The Fool – Luke Ch12v13to21

The Fool – Luke Ch12v13to21

(0:00 – 0:24) Transcript

Look at chapter 12 verses 13 to 21. Someone in the crowd said to him, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. Jesus replied, Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? Then he said to them, Watch out, be on your guard against all kinds of greed.

(0:25 – 0:34)

A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And he told them this parable. The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.

(0:34 – 0:55)

He thought 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.

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.

(0:55 – 1:19)

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? This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. Well, we’re on a famous parable today, but I wonder if you’ve heard of another famous parable.

(1:19 – 1:48)

It’s the parable of the boiling frog. You know the story. If you put a frog in tepid water, it sits there thinking, This is fantastic.

Where else would I rather be? And if you slowly increase the temperature, the frog won’t notice. It will still keep sitting there thinking, This is great. And if you keep just slowly increasing the temperature, the frog doesn’t notice, and eventually it will just sit there, and it will allow itself to be slowly boiled to death.

(1:50 – 2:20)

Of course, it’s completely untrue. I’m reliably informed that a frog will actually jump out when the heat’s too much, but it’s a powerful picture of what we can be like as human beings. That’s why this story does the rounds, and it becomes believable, unless, of course, you Google it, and you find out otherwise.

You see, we’re often frog-like in life. We adapt to what’s going on around us. We become comfortable in our environment, even when it’s sometimes dangerous for us.

(2:21 – 2:46)

And when it comes to the issue of today’s passage, that’s a point well made. In verse 15, Jesus says, Be on your guard against all kinds of greed or covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. It’s a serious warning because it comes in a section of Luke’s gospel where God’s judgment and matters of eternity are being considered.

(2:47 – 4:43)

Our passage seems to scream of the danger that greed and even wealth itself can sometimes lead us away from God. And we can be like that frog because here in the West, as we know, we are seeped in the tepid water of materialism, which has also been a slow burn over the centuries. It just feels like normal life to have stuff.

We forget that for long periods, wealth and easy access to credit were not so attainable. And I’m part of the problem, of course. If I don’t remind myself, I will quickly forget that owning a three-bedroom semi-detached in Clarkston puts me amongst the most privileged of human beings in our world.

Well, if it’s hard to identify the greedy, covetous heart that we are to be on guard for in verse 15, let me highlight four indicators from our passage that may be of use for us today. Perhaps a greedy heart is on the rise when in life we start using, neglecting, indulging, and assuming. And let me try and explain these along the way.

Firstly, maybe a greedy heart is on the rise when we start using. That is where people, and even God himself, is viewed as a means for some material gain. In verse 13, someone in the crowd comes to Jesus, who he’s been teaching, and he says, Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.

In verse 15, Jesus interprets this man’s motives for us as greed. Now, it’s interesting to note just before our main point how greed can distort even the closest of relationships in life. Greed can set family members against one another, even at a time when they should be united in support, like in these circumstances.

(4:45 – 5:15)

In addition, a covetous heart creates an internal struggle, one that involves looking at what other people have that you don’t, and finding it hard to be happy for other people’s successes in life. It’s not missed on the commentaries that, like today, wealth and status went hand in hand in the first century. And so the request in verse 13 reveals a heart that thirsts for status, and to be first in line before others, as well as the desire for cold, hard cash.

(5:16 – 9:50)

We have to be on guard against all of that in life. But for our main point, it’s the nature of inheritance in biblical times that paints the picture for us. In ancient Israel, it was the elder brother who would usually receive a double portion of the family inheritance, and the rest would then be evenly spread between the younger brothers.

So the elder brother would usually receive a bit more. And it’s thought that this is the situation that this guy here is facing in verse 13. And so what seems to be going on here is that this guy recognizes something unique about Jesus, as we may do ourselves when we hear his teaching on eternal matters and the previous verses.

And he seems to think to himself, well, here’s a guy who could be useful in my family’s financial matters. And so he views Jesus as a means to an end, which really means viewing God in the same way. And of course, it’s never pleasant or godly when we do that, either toward God and the so-called prosperity gospel, where it is believed that through faith, we ought to be blessed with health, wealth, and happiness now, nor is it pleasant or godly if it’s directed toward people.

