Last month, as June’s e-teaching, I sent you the introduction to an old book of mine that I am in the process of re-editing, titled Through the Needle’s Eye: An Impossible Journey Made Possible by God.
I hope that, after reading the Introduction last month, you made the decision to read the remainder of the book as we publish chapters over the coming months. If you did, below is Chapter One, an honest look at Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Fool.
I’m writing for folks who are serious about their relationship with God, or who are at least open to getting serious about their relationship with God. Although Chapter One may not be light reading, it is reading that is full of light! Please read with an open heart and mind.
Every blessing, David
The Untimely Passing of a Wealthy Fool (Luke 12:13-34)
I’m so glad you’ve decided to continue reading. That is an indication of your trust in Jesus’ love for you and your willingness to be challenged by His words.
Our journey through the needle’s eye begins in Luke 12:13-34. Let’s read slowly and honestly:
And someone in the crowd said to Him [Jesus], “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?” And He said to them [the crowd], “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear 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 many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; and they have no storeroom nor barn; and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why are you anxious about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you, O men of little faith! And do not seek what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek for His kingdom, and these things shall be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:13-34).
Imagine for a moment Jesus preaching to thousands of people (as is indicated in 12:1), a multitude that consisted of His followers as well as the curious. Among that crowd stood a man who felt he’d been treated unfairly by his brother regarding the family inheritance. We don’t know if he had been defrauded of his entire share or if he simply felt that his portion wasn’t as large as his brother’s. Neither do we know his brother’s side of the story, which may have revealed some justification for his actions. Regardless, the brother who felt he’d been defrauded had hopes that Jesus would settle their dispute. Perhaps, he thought to himself, if this very popular rabbi publicly rendered judgment in his favor, it would pressure his brother to acquiesce. So he made his public request: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).
Jesus, however, was not willing to involve Himself in this man’s family squabble, as indicated by His response: “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?” (Luke 12:14). I don’t think we should conclude that Jesus didn’t care about the potential inequity of the situation, or that the fair division of inheritances is a trivial matter in God’s eyes. But Jesus did not believe it was His place to render a decision in this case. He certainly didn’t have time to listen to both sides of the story, oversee an appraisal of every item in the estate, and then determine who got what. He had much more important things to do.
Jesus did, however, seize the opportunity to warn of a more serious matter that had surfaced. A danger flag was waving that some might not have been seeing. Greed was rearing its head. Defrauded or not, this man was much too preoccupied with getting his fair share of the family inheritance, evidenced by his publicly speaking evil of his own brother as well as his inappropriate, ill-timed and even foolish request of Jesus. Imagine witnessing someone walk up to a preacher at the end of his sermon and publicly say to him, “Preacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” I’m sure you would immediately think to yourself, “Now there’s a guy who’s a little too obsessed with his inheritance.”
After declining the outspoken man’s request to arbitrate a family dispute, Jesus warned the crowd, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Let’s consider several very significant points of that divinely-uttered statement.
Four Potent Points
First, note the connection Jesus drew between greed and a person thinking that his life consists of his possessions. When a person becomes convinced that life is about material possessions—whether he has many or few—greed becomes an inevitable and often irresistible temptation. If one’s joy is found in the ownership of possessions, he will always be discontent with what he has, and will thus devote himself to the pursuit of gaining more. Money then becomes His master, directing his life. It will potentially lead him along selfish paths, away from what his life’s pursuit should be. This leads us to the next point.
If one’s life does not consist of his possessions, then there must be something else in life of greater importance. What is it? Jesus made that very clear in the remainder of this passage. The pursuit of one’s life should be knowing, loving, enjoying and pleasing His Creator, or as Jesus put it, being “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Our life’s focus should not be on what is seen, but on what is unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). We should “seek His kingdom” (Luke 12:31), just as Jesus said.
This is a good place to ask ourselves, Is my life best described as one that is “rich toward God,” or rich in material things? When others observe my daily life, do they conclude that I am one who is primarily seeking God’s kingdom, or one who is seeking what everyone else is seeking, namely, more material possessions?
