Jesus has a lot to say about his disciples and wealth. In fact, besides the general theme of the kingdom of God, there’s nothing he talks about more. And what he has to say is quite radical, especially to us, who live in what is certainly the most wealthy country that has ever existed; and who live in a culture that glories in wealth – in the seeking of it and in the indulging of it. But Jesus teaches us another way – and this is our topic for today.
Our passage is found in –
13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (NRSV)
I chose this text for two reasons. First, because it shows us how serious this topic is. God says, “You fool” to the man as an expression of judgment and condemnation. And we don’t want to be called fools by God or be condemned.
Second, because it gives us the closest thing to a definition of what it means to be wealthy that I can find from Jesus. There is an abundance beyond one’s needs (bigger barns), which you store up for yourself. It’s as simple as that. It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep for yourself. So if you’re here today and you have a large income Jesus isn’t necessarily talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. And, if you’re here today and you have a small income Jesus may well be talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. In both cases it all depends on what you do with what you have.
With this background in place, let me share with you three things that Jesus teaches regarding wealth. And the first is –
Don’t go on accumulating wealth
There are two obvious reasons to accumulate wealth beyond our needs, both of which will kill us spiritually:
1. We want wealth as our security, to rely on in an uncertain world. The farmer stored up his abundance in bigger barns to take care of his future. But this is not loving God with all our heart – the greatest commandment. This is idolatry, which is actually hatred of God, because we make wealth to be our true god. We trust in it to take care of us.
As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
2. We want wealth in order to enjoy it. The farmer said to himself, “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (v. 19). But this is not loving our neighbor – the second greatest commandment. This is love self love and hatred of our neighbors. For even though there are many in the world who don’t have their basic needs met – including fellow believers – we want to keep our abundance for ourselves, for our fleshly desires and comforts.
So whether we accumulate wealth beyond our needs for the sake of idolatry – which is hatred of God, or indulgence – which is hatred of our neighbors, our lives with God will be destroyed. And so we should have nothing to do with it.
Hear the words of Jesus from our passage in v. 15 – “be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” And hear the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:9 – “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
Love God, not your wealth
This has to do with getting our heart in the right place regarding our wealth.
1. Be content with God’s provision for you. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Give up seeking after more and more and more. Work hard, but be satisfied with God’s supply whether it’s much or little, because he’s with us and that’s our true treasure.
2. Give up your possessions. Jesus says in Luke 14:33, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up (or renounce) all your possessions.” (NRSV) Notice he isn’t talking about a certain percentage, say 10%. He’s talking about all our possessions, all we have.
We have to recognize that whatever God gives you is not your own, it’s God’s. And if he takes it all, or asks you to give it all away – that’s fine. But how many of us can say our hearts are committed to this? Do we own our possessions or do they own us? This is talked about in Acts 4:32 when it says about the early Christians, “and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own,” but they were willing to part with them.
So this is a call to dethrone your possessions, because without this we can’t follow Jesus. As he says, “none of you can become my disciple . . .” if you don’t do this.
Well, if we give up holding onto our abundance for our security and comforts, and if we have a right heart toward our possessions being content with God’s supply and renouncing what we do have – then we are ready to do with them what God wants us to do with them, which is to –
Love others with radical generosity
We are to act with our wealth to love our neighbor. Let me just highlight two basic patterns for doing this in the New Testament.
1. We give to the needy. Jesus says in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” Jesus isn’t saying, “become needy” but rather get rid of your excess – sell it, give it to those in need. (And you can even give up what you need to help others, because giving sacrificially is encouraged, as we learn from the story of the widow who gave all she had in Luke 21:1-4.)
An example of this is seen in the early Jerusalem church in Acts 2 and 4. As there was need, those who had excess would sell and give to the needy among them – 2:45; 4:34-37.
2. We share what we have with others. Jesus said this in Luke 14:12-14 – “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Use what you have for God’s kingdom. It’s God’s so share it.
An example of this is found in Romans 16:23 – “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you.” Here was a well to do man who used his large house to host the church in Corinth (they had no building) and he hosted Paul as well.
A final word, wealth is dangerous. But only if you accumulate it for yourself. The other side of this is that wealth is a blessing of the Lord, as Psalm 112 says, but again, only if you are generous with it.
Wealth is a strange thing spiritually. It’s from God, but if you keep it for yourself, it’s like trying to store up God’s provision of manna – it spoils and becomes a bad thing. But if you’re generous with it, you can bless many in need and thus store up treasures for yourselves in heaven. Wealth can be a curse or a blessing and it’s your choice which it will be in your life.