Jesus Encounters: Worldly Greed & the Rich Fool

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Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Studies

Jesus Encounters: Worldly Greed & the Rich Fool

by I Gordon

Proverbs 13:7 One man considers himself rich, yet has nothing; another man considers himself poor, yet has great riches. 

Jesus encountered many people with mixed motives during His ministry. In fact, it wasn't just during His ministry for the mixed motives continue today. But I wanted to look at one such encounter and a parable Jesus gave to warn against one man's particular motive. It isn't one of the more common parables but it is one that speaks directly to the age in which we live. It is a parable that has been on my mind for a while now but came back to the fore-front when our family went to the funeral of a family friend. And there is nothing like a funeral to get you thinking about what really matters! Now this particular parable can be a convicting parable - but it's a good parable, because it helps you focus back onto why you are here and what is important in life. Let's read the entire parable and then break it down.

Luke 12:13-21 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." (14) Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" (15) Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (16) And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. (17) He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' (18) Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. (19) And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' (20) But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' (21) This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.

Where there's a will...

Luk 12:13-14 Someone in the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me". But He said to him, "Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?""

The background to Jesus' parable starts with a common request. A brother wants the Lord Jesus to tell his other brother to share the family inheritance with him. It is a common request. My brother is always saying that to our Mum. We get it a lot. Ok, I'm joking. But inheritances and wills often bring out the worst in people. You have probably heard the saying, "where there's a will, there's a way"?  But often, unfortunately, you could also say that "where there's a will, there's lots of relatives." That was the case here. This man wanted a share of the loot. The Jewish law of the firstborn (Deut 21:17) stated that the firstborn son would get a double inheritance. Maybe it was this that the man was objecting to. But Jesus' reaction is interesting. He wasn't remotely interested in getting involved in such matters. He came to seek and save the lost, not increase someone's temporal earthly wealth. He wasn't going to get involved with this request but He certainly saw things in this man's heart that He would address.

Beware, beware, beware...

Luk 12:15 Then He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions."

This man was looking for a way to get more of the inheritance. Instead, what he got, was a good dose of truth! You see Jesus knew what was in man. He knew their motives. He knew the driving force within their lives. And He knew whether their words were motivated from a pure or covetous heart. And this was certainly a case of the latter. Jesus spoke to this man (and us) about being on our guard against every form of greed. Greed comes in many forms so He tells us to guard ourselves. Be aware of what is in your heart. Be aware that you are being bombarded with messages of greed and covetousness all the time in this world (especially the Western world). St. Francis of Assisi once said, "Men have confessed to me every known sin except the sin of covetousness." Be on guard!

The Believers Bible Commentary quotes J R Miller on this verse who rightly says:

This is one of the red flags our Lord hung out which most people nowadays do not seem much to regard. Christ said a great deal about the danger of riches; but not many persons are afraid of riches... To look about, one would think a man's life did consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. Men think they become great just in proportion as they gather wealth. So it seems, too; for the world measures men by their bank-account. Yet there never was a more fatal error. A man is really measured by what he is, and not by what he has. While Jesus wasn't going to be a judge as to whether this man could get some of the family inheritance, Jesus obviously saw something in his heart that needed correcting. The man came for an adjustment in his wallet and left, hopefully, with an adjustment in his thinking. Well that was the purpose of this parable anyway:

The parable of the rich man

Luk 12:16-17  And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?'

To illustrate His point, Jesus told them a parable. It is one of a rich man with a wee problem. His land is too productive! I can relate. My mandarin tree has gone berserk this year! Now it's not a bad problem to have of course but the question is, what our reaction to this abundance? "What shall I do since I have no place to store my crops?" the rich man says to himself. So what could he have done? Let's see how he goes about solving this problem!

Luk 12:18-19 "Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."'

We see here that the man's focus was completely on himself. With an abundance of goods there doesn't seem to be any thoughts on how he can help any one else. His thoughts were purely on himself and having an easy life. His self focus is expressed nicely in the following little ditty:

'I had a little tea party, This afternoon at three.
'Twas very small - Three guests in all
Just I, Myself, and Me.
Myself ate all the sandwiches, While I drank up the tea.
'Twas also I who ate the pie And passed the cake to Me.'

"Take your ease... eat drink and be merry..." the man said to himself. That might sound familiar. A similar attitude is seen in this man in what the apostle Paul expressed when he said:

1 Cor 15:32 '..If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE.

In other words, if there is no resurrection, if there is no afterlife, if this life is all there is then by all means live it up. if the dead are not raised then this is all you have got so live for today. Of course Paul said that that is how to live if there is no resurrection. But there is a resurrection and Paul then spent the rest of the chapter explaining all about it. So this man's solution to this 'problem' of abundance is to build bigger barns so that he can store more and live a life of ease, eating, drinking and being merry. It can be the thoughts of both Christians and those in the world, in this age, is it not?

Those that God calls a fool...

Luke 12:20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?'

The rich man in this parable is interesting. He wasn't an immoral man - He didn't run off with his neighbor's wife. He wasn't a corrupt man - he didn't embezzle money or run a giant Ponzi scheme. Scripture doesn't tell us he was a violent man or a drunkard - he wasn't hanging out at the bars late at night getting into trouble. He wasn't a conniving or deceptive man. He may, to all around, have looked like quite a good man. But he was, in God's own words, a foolish man. Why?

Luke 12:21 "So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

  • He was a foolish man because he lived only for himself and not for others.

  • He was a foolish man because he thought he had a foolproof plan to get all that he needed for an easy life but he left God out of that plan.

  • And he was a foolish man because he thought and planned only for this life and not for the next. And that is foolish.

You know, God would never call a believer, one of His children, 'a fool.' A true believer is not a fool. They have made the wisest decision a man or women can ever make in believing in the Lord Jesus. A wiser decision you cannot find. A true believer is not a fool. But we can be foolish. We can be foolish when, knowing the truth, God still takes a back seat in our lives and we just fill it up with things that have no eternal consequence.

What then is the solution?

The solution is found in Jesus' last words of this parable. Jesus said to be rich towards God. How do you be rich towards God? He's not just talking about money though it can involve money. You can be rich towards God in your thoughts. Do you think about Him? Do you like to meditate on His truth? You can be rich towards God with your time. Do you have much time for God? You can be rich towards God with your gifting and abilities. You can be rich towards God in your faith and how you express that in helping others.

Again, what brought this parable to the fore-front of my mind was being at a funeral. The funeral was of a family friend who died suddenly. He was someone that had devoted a large part of his life to his business and getting ahead financially. And he had been very successful in those endeavors. It came out at his funeral that he had recently told a friend that he now had his financial house in order so was going to spend more time doing things for the Lord. But that is the sad part... for he didn't have the time he thought he had.

So I sat in the funeral and thought 'what are people going to be saying at my funeral?' What is it that is most important in my life? Am I being rich towards God, and others, or just myself? As Jesus said, real life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions. As the old ditty says:

Only one life shall soon be past, only what's done in Jesus will last.

Let me leave you with some wise timeless advice from the Apostle Paul that we all need to remember and heed:

1 Timothy 6:6-19 But godliness with contentment is great gain. (7) For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. (8) But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (9) People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. (10) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (11) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (12) Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses... (17) Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. (18) Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (19) In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.