Jan 12, 2014

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Luke 12:13–21

Greed dishonors God by refusing to be grateful. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Luke, focusing on Jesus’ parable about a man whose treasure was in the wrong place.


We will continue this morning with our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. We are in the twelfth chapter, and I will be reading from Luke 12:13–21:

Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

But He said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’

“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

This is not my teaching, beloved. This is the teaching of our Lord and Savior, the very Son of God, who challenges us in terms of our stewardship and our priorities. He speaks tenderly, though firmly, the things that the Father has authorized Him to say. Please receive this as the Word of God. Let us pray.

Our Father and our God, we have encircled our loins, covered our chests with a shield, not only to protect ourselves from the fiery darts of the devil, but also to shield ourselves from the sharp words that come from Your lips. Penetrate that shield, oh God, pierce our hearts with the sanctity and truth of Your Word. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Young Man Seeks a Judgment

Many times, when Luke tells us of discourses that Jesus gave before a crowd, we find that somebody in the crowd interrupts Him and abruptly changes the subject. On this occasion, there was a young man who was not interested in hearing what Jesus had to say about other matters. He had a personal concern that was heavy upon his heart, and he hoped that Jesus would help him solve his dilemma.

As Jesus was speaking, we read that one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” The young man was concerned about the legacy left by his father that was to be shared by two sons, the elder and the younger. Apparently the younger one was not satisfied with the division of his father’s estate. He was taking advantage of Old Testament law, which ruled that if there were a dispute among heirs about an inheritance, that dispute could be solved by the judgment of a rabbi.

The young man came to Jesus, not to hear the Word of God, but to get His judgment. He was trying to get Jesus’ judgment on his own side of the dispute so that the rabbi, Christ, would declare a greater inheritance for him.

Jesus said to the young man, “Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” Jesus was recognized as a rabbi because of the profundity of His teaching. There is little reason to believe that He had gone through the formal steps of officially becoming a rabbi such that He would be able to formally render a verdict in a dispute over an inheritance.

Beware of Covetousness

At this point in His ministry, Jesus was much more concerned about proclaiming the kingdom of God than settling disputes among siblings over the degree of their inheritance. So, Jesus said to the people as well as to the young man, “Take heed and beware.” We have heard Jesus say something similar recently: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. Beware of hypocrisy.” In this text, His concern was different from that of hypocrisy and Pharisee-ism. He was saying something else: “Beware of covetousness.”

As a seminary professor, I remember many times asking my students, “If the United States Constitution were to crumble, and you were asked to write a new constitution, and you could only include ten laws in that new constitution, what ten laws would you institute?” Most students put in a law against murder. Some put in a law against theft. I cannot imagine anybody in our contemporary culture using up one of his ten laws to prohibit profaning the name of God. How many would include a law against coveting? Not only do we not have laws against coveting, but we have a political system that thrives on coveting and promotes it with entitlement policies and class warfare.

When God established a nation, He included a law against coveting in His top ten. Have you ever wondered why God, in His infinite wisdom, would include a law against coveting in the top ten of His commandments? Maybe God knows something about what leads to stealing. Maybe God knows something about what leads to jealousy. Maybe God knows something of what leads to murder and war.

People are at each other’s throats because one person has more than the other, and one person wants for himself what God, in His beneficence, has graciously bestowed upon someone else: “I want your money. I want your car. I want your job. I want your wife.”

Covetousness reveals something about the darkest part of our fallen humanity. In the very first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, he points out beginning at verse 18 how God has revealed Himself manifestly and clearly to every human being. He has given that knowledge of Himself to everyone in a way that they cannot miss it, and yet the universal response of fallen humanity to God’s revelation is to repress it and deny it. God brings the whole human race to His tribunal and convicts the whole human race of two fundamental things, the two most basic sins that we all share. The first is the refusal to honor God as God, and second is the refusal to be grateful.

No one can honor God and have a heart full of gratitude to Him and be covetous. Covetousness is the antithesis of contentment with the goodness of God. When you have something that I do not, and I want it, I am saying: “God, I’m not grateful for what you’ve given to me. I want more and more.”

Covetousness is the father of greed, of wanting more than you actually have. Jesus said: “Take heed, beware of this. Be careful. Watch out of this. For one’s life,” He said, “does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” This is not R.C. Sproul talking, this is Jesus. One’s life does not consist in the things that he possesses.

I talked to a professing Christian several years ago, and I asked him what the goal of his life was. He said to me, “My goal is to be worth fifty million dollars by the time I’m fifty years old.” You could have blown me over with a feather. A Christian defining the meaning and significance of his life by his bank account? Are you kidding me? I just did not think that was possible, but that man thought his life consisted in what he possessed.

Jesus’ Parable about a Rich Man

Jesus went on by speaking a parable. To emphasize and clarify His point, He told a story. Listen to this story: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded…” meagerly? No, “plentifully.” Jesus gave us an inner soliloquy of a man who had a bumper crop.