The greedy man in this story was standing among a crowd of people who were listening to a live sermon by God in the flesh about eternal realities, but all he could think of was getting more stuff! What a pity! As a former pastor, I know the inward pain of having a parishioner ask some trite question of me immediately after a sermon in which I poured out my heart. I may have been smiling on the outside, but inwardly I was groaning, realizing that my impassioned message obviously had no effect upon that parishioner. That example, however, pales in comparison to someone asking the Son of God, perhaps even interrupting Him during His sermon, to settle a dispute about a family inheritance. This man was spiritually dull to say the least.
A third point that can be derived from Jesus’ warning is that greed stalks rich and poor alike. Note that He said, “Not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). His words seem to be addressed to those who have little, folks who are often just as deceived as those who have much, thinking that life consists of possessions. The poor often dream, “If only I were rich,” whereas the rich often dream, “If only I were richer!”
A fourth and final point is that greed is something we must beware of and guard against. Greed never announces itself, but rather slithers silently into one’s heart like a snake. It always looks for opportunities, such as when inheritances are being divided. Unguarded hearts are most easily infiltrated, and the person who believes that life consists of possessions might as well have a welcome mat laid out for greed. Moreover, once greed has taken up residence in a heart, it specializes in making itself invisible, hiding behind an innumerable number of smokescreens. Only God’s Word and Spirit are able to expose its presence.
When the Greedy Define Greed
If we are to obey Jesus’ explicit commandment to beware of greed, we must first be able to identify it. That presents a problem, however, because folks often define greed like Mafia mobsters define evil people, oblivious to the fact that they themselves exemplify the actual definition, and without any reference to God’s standards.
Webster’s Dictionary defines greed as “excessive desire for getting or having, especially wealth; desire for more than one needs or deserves.”
By that definition, I wonder, how can I determine if I’m greedy? Can anyone tell me what constitutes a desire for wealth that is excessive? How many people would consider their desire for wealth to be excessive? Other people surely have excessive desire for wealth, but not me!
And if greed is the “desire for more than one needs or deserves,” how much does one need? How does one determine what he deserves?
You can see how just about anyone who reads Webster’s vague definition of greed could easily appraise himself as being not guilty. Webster has indeed accurately defined greed by the modern English usage of the word, because no one considers himself or herself to be greedy.
Not only is our modern definition of greed very vague, it is also often inconsistent. We sometimes fool ourselves by supposing that greed is a sin that can be committed only by the ultra-rich, or by those who gain their money immorally or illegally. Yet we tell our children not to be greedy in relationship to cookies in a cookie jar. We know that it is selfish for one child to eat the three remaining cookies when that child’s brother and sister are desirous of one. And such selfishness we call greed—”Don’t be greedy, Johnny! Just eat one cookie!” Obviously, we don’t really believe that greed is a sin that can only be committed by the ultra-rich or by those who gain their wealth immorally or illegally. We intuitively understand that what makes greed wrong is the way it affects others, those who don’t get the cookies that we devour.
There is another way by which we fool ourselves through a customary definition of greed. It is commonly believed that greed is only an attitude of the heart and that it has nothing to do with our actions. We imagine that we can accumulate as much as we desire, just as long as we “don’t allow greed into our hearts.”
But just imagine someone claiming that hatred is only an attitude of the heart that has nothing to do with actions. Imagine, for example, someone trying to justify committing murder as long as the murderer doesn’t allow hatred into his heart!
Greed is indeed an attitude of one’s heart, but one that manifests itself by actions. Again, we would never tell our children, “Go ahead and eat all the cookies while your siblings go without any—but just make sure you do it without an attitude of greed!”
Greed Biblically Defined
So how does God define greed? That is what matters. When the Bible speaks of greed, should we assume that Webster’s definition is valid? What makes greed wrong in God’s eyes?
As we progress in our study of Scripture, I hope God’s definition of greed will become increasingly more clear. Most fundamentally, however, greed is a violation of the two greatest commandments—to love God with all one’s heart, soul and mind and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (Matt. 22:36-39).
