An abundance of things possessed
A man of contrary spirit appealed to the Lord Jesus in Luke 12.13,14, for it seems he was dissatisfied with his share of an inheritance. The Lord utterly refuses to become involved, for there were procedures the man could follow if he had a grievance. But his request does give the Lord the opportunity to assert that "A mans life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth" (Lk 12.15). A mans natural life does revolve around necessities, but luxuries are no part of life, properly understood. These two things, luxuries and necessities, are the basis of Christs ministry at this point. Verses 16-21 have to do with luxuries whilst vv.22-34 give teaching about necessities.
Luxuries are expendable, and it is against the accumulation of the expendable that the Lord now warns in what has become known as "The Parable of the Rich Fool". This parable is often used, and rightly so, to warn the unsaved of the brevity of life and the certainty of death, and other things besides. We should note, however, that the application of this parable is addressed to disciples (v.22).
"The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully" (Lk 12.16). If he were a Jew, the man would no doubt have prided himself on his blessedness. Were not his riches a sign of divine favour? After all, Gods promise to those who obeyed His law was plentiful harvests (Deut 28.1-14). Only those who disobeyed would know famine. But the response of the man to his plentiful harvests is a certain indicator of the state of his heart. He sees in his plenty an opportunity for ease and enjoyment, all the while ignoring the needs of others.
With the coming of Christ a great change came in regard to riches. He came in grace, a higher principle than law. Since He has come, believers must withdraw from those who say, "Gain is godliness" (1 Tim 6.5), so contrary is that idea to the spirit of Christianity. Whereas in Old Testament times the spiritual person should have been pleased to associate with one who was blessed materially, for God was with him, now it is different. Too often, it seems as if the Lords people are still in Old Testament times in this regard. Those who only have enough, and have none to spare, are sometimes thought of as being inferior, perhaps even work-shy and incompetent. But would we dare to display this attitude to Christ? That most spiritual Man, who magnified the law and made it honourable (and who therefore merited riches as a mark of divine favour), became poor for our sakes. Behold His poverty at Calvary!
Having seen the rich mans sham blessedness, we now are told of his real foolishness. It is no surprise to learn that he is a fool, for he thinks "within himself" (v.17). He is not prepared to allow the authority of the Word of God a place in his thinking. It is only as we allow the mind of Christ to govern our reasonings that we shall respond in a spiritual way to the temptations that riches represent. It is instructive to notice that, when offered choices, Solomon refused riches and chose wisdom. But then, because he had chosen wisdom, he was entrusted with riches as well (1 Kings 3.5-13).
We next learn of the mans lavishness. Unconcerned by the need all around him ("For the poor ye have always with you"), he embarks upon an extravagant building programme. Did he really need to pull down his barns? Could he not have erected an extension to the existing ones, and donated the money saved to a good cause? It was Ambrose who said, "The bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children, are the barns which last for ever". Goods bestowed in those barns will reap an eternal reward.
But there is worse yet, for he is determined to "eat, drink, and be merry", refusing to consider the plight of others. The words of the epistles are relevant here. "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (Jas 2.15-17). "But whoso hath this worlds good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 Jn 3.17,18). These are searching questions posed in these epistles What doth it profit? How dwelleth the love of God in him? Can those who profess to have been so remarkably and eternally benefited by God in His love, shut their eyes to the needs of those around them, whilst all the time indulging their own appetites?
Contrary to what he thought, this foolish man did not have "many years". He was guilty of short-sightedness, as we all can be. It was that night that his soul was required of him. He was called into eternity, and what he had done and been on earth was assessed. Solemn thought! The deeds believers have done in the body shall yet come under review, whether good or evil. And we shall receive for what we have done (2 Cor 5.10). The good will be rewarded, the evil will be rebuked.
Now there comes the question, "Whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?". This is a question we could all profitably ask ourselves. The words of Job are plain "Naked came I out of my mothers womb, and naked shall I return thither" (Job 1.21). Job realised that he would not carry his vast possessions with him into eternity. And the apostle Paul no doubt had this in mind when he wrote, "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (1 Tim 6.7). We ought to give serious attention to the matter of what will happen to what we possess (be it much or little) when we leave this scene. Is it not the case that too often there are surpluses which could be invested in the work of God now, rather than waiting for Inheritance Tax to take its sizeable share?
Rich toward God
The summary the Lord gives of the situation is brief. "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." These are the alternatives - self or God. It should not be difficult for a believer to choose between the two. As the word is in another place: "Ye cannot serve (as a slave) God and mammon (riches) (Mt 6.24). It is possible to have two employers at the same time, but it is not possible to be a slave to two masters at once, for slavery involves the total surrender of the will to another. We should ask ourselves the question therefore whether we are slaves to money or to God there is no middle ground.
To be continued.