You Can't Take It With You
Passage: Luke 12:13–12:21
You Can't Take It With You
Last week, you may recall that we considered the important question, “Will we remain faithful to the Lord Jesus?” In the face of increasing opposition, even persecution, will the church remain faithful? Remember the situation at the outset of Luke 12. The Jewish religious leaders are increasingly opposed to Jesus, and even after Jesus is gone, those same leaders will continue to persecute Jesus’ disciples. So, this key question – the question of faithfulness – began with the first disciples, and it continues now in our day. As opposition and persecution rise, will we remain faithful?
But we face another threat to faithfulness, one that is more subtle but just as serious as persecution. It is the threat of prosperity – of being so comfortable, so at ease with our stuff that we drift away from Christ. As Christians living in the West, this is surely a danger we face every day. Yes, we see the signs of increasing opposition to the church, and yes, we are concerned about the creep of a technology-driven totalitarian world that seeks to inhibit the mission of a gospel-loving churches. All of those things are real, but I would say that’s not the only danger as we seek to be faithful. Prosperity – ease – a growing love of things – what the Bible calls covetousness or greed – that is a threat we live with every day. Let me put it this way. We may, one day, have to answer the knock at the door and give testimony to our allegiance to Christ. But what if they don’t need to knock because we’re too busy playing with our gadgets, monitoring our investments, and being distracted by our stuff? All of that to say, brothers and sisters, prosperity, perhaps more than persecution, is a threat to faithfulness.
Now, why are we talking about this today? No one likes to talk about greed. It’s uncomfortable to talk about materialism, especially considering that everyone of us is quite well-off, compared to the majority of the world. So, why are we talking about this?
It’s because Jesus himself puts this subject before us. You heard it as we read the passage – “Be on your guard against all covetousness.” “Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” It’s the Lord Jesus himself who raises this issue. This is key. This week’s passage shares the same theme as last week. Jesus is still concerned that his disciples stand firm, that they be equipped for faithfulness. Last week, Jesus addressed the external threat of persecution. But this week, Jesus looks internal. He calls us to see that inside our hearts is a desire for more stuff, and that desire, when left unchecked, can be just as devastating as outward persecution. So, will we remain faithful to the Lord Jesus? I pray we will, and to prepare for faithfulness, we must listen to Jesus in Luke 12 as he warns against covetousness and greed.
Now, before we look at the details of Jesus’ teaching, there are a couple of points I want to clarify at the outset. I hope these points will keep us from misunderstanding Jesus’ aim in this text. First of all, Jesus is not opposed to possessions in an absolute sense. He is not saying that faithfulness requires poverty. Rather, Jesus is concerned with our response to our possessions. Do we love stuff more than we love and trust God? That’s Jesus’ concern. In fact, you can have very little money and still be wracked with greed. It’s not the size of your bank balance that matters. It’s how you respond to that balance, particularly in terms of your relationship to God and to others. So, that’s the first point of clarification. Jesus is not opposed to possessions in an absolute sense.
The second point of clarification is this: Jesus’ aim is not to heap guilt on us for the things that we have. This is a common mistake when thinking about Jesus’ teaching. We turn the Lord’s teaching into a guilt-trip, and we think that if we beat people down enough, then they will change. But guilt is never Jesus’ strategy, and guilt cannot produce the kind of genuine response that pleases God. Conviction is a tool in Jesus’ toolbox, and he employs it with great effect. But conviction is not the same as guilt. Guilt is like a hammer – it just smashes and crushes whatever lies in its path. Conviction, however, is like a surgeon’s scalpel. It cuts us, but for the purpose of growth and healing. So, there will be hard points in today’s passage, but keep that distinction in mind between conviction and guilt. And when necessary, let’s receive the Lord’s conviction with humility.
So, with those clarifications in mind, let’s consider these verses from the Lord Jesus. Why is covetousness or greed such a danger to faithfulness? Jesus answers by identifying three effects that greed has on the human heart. We’re going to look at each one of those, and then at the end, we’re going to come back and look at the remedy for greed.
Greed Drives Us to Love Self
The first effect is seen in vv13-15 – Greed Drives Us to Love Self. A man approaches Jesus in v13 with a seemingly straightforward question – “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Techer, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” It was not unusual for rabbis to get these kinds of questions, so on the surface, this man doesn’t appear to be out of line. But at the same time, the basic question of dividing up assets is not really what this man is asking for. That kind of division was already a settled matter, according to the Law, so what this man really wants is for Jesus to rule against his brother. He wants Jesus to put matters entirely in his favor. In other words, the man is not satisfied with what he has. He wants more, and he aims to use Jesus to justify his desire.
