What is the place of material goods in the life of a Christian? The Lord Jesus talked about this concern when asked by a man to intervene in a family dispute about an inheritance. The Lord refused to intervene (Luke 12:14) but took advantage of the incident to speak about the role of material goods in this life. The Lord warned those who had riches that they ought to be on guard against covetousness (Luke 12:15). Covetousness or greed is the excessive desire or ambition to have more and more. After warning the disciples against it, the Lord continued: they must not think that the life of a person is summed up in the material things he possesses (Luke 12:15).
To illustrate His teaching, the Lord told them a parable about a rich man who was a fool (Luke 12:16–21). From the materialistic perspective, this man was very wise. He had become rich (vv. 16–17). He had vision (v. 18). He planned to retire and to live off his income and enjoy life (v. 19).
Isn’t this the picture of many modern men and women? Isn’t this the life plan that even many Christians have adopted? After all, the rich man in the parable was not dishonest. He became rich through hard work and from the crops of his own fields. What is wrong with providing for the future?
The problem with that rich man is not that he was planning for the future. The problem can be summed up in three ways.
First, he didn’t think of anyone but himself. It never occurred to him to give, to contribute, to offer of his abundance to others.
Second, he didn’t think of God, nor did he take Him into consideration. Note that God is completely absent from the plans he made. He could even be a practicing Jew, careful to keep the Mosaic law. But he was a practical atheist.
Third, his plans didn’t go further than this present life. Note that his planning goes only until “many years” (v. 19). He couldn’t see that life doesn’t end with death, and that the soul exceeds earthly life and lives on into eternity. Unfortunately, there are also Christians who make plans as if they will never die. They’ve lost the sense of being pilgrims in this world.
Note now the piercing question that God asks him: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (v. 20). Accumulated riches will do no good for him beyond the grave. That night, he would be dead, and his heirs the next day would be laughing and enjoying what he earned.
The teaching is this: we shouldn’t waste our lives in the accumulation of estates and goods to the point where we forget God and others. That is greed. It is idolizing money. It is not a sin to become rich and have properties and goods. But it is a sin to live for that and forget God and others. The best medicine against greed is giving; it’s contributing generously and regularly in order to alleviate the suffering of others and to advance the kingdom of God in this world (1 Tim 6:17–19).