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Luke 12:13-12:21
Key Verse: 12:21

In the previous study, Jesus hoped that his disciples would be protected from the hypocritical Pharisees and be moulded into pure-hearted and fearless spiritual leaders in that generation. Jesus wanted them to fear God alone and trust in God who so cares for them that he numbers all the hairs of their heads. We believe that this is Jesus’ hope for us, too. In today’s passage Jesus said to the crowd, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Then, as an illustration, he told them the parable of the rich fool. Greed, along with fear, is another fundamental problem of mankind. May we listen to Jesus and find the solution for it.

First, guard against all kinds of greed (1-16). Look at verse 13. “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” Until now, in the presence of the crowd, Jesus has spoken about hypocrisy, fear, God’s care, the Son of Man and the Holy Spirit. But suddenly someone in the crowd brought forth the matter of inheritance. Probably, his rich father was either dying or dead, and his old brother did not want to share the inheritance equally. So this man, feeling this was unjust, wanted to receive fair treatment. However, when he came to Jesus, he did not ask Jesus to decide on the merits of two claims: he asked for a decision in his own favour. In any case, it is clear that the inheritance matter occupied his heart. Someone has said, “When there is an inheritance, 99 percent of people become wolves.” I hope that no one here is expecting to receive material inheritance from their parents or to hand down such inheritance to their children, but only spiritual heritage.

How did Jesus respond to him? Look at verse 14. “Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’” Jesus refused to comply with the request. Presumably, one reason was that he did not wish to ignore the authorities who were supposed to take care of such matters, and another reason, he himself had been appointed to shoulder a task far more important and sublime, namely, to preach the good news of the kingdom of God (4:43) and to seek and to save the lost (19:10). He came to bring people to God, not to bring property to people. In this situation he was concerned with the attitudes of those involved, not with who got what. Jesus never dealt with the secondary issues in life.

Jesus knew what the primary issue was, the matter to be dealt with first in in both his life and this man’s at this situation. And Jesus could also see in the petitioner a common problem of the people. So 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.” Greed or covetousness is one of the fundamental problems of human beings. The tenth and last of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maid servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour” (Ex 20:17; Dt 5:21). Among the negative (“You shall not…”) commandments, this last commandment deals with one’s internal being (attitude, heart), while the others, external actions. The apostle Paul was caught by this commandment and could not help recognizing that he was an obvious sinner, although he could say that as for legalistic righteousness, he was faultless (Phip 3:6).

In Luke 11, Jesus said to the Pharisee who had invited him but was surprised at his not washing his hands, “you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (11:39). Jesus also said in Mark 7:21, “from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, etc.” And Paul wrote in Romans 1:29 that people with a depraved mind are “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed…”

One dictionary definition of “greed” is: intense or excessive desire. The Greek word for greed is very descriptive. Literally it means: the thirst for having more, always having more and more and still more. It is as if a man, in order to quench his thirst, takes a drink of salt water, which happens to be the only water that is available. This makes him still thirstier. So he drinks again and again, until his thirst kills him. Greed is like a grave that consumes all (Hab 2:5). And greed is idolatry (Col 3:5). Greed is unquenchable and uncontrollable, when it is allowed to grow. So Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” In other translations: “…against every form of greed” (NASB) or “…against the least bit of greed” (MSG).

In the Garden of Eden when Eve, impaled by the devil, looked at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the fruit was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took and ate it (Ge 3:6). When the Israelites were in the desert, they had nothing to eat. There God promised that he would rain down bread called manna from heaven each day except on the Sabbath. For the Sabbath’s day’s portion he would give them a double portion on the previous day. So they were not to go out on the holy Sabbath. However, some went out on the Sabbath day in vain only to find none. This well illustrates their greediness. And some gathered much, others little. But when measured, each one gathered as much as he needed. Some kept part of manna until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell (Ex 16:17-20). We can also think of greed in our lives. There is a saying that an apple in another’s hand looks bigger to my eyes than mine, although they are the same. If a student got 90 on his exam beyond his expectation, he would be very thankful. But as soon as he finds that his friend got 91, he would be troubled, and the thankfulness gone. This can also be one of the characteristics of a greedy person. And in a buffet restaurant one’s greed can be shown. Greediness is definitely related to self-centredness and possessiveness and monopoly with no thought of God and others. People are greedy for money, food, sex, power, knowledge and success. Jesus said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Whenever we find our sin of greediness, we need to repent before the cross of Jesus.

The opposite of greed can be contentment. Contentment comes from godliness and a humble heart. Contentment is not a passive attitude. Paul said in Philippians 4:12, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” And he said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” In contentment there is no sorrow, but thanks and joy and confidence. Contentment is not static, but progressive. The life with contentment is to be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances, and this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thess 5:16-18). 1 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “…train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Being content in any given situation can be training for godliness.