But Jesus, as he so often does, gets to the heart of the matter. Notice his response in v14 – “But [Jesus] said to him, ‘Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’” This is more than a flat denial. This is also a reminder of Jesus’ mission. Think about it. An inheritance is an earthly concern – not insignificant, but also not eternally important. So, by asking this kind of question, the man demonstrates that he doesn’t understand Jesus. He’s failed to see that Jesus comes with a much more important mission. As Jesus himself says later in chapter 19, he has come to seek and save the lost, not settle family squabbles. So, even this initial response from Jesus reveals that the man has his attention in the wrong place. When given the opportunity to ask the Messiah a question, this man is worried about getting his share of stuff.
But Jesus is not finished. You’ll notice in v15 that he expands the situation by issuing a warning to all who are present. Look again, v15 – “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Take, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” So, the note of warning is pretty clear, isn’t it? Jesus says, “Watch out for greed. Be on the lookout for a covetous heart that wants more stuff.” And that’s the essence of greed – it’s an insatiable desire to have more than your due. We’ve all experienced this, haven’t we? We look at what we have, and maybe we compare our things with other people’s things, and then that craving sets in. Sure, I have enough to meet my needs, but I want as much as he has. If only I had X-number of dollars more, then I would be happy. That’s the downward spiral of a greedy heart. The more you crave the stuff of this world, the stronger the craving gets, and on the cycle goes. So, that’s the essence of Jesus’ warning – watch out for greed.
But there’s another question here that we ought to answer. Why does Jesus give this warning in the first place? It’s a surprising response, if you think about it. The man in v13 asked a typical question, but instead of answering like a typical rabbi, Jesus warns about greed. Why does Jesus go there? What’s the point?
It has to do with the effect that greed has in a person’s life, particularly on how you view other people. The man in v13 is thinking about only one person – himself. Covetousness has taken root in his heart, and now instead of thinking how to serve his brother, the man just wants more stuff. He thinks only in terms of his own happiness. That’s the danger, and that’s why Jesus goes with a warning. Like all forms of sin, greed causes us to curve inward on ourselves. We begin to think of life only in terms of what I can get for me. And in such a greed-fueled inward bent, what do we lose sight of? We lose sight of God and those who are made in his image.
This is why Jesus ends the warning where he does – with a reminder of where life is found. Look at that last line – “life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” So, if life is not found in stuff, then where is it found? In knowing God and loving him, and in loving your neighbor as yourself. But that’s precisely what this man has missed. And why has he missed it? Because greed has turned the man in on himself.
Greed Dulls Our Sense of Eternity
So, mark it down. One sign that greed is growing your heart is when you begin to think of people merely as means to getting more stuff. That’s an indication that your life is curving in on itself, that greed is taking effect, driving you to love yourself more than others.
As we continue on in Luke 12, we find that Jesus follows up this warning with a parable. Look at vv16-19, where we see the second effect – Greed Dulls Our Sense of Eternity. The parable begins with a man who finds himself the beneficiary of an unexpected windfall. Notice again, v16 – “And [Jesus] told them a parable saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’” Now, the setting is pretty straightforward, but here’s the key piece for the remainder of the parable. The man, who is already wealthy, doesn’t do anything to generate this banner crop. Simply by God’s providence, the man’s fields were fruitful. And here’s why that matters. It frames the entire parable in terms of stewardship. The problem, as we’ll see, is not the man’s wealth. No, the problem is how the man responds to the wealth he has been given. Again, the issue is not his bank balance, but how his heart responds to that balance. So, that’s the setting for the parable – a rich man has an unexpected windfall, which causes him to ask, v17, “What should I do with all this wealth?”
And sadly, the man’s answer reveals the wrong response. Notice v18 – “And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.’” Now, at first, this doesn’t seem like a big deal. It was a bumper year, so of course, you need bigger barns. What’s the problem?
Notice the man’s attitude as he makes these plans. It’s shockingly dismissive of God’s role in providing his wealth. Notice, first of all, the possessive pronouns in v18 – my barns, my grain, my goods. Everything is me, my, mine, isn’t it? But what did we learn in v16 – the man did nothing to produce this abundant harvest. He simply received it, by God’s providence. And that fact alone should humble this man. This isn’t his grain. These aren’t his barns. It all belongs to God, who is the Lord of harvest. But the man can’t see. His sense of stewardship before God has been dulled by greed.
