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Lk. 12:16-21).
“There are not many places in the Bible where God calls people fools, so the fact that He singles out a preoccupation with things as folly is striking. In the Old Testament the man who says there is no God, that is, the atheist, is called a fool (Psa. 14: 1; 53: 1). So if that rich materialist is called a fool, it puts him right up there in the company of the God-deniers. In fact, there is an obvious connection, for regardless of his intellectual opinions, the man who operates like the fool of Christ’s parable is a practical atheist after all” (James Montgomery Boice, The Parable of Jesus, pp. 104-105).
Lessons From The Parable
There are several lessons which we can learn from this parable which have application to us.
1. The Sin of Misusing Wealth. Some apparently have the idea that being rich is sinful and being poor is virtuous. That is not taught in the Bible. As a matter of fact, some of the Lord’s most faithful servants were rich, such as Abraham and Job. The Lord gives man the power to get wealth (Deut. 8:18). “Both riches and honor come of thee . . .” (1 Chron. 29:12). Being wealthy is not a sin.
Like any other gift from God, wealth is to be used in His service. Through wealth, one can lay up treasures in heaven (Lk. 12:33; 1 Tim. 6:17-19). He does this by helping the needy, supporting the gospel, providing for his family, and other things. Most of us never think of additional wealth being a tool for doing additional good for others (cf. Eph. 4:28). Like the rich man, we think only of what things we can do for ourselves when our wealth increases. We think, “I can buy a bigger house, a new car, new furniture, new clothes, put it in a savings account, etc.” This parable was designed as a warning to the man who is laying up “treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (12:21). This conduct will only lead to eternal damnation.
Wealth has a tendency to entangle us. “Wealth tends to trap us into self-absorption, materialism, and insensitivity to others – just as sin entraps us” (Boice, op. cit., p. 105). It had done this for the rich man. When his wealth increased, he thought only of himself. In his sixty-one recorded words, eleven referred to himself (“I” and “my”). He was wrapped up in himself. He reminds us of what William Barclay related: “It was said of a self-centered young lady, ‘Edith lived in a little world, bounded on the north, south, east and west by ‘Edith'” (The Gospel of Luke, p. 168).
Augustine observed that when the rich man’s goods increased, he thought only of himself and not of how he might help others. Instead of tearing down his barns and building larger barns he should have helped others. He wrote, “Thou hast barns – the bosoms of the needy, the houses of widows, the mouths of orphans and of infants” (William Taylor, Parables Of Our Savior, p. 268).
Hence, this rich man ignored the fact that his wealth was a stewardship from God. He failed to consider that he must give account of how he used his wealth in God’s service.
2. He Thought Possessions Would Bring Pleasure. This rich man made the mistake which many rich and many who desire to be rich make. They think that things will make them happy. The richest man in the world, King Solomon, testified that riches do not bring happiness (Eccl. 2:3-11). Our limited experiences with the things which money can buy have confirmed this. “The Romans had a proverb which said that money was like sea-water; the more a man drank the thirstier he became” (Barclay, op. cit., p. 168).
How many times have you thought, “If I could just buy . . ., I would be happy”? I remember thinking, “If I could just buy this new car, I would be happy.” Finally, I bought my new car. And I was happy – for about six months. After that, I had 42 months to keep paying on a car which no longer made me happy. There is always something else, just outside our financial reach, which we think will make us happy. The nature of such things is that they only provide temporary satisfaction (Eccl. 1:8).
Some poet wrote,
We squander out health in search of wealth,
We toil, we sweat, we save.
Then we squander our wealth in search of health
And only find the grave.
3. He Forgot That He Must Leave His Possessions To Others. James Montgomery Boice made the following observation regarding the kind of reasoning which the Lord used with the rich fool:
I said as I began the parables of wisdom and folly that our Lord characteristically appealed to self-interest. I think, however, that of all such appeals there is none that presents the issue on such a low level as does this parable. Think of it. It is the story of a dying man, a man leaving this world to spend an eternity in bell without God. In such circumstances Jesus could well have argued, “Consider what you have gained in terms of what you are losing. Compare your present pleasures with your future deprivation and suffering.” He could have said, “Weigh the value of your soul over against your possessions.” But that is not what He said. He knew the man had no regard for such things. He did not value his soul. So the Lord comes down to the level on which he is operating and talks about his possessions only. His argument is, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? The one thing that might possibly get through to such a man was the thought of someone else enjoying what he had spent his life to gain. Think of that, if nothing else will move you. The Spanish have a grim proverb: “there are no pockets in a shroud” (op. cit., pp. 107-108).
Some of us need to give thought to Jesus’ question, “Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” We have worked hard and saved. Death is just around the comer for more of us than we realize. What will become of our possessions? Some leave all of thei ‘ r possessions to some relative who has absolutely no love for the Lord. He will use what they have worked hard to earn in carousing, riotous living, and other forms of ungodliness. Even if it is not used to support immoral conduct, their wealth still will not be used for carrying on the Lord’s work.
Some need to give thought to some things to which they can leave their possessions which will exalt the Lord’s will i Some could leave a sizable estate to support gospel preaching. Some could leave money to erect a church building. Some could leave money to publish religious tracts, books, and literature. Some could provide an education in a good, wholesome environment for some child who needs that environment to resist sin’s temptation. Surely we should give thought to what we are going to do with our inheritances. We are stewards of this world’s goods.
4. He Forgot That Death Might Be Near. The rich man thought, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (12:19). The Lord said, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” (12:20). Needless to say, it was “this night” and not “many years.” Many of us are thinking “many years” while the Lord might be thinking “this night.” The day of preparation will soon be over for each of us. What then? Each of us needs to make preparation for eternity. Do not postpone obedience to the Lord for we have no guarantee that we will have a tomorrow.
Each of us can profit from Jesus, parable. The danger in reading such a parable is that we make application of it to someone else instead of to oneself. After all, how many of us have torn down our barns to build larger barns lately? I would like to paraphrase the parable to make the parable more compatible with twentieth century living.
The labor union of a certain company went on strike for higher wages. After several weeks of bargaining, the company agreed to give all of its employees a $1.00 per hour wage increase, more medical benefits, more vacation time and paid absences, and a larger retirement package. In addition to this, the company offered matching funds in stock purchases and profit sharing. Discussion was given to a four-day work week and twenty-five-years-and-out retirement program.
A certain employee who was a member of the labor union went home to his wife and announced his newly acquired wage package. Together they considered this new wage package and said, “What shall we do? We have no more room in this house for new furniture and a second car.” They thought within themselves, saying, “This we will do. We will sell our present dwelling for a nice profit and buy a larger house. There will we place all of our new furniture, new drapes, new television set with video recorder, and two car garage with automatic garage door opener in which we can park our new cars. And we will say to our souls, ‘Souls, you have nice place with nice furnishings in which to live for many years. Take thine case. Eat steak, potatoes, and salad. Drink Pepsi and Diet Coke. Be merry.”‘
But God said unto him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee. Then whose shall this new house be? Who will watch your new television set with remote control and use your new video recorder? Who will drive your new cars and park them in your two-car garage with garage door opener? Who will eat your steak, potatoes, and salad? Who will drink your Pepsi and Diet Coke?
“So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 8, pp. 226, 246-247
April 19, 1984