He thought within himself, saying: “Self, what do I do now? This is the biggest crop I’ve ever had. It’s a bonanza. I was rich before the crop came in, and now I’m richer than I ever imagined I could be. What am I going to do? I don’t have any room to store my crops. I’ve been blessed with more crops than I can handle. I don’t know what to do with them.”

He thought and thought within himself, and he said: “I’ve got it. I’m going to tear down my barns and build bigger barns. When I have the bigger barns, I’ll be able to take care of all my produce. Then I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. You have a terrific net worth, enough to last you not just a day or a week or a month or a year, but for decades to come. You can take it easy; eat, drink and be merry.’” I want to say three things about the rich man.

The Rich Man’s Greed

The first thing I want to say about the rich man is that he was greedy. No matter how great the crop was, no matter how much he had in storage, he wanted more. Bunker Hunt, when he cornered the silver market years ago, was called to testify before Congress. Somebody asked him, “Mr. Hunt, what is your net worth?” Bunker smiled and said: “I don’t know. If you know your net worth, it can’t be very much.”

Billionaires have been interviewed and asked: “What drives you? Don’t you have enough money yet? How much do you want?” Then they say, “Just a little bit more,” unlike the Apostle Paul, who found a way to be content with whatever state in which he found himself. Most of us are never content with what we have. We want more. No wonder greed is historically considered to be one of the seven deadly sins, and in one account the number one deadly sin.

The Rich Man’s Selfishness

The second thing we learn about the rich man is that he was unbelievably selfish. There is not a hint in Jesus’ parable that he wanted to share anything out of his abundance with other people. For him, charity was not an option. All he could think about was how he could keep everything he had earned. I wonder if it would say on his tombstone, “Here lies a selfish man.”

A Christian is a generous person. How can a Christian not be a generous person? Every Christian lives and moves and has his or her being only by the generosity of almighty God. What do you have that you have not received from God? But the selfish person says, “Gimme, gimme, gimme, and let me hold it tight lest I lose a penny of it.” Jesus warned people about selfishness. That kind of attitude, beloved, can send you to hell forever.

The Rich Man’s Foolishness

Worse than being greedy and worse than being selfish, the third thing is that the rich man was foolish—incredibly foolish. Listen to what he said: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’”

You have heard that phrase before, “Eat, drink, and be merry.” How recently was it invented? It was not created in the affluent fifties or in the roaring twenties. It goes back not only centuries, but millennia. Even before the Epicureans, who debated with the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill in Athens, there was a group called the Cyrenaics. They invented crass and pure hedonism.

Foolish Hedonism

Hedonism says that the good is found in the avoidance of pain and the attainment of pleasure. The Cyrenaic’s creed was: “Get as much pleasure as you possibly can get. Drink to excess, get drunk, get intoxicated. Eat to the point of gluttony. Enjoy sex until you’re satiated by it. That is the good life. It is found in eating and drinking and being merry. Let’s have a party. Let’s be happy. Let’s eat and drink.”

The Epicurean philosophers came along and said: “No, that kind of crass hedonism always ends in frustration. You’re either bored or frustrated, one or the other. If you get too much pleasure, you’re bored. Not enough pleasure, and you’re frustrated.” The Epicureans thought: “We must refine this. We want just enough to drink, and just the finest cuisine. We want just enough fun that we will be Epicureans with fine tastes and keep the level of pleasure at the optimum place.”

The phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry,” is found somewhere else in Scripture. When the Apostle Paul was writing to the Corinthians. some of whom were denying the resurrection of Christ, what did he say? “If Christ is not raised, if there is no resurrection, then let’s eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

The creed of American culture is not the Apostle’s Creed; it is the hedonist creed: “Let’s get it now while we can. You only go around once; let’s have a party.” “Eat, drink, and be merry” is the creed of the fool. The stupidest thing you could do with your life is to spend it seeking pleasure and avoiding pain when blessedness is yours for the asking. But by nature, beloved, we are all fools. We really think that the only way we can be happy is to fill our bellies and our bodies and be merry.

Be Rich toward God

The reason the rich man told himself, “Eat, drink, and be merry,” is because he had said just before that, “You have many goods laid up for many years, so have a party.” But Jesus said, “There was another report, albeit a minority report to be sure—the report that came from God.”

God said to the rich man: “Fool! You do not have many years to come. You don’t have several decades left. I’m going to require of you tonight—not tomorrow, not next year, but tonight—the very night that you’re having a party celebrating your security. This night I require your soul. Then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

Jesus then applied the parable in this manner: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Dear friends, the person who lays up treasures for himself—no matter how great that treasure is—but is not rich toward God is a pauper. He is poverty-stricken. Jesus said elsewhere: “What if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? What will a man give in exchange for his soul? How much is your soul worth? What’s the price tag?”

He who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God is like the rich fool: greedy, selfish, and foolish. God grant that no one in this room will ever be called greedy, selfish, or foolish by God. “Take heed,” Jesus said, “lest you succumb to covetousness.”

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.