But what’s more, the man has also lost sight of his position. Notice now the personal pronouns that suggest the man is sovereign, v18 – I will do this, I will tear down, I will store. It’s as though the man thinks life is simply in his hands. Now, there’s nothing wrong with planning for the future, but as James reminds us, those plans should be expressed with the humility of, “If the Lord wills.” But that’s not how this man is thinking. He’s not thinking, “If the Lord wills.” He’s thinking, “I will because I am the one running this show.” He’s lost sight of his position before God.
But it’s the man’s final statement that reveals the true depth of his problem. Notice where things end up, v19 – “And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good gifts that God has provided. But that is not what this man is doing. This is not enjoyment as an expression of gratitude. This is indulgence as an expression of unfaithfulness. In short, this man thinks his future is secure. “I’ve got enough,” the man says, “so I don’t need to think about anything else.”
And that is the issue. Consider what is missing in v19. The man says to his soul, “relax, eat, drink, be merry.” He thinks about himself, but what is missing? Any concern to love God, as well as any concern to love his neighbor as himself. The great commandments play no part in the man’s planning. He prepares for the present, but he fails to think of the eternal.
And how did it happen? How did his heart become so dull to eternal realities? Through greed. This is the real danger of materialism and covetousness. Money, in and of itself, is morally neutral. But the love of money, an obsession with things has a powerful ability to dull our sense of eternity. Remember, God has written it on every human heart – this sense of eternity, the recognition that there is something beyond this life. But that sense is dulled when we allow greed to grow in our hearts. The more our eyes fixate on possessions, the more distant and dim eternity becomes in our perspective. And over time, the effect is that we begin to live as though this present world is all that matters. Instead of living every day before the face of God, we think in terms of today’s pleasures and profits and pursuits. Brothers and Sisters, that is a small way to live. For me, that is the most striking takeaway from v19. Yes, the man is wealthy and comfortable, and yes, part of me thinks it would be really nice to just take it easy. But in reality, it’s all a mirage. V19 is a picture of a small, unsatisfying life, where the sense of eternity has been dulled by barns and bank balances.
Let’s just state it clearly. Each of us has a soul that will live forever, and each person’s soul is made to be satisfied in God. “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in thee,” Augustine said. That’s how God designed our souls. You know that deep sense of longing you experience in your soul, perhaps when you hear a beautiful melody or watch a blazing sunrise or look into the face of a dear loved one. You know that sense of longing that almost feels like homesickness? That sense of longing is designed by God, and it’s telling us we were made for more than this world. But that’s the danger of greed and materialism. It’s an anesthetic for the soul. It dulls our spiritual senses. But since no possession and no amount of wealth can ever replace God, we just end up looking for more. We end up chasing things, more things, better things, newer things. But it’s a fruitless quest – because only God satisfies.
So, I don’t know what you’ve been chasing as of late, but I’m sure there are some here today who have been running after things other than God. And one takeaway of this passage is to put down the pursuit. Confess where greed and covetousness have taken root, and then turn your pursuit to the One whom you were made to know – to God, in whose presence is fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forever more.
Greed Blinds Us to Our Divine Accountability
The third effect of greed also has to do with our relationship to God. From v20 – Greed Blinds Us to Our Divine Accountability. As v19 ends, the man’s position looks pretty good, at least on the surface. He’s got plenty of wealth, he’s got his future secure, which means he can simply coast from here. V19 is a picture of a man very assured of his own sovereignty. And that’s precisely the problem. V20 interrupts the man’s life with a suddenness that shatters his plans. Notice God’s verdict, v20 – “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” Of all the things God can call a person, ‘fool’ is probably the one you’d least want to hear. This wealthy, self-satisfied man is a fool. By thinking only of the present at the expense of the eternal, the man has blinded himself to reality. He is not the master of his fate.
In fact, note that word required. Required by whom, we ask? Required by God. That’s what this man has lost sight of. Blinded by his indulgent greed, the man has forgotten his accountability to God. Sure, the man’s life right now is comfortable, but that life can end at any point. And when it does, there is no amount of earthly wealth, no amount of prosperity that will add to your status before God. Rich and poor alike will stand before the Creator, and the rich will stand there as much in need of grace as the poor.
And so, the man is a fool. He has forgotten who God is – the Sovereign Lord who cannot be bought off with wealth. He has forgotten who he is – a creature that will one day give an account to the Creator. And he has prioritized material possessions at the expense of eternal truth. Oh, it’s such a sobering statement, v20. This man is a fool because he holds on to what he cannot keep in hopes of gaining what he cannot buy.
