“In What Does Life Consist?”
(Luke 12:13-21 – Pentecost 11 – August 21, 2022)
Luke 12:13-21 – 13Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14But He said to him, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” 15And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” 16Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. 17And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ 18So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” ‘ 20But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ 21So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Dear Redeemed, who have been made eternally rich by Jesus Christ:
Have you ever seen that bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins”? It is a funny concept, in a way, to picture adults acting like kids, comparing their toys with one another, envying each other’s collection. I can remember wishing I had toys that other kids had, thinking: “If only I had that action figure, that baseball glove, that bike…” whatever. Now, those toys from my youth do not mean so much. I couldn’t care less for tinker toys or a Stretch Armstrong figure. But as we grow older, the toys and things we may covet simply change: “I’ve got to have that house, that boat, that company position, that vacation home…” whatever.
The point is, all through our lives, there is the temptation to feel that our happiness depends on what we have, what we can accumulate for ourselves, the toys and titles we can acquire to our name before we die. Often, this means comparing what we have to what others have, at any stage of life. The underlying concept is that the more you have, the happier you are.
Perhaps this was the frame of mind in this man who said to Jesus: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (vs. 13). After Jesus had been teaching about spiritual truths, all this man could think about was material things. He was afraid his brother would die with the most toys. He felt he could not be happy unless he got his rightful due in life.
Jesus’ purpose was not to settle who gets what in this world; but rather to teach God’s Word, so that sinners might know Him as their Savior and possess eternal life and heavenly treasures. So Jesus uses the man’s request as a teaching moment, to warn him and all who were listening: “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (vs. 15). We all are tempted to greed, to try to find happiness for our souls in the passing toys and trinkets of this world. But let us ask ourselves: “In What Does Life Consist?” 1) The fool thinks it consists in the abundance of possessions, but 2) The spiritually wise know it consists in being rich toward God.
1) The fool thinks it consists in the abundance of possessions
Jesus tells a parable to show that a fool thinks life consists in the abundance of possessions. He begins: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods’ “ (vs. 16-18).
Here we have the picture of a smart businessman. What do you do if you have a bumper crop and need more storage room? You build a bigger place to put your crop, until you can sell it or use it. We are told that this man had started off rich; now he had accumulated much more.
So far, so good. There is nothing wrong with having a good crop, or a successful year in business and income. James 1:17 says: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” And we read in 1 Timothy 4:4: “Every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving.”
The Bible never condemns wealth and possessions. But it does warn that the covetous, who greedily set their hearts on the things of this world instead of God, will not inherit His kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:10). 1 Timothy 6:9-10 warns: “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
Greed and the love of money – that is where this man’s problem lay. He really believed his life consisted in the abundance of his possessions. Listen to how he speaks to himself: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry’ ” (vs. 19). He trusts his possessions to give his soul happiness. He trusts himself to provide those possessions. How many times he refers to himself and his success, never once thanking God. He is worshiping the gifts he has been given, rather than the Giver Himself.
This is a picture of idolatry. Whatever one trusts to provide the needs of life and give life meaning – that is the god he serves. This man’s money, his possessions, his pleasures, his life of ease, even himself – these were his gods. He had it made in the shade, and he thanked himself for it. He took pride in the kingdom he was building for himself in this world. Life was good, and it seemed it would be so for many years! “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ “ (vs. 20)
What a shock he faced when his life was demanded. He had thought his soul belonged to him alone; but now he felt his soul being taken, against his will, from this world by the One who gave it. He had thought his soul was rich, for it had felt that way with his possessions, pleasures, status, and all that this world values; but now he saw how beggarly poor his soul was. He had thought he was wise by worldly standards; but now, he would spend an eternity in hell, seeing how foolish it was to have tried to fill his soul with this world’s toys. Jesus concludes: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (vs. 21).
