[Painting: “The Rich Fool” – Rembrandt, 1627]
Out of Focus
We’ve been studying the stories of the parables that Jesus told. He could paint a word picture better than anyone, and the exciting thing about the word pictures of Jesus, was that they always were spoken for a significant purpose, to teach us.
If you’ll think back to the stories that we have studied so far, you will discover that the things that Jesus was teaching, and what He was trying to get across, through those stories, are some of the most important lessons we will ever learn and that is true of the story that is before us today.
Luke 12:13-21 (Jesus speaking, 14-21)
13And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. 14And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? 15And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. 16And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17And he thought within himself saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
The passage which tells the story of the rich fool is found in the midst of a rather extended discourse from the lips of Jesus. It’s a discourse which begins in the 11th chapter of Luke and concludes in the 13th chapter. It seems it is interrupted at least twice, by questions from people who were listening.
One such interruption was the occasion for Jesus telling this story. A man who had been listening to Jesus speak, in Verse 13, tells about his brother who hadn’t divided their inheritance with him and wanted Jesus to solve the problem. Well, there was a problem, because we learned that when we studied the story about the Prodigal Son, in a family where there were two Jewish sons, the older brother received two-thirds of the inheritance and the younger brother received one-third of the inheritance.
Whenever there was a problem like this, they would generally go to the Scribes because of the Law. The Scribes were the caretakers, and they would ask the Scribes to settle the dispute.
This man knew that Jesus was a Rabbi, sent from God, and he thought if I can get His opinion, that will settle it once and for all. In the midst of Jesus’ discussion about the most important things in life, he took occasion, obviously not listening to what Jesus was saying, to interrupt Him and ask this question.
Now Jesus could have answered this man’s question right there. He could have quoted the Old Testament Law and solved the problem once and for all and gotten on with His discussion. Jesus never perceived a question as an interruption, always as an opportunity. Whenever there was a question that came to Jesus, if it was something that He felt He needed to teach, He would translate that question into an opportunity to teach them something they needed to know. Rather than dealing with the symptom that was behind this man’s question, He decided to deal with the real problem. Instead of solving the man’s problem of not getting his part of the inheritance, He said in Verse 15 “for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” You have a problem of covetousness. Jesus answered questions and got to the real heart of the problem.
You can read the Commandments and it is the last of the 10 Commandments and you’ll discover that all the other 9 Commandments can be understood in terms of the last one. In many respects, covetousness is the all-encompassing sin. Jesus took time to deal with that question as it was brought to Him by this man. If you go back through the Bible, you’ll discover that covetousness is very present in the Old Testament scriptures: Eve, for instance. She coveted to be like God and the result was she took the forbidden fruit and we’ve paid for it ever since.
Lot’s wife coveted Sodom and she was destroyed on the very spot. Achan discovered some spoils of war that had been taken and he took them and hid them in his tent, and as a result he destroyed himself and his family and jeopardized the whole nation of Israel. When we covet, we start down a road that can take us way beyond a destination we ever perceived possible.
Now, in order for the people and especially this young man to understand, Jesus told a story, and the story was about a rich man who already had quite a gathering of goods. One season he had had an abundance. He had so much he didn’t know what to do with it.
Jesus told about the man saying that he would build greater barns and hoard it, and that he would set himself up for life, and he would be committed to a life of ease. He would eat, drink and be merry. He finally had it made. Jesus told the story about this man to help them understand the dangers and the deceitfulness that is involved in a covetous spirit.
In the world in which we live, in modern America, there is nothing that I know of that is easier for us to accomplish than to get out of focus this whole matter of material things and our spiritual sensitivity to God. It has nothing to do with how much we have. It has everything to do with the constant pressure that is applied to us by a culture that lives for one thing, and one thing only, and that is materialism.
Let’s see how this man got off focus. First of all, he was out of focus because he had focused on the body and not the soul. When we read the story, we notice that he had prepared his land so that he would have good production. Nothing wrong with that. If one is a farmer, you want to see things grow.
He was obviously a diligent man who humanly speaking deserved the prosperity that he had achieved. He spent much time pondering what he was going to do with all of his newfound wealth, and that was alright. He thought about it, and he made his plans. So far, so good.