Jesus continues, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” We live in a society of affluence. The common belief is that a man’s life indeed consists in the abundance of one’s possessions. However, we believe that our Lord Jesus spoke the truth. He wants us to be more concerned about our being than our possessions. When one’s inner being is not prepared, his or her possessions, especially in abundance, surely becomes a disaster to the person. The German social psychologist Erich Fromm (1900-1980) wrote “To Have or to Be?” in which he described two kinds of life: the life to have and the life to be. In the life of having, the relationship between you and me is based on materials. In such a life there is no true relationship because of materialistic view of oneself and others. The relationship is dead. But in the life of being, the relationship between you and me is true, sharing life and things from the heart. The relationship is alive as each one grows as a being. We can understand this. Simply put, money cannot buy true friendship. It cannot buy a godly wife, a godly husband nor a godly family, but my being and your being can and do. Certainly, Christian life is to pursue the life to be rather than the life to have.

Second, be rich toward God (16-21). In order to help them further, Jesus told them a parable. Look at verse 16. “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’” When the ground of the rich man produced a good crop, it was obviously due to God’s blessing beyond his labour. In Acts 14:17 Paul testified to the living God among the Gentiles, saying, “Yet he (God) has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” So the man in the parable should have thanked God for the good crop in the first place. Yet, at this time of abundant harvest God was not in his mind at all, not to mention his giving thanks to God. Instead of saying, “Thank God,” his first words are, “What shall I do?” He was full of the thought of himself. He said to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” 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.” He was living in the world of “I”, “my”, “me.” There was no room for God, and others were not in his thoughts nor life. He was one who believed that a man’s life consisted in the abundance of his possessions. He was sure that his abundant materials would make his life secure and happy. So he said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink and be merry.” His view of life is thoroughly selfish and self-centred, materialistic and physical, completely confined in this world.

The punch line of the parable is this: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.’” According to Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Biblically speaking, fools are not those who are less smart or intellectual, but those who do not acknowledge God, although they are the works of God’s own hand. How foolish they are when they do not recognize their Maker! Isaiah 1:3 says, “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manager, but Israel does not know..,” Those who do not acknowledge their Maker are worse than animals, however smart and intellectual they may be. There are so many fools who are so not because of their lack of intelligence but because of no acknowledgement of God. So fools do not know that their life came from God until they come to have the last breath of their lives. This is the case of the rich man. God said to him, “This very night your life will be demanded from you.” Of course, God must have sent him many signals that his soul was in danger and so he had to tune up his life, acknowledging God. But he supressed the truth of God in his material abundance and in that seeming happy life. He did so until God struck him to death. There are many people who drive on the high way of life in favourable situations and with many successes in the world, not knowing that the road will end in a death-toll. A fundamental truth is that life belongs to God and it will be demanded from us at his time.

Then the last words of the parable are this: “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This reminds us of the simple truth that man came into this world empty-handed and will depart with nothing in hand. According to the Bible, such property goes to the righteous, to those who fear God and live by faith striving to please God.

The final remark of Jesus is verse 21, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” In our society, storing up things for ourselves is the norm. What’s wrong with increasing one’s saving account and vacation plan and retirement plan? However, our Lord Jesus gives a serious warning against such a life. He wants us to be rich toward God.

The book of Revelation is the revelation of Jesus Christ John wrote to be sent to the seven churches in the province of Asia. (In fact, this represents all churches throughout generations, for seven is the complete and whole number.) The Lord Jesus said to the church in Smyrna, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” (2:9). They were obviously poor in their lowly human conditions, yet they were rich in God’s sight when they lived a life of faith in their poverty and afflictions. But the Lord said to the church in Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor…” (3:17). In their material abundance, when they lived only for themselves, they were poor and pitiful in God’s sight. And Apostle Paul was very much encouraged by the Macedonian churches who, out of the most severe trial, had overflowing joy, and whose extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. They could do so because they gave themselves first to the Lord (2 Cor 8:3,5). Proverbs 11:24 says, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more (“grows all the richer” in ESV); another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”

We learned through this passage how to be rich toward God. Giving our hearts, time and materials to God, especially at the time of youth, is not a foolish giving or waste at all. Rather it is the best giving and the best saving and the best investment, storing up in heaven and so being rich toward God. This is the very life God wants us to live in Christ Jesus, who gave his life for us. This is the truly blessed and wise life. And this is the very life we should teach to the people of this world and hand down to our descendants.

May we be on our guard against all kinds of greed, concerned about our inner being, and in pursuit of being rich toward God.

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