Calvary Church of the Nazarene Huntsville, Alabama
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Greed- Lk. 12:13-21
Chuck Wollery was the host of one of those "get rich quick" shows in which he often asked, Do you feel the need-for-greed? When all the lighting effects & weird noises/music were combined with the anxiety of "knowing/not knowing" the questions which were asked, it was a rather nerve-racking show - just to watch.
A major obstacle to our spiritual life is how we use our resources/possessions. After all, our possessions & the comforts we pursue may lead us to neglect or ignore the pursuit of God. This present passage focuses on the use of material possessions. What triggered Jesus to address this concern was a complaint by one brother against another to give him a share of his inheritance. At first, it seems that Jesus is being asked to become an 'arbiter' on this family squabble. But the request is not for Him to become an "arbiter." Jesus is really being asked by one brother to be his advocate against the other brother. This truth may well be the clue as to why Jesus responds as He does. In essence, Jesus refuses to be drawn into choosing sides, preferring instead to raise the issue of "the need-for-greed." "Watch out," Jesus says, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (v.15). This warning against all forms of greed is offered to us all, not just the brother in this first century setting. In fact, the warning against greed occurs several times in the NT: In Rom. 1:29 - "[Those who have been turned over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (v.28)] have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity."
Eph. 4:19 describes those who are separated from the life of God as "having lost all sensitivity, having given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual greed for more." Eph. 5:3 says, Athere must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." II Pt. 2:14 refers to people "with eyes full of adultery, who never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed - an accursed brood." As the people of God, we are called upon to maintain constant vigilance against greed. But after all is said and done, more is usually said than done. Nevertheless, life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.
The main issue in this parable is not 'wealth.' Rather, it is one's attitude to obtaining wealth & what to do w/ it if you have it. The man in this parable happens to have had a fruitful harvest & must decide what to do w/ the overflow. There is no indication that he acquired the harvest illegally or immorally. So, being the prudent man that he was, he decides to build more to provide for his increased store. His error consists in how he views the harvest. Six times in vs. 17-19 he speaks of what "I" will do, as if he owns it all. He also speaks of "my" fruit, "my" barn, "my" goods, and "my" soul. His very words indicate that he plans to keep it all for private use & has no intention of sharing his abundance w/ others. His goal is to "kick back," "take it easy," withdraw from life. In short, he will "eat, drink, & be merry."
The essence of greed is 'keeping for ourselves' what resources God brings our way. Jesus then notes that God will require the man's life that very night. And then "who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" The answer, of course, is that the man who thought he was set for the future will not be the one who gets the fortune! This is the ultimate form of "you can't take it with you." God calls the man "a fool," a term which describes someone who acts without God in his thoughts & who acts, therefore, in a senseless, ignorant, brain-dead manner. This man's response to becoming wealthy was to become self-centered and, therefore, self-destructive. What a story-book picture: on one page we see a man who is full of himself and his own interests; & on the next page we see that same man with hands which were intending to "store-up" for himself now laid across his breast - dead cold!
Now, you and I may be afraid to talk out loud about our souls as this man did, but the silent language of our actions may be saying the same thing. The thought is not that this man would venture to deny God or His power or His presence with his mouth. He just simply failed to take God into his daily life's affairs. The omission may have seemed slight to him but it proved, nonetheless, to be fatal.
Jesus states that this is how it will be for any one who piles up treasures for self & is not rich toward God. Richness towards God means responding to life in the way that God desires - the way of service & compassion toward others (cp. Isaiah - "send me!" - not someone else!) Richness towards God, in the words of Eph. 4:28, is "doing something useful w/ our own hands, so that we may have something to share with those in need." The "need-for-greed" is an attitude which piles up stuff-for-self, simply for one's own use.
It is an attitude that is here condemned!
In our society today, there are so many resources available that the truths of this passage may create more tension for people today than it did then. After all, it does not take a mega-millionaire to be rich by the world's standards. And our various forms of wealth open up 'choices' for us which allow us to pursue our own interests in a wide variety of ways. Our 'choices' can easily keep us from using our resources in a way that honors God. Now, Jesus is not condemning wealth per se, but the way that wealth is used. Well, "How do we use what God has given us? Do we seek to pile up treasure for ourselves? Is greed or generosity our habit? Does compassion for others take a back seat to our personal desires?" The fact that God's Word calls greed a vice makes this a very important issue to face. One of our modern commercial jingles hits this matter head on: "You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can get." In this jingle, there is no sense of accountability, no sense of a future with God, no sense of honoring the values which are contained in God's Word. We better be 'grabbing for God!' The statement in vs. 20, "This very night your life will be demanded from you; then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" challenges our life today/our cultural viewpoint/orientation much like an OT prophet.
The rich fool's error & illusion was his desire to provide only for himself; but there is no condemnation for the use of resources for the benefit of others. Now, while we need not always provide only the "best" or most expensive item, we should not ignore making wise & responsible provisions for others. Perhaps the fundamental test for the use of our resources is whether they become tools of service that benefit others and enable them to be in a position to serve God better. Romans 12:8 actually says that "contributing to the needs of others" is one of God's spiritual gifts to His children.
This text calls for self-examination.
But the implications of this text extend beyond simply what we do with what we have. How we relate to others is also in view. Even in the OT, according to Dt. 24:19-22, the corners of the fields were left for those in need - a principle the rich fool in this parable ignored in his 'store-for-more' mentality: his need-for-greed!
"Is it right for us in this part of the world to consume such vast amounts of food & other resources when others have little if any access to such benefits?" "Are we generous or are we greedy?" This is a question we have to engage in privately before the Lord. No one can tell someone else exactly how to answer it. With regard to giving money to God, for example, the OT standard of a "tithe" might be too low for what we are capable of giving (II Cor. 8 and 9:6-11).
At least 2 things stand out about the man in this parable:
(1) He never saw beyond himself. A schoolboy was once asked what parts of speech the words "my" and "mine" were. He answered, "aggressive pronouns." This rich fool was 'aggressively' self-centered. It was said of one young lady named Edith that she lived in a little world that was surrounded on the N,S,E, and W by Edith. The whole attitude of the man in this parable was the very reverse of Xnty. Instead of denying himself he 'aggressively' affirmed himself. Instead of finding happiness in 'giving' he wound up finding hell through 'greed.' The ancient Romans had a proverb which said that money was like sea-water: the more a man drank the thirstier he became. As long as our attitude reflects the man in this parable, we too will find ourselves in "reverse" rather than "forward" when it comes to following Christ.
(2) He never saw beyond this world. All his plans were made on the basis of life on earth. The person who forgets to remember that there is another world beyond this world is destined for the grimmest of shocks. Let us be in earnest to avoid resembling this man in this parable. Our eternal destiny revolves around it. "Does the 'need-for-greed' sound like anyone you know?"
Dr. Morris Murray, Jr.
Content copyright July 2010 jmhall. All rights reserved.