On Guard against Greed
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On Guard against Greed

Luke 12:13  (ID: 2184)

What is our top priority? For most of us, a quick glance at our checkbooks gives a clear answer. To demonstrate the dangers of greed, Jesus told a parable about a rich fool who stored up goods for himself but died before he could use them. Alistair Begg explains this parable, challenging us to examine our focus and to recognize that true abundance can only be found in the goodness and grace of Christ.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Luke, Volume 8

Signs and Parables along the Way Luke 11:14–14:35 Series ID: 14208

Sermon Transcript: Print

Now, we’re going to read from the Bible this evening, in Luke chapter 12, and I invite you to turn there with me—the twelfth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. And we’ll read from the thirteenth verse:

“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’

“Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’

“And he told them this parable: ‘The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”

“‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”

“‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

“‘This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward[s] God.’”

Now, before we study this passage of Scripture, let’s just ask God to help us:

Father, we pray that you will take my words and speak through them, take our minds and help us to think through them, and take our lives and transform them as a result of our studying of the Bible. By the power of your Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

Those of you who are teachers, at whatever level of the opportunity, will be very familiar with the kind of interruptions that come your way when you are in the mainstream of conveying important information to the class that is under your tutelage. And you will have had the experience on numerous occasions of laboring to do your best to instill within your students some matter of great importance only to have somebody put up their hand and raise a question which, frankly, is so unrelated to what’s going on that you wonder whether they have even been present in the room as you’ve been talking. To all of us who teach, it ought to be at least a measure of encouragement that the same thing happens here, in these events, to the Lord Jesus himself.

He has in the opening verses of chapter 12 issued a word of warning to his disciples that they would be on guard against hypocrisy, which he said was not only wrong, but it was also futile. He said to them, “I don’t want you to be fearing those who kill the body and then can do nothing else. I want you to only fear God, who has the power to control your eternal destiny. I want you to understand,” he says to them, “how much God cares for you and the detail of his interest in you: that the hairs of your head are numbered and that you’re more important than the sparrows that he looks after. I want you to make sure that you acknowledge me before men, and your Father will take on the acknowledgement that I will grant you before the angels. And I want you to be sure that if you disown me before men, you will be disowned before the angels.” And then, quite gravely, he says, “I want you to understand that all kinds of blasphemy may be forgiven, but there is a sin that is unforgivable—this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And finally, I want you to know that on the day that you’re brought up before all kinds of courts and tribunals, you ought not to be paralyzed by fear, because on that occasion, the Holy Spirit will convey to you the words that you need to know.”[1]

The Problem

And then, right out of the blue, someone shouts out in the pause in the proceedings, “Hey teacher! Tell my brother to share the inheritance with me!” This is like somebody playing goalkeeper in the final of a World Cup game, and after the ball has passed him by and gone into the net, he remarks to somebody, playing an evening game, “You know, if they were to turn these floodlights out, you could probably see the Plough from here.” People are saying, “What are you talking about? You just let in a goal, and you’re concerned about this!” It just went flying past his head, oblivious to it all. And Jesus takes these people, and he provides all of this vital instruction to those who are his own, they listen within the context of the wider crowd, and as he comes to the end of this instruction, some joker in the fringe of things who has managed to work his way right up to the front, he dumps out his big concern: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Now, for those of you who have ever preached, you’ll know what this is like. You unburden your soul. You try and teach the Bible. You do whatever it is. You preach as a dying man to dying men and women. You seek to bring the issues of eternity before them, and the first person up to you says, “You know, I just visited a castle in Scotland”—which, of course, I am remotely interested in, but not at that exact moment in time. And it leaves one wondering, “What just happened here? Anything at all?” Or someone comes up and says, “Do you like those radio microphones better than the ones that are on a stand?” And you say to yourself, “Is there anybody at all who pays a moment’s attention to anything that is going on?” “Jesus,” said someone in the crowd, a voice calling out, “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Now, it wasn’t uncommon for someone to request the help of a rabbi in giving a ruling on a point of law. We read of this in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 21, in Numbers 27. But if you have your Bible open, you will realize that this individual is not asking for a ruling as much as he is seeking the help of Jesus to get what he wants. He’s not asking Jesus to be the arbiter in a decision. He’s saying, “Lord Jesus, I want you to tell my brother what he is to do, and what he is to do is to divide the inheritance with me.”