As I prepared, I was actually reminded of the Netflix film that I watched recently called The Founder with Michael Keating. And it’s about the rise of McDonald’s as a global brand. And that happened because of a guy called Ray Kroc.

But the first McDonald’s was run by a pair of humble brothers, and Kroc abused their business. He managed to get them on board with franchising, pretended to be interested in them as people. He found out how they set up their business, struck up a partnership, and then he started doing things out in the field that the brothers would never do.

Eventually, he exposed the loopholes and he bought up land for every new McDonald’s to be built on. It was not part of the original plan for the McDonald’s brothers. And eventually, they were in an impossible position but to sell everything to Ray Kroc.

And the icing on the cake was when he opened one of his own national McDonald’s right across from the brothers’ original restaurant and even put the first ever McDonald’s out of business. It may sound like a leap to go there, considering a man in verse 13 just asks a simple question. But one thing you might say about Ray Kroc is that he had a ruthless self-assertion, one that sees people as a means to an end.

And it’s not without relevance that the exact word for greed that Jesus uses here in response to this man is defined precisely as expressing ruthless self-assertion, which is applied to possessions. You see, greed distorts our ethics and our outlook in life, often pushing people to become fast and loose with boundaries. And this man in verse 13, perhaps in a less overt way, then goes on to do that.

He seems to be prepared to do likewise by asking Jesus to arbitrate in this issue, to try and gain a bit more than what he’s legitimately due. Of course, Jesus knows that the usual process would be to go to the local synagogue, so he doesn’t allow himself to get drawn in, even though he could resolve the issue. You see, ruthless self-assertion and greed distorts how we view people, and it distorts how we view God himself.

In light of all this, it’s a good reminder, as Jesus opts not to get involved in verse 14, that God and our Lord doesn’t simply exist to make our lives better, financial or otherwise. Of course, he may do that, but his ministry, which always points toward his work at the cross for the forgiveness of sin is of far greater concern for him in verse 14, even in some of the matters that consume us so much in this life. And we are to love our Lord for that first and foremost, before and above anything else.

(9:52 – 11:38)

So perhaps a greedy heart is on the rise in life when we start using other people, or even using God and viewing people in God as a means to an end financially. But secondly, perhaps it’s also on the rise when we start neglecting, neglecting the poor, that is. Of course, the poor get special attention throughout Luke’s gospel.

And in verses 16 to 18, Jesus introduces our parable to develop what he said in verse 15. It’s the parable of the rich fool. And it’s a simple parable.

It’s about a farmer businessman who yields a good return on the harvest, and he decides to build bigger barns to store up his wealth. And again, it’s helpful just to know a couple of things before our main point, one being how self-centered we may become when there’s money in the mix. One expression of that, of course, is the tendency to try and hold onto wealth and to strive with great energy to keep it and to manage it at all costs.

Incidentally, my daughter came home from school recently, and she told me that if Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon, dropped 500 pounds whilst walking down the street, he wouldn’t pick it up. I was surprised, and I said, really? Why not? I think I’d want to hold onto that money. And she said, because by the time it takes him to bend down and pick it up, he will have earned another 500 pounds.

I immediately said to her, well, I’ll tell you something. If I ever drop 20 pence, no chance. I’m not getting down for that.

(11:41 – 18:59)

Well, a greedy heart is a self-centered heart, and this man is certainly focused on the self. In verse 16, Jesus says, the ground produced a good crop, not the man, which really means that God, in his good grace, who sends the sun and the rain, who oversees nature, and who even provides the human laborers of the field as part of his creation, is responsible for this man’s success. But he doesn’t seem to see it that way.

His impulse in verse 17 is, what shall I do with my crops, presumably, that I’ve produced? And his answer is to store them up, in verse 18. It’s a common misstep, I think, in life, to feel that we are the masters of our own success, because of the choices that we’ve made in life, when a lot of it is to do with things that are out with our control, things that are down to the sovereignty of God, things like the particular part of the world that you find yourself in, things like the period of human history that you find yourself in, things like the character and skills that you have been given by God. And if we want to fight against the rising, covetous heart that is focused on the self, gratitude toward God is one of the weapons, as is generosity.

