The Folly of Greed or a Matter of Priorities
Jesus had just been speaking to his followers about worry. He had told them that they had great value in the eyes of God the Father. The Father knew everything about them and took a great interest in them. Yes, life as a disciple might be tough at times but all the help that they might need would be provided by the Holy Spirit.
There was a man in the crowd who wasn’t impressed with this type of assurance. He had a different set of priorities and he wanted to enlist Jesus’ help in promoting them. This man was preoccupied with a legal question about an inheritance; it was a matter that potentially had serious implications for his future financial well-being.
A Question of Priorities
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong about taking care of your personal finances indeed it is rather something that the Bible commends. The Book of Proverbs contains the following advice before going on to applaud action rather than laziness:
Prov.6:6 "Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise."
Similarly in the NT the man who refuses to provide for his own household is castigated:
1Tim.5:8 "if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."
It is however possible to be preoccupied with such things at the expense of other more important matters and that was the problem that this man had.
Just think about it for a moment: he was in the presence of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, who had left heaven to come to earth on a mission to seek and to save lost sinners and the only thing he can talk to Jesus about is the resolution of a dispute over an inheritance!
This may well have been the opportunity of a lifetime. Would he ever have another chance of speaking to Jesus? We don’t know but we do know that on this occasion all he was interested in talking about was a very worldly matter indeed. He wanted Jesus’ help him secure some financial benefit; he wanted Jesus to put some pressure on his brother on his behalf.
The passion that drove this man still drives men and women in our own day. And there are many who look to Jesus expecting and hoping that he will help improve their lot in this life. The health wealth and prosperity movement taps into this self-interested desire and leads many astray in the pursuit of the wrong thing.
Let us take care that we are not swept away with them because we have our eyes fixed upon the temporal material benefits of this world while ignoring the eternal spiritual benefits of the next!
We should stop and ask ourselves what our priorities really are? What do we pray for? If our prayers are focused first and foremost upon the comforts associated with the here and now then are we fundamentally any different from the man who called out to Jesus that day? It is very possible for us to get our priorities just as wrong as did that man that day.
Jesus refused to get drawn in by this man:
Lk.12:14 "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?" he asked.
Some rabbis may have involved themselves in matters of this nature but that was not why Jesus had come and he was not about to let himself get distracted. He had a far more important purpose to pursue.
You might think such a stance was a bit hard. Maybe you think that this man deserved a bit of help as his brother was obviously being a bit unfair. But is that right? We know no details at all about the case: and so don’t know who was in the right and who was in the wrong. It was a matter of inheritance and as someone has said:
"When there is an inheritance 99% of the people become wolves."
How careful we ought to be not to jump to what may well turn out to be totally unwarranted conclusions!
Jesus answered this individual but he knew that he was not the only one who would chase after the wrong goals in his life, he was not the only one who would get his priorities mixed up. And so the next words are not spoken to the man alone but widened to include the wider crowd.
We form part of that crowd today and living, as we do, in the affluence of modern western society we certainly need to listen to what Jesus had to say as he drew a general truth out of the specific circumstances:
Lk.12:15 "And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."
If we go wrong here what a mess we will make of our lives! Are we in danger of ordering our lives in totally the wrong way? Let us listen to Jesus who tells us that there is more, much more to life than mere possessions.
A Story to Illustrate
In order to press home his point Jesus told another one of his stories; we know this one as the Parable of the Rich Fool. Let me read it to you again:
Lk.12:16-19 "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: 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 ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."
This story has been around for some 2,000 years and still the behaviour of this rich farmer is imitated by countless numbers today – in fact his behaviour would probably be applauded by most. Viewed from the world’s perspective his behaviour is entirely logical.
As I was thinking about this during the week I received an email which began:
Hi K, what are you waiting for? Checking your finances takes minutes and could save you hundreds of pounds.
I was then redirected to an article with the rather pretentious title:
"Your ultimate checklist for getting control of your cash".
It was the kind of article that would have interested the farmer in Jesus’ story.
He was a rich and successful farmer and he had his long-term business plan. He was keeping a close eye on his finances and thinking about the future. He planned and he considered the forecasts for his crops and he invested as the market was booming. Bigger barns! That was it! "Bigger barns!" he said to himself. "It’s the answer to all my needs. Bigger barns! It’s a sure-fire way to build up the kind of pension pot I need. With bigger barns I’ll be able to relax, put my feet up and enjoy a long and comfortable retirement!
He’d cracked it, hadn’t he? What could possibly go wrong with such a plan? He’d got it made – or so he thought. There was a problem though: he hadn’t factored in all the relevant information.
Jesus’ story was about a farmer, a rich farmer who was thoroughly self-centred – again and again in a few short lines the farmer repeats the words "I" and "my".
He planned and planned and God’s plans were different.
This is how Jesus ended the story:
v.20 "But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’"
The farmer’s self-assessment was out of line with God’s assessment of him just as his plans were out of line with God’s plans. He was so caught up with himself and his own interests but he forgot that he was himself mortal and that human life was brief.