Why does Jesus give this warning? Because He knows how easy it is for us to idolize the things of this world, to put our trust in them instead of God. How often have we looked at our life ahead and thought: “If I can just make this money, store it up and invest it, then I will know my life is well taken care of. If I can just surround myself with this and that possession I desire, then I’ll be happy. Perhaps by retirement, I can build up my estate so I have it made for years.” How easy it is to think we can satisfy our souls by our work, our success, our financial security, and all the toys and titles we can acquire. That is why we can get so absorbed in the worldly kingdom we are building for ourselves, and think less and less about the Kingdom of God. That is why we can begin to feel less and less need for God and His words of eternal life, and feel less and less of a need for a Savior from sin and death. For eternity can seem so far away…
Do we see the trap? Satan does not care whether we are rich or poor, or anywhere between. He knows how to play on a man’s covetousness and greed in any class. He knows how to dangle the carrot on the stick, to lead a soul down that deceitful path lined with promises of this world’s treasures, pleasures, and status. How many a soul has been fooled into believing that “He who dies with the most toys wins.” But when his soul is brought before God, he finds he has lost all.
2) The spiritually wise know it consists in being rich toward God
On the other hand the spiritually wise know that life does not consist in the abundance of earthly possessions, but rather in being rich toward God. By God’s grace, we have been made “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). The Spirit of God has shown us that our souls’ true riches are in the forgiveness, life, and salvation His Son earned for us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Jesus descended from the eternal riches of His heavenly kingdom, all the way down to save us from our spiritual poverty. He saw us dressed in the filthy rags of our sin. He saw Satan, the world, and our sinful nature leading us by deceitful desires away from Him as the only Life Giver. Rather than see our souls demanded of us only to fall into eternal poverty and death, Jesus took our place. He suffered as the poorest of souls, taking on Himself the huge debt of our sin, which we never could have made up with God. He gave His life on the cross and was laid in the dust of death for our self-serving greed and idolatry and foolish wandering from God.
Therefore in Christ, God has declared us forgiven. Our whole debt of sin has been removed. Through Baptism and faith, God has lavished on us the riches of His grace in Christ. He has washed our sins away. He has lifted us up by the power of Jesus’ resurrection into a new life. He has clothed us in the royal garments of His Son’s righteousness. God has put His Spirit in us as a deposit, guaranteeing that we will share in His Son’s inheritance (2 Corinthians 5:5), the eternal riches He is preparing for us even now in His heavenly mansions.
Our Epistle lesson tells us: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
Our eternal riches in Christ put a new perspective on how we use the things of this world. We can work to provide food, clothing, and other comforts for ourselves and our loved ones. We can be wise in the way we save and invest money, using it in love to support our families, to support the work of His Church and other good causes. But no longer do we need to fret and worry that we have not stored up enough for ourselves in this world. Christ is our life. He frees us from the bonds of greed, the love of money, and addiction to mammon. For our life does not consist in the passing toys and trinkets of this world, but rather in the eternal treasures He gives.
With Christ as our life, we are moved by His love to live for Him. His Spirit in us leads us to ask, “How can I show my thankfulness for His goodness to me? How can I be a good steward of every good and perfect gift from above? The time He grants me on earth, the money and goods He places in my use, the abilities He endows me with – I don’t want to use them as an end unto themselves; I don’t want to use them for my glory. I want to use His gifts for lasting good – to bring glory to my Savior, to help others around me know His goodness and salvation.”
In a sense, the heavenly riches we have in Christ are not the kind we must leave behind when we depart from this world. They are His gift to us forever. But in another sense, we want to leave His riches behind. We want to pass on to our loved ones and others around us the riches of God’s forgiveness in Christ, and the unfading inheritance He has earned for us in heaven.
Now that our lives are hidden with Christ in God, we can pray confidently: “I trust in You, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand” (Psalm 31:14-15). You will provide all I need in this life, just as You have made my eternal life secure. And if this should be my last day on earth, my soul is ready to go home to heaven, since salvation and eternal life is Your gift to me. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). So we sing in the hymn:
What is the world to me! My Jesus is my Treasure,
My Life, my Health, my Wealth, My Friend, my Love, my Pleasure,
My Joy, my Crown, my All, My Bliss eternally.
Once more, then, I declare: What is the world to me!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.