The Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)
When RJ was a baby, we lived about 20 minutes from my family. My grandmother—Nannie—kept RJ while Tammy and I worked. Nannie was a special and important part of our lives. Not surprisingly, therefore, RJ grew extremely close to Nannie. We moved a couple hours away when RJ was 2, but Tammy and I would send him to spend days at a time with Nannie; that boy had to have his Nannie time. When the church where I was preaching hosted a Bring-A-Friend Day, RJ invited Nannie because she was his friend. Yes, she came.
Nannie died when RJ was about to turn 8. After the funeral, we went back to Nannie’s house to eat; the family sat around on Nannie’s porch swapping stories. Someone noticed that RJ was missing, but it didn’t take long to find that little boy. He was standing at the kitchen sink emptying Nannie’s canisters—there was sugar and flour and coffee all down the drain and filling the sink. RJ said those canisters reminded him of Nannie and that he was taking them home so he could remember her.
When someone dies, he leaves all his stuff behind. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return” (Job 1:21). “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Tim 6:7).
You know how true that is. That’s why you have a will. That’s why many of you have spent time cleaning out your parents’ homes after they passed away. That’s why so many of you own heirlooms passed down from generation to generation. That’s why many of you have told parents and/or siblings what possessions of your parents you want when the time comes.
A man came to Jesus to ask for his inheritance. But the man had a problem—he was focused on “stuff” instead of life. To help the man understand the important things in life, Jesus told a parable about a man who thought life was just about “stuff,” and Jesus taught this man that: “Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.”
Scripture (Luke 12:13-21)
A man asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. The Old Testament was clear about inheritance (Deut 21:17); the firstborn son received a double portion, and the rest would be distributed evenly to the other sons. But there were still disputes about inheritances, and rabbis—experts in the Law—would often be asked to settle those disputes.
Jesus dismissed this man’s request out of hand because the Lord knew the man’s heart and wanted to point him to what is truly important in life.
One needs to take care and guard against all covetousness. The Greek terms for “take care” and “be on your guard” are both in the present tense; they, therefore, point to continual action. You can never, ever—in other words—stop being careful about greed in your life.
Covetousness refers to the strong desire to acquire more and more material possessions. The one who covets is never satisfied with what he has. The one who covets is someone who just has to have more and more stuff.
But life is bigger than stuff and doesn’t consist in the abundance of one’s possessions. The Greek term for “life” used here refers to physical life; Jesus spoke about life here on earth.
The land of a rich man produced plentifully. The image here is of a wealthy landowner who hired people to work his fields while he lived a life of leisure and luxury. It’s estimated that less than one percent of people in ancient Palestine lived like this. While peasants took pride in their work, the extravagant lives of folks like this farmer was fodder for jealousy.
The land produced plentifully—that was a sign of divine blessing in the Old Testament.
Because his land produced so bountifully, this farmer decided to build bigger barns and enjoy life. Excavations have unearthed large silos wealthy landowners built to hold excess grain. The farmer selfishly decided to hoard the grain instead of sharing it; he simply wanted to enjoy his life.
The man foolishly only considered his possessions. So, God told him that he would die that very night. Because he would be dead, all his possessions would go to someone else.
This is how it is for every person who thinks only of himself and isn’t rich toward God. Implied in being rich toward God is giving to others. The foolish farmer wasn’t rich toward God, for he only stored up for himself. He gave no thought to others—he thought only of himself.
“Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.” How can your life be more than your stuff?
Examine which possessions cause you problems, for possessions have caused heartache throughout human history.
- Achan’s taking spoil from Jericho cost his life and the lives of his family, and Israel was defeated when they first went against Ai.
- Judas, a greedy thief, betrayed the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
- In Philippi, Paul cast out a demon from a slave girl, but her masters made money through her fortune-telling; when they realized their hope of making money was gone, they had Paul and Silas arrested.
Take time to examine your heart to see what stuff is in the way: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Cor 13:5). Examine your heart to see what stuff needs removed.
As you see what stuff has a hold in your life, replace the stuff in your heart with life. If your stuff keeps you from your family, spend time with your family. If your stuff keeps you from prayer, pray. If your stuff keeps you from your church family, spend time with your church family. If your stuff keeps you from serving in the church, find new ways to serve.
A man came and asked Jesus to arbitrate between him and his brother. Jesus refused to do so and told this man that life is bigger than stuff. Jesus wanted this man to understand that his relationship with his brother was more important than the inheritance.
Your relationship with your family is more important than stuff. God designed the family as a blessing. “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Prov 5:18). “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life” (Eccl 9:9).
God intended the family to be a place of joy, safety, and love. But all too often stuff gets in the way. Maybe—like the man who came to Jesus—your family has been fractured over an inheritance; if so, fix it.
But I imagine it’s far more likely that your family simply gets neglected for stuff. Maybe a hobby or a TV program take up your time or your spending habits put a strain on the family’s finances. You need to make sure that your family—not your stuff—is your priority.
The farmer who was so caught up with his stuff died suddenly. I don’t know if you’ll die suddenly like the foolish farmer, but I do know that—unless the Lord comes first—you’re going to die. “It is appointed for man to die” (Heb 9:27). “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (Js 4:14).
Consider your death and your funeral. When you’re lying in the casket, how much is all your stuff going to matter? When you stand before God in judgment, how much is all your stuff going to matter? When your attorney reads your will to the family, how much is all your stuff going to matter?
Ask yourself some questions:
- What would I want the preacher to say at my funeral?
- What would I want my family to remember about me?
- What would I want my legacy in the church to be?
Then live that way!
At the conclusion of the parable, Jesus made clear that one must be rich toward God. In the parable, being rich toward God means using your your material blessings to help others. The rich farmer accumulated much wealth—he even had to build bigger barns—but he never used his blessings to bless others; instead, he hoarded his grain for himself.
God expects you to use your material blessings for the good of others. Luke 14:13-14. Paul to the Ephesian elders: “I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
Find a way to use your material blessings to help others. Maybe you contribute more to the Lord’s work. Maybe you help the children’s homes when they ask. Maybe you bring goods for the pantry. Maybe you help a neighbor in need.
How will you be rich toward God?
“Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.” Your life is to be wrapped up in God. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3-4).
Is your life hidden with Christ in God? Is Jesus your life? Do you need to make him your life as we stand and sing?