Greedy people do not love their neighbors as themselves. Rather, they love themselves so much that they ignore their neighbors. They either take for themselves what belongs to their neighbors (theft) or they keep for themselves what they should share with their truly needy neighbors (uncharitableness). How could one not be guilty of greed if he lives in super-abundant self-indulgence while he knows that his neighbor lacks basic necessities?
Neither do greedy people love God as He should be loved, because material things have usurped His rightful place. Money is directing the lives of the greedy, not God. They are finding their happiness in their possessions, not in knowing, loving, enjoying and pleasing Him.
Nothing competes with God for the hearts of people like money and possessions, which is no doubt why Jesus warned that one can’t serve God and money (Matt. 6:24). If money is one’s master, God is not.
Of course, people don’t actually serve money; they serve themselves by what they do with their money. Interestingly, Paul warned that people in the last days would be, first of all, “lovers of self, lovers of money” (2 Tim. 3:2, emphasis added). Paul placed those two loves right beside each other. The love of money is really the love of self. Greed indicates that self is on the throne of one’s heart and that God is not. Jesus is not Lord of greedy people, which is precisely why Scripture tells us that greed is equivalent to idolatry (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5). In God’s eyes, greedy and covetous people are just like those who bow before false gods. In this case, however, they are bowing before photographs of themselves. These kinds of people are not God’s people, even if they claim to be.
The Bible warns that greedy/covetous people will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:3-6). There is no such thing as a greedy Christian. Greedy people are not Christians. Greedy people don’t go to heaven. That is why it is so crucial to examine ourselves in this matter.
All this being so, Jesus, whose love is so great, is concerned about anyone yielding to greed’s temptation, which is why He so earnestly warned the crowd that day. The outspoken man, in particular, was in dire danger of gaining an inheritance at the expense of forfeiting eternal life.
The Similarities between Greed and Covetousness
While we’re beginning to search for a biblical definition of greed, let’s also take a minute to consider the sin of covetousness, also mentioned in the New Testament. How does it differ, if at all, from greed?
In the original Greek language of the New Testament, there is little obvious difference in meaning between the two words most often translated greed and covetousness. In fact, the Greek word most often translated greed (pleonexia) is derived from the root word that is most often translated covetous (pleonektes).  Additionally, even pleonexia is sometimes translated covetousness or coveting (for example, see Mark 7:22 and 2 Cor. 9:5 in the NASB). The King James Version translates pleonexia as covetousness in Jesus’ warning about greed that we’re currently considering: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness [pleonexia]” (Luke 12:15). All of this indicates that even Bible translators have difficulty finding any discernible difference in meaning between the words that are most often translated greed and covetousness in the New Testament.
In the English language, greed and covetousness also share very similar meanings. Both terms are essentially meaningless apart from people’s relationships with others. Both express a desire to possess what rightfully does or should belong to another. Although I may not jealously desire what another person currently possesses (commonly thought of as covetousness), I may be wrongfully keeping in my possession what God wants me to share with another (which is one manifestation of greed). For example, if God entrusts me with money to feed a starving person and I keep that money for myself, I’m greedy. I’m keeping for myself what should belong to someone else.
Back to Our Story…
Jesus continued His warning against greed that day by relating a story of a rich man who yielded to greed and died soon after. Let me refresh your memory by quoting it again:
The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” And he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear 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 many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.'” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God (Luke 12:16-21).
The rich man in this parable is an example of a man who thought his life consisted of his possessions. That is, the primary pursuit in his life was the acquiring and selfish enjoyment of material things. Eating, drinking, and pleasure were what he worked and lived for. And with a little help from the weather his hard work paid off. He found himself with more crops and goods than he had barns in which to store them. Then, as is the case every time one finds himself with more than he needs, greed tempted him. His prosperity made it possible for him to retire long before he became elderly or unable to work. Now his ultimate dream could be realized—he could selfishly enjoy the remaining years of his life without having to labor. Every day would be a party. He would have been the envy of almost everyone who knew him.
God, however, considered the man to be a fool, and there are at least four reasons for such an appraisal.
First, the rich man thought only of himself when he considered what to do with his prosperity. He made his decision as if he were the only person in the world. It never occurred to him to think of those who had little or no food. He didn’t love his neighbor as himself. He only loved himself. He acted selfishly.