And that’s where the parable ends – with this shocking picture of a man who trusted in what cannot save him. That’s the key, really. The problem is not that the man is wealthy. The problem is that the man trusted in his wealth rather than in God and his promises. In fact, that is the most pressing question of the parable for us today – what are you trusting in? Everyone is banking their life on something. What are you banking on? Doing enough good things, or at least enough good to balance the scale with what you’ve done wrong? You can’t earn heaven. Having enough comfort in this life, thinking it will carry over to the next? You can’t take it with you. What are you banking on? What are you trusting in?
If you are not a Christian this morning – if you are not repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ’s death to save you – if you are not a Christian, the man in this parable is giving you a glimpse of your future. You can make the best plans in this life, and you can store up all the material credit you can get your hands on. But if you focus on the present at the expense of the eternal, then God says you are a fool. But here’s the grace. By putting this parable in Scripture, God is calling you right now to trust him. God is telling you, in his word, where life leads if you only focus on the here and now. It leads to condemnation.
And so, if you are not a Christian, the response to God’s Word this morning is to do what the man in the parable would not. The response is to trust in Christ. The response is to invest your life in the eternal truth of God’s Word – to believe that your sin is so great, only Christ’s death and resurrection can save. Remember, rejecting God doesn’t always look like outright, rabid hatred. Sometimes rejecting God looks like distraction and indifference. Sometimes it looks like simply being caught up in all this world can offer. But the outcome is the same. And so, with great grace and patience, God is calling you, here in his Word, to bank your life – both now and for eternity – on what he has done in Jesus Christ. Greed blinds us to our divine accountability, but by his grace, God opens our eyes to see and trust only in him.
So, we’ve come to the end. We’ve considered the effects that greed has on the human heart, and what I hope you’ve taken away so far is that greed is as much about God as it is about stuff. The danger of greed is that it drives us inward, dulls our spiritual senses, and blinds us to our accountability before God. Greed is deadly because it keeps us from God.
And so, as we close, there is this final question facing us – what’s the remedy for something as powerful as greed? What can free us from the blinding effects of greed? Brothers and sisters, the answer is nothing less than God himself. That’s the remedy, the final point I want to leave you with today. Greed is broken only by the power of a Greater Treasure. And that Greater Treasure is God himself.
Notice where Jesus ends, v21 – “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” What a wonderful picture Jesus gives us – that of being rich toward God. That’s the remedy to greed and covetousness. It’s to pursue God, believing that he is the Treasure that will satisfy our hearts, that his riches in Christ are so abundant and glorious they make the things of this world look cheap by comparison.
So, how do we become rich toward God? What does that pursuit look like? Jesus will give us more insight in next week’s passage, so be here next Sunday to learn more. But for now, it’s enough to say that being rich toward God means being connected to the two places where the Treasure of the gospel is most clearly present – God’s Word and God’s church. As we grow deeper in the Scriptures, we grow deeper in our knowledge of God. And then seeing God more, by faith, we come to know him as the One who satisfies our souls. We find that his presence is full of joy and that his steadfast love is better than life. We treasure God as we grow in his Word.
And we also treasure God as we grow in our love for the church. Remember, brothers and sisters, the fullness of God’s glory is revealed in Jesus Christ, and the place where the grace of Christ is experienced most fully is in his Body, the Church. As we come to love one another, serve one another, and worship together, we see the fullness of God’s grace at work in his church. We see brothers and sisters with different gifts than ours, and we benefit from their gifting. We meet brothers and sisters who are strong in the faith when we are weak, and we depend on them to help us keep running, so that God’s grace is worked out in our midst.
Brothers and Sisters, when that happens in the church, our hearts grow rich toward God – not simply because our church becomes more enjoyable to us, but because we see God in the life of the church. Perhaps that’s a point I haven’t emphasized enough through the years here. We want a healthy, growing church, but it’s not so we will have our needs met. It’s not so we will be more comfortable. No, we want a healthy church because we believe it’s here, in the fellowship of the saints, that we come to know and treasure God.
So, let’s aim to be rich toward God. Let’s lay aside the craving for more stuff that cannot satisfy, and let’s run hard after God, treasuring him in his Word and knowing him in the life of his Church. And by his grace, on the last day, we won’t hear that horrible word, “Fool.” By his grace, we’ll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Father.” May it be so. Amen.