Let’s set the scene of Luke 12:13-34: Jesus has been teaching against hypocrisy and fear, specifically that the fear of God breaks the fear of man and brings joy and freedom in the life of a believer. And the fear of God breaks the fear of man in such a way that you are empowered to speak timely truth — gospel truth — to lost ears.
And coming off these teachings, we see verse 13: “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’”
Someone seems to have spoken up and asked Jesus a random question. It was normal at that time for these sorts of questions to be presented to rabbis, but this person could certainly have been better on the timing. But Jesus turns it into a teaching moment to confront the heart of the issue, and also a common heart position among mankind. Jesus responds with a sharp word, then launches into the heart.
Treasuring the material world leaves us poor where it counts
“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.’ 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 up 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 toward God” (Luke 12:14–21).
Francis of Assisi apparently said that out of all the confessions of sin, no one ever confessed the sin of covetousness. Now I don’t know whether that’s actually what he said, but I do know that covetousness is not a regular topic in the church, nor is it something I know to be a normal part of instruction in parenting these days. But it is the 10th commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Ex. 20:17).
Jesus detects the covetousness of the questioner’s heart and addresses it with this parable. But He doesn’t address it with a parable on coveting itself. In fact, the man in the parable isn’t guilty of coveting. He’s guilty of treasuring the wrong things, and that is what is at the heart of covetousness.
This is the initial instruction given by Jesus: “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’ ” (Luke 12:15).
The question of inheritance is completely focused on self and lacks eternal eyes, so Jesus hits home with a hard story. This already-rich man experiences an even greater-than-normal crop, a bumper crop. And his response is a little fretful: “… and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ ” (Luke 2:17).
His unexpected wealth is starting to grow within him a sense of panic — “What shall I do?!”
He develops a plan to build bigger barns and retire with all the excess to live life however he chooses. Now there is nothing wrong with retiring or gaining wealth. But there is something wrong with the way this man is planning his life. And Jesus tells us what makes the man poor: he lacks richness in God: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Hearts set on material gain lack deep, abiding wealth
This man lacks any Godward thoughts. He isn’t thankful to God, and because he is only focused within, he misses the opportunity to give of himself for the benefit of others.
How arrogant it is to be given even more riches on earth than you have but never once lift a word of thanks to the giver of all things! Yet how often do we lack thankfulness in our own lives?
Whether you identify with the covetous heart of the person in the crowd who wants something more, or you are more like the man in the parable who lives more for material gain from a thankless heart, living this way is a fool’s errand that lacks eternal value and leads to spiritual poverty.
Are you living for money? Are you living for ease? Are you desirous of “the good life”? Repent from that today and be rich in God. Build a retirement fund and then retire to the service of others. Use manmade systems for accumulating wealth to be generous with your time and money, goods and services.
Missionary Hudson Taylor said it this way: “The use of means ought not to lessen our faith in God; and our faith in God ought not to hinder our using whatever means He has given us for the accomplishment of His own purposes.”
Our sure hope in Christ
If thoughts of bigger and grander things are breeding discontent or anxiety, or if those thoughts are taking up too much time away from higher thoughts or more practical thoughts of serving where God has put you, you may be falling into the trap of covetousness.
It’s not about things themselves. It’s about the love of things instead of the love of God. Treasuring the material world will leave us poor where it counts — but loving God above all is enduring richness.
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).
That is what it means to be rich toward God: Knowing and hoping — a sure hope — in the promise that despite all the turns our earthly existence may take, He will never leave you.
Next time, we will look at another aspect of treasuring the material world. Then we will land on the riches found in treasuring Christ.