Right Priorities - Luke 12:13-34
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
No one likes to appear foolish, do they? Given the choice between success and failure, and life without egg on our face is the winner every time. No one likes to fall short of the standards - and especially not in front of other people. We don’t like to fail full-stop but it is even more embarrassing to miss the target when other people are watching. And that’s why it is an act of kindness to stop someone from becoming a fool before it’s too late. If their current lifestyle will inevitably lead to a future day of embarrassment then the person who cares will do everything he can to prevent the sad day from happening. He will point out the problem to his friend so a change of behaviour can result.
The parable of the rich fool is in our Bibles because God wants to prevent us from wasting our lives. He knows that one day we will stand before him and on that day he will pronounce a verdict on our existence: Success or failure. Now I’m sure no one in this room wants to be an eternal loser so to avoid a future day of embarrassment let’s turn to Luke 12 and hear from the lips of Jesus how we can make a success of our lives.
We’re told in verse 13 that someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Preachers never like to be interrupted when they are speaking. And that’s especially true when a topic of great importance is derailed by a matter of little significance.Let me show you what Jesus was talking about before he was rudely interrupted. According to verse 1, a crowd of many thousands had gathered to catch a glimpse of this Jewish celebrity. But instead of addressing the many Jesus decided to concentrate on the few. He began to teach his disciples and here is a snapshot of what he said to them. Verse 2: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” Or verse 4: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you who you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.” Or verse 8: “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.”
Jesus is speaking about matters of eternity. He is not pulling his punches. He is clearly teaching his disciples what awaits them in the future. He is not ducking and diving around the truth. He is presenting it with crystal clarity. And this is when some idiot in the crowd decides to interrupt him. “Well, Jesus that’s all very interesting but what matters to me at the moment is not where I will spend eternity but how much of mum and dad’s cash should be in my bank account. Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” Now he may have had a legitimate case against his brother. It’s very common for families to fall out over who gets what and this guy was certainly not looking for a dodgy Rabbi to pronounce in his favour. But to interrupt Jesus, because of a domestic dispute, when he is speaking to his disciples about eternity is not going to win you any friends in the crowd. So Jesus replies, verse 14, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? Do you think my sole purpose in life is to be a glorified bank manager? Have you not been listening to anything I have just said? I have just claimed to have the authority to throw people into hell and you want me to talk to your brother about your mum’s best china. There are bigger issues at stake than your family squabbles.” Now, of course, Jesus could have solved this heated domestic. He had the skills. He had the diplomacy. And no doubt within the hour he could have brought unity to this divided family. But instead he chose to remain committed to his agenda. And I find this very challenging as a church leader. So often the non-Christian world sets the agenda for the Christian church. They define the terms for discussion and they show us different ways in which we can help the greater good of the community. And like obedient puppy dogs we wag our tails and give the non-Christians what they want. Now please don’t misunderstand me. I do believe the Christian faith offers a comprehensive world-view, which does answer a broad range of questions in an intelligent way. And I do believe Christian people can serve their local communities in a whole variety of ways. But here is the challenge from the example of Jesus. When do we have to say to the media and to our friends and family, “Well, that’s certainly an interesting topic of conversation but it’s not what the Christian faith is ultimately all about”? There are many side roads of discussion for the Christian to take so let’s pray that we and those who represent Jesus in the public realm will have the courage to keep on speaking about the things of eternity - because if we don’t then who will.
I’m sure by this point the man in the crowd was now regretting his outburst. He has already been publicly rebuked by Jesus and then, in verse 15, he is used as an example to teach the thousands of people who are standing around him. Jesus raises his voice and says to the crowd. “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus has obviously detected a major greed problem in this man’s life. He seems to be living for the now and is determined above all things to accumulate more and more stuff. In fact, it seems that his motto in life was simply: “He who dies with the most toys wins!” It was a common philosophy in the first century so Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “Be careful! Be on your guard! Set up the personal security system. Make sure the CCTV cameras are aimed at your internal desires. Watch out for all kinds of greed.” The desire for more and more, whether physical objects or fame or achievements or recognition. Jesus says, “Be careful that your whole life is not about the accumulation of these things.” And why not? Well, because a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
Now I think many non-Christians would agree with that statement. “Of course,” they would say. “a person’s life is not ultimately measured by the size of the TV in their front room, or by how many DVDs they own or by what car they drive.” It is very sad to deliver a funeral tribute for a person who has dedicated their life to merely owning possessions. It is much better to speak of loving relationships that have been formed throughout life.However, before we assume that Jesus agrees with us on the meaning of life let’s hear the reason he gives for a why a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. He tells them a parable in verse 16, a story to make his point.