And this is part of the problem for this guy who is lacking both, and in storing up as neglecting the poor, which is actually our main point here. And we have to think a little bit about what’s going on here. I’m not an expert on the first century economy, but I’ve read enough to get the point that for most people in a first century village, the local market is key.

It’s all the more essential than today. You tend to rely on local produce when there’s no such thing as the bus, or the car, or the train. And so by storing up these riches, this guy is used as an example by Jesus of someone who’s starving the local market.

And the fact that he needs such bigger barns in verse 18 suggests this is a significant portion of the small local economy. And the point is that if he does this, rather than reintroduce his profit back into the market, not only does he starve the market, but he drives the price up because there’s a lot less of the produce going around. But the people who suffer significantly in all of that are the poor.

And most people in small villages in first century Palestine were in fact poor. And so Jesus is highlighting that there is a responsibility that comes with wealth that this guy is ignoring. And it’s in light of parables like this that Christians are known for trying to aid the poor.

I know that over the years here at Greenview, there have been many ministries in which you can think about getting involved in, which have sought to do just that. Or maybe it’s just about increasing the missionary links that you have with people who are out in the field already so we can serve the poor and the gospel. But there’s other ways to think beyond that as well.

There’s an obvious link to business. For Jesus, a greedy heart is not a fair heart. The Christian in business should be seeking fairness rather than being exploitative toward others and especially toward the poor.

And I know here that we live with contradictions because often the stuff that we buy is made by people in poorer countries. I remember a guy in Bible college who actually made his own clothes to avoid purchasing certain clothes. But there is a way to think about it in terms of business.

But there’s also a link to our individual lives and perhaps in the jobs that we do. The Christian may want to think about the particular industry that they find themselves in. They might want to avoid those that have a tendency to exploit the poor in order to build great wealth.

There’s many examples of this, but the gambling industry might be one, as would be working at the local off-license just down the road. We could also keep in mind that we sometimes have our own version of building bigger barns. A bigger wage in life does not always equate to greater care for the poor.

Often it can mean a bigger house or an extension or a bigger car or even bigger debt. The point is that it’s easy to ignore the poor and especially when we’re accumulating and when there’s greed in our hearts. And I’m maybe getting a bit off track here, but something else that did come to my mind personally on this general topic that I thought I would share was when I attended an online event and I listened to Tim Farran, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

And he made a point that’s remained with me for quite some time. He highlighted that certain ethical issues tend to get special attention from Christians, particularly conservative Christians. And he said he’ll receive a flurry of letters as an MP about these when an issue bursts.

But he pointed out as an example that when the overseas aid budget for the poor in other countries was cut a few years ago, which he thought was a shocker, he said they received virtually nothing. And that’s not a political point, but it says something. Over the years, I’ve written to politicians about abortion, about marriage, about gender, about education, things that may affect the lifestyle that I look for in society.

But to my shame, not once in my 20 plus years as a Christian have I written directly about a poverty issue. And so a greedy heart may be on the rise when we start neglecting, neglecting the poor as we accumulate in life, which of course contrasts with the Lord himself who came alongside those who are both physically and spiritually poor. And lastly, maybe it’s also on the rise if we start indulging and assuming.

I’ll put these two together, which you may be relieved to hear. In verse 19, this rich man having stored up his wealth says to himself, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.

If this guy’s present perspective is self-centered, so too is his future perspective. Because at a time when he should feel more responsible for others, given his great wealth, he’s actually feeling less responsible for anything. And I’m not sure what that says about retirement, but I’ll leave that with you.

(19:00 – 23:01)

And in some ways, we perhaps have a picture of the modern person. The rich man is someone who has found his personal security and wealth, and it makes him feel safe and secure and relaxed, something that I may feel myself depending on the bank balance. Secondly, he’s perhaps also an extreme version of me time, and the dream that many have, or perhaps could have, to spend every waking moment sipping pina coladas on the beach.