It has been well said—and some of us have lived through this—that when there is an inheritance, 99 percent of the people become wolves. And you never really know who anyone is until somebody sits down and says, “I’m now about to read for you Mr. So-and-So’s last will and testament.” And people who apparently have been the best of friends all of a sudden are at one another’s throats, demanding that they might get what they regard as their just deserts.

Now, that is the context, and that’s the request. And the response in verse 14 is equally pointed. Indeed, it is not particularly cordial: “Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’” Why would Jesus say this? Well, clearly because he understood what it was he was to be doing. He was a man with a mission. He was a man with purpose. Later on, Luke is about to tell us in chapter 19, as Jesus says, “You know, the people who are healthy don’t need a doctor, and I didn’t come to call the righteous, but I came to call sinners to repentance. The Son of Man is seeking to save that which was lost.”[2] And so Jesus, in replying in this way, is saying, “I’m not so concerned about your acquisitions. I’m more concerned about your attitude. I came, if you like,” says Jesus, “to bring men to God, not to bring property to men. I came to deal, if you like, with matters that are eternal in their consequence, and as important as these issues may be for individuals, they are not the sum and substance of my ministry.”

Now, our purpose here is not to make comment, as we go by, on the way in which we might learn how to discriminate between legitimate demands upon our time and those which should be dealt with elsewhere, but it is quite interesting to recognize the way in which the Lord Jesus has a tremendous amount of time for certain people, and yet he seems to dismiss others. If you examine the Gospel records carefully, you will find that the reason that he dismisses some and cares for others is because he looks into the heart of the individual and he knows what it is they’re on about. And where the person expresses a genuine soul search, then Jesus is there to address the issues; whereas in this instance, the problem is really quite superficial, then Jesus is able to dismiss it.

The Principle

Then he turns back to “them,” you will notice, and he issues a warning. He, of course, had just previously issued a warning back up in verse 1, where he had said to the disciples in response to a lot of the nonsense that was going on with the Pharisees, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” And once again, seizing the moment, he turns to the group, and he says, “Listen! Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”

Now, Jesus establishes a principle here. The problem is a fairly superficial one; he uses it as an opportunity to lay down a principle that is vital and is timeless. The warning is in the first half of the verse.

Now, clearly, we don’t have the background to the brothers’ dispute. It would seem, however, that both of them were greedy. Apparently, one of the brothers wanted to keep everything that he had, and the other brother wanted to get all that he could. That is a recipe, of course, for discord. The very fact that he had to go and say, “Tell my brother to share it with me,” is an indication of the fact that the first brother was unprepared to share, and it is an indication of the fact that the second brother was greedy to get what he hadn’t got his hands on in the first place. You see, the spirit of covetousness, or a greedy heart, is not the unique product of those who have. It is often shared by the have-nots. And so Jesus says, “I want you to be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” “Take positive action,” he is saying, “to ward off the encroachments of what is actually a life-squeezing enemy.”

Now, if it was of significant import in the context in which Jesus was speaking—in a fairly agrarian context, in a fairly rural environment, in the kind of place where traders and bazaars had, if you like, a limited impact upon the community—surely it cries out down through the corridors of time in our avaricious culture of today, where we are tempted to believe that what Jesus says is absolutely untrue, because we have the impression that a man’s life does consist in the abundance of what he possesses.

Some years ago now, Andy Lee and I were in London together. We were walking late at night just through the streets of London. It was a lovely evening. And I remember when it was, because the newspapers came out for the following morning. That’s how late it was. And the newspapers for the following morning carried the pictures of the flames from Waco as a result of the invasion and the great conflagration that emerged from there. I can only pinpoint it to then, but I can’t remember when then was.

