Summer Parables: The Rich Fool

September 5, 2010 Speaker: Christopher Rich Series: Summer Parables 2010

Topic: Gospel

Summer Parables – Luke 12:13-21- The Rich Fool


Good morning! We are finishing our Summer Parables series in Luke 12, with the parable of the “The Rich Fool”. Jesus used parables as verbal pictures to teach hard truths of how individuals are to interacted with each other/themselves, steward creation, and respond to the Creator. While the verbal snapshot may be easily seen, time and the illumination of the Holy Spirit are needed for the details picture to come in to focus to show the fuller significance and application of the lesson taught. By using familiar settings and details from everyday existence the hard truths are able move beyond abstract philosophy to living images of the kingdom/glory of God. Jesus parables were often response to specific individuals, questions, challenges, and situations but have a general application and common truth that transcends one time/place to shine a light on the current condition of our hearts. 

My Grandfather passed away last month and left a will and an executor. If the will was not properly executed one of the brothers would likely get upset and seek some recourse or justice.

V13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me”

The Gospels are fully of Jesus having verbal exchanges with individuals or religious leaders while teaching to a group of people. With few exceptions, I have a picture in my mind of Jesus teaching to a group of a few dozen people, maybe sitting on a rock on a small hill or in someone’s home, so people asking questions or verbally challenging Jesus hasn’t seem too strange to me. The context of this exchange is slightly different and is worth noting. Referring to the “crowd”, at the beginning of chapter 12, it says “many thousands of people had gathered together they were trampling one another,” This is a BIG crowd that has gathered to hear Jesus, like an English soccer match. In the midst of all these people, in the middle of Jesus teaching, this guy gets up wanting Jesus to answer his specific issue in a way he has already decided is best. He is not only rude and inappropriate, but incredibly self-absorbed.  He didn’t come to Jesus to have an encounter with the living God/Creator. He didn’t humbly learn to serve or teach others, or even be spiritually enriched. This dispute with his brother over some money was the paramount issue on his mind and heart that he felt demanded the fully attention of one of the greatest events his city had experienced.  He came with the purpose of having Jesus/God serve him for his individual profit and glory with little concern beyond himself.

If we are honest with ourselves we are no different that this guy. We all come to God with our own agenda. We assume that whatever is most urgent in our eyes must be our biggest need/issue. If it is important to us it must be the greatest importance to those around us and even to God. This is not to say God doesn’t know and care for us intimately as individuals. Earlier, in verse 7, Jesus tells the crowd that God knows the number of hairs on each of our heads. But our individual relationship with God should not lead us to a self focus that blinds us to what God intends for us to learn/experience or His concern for others. We not only assume we know what our biggest issue is but, like the brother, we assume we know what the best answer/solution is. Like going to a doctor telling him what your biggest issues is and what you think he should proscribe for medicine. We really don’t want to seek what God’s design/answer/will is we only want God to execute on the plan we have already created. We aren’t knelling before a king or submitting to a teacher, we’re hiring a contractor or mercenary.

When you come to God what is your agenda?  In what ways do you expect God to serve you? 

Jesus doesn’t simply dismiss or ignore the man, but he doesn’t answer the man on his terms either.

V14-15 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 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.”

Jesus could acted as good legalistic judge like Moses often did and simply referred him to the Law in Deut 21 that outlines that double the portion of the inheritance goes to the first born son, told him to get his brother and they would settle this in court. Or Jesus could disregarded the Law and felt the emotion/passion of this man’s plea and said “Please tell me more. I am sure you must have been very wronged. You are clearly a victim of your rich greedy brother. How can I help ensure you’ve received social Justice?” But Jesus didn’t come as a blind unfeeling legalist or pushover for individual license. He reminds the man he’s not serving as judge/arbitrator in this situation, he’s not going to give him the answer he’s looking for, in fact he’s not even going to address the particulars of this man’s situation. Instead he goes straight the heart of the issue. The legal dispute is not the most important issue this man has. It’s the sin of covetousness, in some translations simply “greed” that Jesus is most interested in addressing. And just so the crowd, and us can’t get self righteous or start jeering this man, Jesus opens up his response the gathered thousands to show them/us the broken condition of this man’s heart is something we all have in common.

