July 21, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 12:15-21 (NRSV)
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.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 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?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Jesus tells us to be on guard against greed. Real life does not consist of the abundance of possessions. Rather, it’s being “rich toward God.” This kind of wealth is not something we hoard for ourselves, but something we share generously with others. When we put our hope in God rather than in riches, and when we give freely to those in need, then we are able to experience “the life that really is life.”
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
Our passage today begins with a warning: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Surely that word of caution is as relevant now as it was 2,000 years ago, if not even more so. In our consumeristic society, it’s tempting to believe deep down that life actually does “consist in the abundance of possessions.” We can find ourselves envious of those who have more or better things than we do. We can even measure our self-worth by our stuff. But Jesus says, “Watch out for this! It will hurt you.”
Following his word of warning, Jesus told his audience a parable about a rich farmer. One year, the farmer had an abundant harvest, more than he could store in his barns. So he decided to tear down his existing barns and build larger ones. Then he would be able to say to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19). But God had bad news for the rich farmer: “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Jesus wrapped up his lesson by concluding, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (12:21).
How do you respond to Jesus’s teaching here? I must confess that, at first, I’m puzzled. I mean, wasn’t the farmer acting wisely? He had a harvest too big for his barns so he built larger ones to store his grain. Wasn’t that sensible? Suppose, for example, that one year your income is much greater than usual for some legitimate reason. What would you do? Wouldn’t you be wise to put more into savings? Wouldn’t that be better than spending it all right away? Isn’t Jesus being too hard on the rich farmer?
The more I reflect on this parable and what Jesus said about it, however, the more I’m able to get what I believe Jesus was teaching. Notice, for example, how the farmer talked to himself. In particular, notice the abundance of personal pronouns: “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? . . . 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.” This man’s language reveals something sad about the state of his soul. For him, it’s all about himself. The crops are his. The barns are his. The grain and goods are his. He shows no evidence of seeing any of these things as God’s blessings, God’s gifts. The farmer appears not to believe what we find in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”
Jesus said that the farmer who stored up treasures for himself was not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). What would being “rich toward God” entail? There are many ways to answer this question. But the contrast in verse 21 is between saving your treasures for yourself and being rich toward God. This suggests that richness in God’s direction is a matter, not of saving up for yourself, but rather of giving away generously to others. In Jesus’s parable, the rich farmer had a bountiful harvest. It’s highly unlikely that he did all of the farming by himself. Rather, he had others who worked for him, who helped to produce such a bounty. Yet, the farmer did not consider sharing any of the excess with them. Nor did it occur to him that there may well have been people in his town who were poor and in need of food. The farmer showed absolutely no inclination to be generous. Rather, it was all for him and all about him.
Jesus’s parable in Luke 12 reminds me of a passage in 1 Timothy where it says, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). The foolish farmer in Jesus’s parallel got everything wrong. He set his hopes on the uncertainty of riches rather than God. He was not generous or ready to share. Rather he stored up treasures for himself. In the end, he missed out on “the life that really is life.”
From a positive perspective, this passage from 1 Timothy teaches us part of what it means to be “rich toward God.” It involves, first of all, setting our hopes on God rather than our possessions. We put our confidence in that which is truly reliable. Then, we are to be “rich in good works,” especially by being “generous, and ready to share.” Thus we are storing up for ourselves, not our riches, but our cache of future heavenly rewards.
Moreover, in the present day, we are able to “take hold of the life that really is life.” This is the life of trusting God, recognizing that all we have comes from God’s hand. It is the life of generosity, sharing freely and unselfishly with those in need. It is the life of rewarding and empowering others as well as caring for those in need. It is the life that’s not “all about me,” but rather “all about serving God and others in God’s name.” It is the life of deepest meaning, deepest gratitude, and deepest love.
To what extent are you tempted to measure your value by your possessions?
In what ways are you “rich toward God”?
Do you find it easy or hard to be generous? Why?
When you think of “the life that really is life,” what comes to mind?
One tangible way to be “rich toward God” is by giving generously to those in need. You may already be doing this. But, if you’re like me, sometimes you need a nudge to remind you. So, this could be your nudge. If the Lord puts it on your heart, give today to help those who are hungry. You may have a local church or trustworthy charity that you support. (For many years I have supported World Vision, including their Hunger Relief Fund, because I trust their vision and their stewardship.)
Lord Jesus, thank you for warning us not to be greedy. It can be easy for us to fall into believing that life does exist in the abundance of possessions. Forgive us, Lord, for letting the love of stuff have so much power in our lives.
Teach us, Lord, how to be “rich toward God.” In particular, may we learn to be generous with others, giving freely and joyfully some of what you have entrusted to us. Help us to remember that, in the end, all things belong to God, not only our things, but also ourselves.
By your grace, may we take hold of the life that really is life, a life of giving, a life of service, a life of freedom, a life of tangible love. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Concern for the Wealthy (Luke 6:25; 12:13-21; 18:18-30)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.