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “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. 19 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.”’ 20 “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?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
The man in this story is not called a fool because he lacked intelligence. He was already rich before the bumper crop of AD 33 but when his fields were filled to capacity his business brain quickly made a decision. For a brief moment he was faced with a dilemma. What should he do? His current location was too small to store his bumper harvest. So what should do next? Well, rather quickly he comes up with a plan. Without even a polite phone call to the Victorian Society or planning permission from the local council he decides to tear down his old property and build a new industrial estate of gigantic proportions, where he would store all of his goods and his grain. This man had brains. He was not bottom of the class. If he was alive today he would be a member of Menza and he would be a regular winner on Channel Four’s Countdown. He was not called a fool because he lacked intelligence. And please notice we are told nothing about his financial dealings. He doesn’t appear to be on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and there is no record of an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. Everything seems to be above board.
So why does God call him a fool? The answer is in verse 21. Jesus says, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.” Now it’s important to notice what verse 21 does not say. He does not accuse this rich man of being inherently selfish and not sharing his possessions with other people. Our temptation is to right this guy off as being a penny-pinching Scotsman who has Scourge like tendencies. But if this was the case then verse 21 would have ended in a different way. It would have read, “but is not rich towards other people.” And yet it actually says, “is not rich towards God.” So we know nothing about this man’s charitable giving. He may well have been a keen giver to his local Oxfam. He may not have been. But the reason he is called a fool is not because he kept his possessions to himself. The reason he is called a fool is because he did not have a rich relationship with the God who gave him everything. In fact, he did the very opposite. He placed himself at the very centre of God’s world. Listen again to his self-centredness inverses 17-10. This is what he says to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “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. 19 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.”
Now we’re not told why this man always kept God at a distance. He may have been an atheist. Or perhaps he believed in a God who accepts everyone regardless of how we treat him. Or he may have believed that he had all the time in the world to think about God when he retired. Feet up, slippers on and Saga Magazine in hand – why think about eternity before different parts of the body stop working? God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.”
It took everyone by surprise. He had been rich for years. He owned a large house in Kirkella. He drove a Jaguar. His wife shopped at Waitrose and his kids went to Hymers. He was 47 when he made a mint on the Stock Market and so he decided to retire. The Sunday Times ran a colour supplement on him and the headline said it all, “The man who knew when to stop.” All his mates at the golf club were envious of the extra time he could play on the course. He had ambitions to get his handicap down to single figures and he was planning many more holidays aboard. To celebrate his retirement he decided to hold a party at his Kirkella mansion. It was a wonderful occasion. The food was a treat and the wine was flowing. All his friends were there. And one by one they all patted him on the back and congratulated him on his wise decision to get out of the Rat Race. “What a guy”, they said, “how smart to retire at 47.” And he knew it to. So as he stood on his balcony at the end of the evening, looking across at his pool, a grin appeared from cheek to cheek. And he said to himself, “You’ve done it, eat, drink and...” Well, that’s when there was a sudden pain in the chest and his grin turned into a grimace. He was dead before the ambulance even arrived. His funeral took place at the large chapel at Chanterlands Crematorium. So many people came and so many people still regarded him as a great success. The cards said it all. “To a devoted husband.” “To a courageous leader.” “To a wise businessman.” The tributes kept on coming. But what the mourners did not hear was the sobering verdict on his life from a heavenly perspective. Only two words were required. God said to him, “You fool!”
Failure is being successful at all the things that don’t matter.
What matters in life is not what we own or what we buy, what we wear or what we drive. What matters is that we have a rich relationship with God. So let me ask you a personal question: Do you have one? Do you have know Jesus as your Saviour and your King? Have you surrendered your life to him and received his forgiveness? Louis Armstrong may sing, “You have all the time in the world” but Jesus says, “No you don’t.”