But as we walked down New Bond Street together—which, some of you will know, in London is a wonderful shopping area—as we walked down New Bond Street, a number of the shops were still beautifully illuminated. I was drawn to a particular shop because it contained a number of coats and jackets, and it was all very attractive. And as I walked up to it, it turned out that it was the work of an Italian designer by the name of Rossini. Completely unfamiliar with that, but certainly the product looked very, very nice. It was very simply displayed, and as I looked more carefully, I noted that there was a card right in the center of the display bearing this heading: “The Ten Commandments of Rossini.” “The Ten Commandments of Rossini.” And then it simply had these words underneath the heading: “Power, ego, money, perfection, style, taste, sophistication, service, luxury, comfort.” And every one of them had an attraction to me. And Rossini, or his PR people, understood that. And that is exactly why they put them in the display. And there, as you stand not only attracted by the clothing but intrigued by the designation, the words of Jesus come reverberating down through time, saying, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of life-squeezing greed! For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Sometime after that, another friend and I were down at the Harley place here on whatever road it is—down near Northfield Road. We went there to get one of those dreadfully greasy hamburgers, which I said would do him the world of good. He was visiting from Scotland. And in the course of sitting there, eating this merchandise, we engaged an individual in a conversation, who told us the story of how he had had an accident, and one of his snowmobiles had gone to the bottom of the lake. And he pointed out to my friend that he had paid a substantial sum of money for this. I can’t remember if it was four thousand pounds, eight thousand dollars, or four thousand dollars, or whatever it was, but it was certainly more money than my friend really had occasion to spend on such things. And in characteristic Scottish fashion, he turned to this man, and he said, “You would spend all that for a toy?” And the man trotted out the mantra of the hour: “Ah, but,” he said to my friend, “you don’t understand. He who dies with the most toys wins.” And Jesus said, “No, you don’t understand. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

So the warning is matched by the wisdom. The warning is in 15a; the wisdom is in 15b. I’ve just quoted it to you. It challenges the prevailing mood of so much of our society. Power and influence, prestige and recognition are more tightly tied to possessions than we are prepared to admit. Let me say that to you again: power and influence, prestige and recognition are more tightly tied to possessions than most of us are prepared to admit.

Now, it is for that reason that James, who listened very clearly to the instruction of his brother Jesus, sounds out a very similar warning to the people under his care in the Jerusalem church when he says to them in James chapter 2, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose,” he says, “a man comes into your [assembly] wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”[3] Answer: yes! “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom …? But you have insulted the poor. It[’s] the rich who are exploiting you … dragging you into court … slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong.”[4]

Now, the reference here to a man’s life is not the Greek word bios, from which we would get the phrase “a man’s way of life,” but rather it is to “life”—that is zōē, the very essence of life. And what he’s saying is this: that if a man or a woman has a ton of stuff, he does not have any more life. And whether you have a lot of stuff or a little bit of stuff, it neither advances your life nor diminishes your life in terms of the essence of what life is all about. And understanding that, that’s why Paul in another context says, “If we have food and [clothes], we will be content with that.”[5] And you want to talk about financial independence and talk about the way in which it would be possible for us to be financially independent: the fact of the matter is that most of us could be financially independent of most constraints if we were to take seriously the basis of contentment being simply food for our journeys and clothes for our bodies. But it is because we are unprepared to find contentment in that that we find ourselves caught up in the phenomenal treadmill that heralds for us the necessity of this warning: “You better look out,” he says, “and be on your guard against every kind of greedy involvement, because a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

We will have a much harder time bringing Jesus onto the side of our possessions and our prepossessions than we will seeing Jesus take his place amongst the poor.

Now, Scotland, of course, with its poet Robert Burns, who is sung around the world in the song “Auld Lang Syne,” who is known for many of his poems—Burns was a plowman in Ayrshire, and the song that he wrote that was most expressive of this notion was entitled “A Man’s a Man for A’ That.” And of course, it really wouldn’t be profitable for me this evening to sing it to you, and I’m not sure how beneficial it is for me to quote it to you, but in the interests of your own cultural development, let me try. And I’ll quote you just a couple of verses.

Says Burns, “Is there for honest Poverty…” What he’s saying in that phrase is this: “Is there anyone here who wouldn’t mind being poor? Is there anybody who’s prepared to be poor and live with the implications of it? Or are you going to buy the notion that because you’re poor, you need to feel inferior?”

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave—we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!

“We dare to be poor, even for that! Whether the coward slave owns possessions, whether he owns houses, whether he owns lands, whether he spits on us from his carriage, we don’t care! We dare to be poor, even in the face of that.”

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
A Man’s a Man for a’ that.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It’s coming yet …
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

And then he says, “Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord…” If you read Scottish literature, you say, “the lord of the gentry,” you know, and he has a home, and he has a chaplain, and he has a house, and he has a church of his own. He says,

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, and a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.