It was his proposal, once he had pondered what he would do, that got him in trouble for he decided that the purpose and the reason behind all of this wealth, that he had now gained, was in order that he might provide for himself a life of ease and security and longevity. His goods were evidently not gained in the wrong manner. It didn’t seem that he had done anything wrong in order to be rich. His sin was not in getting rich, but his sin was after he got rich.
It isn’t a sin to have, but it appears from the Word of God, that he is hoarding because of selfishness and for his own purposes. His great problem, you see, was his unwillingness to recognize the Hand of God behind all that he had achieved. He forgot that behind the fruit and behind the corn and wheat and all of his possessions, was the Hand of God, God’s provision.
He was like the Laodicean church that we read about in the Book of Revelation. We read where they were rich and increased with goods and had need of nothing but in reality, they were poor and wretched and miserable. They had no riches toward God.
We remember the parable about the sower, the seeds and the soil. There were seeds that fell into a certain kind of soil and the weeds came up and choked the seed and one of the weeds that choked the seed was the deceitfulness of riches.
This man had gotten so enamored with what he could do for himself with that which he had accumulated that he lost perspective and he got “out of focus”. Whenever God blesses us with material goods, one of the tremendous temptations we will face is right here: “How will I use that which God has put into my hands?” “Will I use it for myself? Will I try to buy that, that only God can give: happiness, security, peace and joy? Will I take that which God has entrusted into my care and find some way to turn it over, back to Him for the good of the Kingdom and for the propagation of the Gospel?”
He was “out of focus” because he focused on the body instead of the soul, and he was “out of focus” because he focused on himself and not on God. In the 17th Verse he had a discussion with himself. In Verses 17-19 he made a speech to himself.
17And he thought within himself, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
If you’ll check his speech to himself, you’ll find that there are 11 personal pronouns in his speech. There are six “I” and five “my” and four “I will”. He speaks of “my goods, my fruits, my barns.” There is no mention about this belonging to God and his being given the stewardship of it.
Strangely enough, he even talks about his soul as if he owns that. This man probably had not read Ezekiel, the Prophet, who said on behalf of God, “All souls are mine”.
This man had enamored himself with his possessions to such an extent that he feels he owns the spiritual dimensions of his life. It seems that when God blesses us with material goods, we stand at the threshold and there are two ways we can go. It seems there is no middle ground.
For instance, if we are “in focus” and God blesses us, we see that He has given us all these blessings as a representation of His goodness to us and we reflect back to Him in gratitude and thanksgiving. It matters not how much or how little if we understand the good things God has placed within our lives in a spiritual perspective; it will always be the motivation for gratitude and thanksgiving.
Looking around, do we not have much for which to thank God? Material possessions will either be a window through which we see God in His goodness or the other alternative. Material possessions become a mirror through which we “see” only ourselves.
We look at our possessions and begin to think about what we have done and how ambitious we have been and how wise we have been and when that happens, we have taken the wrong road and we have allowed the deceitfulness of riches to begin to destroy us.
That’s what happened to this man. He gave himself all the credit for all he had. What each of us has today, we have because of the goodness and the magnificent love and benefits from our great God. You might say, “I worked for it.” Where did you get the energy? “Well, I was smart enough to make the right decisions.” Who gave you the mind that you use? This man had forgotten that of all the blessings that he had, God was his source.
When the Israelites were headed for the Promised Land, Moses was real concerned about them. There were a lot of battles to fight on the way to the Promised Land. The Canaanites didn’t want them in their land. There were lots of burdens to carry, moving through the wilderness with their children and all of the rest. Moses wasn’t worried about the battles nor the Canaanites nor the burdens. He was really concerned, however, about the blessings and he gave them a little speech in Deuteronomy.
10And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, 11And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; 12Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
Moses told the Israelites that the thing he feared most was that when they came into the Promised Land that they would forget God. That’s what happened to this man. He had all of this from God and in all the process of all these blessings he forgot whose it was and why it was entrusted to him.
God has made life in such a way that apart from a relationship with God, there is no security. We have been created with a vacuum in us that can only be filled with Jesus Christ. You can fill your life with money, bonds and material things; however, nothing FILLS that part of our lives except a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Anything that we have or do that gives to us a sense of security and ease and pleasure apart from God is both evil and dangerous. Riches are deceitful because they not only promise a full life that they can’t deliver, and they promote a security that is false.
Are we rich in God? Are we investing our time, talents and abilities in things that will last after this life is over? Where is our treasure?