My experience in Oxford a few weeks ago. Student who died.
Now wonderfully God has gracious delayed the day of our departure so that we can hear this good news tonight. There is a different way to live. Not for ourselves and with ourselves at the centre of the universe. But for God and with God at the very centre of our existence. Or to use the language of Luke 12, we have the possibility of beginning and then developing a rich relationship with God in this life.
How does someone begin a relationship with God? Quite simply, they must become personal followers of Jesus. God the Father has appointed Jesus to be his King and Jesus is the one who has died on a cross to make forgiveness a possibility. It’s what we remember tonight as we eat bread and drink wine together. We remind ourselves that to begin a relationship with the true and living God we must commit ourselves to Jesus.
But at this point the adventure begins. The Christian life is never portrayed as dull. It may be tough and it may require great determination but it should never be regarded as boring. For the rest of our days we have the great joy of learning more about who God is and how he wants us to live. Last week I said there was no short-cut to spiritual vitality. If we desire a healthy spiritual life then we need regular interaction with this book. We need to carve out time in our busy diaries to make engagement with the Bible a priority. We need to make daily choices to ensure the urgent does not squeeze out the important. But if we are to achieve this in a world full of uncertainty and in a world full of activity then we need to hear what Jesus says to his disciples in verses 22-34. You may have noticed the camera shift in verse 22. No longer is Jesus speaking to the crowd but to his disciples. He changes his focus. And on the basis of what he has just said about how to live a successful life he now points out to his followers how they can develop a rich relationship with God. Listen to what he says. Verse 22: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.”
What do most people worry about today? How much they eat, what their body looks like and what they will wear. The new temples of our age are Shopping Malls and Fitness Centres. But these cannot be the chief priorities for the disciples of Jesus because if they are then we will not develop a rich relationship with God. When time is precious we only focus on what is most important to us. Other activities fall by the way-side. So Jesus commands his disciples to have different priorities from the world around them. He wants us to put engagement with God at the very top of the pile. And to achieve this he provides us with a number of reasons why this is a sensible way to live. Look at what he says in verse 23. “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes.” Of course you say. We’ve already heard this. But how we need to hear this again and again! We constantly bombarded with propaganda to persuade us to believe the opposite. Good to be reminded that in the end what matters most of all is not where I shop or where I eat but that I know God and have a right relationship with him. A God who cares for me and a God who looks after me. Jesus says, “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” Or verse 27. “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!”
People worry when they stop believing God is in control. Yes they might still affirm the doctrine with their lips but if you really want to know who believes it look at how people live. God or work? Which comes first?
Do you know people who say things like this? “Well, I may have time to think about God when I get my self financially secure. But now’s not the right time. I have bills to pay and mouths to feed. I don’t have any spare time to meet with God’s people or read God’s Word.” What are they saying? I don’t believe God will provide.
But if we are to live a successful life, that is, a life where God and his priorities come first then we need to believe that God will look after us. Or to quote the words of Jesus in verse 31, if we are to seek his kingdom, that is his rule in everything, then we must believe that these other things, our basic needs, will be provided by God. And if we want to practice what Jesus teaches in verse 33 then we had better believe in a provider God. He says, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Sensible way to live if you believe in an eternity after the grave. Invest your money now so that it will have eternal consequences.
Just think about all those confused conversations that will take place in heaven between those who have donated money for the Gospel to be preached and those who have become Christians as a result.
We will only do this if we believe in eternity and also if we believe God will look after us in the here and now. Jesus is not saying don’t work. He is not speaking to lazy people but to worried people. He is saying don’t become a workaholic. He isn’t saying don’t save for the future. The Bible does commend prudent investment. But there is a difference between godly saving and fearful accumulation – a sign that we don’t trust the Lord to meet our needs.
So let me encourage us as I finish to trust the Lord. Life is not a rehearsal. We have one shot at it. There are no second chances. Failure is to be successful at all the things that don’t matter. So let’s make sure we focus on the things that do matter. Let’s be reconciled to God and when we are let’s endeavour to deepen that relationship day by day and live out God’s instructions until we see him face to face. What do you want him to say to you? “You fool” or “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Let’s pray as we finish.
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