He died before he could benefit from all those careful preparations he had made. He had simply assumed that he would be able to feed upon his worldly profits and had never done anything for his never-dying soul.
What a dreadful thing to be called to meet your Creator and your judge and to be totally unprepared!
Jesus told his story about one, rich farmer but he knew that there were lessons for us all to learn from it:
v.21 "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."
Let him who has ears let him hear!
Some Key truths or Where have we got so far?
We don’t go on forever in this life
Our souls will be required of us
We do face a reckoning
We are not automatically ready for that reckoning
Does the way we assess our lives correspond with the way God evaluates us? After all the man in the story was really satisfied with his life but God had a different word for him in God’s eyes he was a "Fool"
There are several examples of fools to be found on the pages of Scripture and they have lessons to teach us if only we will listen.
Balaam is famous for the talking donkey he owned. The sad thing is that the donkey was wiser than he was! In the days before Israel entered the Promised Land the nation had to pass through other countries and some of these proved very hostile. Balak the King of Moab was frightened of Israel and employed Balaam to curse his enemy. It was not God’s purpose that Israel be cursed and although Balaam knew this he loved the thoughts of all those honours that Balak promised to shower upon him. On his way to do what Balak wanted, Balaam was kept safe because his donkey was more perceptive than he was! (You can read the whole story in Numbers ch.22ff)
Nabal was a rich farmer in the days of King Saul. At that time David was treated by King Saul as an outlaw but David controlled his own men properly – they protected farmers like Nabal from danger and treated them well. One day David sent messengers to Nabal asking for some food for a feast but Nabal sent the envoys away empty-handed. His rude rejection provoked David to anger: Nabal had put himself and all he had in serious danger. His wife Abigail heard what he had done and intervened. She succeeded in staying David’s hand. Nabal was blissfully unaware of the danger he had been in but when he found out the shock was profound and 10 days later he died. Nabal was a fool, that is what his very name meant, and he acted like one and he lost his life.
Belshazzar was the King of Babylon. He ruled at a time when God’s people were no longer as influential as they had been. Belshazzar foolishly mocked God who confronted him during one of his debauched feasts. A man’s hand appeared and wrote stern words upon the wall – "Weighed in the balance and found wanting." Later that same night Belshaazar was murdered.
The fool says in his heart that there is no God but it is God who has the final defining word.
By means of his parable Jesus taught what he taught over and over again. All men belong to one of just two camps. We should not be afraid to ask ourselves some questions: Which of these two camps am I in?
The first camp is made up of those who live for themselves, laying up treasures for themselves. This is the camp of the fool.
The second camp is made up of those who are/have been made rich towards God. Oh how I need to be in this camp but am I rich towards God? Are you?
The questions are easily put but not perhaps so easy to answer. After all what does being rich toward God actually look like? To that we must now turn.
What does it mean to be rich towards God
Elsewhere Jesus encouraged his followers to ensure that they had treasure in heaven. He told them to seek the Kingdom of God above all else. What we are faced with is a question of priorities. Do we value God and a wholesome spiritual relationship with him or do we want other things here on earth more than we desire him?
The greatest commandment puts God in first place – but do we? Do we even want to? The Bible tells us we are to love God with everything about us and this is the high goal to which human beings are to aspire. We have been made in God’s image and we are restless until we find our rest in him – and yet many of us try to satisfy that inner restlessness with anything but God. The farmer in Jesus’ parable spoke to his soul expecting his soul to be satisfied with his worldly material possessions and countless thousands live in just the same way.
The Christian knows that the farmer’s way is futile and has turned his hopes elsewhere – the song he readily sings is:
Now none but Christ can satisfy,
none other Name for me!
There’s love and life and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.
Does such a song describe the deepest longing of your own heart?
The Christian life is designed to be a life that is oriented towards God as our number one priority and this orientation doesn’t render us poor; it makes us rich:
Rich in grace – we recognise that all we have we have received and that so freely as we have come to put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ:
Jn.1:16-17 "And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
Rich in faith – all we have is because of the generosity of God. Faith lays hold of the promises of God – it was by faith that Abraham, for example, was justified as he believed what God had said to him. We don’t strive to make ourselves rich but we are as rich as those promises of God of which we lay hold:
Jam.2:5 "Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?"
Rich in good works – not that the believer tries hard to make himself acceptable to God because of his works but because true faith always makes itself visible by the fruit it bears. We discover too that even this fruit has been prepared for us beforehand by God himself (Eph.2:10).
Rich in (and through) generosity – one of these good works is the generosity of giving to others in need. No true Christian gives thinking that by such gifts he can buy himself some favours from God but rather having himself freely received he now freely gives:
1Tim.6:18 "They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life."
How kind our Saviour is! He urges us to be rich towards God and himself assures his followers that all the riches they need are to found in him:
2Cor.8:9 "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."
Will you listen today and heed today what Jesus says to you? Come to Jesus Christ and become rich towards God – it is the only richness that really matters.