He says, “He’s just a fool. The very fact that he rides a carriage and lives in a large house and walks around and struts and stares,” he says, “do you think that makes him any more of a man? Does he know any more of the essence of life as a result of that? Does his life consist in the abundance of his possessions?”

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
[May] bear the gree, an’ a’ that,

“May agree with this.”

For a’ that and an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that.
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.[6]

Now, of course, you say, “Now, that is some dreadful Scottish socialism that is emerging here from the pulpit this evening.” And that is exactly what it is, and make no mistake about it. Because under socialism, man exploits his fellow man, whereas under capitalism, the reverse is the case. And there is no economic system that is baptized into orthodoxy. For fierce independency is tempted to say, “I am significant because of where I live, because of how I dress, because of what I drive. And my identity and my influence is all wrapped up in this. Therefore, out of my way, if you please.” That’s the danger. The danger on the other hand is that we baptize into orthodoxy some diffidence in life that seeks to make poverty a great end in itself and to do nothing that would be helpful for ourselves or for our families or for humanity. But listen, my dear friends: for those of you who live here on the wrong side of the divide, you will, and we will, have a much harder time bringing Jesus onto the side of our possessions and our prepossessions than we will seeing Jesus take his place amongst the poor. And that’s the challenge that he issues.

Now I can tell it’s a little quiet—which is good!

The Parable

Then he tells the parable. “We got a problem: I need the inheritance divided.” “Go to the back of the bus,” Jesus said. Then he turns to his friends, says, “Listen, let me give you a principle: a man’s life doesn’t consist in the abundance of his possessions. Therefore, I want you to make sure that you look out after all kinds of greed.” He says, “Let me tell you a story.” And then he tells this story, with which most of us are familiar.

What was wrong with the farmer in this story? Was it that he was successful? Is that the problem? Jesus is condemning success? Not at all. Although, frankly, that is enough to raise the unrighteousness indignation in some hearts. You realize every time you have a promotion, every time you have the opportunity to advance, how resentful people are towards success. And if we’re honest, many of us resent success, especially when it isn’t ours.

Without drawing the sting of the story, we need to recognize that Jesus is not condemning success, nor is he condemning the possession of riches. The existence of Abraham and of Job, of Solomon, of Joseph of Arimathea, of Lydia, and of others makes that point perfectly plain. The problem, then, lay not in the success of the individual, nor is there any indication that the problem was one of dishonesty, but the problem for this man was that he was banking in the wrong place. He was relying on the wrong kind of investment. He was focused on himself to the detriment of others. He was focused on how well he was doing in contrast to the needs of others. He was focused on his future in life as he was outlining it for himself, in terms of ease and opportunity—because, after all, that’s what success buys for us. It buys for us isolation. It buys for us leisure time. It buys for us the ability to remove ourselves continually from people if we so choose to do. And indeed, if you think about the way it is offered to us as we make our journey through life, these are all the attractions, you see: “If you’re successful, then you won’t have to go here anymore. And then you’ll be able to go over there, which is a very exclusive place. And you won’t have to go and ride the way the other people ride; you’ll be able to ride this way, and you’ll be able to take this chariot, and so on.” And so the man said, “This sounds a great deal to me.” And so he made his plans as follows. He never saw beyond himself. He never saw beyond himself.

You see, verse 16 represents opportunity, doesn’t it? “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” At that point, there are a number of options, aren’t there? Are there a number of options for wealthy nations in the world tonight? Uh-huh. Is the problem in our world tonight—every occasion that we see starving children with their ribs outlined for us on the television screen—the lack of resources? Can we explain it away only in terms of the mishandling, the mismanagement of the world, particularly in African nations? Surely these things play a part. But the problem is not the lack of resources. The problem is that what we are tempted to do on an individual level we are prepared to do on a corporate level and on a national level: “I think I’ll take life easy. I think I’ll eat, and I’ll drink, and I’ll be merry.”

You see, verse 16 is an opportunity. Verse 17 reveals his preoccupation, verse 18 reveals his perspective, and in verse 19, we’re given an insight into his fatal presumption.