Jesus warns them to be vigilant against the sin of greed and covetousness and goes further to point out the root of this sin is a failure to understand our source of identity. Jesus makes it clear that were are not defined by what we have or what we don’t have.  This may seem like a simple enough statement, but everything in our world points to the exact opposite. Our house, jobs, clothes, cars, education, hobbies/toys, vacations are all things we take pride in, seek our identity from, and fill the voids in our life with. In our country there is a whole field of study and industry devoted to help people find their identity in products and services, it called marketing. An ad for a Jeep in Sport Illustrated said “Pride’s not a sin if you’re a craftsman. Some times what we make, makes us.” This is the lie. This is simple old school pagan idolatry, that what we have, what we do, what we make defines us. We create our own god(s) while failing to recognize that we were created by God. 

What do you find your identity from? What to you spend your time, money, thoughts, and energy on?

V16- 23 And he told them a parable, saying, “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 ups for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.”

Jesus reinforces his teaching with a parable. He is speaking to large social/economically diverse group. It would have been easy for him to use a parable that has many different types of people so each person in the crowd would have to reflect to find which character they are in the story, or which one they should aspire to be. But he doesn’t pander to each different subset/segment of the group, like a skilled marketer, he keeps it real simple. In this story there is only the Rich Fool and God. There is nowhere for the brother, the crowd, or us to hide in this parable. We’re not God, we’re ALL the Rich Fool.

By looking at the details of this parable we can see the several common sins that led God to call this man a “Fool”.

The Rich Man is a Fool because fails to recognize that his wealth and possessions come from God: Jesus didn’t say “a certain man worked very, very hard and earned a great fortune.” The land produced the abundance not the rich man. He can water, seed, and plow all he wants but he can’t MAKE anything grow. A part from the blessing of God he could have easily experienced drought or famine. When you consider what has been good and profitable in your life it’s impossible that you were responsible for every variable that lead to your good fortune.

The Rich Man is a Fool because disregards the Great Commandment: Jesus summarizes all of God’s law You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart all your soul and with all your mind. .... You shall love your neighbor as yourself. – Matt 22:37-39 For this man there is no God and there is no neighbor because he cannot see beyond himself and his own self interest. He is completely self absorbed.11 times in three sentences he says I/my, all while talking to himself. Jesus already said he was Rich before this plentiful crop and yet when he is given more he gives no though or consideration to anyone who may have actual need or how these resources could benefit anyone else. Furthermore when considering the next chapter/phase of his life he seeks counsel from no one. What do your conversations with yourself sound like? When was the last time you sought counsel from a brother/sister or came to God in prayer?

The Rich Man is a Fool because he tries to enjoy God’s creation apart from the Creator: Before God created Adam and Eve he created a beautiful and abundant world them to work and enjoy. Working hard isn’t wrong. Enjoying relaxation, good food/drink, merriment isn’t wrong. It fact hard work and enjoyment are God’s ideas, but they are not an end of themselves.

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 There is nothing better for a person that he should eat drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also I saw from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

Creation should be enjoyed not for our temporary happiness, but to lead us to a response of worship to the Creator that both sustains and enriches our lives.

1 Cor 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God.

The Rich Man is a Fool because he is his own God: Regardless of what you confess when you place your hope/security/happiness in anything besides the God of the universe you are a practical atheist. We typically define atheist as not believing in (a) god, but really believing you’re god.

Ps 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” When you say “There is no God” and deny a higher power than yourself from your world view you’re really just saying “I am God.”, because you’ve now become the highest authority in your world.  Conversely…

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

There is no fear/respect for the Creator. No understanding that even his own soul is on loan from God and he will be judged and held accountable for how it is stewarded. He doesn’t value his soul/his very being so God cannot even appeal to the Rich Man’s self interest and say “consider the value of your possession compared to your life/soul/being. God can only come down and engage him on his to his base material passion and say “you’re going to die, who’s going to get your that stuff you love now?”

I know the objection “Yeah but I am not rich, I don’t have an abundance, I barely have enough. This must not apply to me.” Because that’s what my heart screams.  Two points in response:

  1. We ARE rich! Three quarters of the world lives off of less $2 a day. Even those of us who are in large amounts of debt, unemployed, can barely pay all of our bills, have a house in foreclosure or are the “poorest” in our country are still the richest in the world. Literally, 4.5 billion people in this world would gladly trade economic status with you.
  2. While most of us don’t have enough to quit work and “eat, drink, and be merry” we are all seeking it in one form or another, traveling, early retirement, comfort, the American dream.