Thirdly, he’s also found his happiness and his wealth, thinking that life will be merry from this day forth, which is how many feel about the goal of accumulating wealth, as if that in itself is going to solve every other problem that you have in life. All of this presents a man who is indulging in his wealth and making big assumptions about the future. But there’s a foolishness in all of that, aside from verse 20, which we will get to, because wealth can be temporary and contingent.

It doesn’t provide true security. We only need to be reminded of 2008 and the great wealth that people lost and the credit crunch. Changing interest rates and cost of living issues recently highlight to us that our own personal wealth is often in a state of flux.

Furthermore, me time is always limited. Too much me time leaves us feeling empty and purposeless. That’s why in retirement people often end up going back into work.

And true happiness, thirdly, can’t be found in wealth or even the personal success that goes with it. The author Jack Higgins was asked at the height of his fame and fortune, would you wish someone had told you when you were younger? And he famously said, I wish someone had told me that when you get to the top, there’s nothing there. For these kinds of reasons, life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.

And what we say about the gospel is that true security can only be found in God himself because of what he’s done at the cross and Christ to secure eternity with him through forgiveness of sin. That’s why the answer to just about everything we’re flagging up this morning is to be rich towards God in verse 21, which really means counting God greater than any of the riches on earth that we’ve been highlighting, which leads to less angst about these things as Jesus highlights in the passage immediately after the one that we’re on today. But greed will distort all of that.

And so too can wealth, which has blinded this guy to his need of God and an awareness that he’ll answer to God. And in closing, verse 20 then gives us the actual reason then given by Jesus as to why the man in our parable is a fool rather than the reasons I’ve just given. Verse 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? If it’s hard to identify the greedy, covetous heart that we are to be in guard for in verse 15, living here in the West, it’s helpful to say that the greedy heart may be on the rise when we start using and neglecting and indulging and assuming. And we should be aware of all that because there will also be an answering in verse 20. After all that work, the rich man had a lot less time than he realized to enjoy his wealth.

(23:02 – 24:25)

It’s left behind for others to use or misuse, or it may just fritter away depending on whether you’ve thought that through in verse 20. These things can lead to a sense of regret later in life at just how much has been poured into the task of making money for what in the end feels like nothing. But that’s a small matter compared to what’s next for the rich fool.

Because your life will be demanded from you, Jesus says, which suggests there’s an answering to take place before God as to what we choose to do with our resources in this life. And as we close, I was reminded of an interview I saw recently with Oliver Stone that kind of illustrates the point to me when it’s contrasted with someone else. He directed the 80s film Wall Street about the New York Stock Exchange at the height of the 80s financial boom.

And it had the famous catchphrase, greed is good. And he said that he made that film to warn people away from Wall Street. But he said it had the complete opposite effect, such as the nature of the human heart and always looking for more.

(24:26 – 24:52)

But the attitude of Wall Street and all that the film stood for contrasts sharply with another famous Christian example of the 20th century, being that of John Lange, the businessman. He was the founder of Lange’s, the large construction company of the 20th century. And the author Tim Chester writes that Lange’s plan for life included a financial plan.

(24:53 – 25:06)

He decided how much he would live on and how much to give away. As his income rose, the giving increased. But once the earnings hit a certain amount, his income remained the same.

(25:07 – 25:45)

The company went on to make millions, Chester writes, as he continued to give away the majority of his income. He funded a host of mainline Christian ministries. We don’t really know how much he gave away, but we do know this.

He presided over a multimillion pound company. And yet at his death, his estate was valued at just 371 pounds. When I read that again, I thought, wow, I thought that’s even a lot less than the value of a three bedroom semi-detached house in Clarkston.

(25:46 – 26:45)

But here was a man who was rich toward God. And unlike the rich ruler, people benefited, and people are still benefiting to this day from his work. But if you get behind his life, we will see that it was the gospel that underpinned everything.

And when it sinks in to this dull heart, that there’s an inheritance coming my way, that’s as big as God himself, because of the riches of God’s grace displayed at the cross, I’m sure counting God greater than any of the riches on earth becomes easier. As will my ability to give and to be on guard against all kinds of greed, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. And may God bless his word to us this morning.