Arguably the best song that Phil Collins has written begins [recites lyrics from “Another Day in Paradise.”] Do you think this intersects with the New Testament material here? And people say to me, you know, “Are you listening to that dreadful rock and roll music, Pastor? You’re a real problem to me. Why don’t you listen to some good Christian music?” Oh, you mean all that self-possessed, narcissistic “I’m all right and everything’s fine” stuff? And “We are the Christians, and we got the world by the tail, and everything’s going great, and victory here, and happiness there,” and everything. How ’bout we write a song that actually comes out of the New Testament understanding of this kind of stuff? How ’bout we take the lead in the nation? How ’bout we have something to say to the homeless? How ’bout we actually give the lie to our own selfish preoccupations?

Can you imagine how this man felt that started this whole thing off? “Hey, Jesus! Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me, would you?” And if he stayed around to listen to the response—whew! You see, the man never saw beyond himself, and he never saw beyond this world. He would have been really happy with the Ten Commandments of Rossini, wouldn’t he? Power, ego, money, perfection, style, taste, sophistication, service, luxury, comfort. “Would you like to see my barns?” Is there a problem with having barns? No. Those of you who have barns, don’t go home and go, “I’m going to burn my barn tonight.” That’s not the point, is it? But if I’ve got something tonight that holds me rather than me holding it, maybe I should go home and give it away or burn it or do something with it.

The older man, speaking to the ambitious youth, he said, “What are you planning on doing, son?”

He said, “Well, I’m going to graduate from university.”

“And then?”

“I’m going to set up in business.”

“And then?”

“I’m going to make my fortune.”

“And then?”

“I suppose I’ll grow old, retire, and live on my money.”

“And then?”

You see, when we do not see beyond ourselves and we do not see beyond the range of time, we are no different from the society in which we live. That’s what Jesus is going to go on to say in the next section. He says, “Why do you act like pagans? Why is the whole preoccupation of your life directly related to ‘What am I going to wear, and where am I going to go, and what am I going to do, and what am I going to have’?” He says, “Your heavenly Father understands all that thing. You’re supposed to be different!”[7] Now, not necessarily different in the sense that we all wear weird clothes, as we’ve said before, or all live in a certain kind of house, or we adopt some kind of strange socialistic-totalitarian perspective on dishing out cash. No! Jesus never said that. But he said that living in the same framework and enjoying the same opportunities and having the same privileges, there is to be in the mentality of his follower something that lets people see that this isn’t what this person is all about—that he understands that he adds nothing to his essential life by having and he denudes his essential life of nothing by failing to have.

“Such a dreadful folly, such a fatal error,” said Jesus. And so he speaks to this man, and he says to him in the story, “You fool!” It’s a rather dramatic thing to say, isn’t it? “You may have controlled your investments,” he’s saying, “but you can’t control your life span.” He asks him a question that he couldn’t face: “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” See, if you’ve prepared it for yourself, you’ve got a real problem. Those of you who deal in the world of annuities and investments know that that is the great dilemma of the people that come to see you. ’Cause they’ve got so much stuff, and they’re worried about what they’re going to do with it. Who are they going to give it to? What are they going to do with all this stuff? “I’ve worked so hard! Look at it! It’s all here! I have it in my portfolio! Oh, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. Because I’ve prepared it for myself. And I’ve got less time in front of me than I’ve got behind me. I’ve run out of places to go. I’ve run out of things to buy. I just don’t know what to do. Could you help me, please? Could you hedge it? Could you protect it? Could you grow it? Could you let me sit and look at it with you?” This is the American Dream!

When we do not see beyond ourselves and we do not see beyond the range of time, we are no different from the society in which we live.

You say, “Well, this is…” I hear in my mind, you know—I preach at a place up in, what do you call it? The Adirondacks. And every so often when I’ve been speaking up there, the man who’s the host will say to me afterwards—he said, “At a point there this morning, you stopped preaching, and you began meddling,” which I think is some kind of Baptist phraseology or something; I don’t understand it at all. But it’s a sort of dismissive thing, you know, especially if it has anything to do with money at all. Said, “Well, that’s meddling, you know, if you start talking about money.”