There is this sense that whatever the next stage of life is will be better than the way things are now.  We all say, “Life will be good when (fill in the blank), I will be happy when.” We spend our lives in anticipation and longing for the future at the expense of living in each day when and where God has placed us. Growing up we are waiting to drive, waiting to finish school/degree, waiting start a career, waiting to get married, waiting to have kids, waiting for the kids to grow up and get out, waiting to retire. For me it’s full time ministry. We literally can wait our whole lives away, assuming that there is always going to be a new and better tomorrow for us. We work and work for the tomorrow of our dreams and sometimes the biggest tragedy isn’t that we never get there, is actually achieving our dream at the expense of God’s will for our life.

An American Tragedy: How Not to Finish Your One Life: I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the … Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement…..Now they live in Punta Gorda Florida, where they cruise in their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” ….Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your live-your one and only precious God-given life- and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ and the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy.

We waste our life when we assume it is ours to begin with and forget that we exist to serve and enjoy the Creator. Just like any of our possessions or wealth we have, each day, each breath we have is a gift from God and we will be called to account for how we used it for His Glory.

What are you waiting/dreaming for? How are you wasting your life? What has God called you to do/be right here and right now?

Called to Contentment and Self denial

Above all else we seek comfort in our lives thinking that in comfort, safety and security will follow. But comfort is dangerous because it is only a feeling of security not always the reality. 

A comfort-laden life is as dangerous to the soul as a dangerous one is to the body – M.Chander Twitter

Proverbs 30:8-9 Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food that is needful, lest I be fully and deny you and say “who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profain the name of my God.

Life with God is not always a comfortable one but it should be a content one. Seeking comfort requires little character and minimal resistance and exclusive focus on self. A life of contentment is lived in the tension between stewardship/faith and striving/complacency. There is a peace in contentment allows us to widen our gaze beyond ourselves to see others in our lives that need to be served and loved. When we’re content we can see behind all in our view is a Creator who sustains us and deserves our worship. We have to fight each day for contentment often at the expense of our comfort.

Charles Studd was famous Cricket player(cricketer) in England from a very wealthy family. He and his family became Christians when he was in school. In 1884 after his brother George was taken seriously ill Charles was confronted by the question, "What is all the fame and flattery worth ... when a man comes to face eternity?" As a result of the experience he said, "I know that cricket would not last, and honor would not last, and nothing in this world would last, but it was worthwhile living for the world to come." He left cricket, left his wealth and comfort and followed Hudson Taylor as a missionary in China. When his father died he gave his substantial inheritance to Bible colleges, missionaries, and orphanages. After 15 years in China he spent 6 in India, founded Worldwide Evangelization Crusade,  and  spent the last 18 years of his life as a missionary in the African Congo. In his famous poem “Only One Life” has the repeated refrain, Only one life,' twill soon be past, Only what's done for Christ will last.”

Rich towards God

My fear is this parable leads us to simply try harder to fight greed/covetousness, to be less selfish and consider other more than ourselves, give more, serve more, maybe get fired up or just feel guilty you’re not doing more. These are not bad things, but we will fail. It’s not enough to turn our backs on the riches of the world, we have to turn towards God. We are designed to pursue what we love so we have love the riches of God, more than what the world has to offer. Being rich towards God means we indentify with Jesus as the opposite of the Rich Fool.

2 Cor 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 may become rich.

The Rich Fool doesn’t see the pain and plight of his neighbors and has no relationship with God. Jesus, the Father, and Spirit are inseparable and love the world enough, even in it’s rebellion, to plan its redemption. The Rich Fool, is a prideful man that acted as if he was God. Jesus Christ is God and yet comes in to human history as a man in humility. The Rich Fool clenched his life tightly, listened and obeyed no one, while working for comfort/security of one individual.  Jesus left all the comfort of heaven, listened and obeyed the Father, freely gave his life on the Cross to secure the salvation of any who call on his name. The Rich Fool has no family to enjoy his brief life with and no heirs to inherit his fortune. Jesus adopts us into his family so we become heirs to the Kingdom to enjoy life with Him for all eternity. Benediction Philippians 2:1-10 p 1720

More in Summer Parables 2010

August 22, 2010

Summer Parables: Unforgiving Servant

August 15, 2010

Summer Parables: The Good Samaritan

August 8, 2010

Summer Parables: The Foolish Bridesmaids