Hey, if there was no one else in this room tonight, I’m talking about my money. I’m talking about my house. I’m confronted with my stuff. This sermon is first mine, then yours. I don’t have… I’m not six foot above contradiction here, to invite you in, to tell all you people, you know, about all your problems with all your stuff. No. It is the Word of God comes, and it just fires, zing, ding, bam, wham, all over the place, hitting all of us. Zoom! Bam! Boo! “Got me! Here! Got me again! Got me again!”

We’re all in it up to our necks! Let’s face it. This isn’t exactly “soup kitchen city” here at Parkside, is it? This is not exactly AIDS crisis center, is it? Most of the stuff we do is frankly so bourgeois, it makes you want to jump off a building, and 90 percent of it I thought of! So maybe—for the right reasons—for every time we go to the Renaissance, we ought to take a thousand of us and go somewhere else and give stuff to all the people that’ll never see the inside of the Renaissance Hotel. Not because it’s wrong to go to the hotel, so we have to kind of counterbalance it: “Well, sorry, Lord. We went to the Renaissance. But I’m going to give a man over here a sandwich, and I’m sure…” What is this? What is this stupidity? No, the reason we would do that is because that’s what Jesus would have us do. And he has given us all things richly to enjoy,[8] including a nice evening in the Renaissance.

See, that’s what happens. The pendulum swings one way or the other. It’s hard to get it in the middle. It’s hard to live with either poverty, it’s hard to live with plenty, and it’s even harder to get it somewhere up the middle of the street.

The Punch Line

So, then the punch line. The problem was clear. The principle was equally clear. The parable is wonderful. And the punch line: “This … night your life will be demanded [of] you. … Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” And then here it comes: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself.” Now, if there was a full stop there and we didn’t have the final phrase, we’d really be in difficulty, wouldn’t we? If it ended, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself,” then, of course, we would have to respond to the instruction differently. But he says, “This is how it is with someone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.” The real issue is what’s first on my list of priorities. And most of us, in relationship to this stuff, are better at judging other people than we are facing up to our own situation. The parable is a photograph in which anyone can see their face—any of us treasuring stuff rather than planning for our eternal destiny. We’re all going through the turnstile of death. We’re all going to face the final whistle.

Close to the end of his life, somebody asked Bing Crosby why he was so calm and why he had such an unruffled air. And he went in his pocket, and he brought out a wad of dollar bills, and he said, “This helps.” It didn’t help any when they laid him in the ground at Forest Home. Others have been more thoughtful, more philosophical. Brigitte Bardot, whom some will remember, enjoying all the benefits of luxury and provision, described herself as “uprooted, unbalanced, and lost in a world that seems mad.” Everything and nothing.

Isn’t it interesting that the game which has captured the imagination of the Western world in the last two decades is what? Trivial Pursuit. A bunch of dumb questions about crazy subjects that nobody knows the answer to in any case, and nobody really should. “What was the name of Eisenhower’s dog?” Who knows? Who cares? I didn’t even know he had a dog. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe they just made it up. Maybe his dog’s called Spot. We’re all going to sit around and play the game that describes the journey of our lives.

Really, life is simply a trivial pursuit, unless we’re arrested by what Jesus says here: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”[9] Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself [also] in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

It’s quite uncomfortable, isn’t it? At least I hope it is. I don’t see why it should be uncomfortable for me and comfortable for you.

Let us pray together:

O God our Father,

Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, and know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me,
[And] cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.[10]

I pray that even as we bring our offerings to you tonight, that we may have grateful hearts, that we might begin to grapple with some of the paradoxes of your Word: that when we are poor, then we’re really rich. Help us to get our accounts sorted out, Lord. Forgive us our favoritism, our self-centeredness, our willingness to make our comfortable lifestyle the test of genuine Christian experience.

Come, then, Lord, as we prayed at the outset, and take my words and speak through them, our minds and think through them, and take our hearts and renew them by the power of your grace. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

[1] Luke 12:1–12 (paraphrased).

[2] Luke 5:31–32; 19:10 (paraphrased).

[3] James 2:1–4 (NIV 1984).

[4] James 2:5–7 (NIV 1984).

[5] 1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV 1984).

[6] Robert Burns, “A Man’s a Man for A’ That” (1795).

[7] Luke 12:29–31 (paraphrased).

[8] See 1 Timothy 6:17.

[9] Luke 12:31 (paraphrased).

[10] James E. Orr, “Search Me, O God” (1936).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.