Second, the rich man thought of his life only in terms of its earthly duration, and not its eternal duration. As Jesus said, he laid up treasure for himself on earth, not considering the eternal ramifications of his decision. The remainder of his earthly life might be enviable, but how about eternity? He possessed earthly treasures, but what about heavenly treasures?
Third, he never considered God in his circumstances. It never occurred to him that God, the one responsible for the good weather that brought abundant crops, had blessed him in order to make him a blessing to others. He never saw his opportunity to glorify God by obeying Him and loving his neighbor as himself. Although he was rich in earthly material things, he was not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) as Jesus said. His lifestyle was a testimony to his unbelief, as he ignored the two greatest commandments. He could have labored for many more years under God’s blessing, working to show his love to God and others by sharing his abundance.
And fourth, he assumed he had “many years to come” (Luke 12:19), something that no greedy person should assume, as God certainly has no vested interest in keeping greedy people alive. The rich man in Jesus’ parable died on the very night he made his selfish decision. The final decision of his life was a selfish, damning decision. His death that night may well have been God’s judgment upon him because of his selfish decision. Jesus certainly didn’t leave us much room to think that the rich fool went to heaven that night. In a moment of time, he lost everything he lived for. One second, he owned an abundance, and the next second he owned nothing. God asked him, “And now who will own what you have prepared?” (Luke 12:20). It certainly wouldn’t be him now that he was dead and gone.
Clearly, Jesus described for us a greedy man, as that was the topic the parable was meant to illustrate.
Note that Jesus didn’t describe a rich man whose actions would have been approved by God if he had only adjusted his attitude about what he possessed, still keeping it all and retiring. Again, greed is an attitude that is always manifested by actions. If one repents of greed, he must not only change his attitude, he must also change his actions. If he doesn’t change his actions, there is no reason to think he has changed his attitude.
Note also that this rich man was guilty before God, not because he desired what wasn’t his, but because he decided to keep what God had given him and wanted him to share with others. He was selfish in the use of his money and possessions. He, as Jesus plainly said of him, laid “up treasure for himself” (Luke 12:21). He was greedy. Those who do not lay up treasure in heaven are greedy. Such people are “not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21), just as Jesus said. God thinks they are fools.
Now let us begin to pinpoint some application for our own lives from this parable of the rich fool. Let us pray that Jesus’ words will have the impact upon us that He intended they would have.
How would you respond to someone who, after reading Jesus’ story, said, “I’m so glad that I’m not a farmer, because if I were and I had some abundant harvests, I’d have to consider what Jesus taught”?
Surely you would point out to him that what Jesus said in this parable has application to other people besides farmers. Such a comment would be as foolish as claiming that the Parable of the Good Samaritan only applies to people journeying on the road to Jericho.
What if someone said, “I’m so glad that I’ve accumulated my wealth gradually rather than by a sudden windfall like that farmer in Jesus’ parable. Otherwise, what Jesus said would have application to me.”
Would you not realize that person was also fooling himself? What Jesus said has application to everyone who has more than he needs, anyone who might “lay up treasure for himself,” whether he’s accumulated it slowly or suddenly. I might also add that there is nothing in Jesus’ parable that states the rich man accumulated his wealth suddenly. His wealth was more likely acquired gradually, through seasons of fruitful harvests. I suspect that it would be difficult to retire on just one year’s crop.
Suppose someone said, “I’m glad I’m not faced with the option of an early retirement, or else I’d have to give some thought to what Jesus taught”?
Although what Jesus said has application to those faced with the option of an early retirement, it clearly has application to those not faced with such an option. Jesus Himself revealed to whom the parable applies—anyone who has opportunity, like the man in the parable, to lay up treasure in heaven, but instead lays it up on earth, something that Jesus forbade all of His followers to do (Matt. 6:19-24; Luke 12:33). It makes no difference if we are farmers or flight attendants, if we’ve accumulated our wealth quickly or gradually, or if we are young or old. The rich fool in Jesus’ parable is representative of anyone who has more than he needs and yields to the sin of greed.
How We Might Be Just Like the Rich Fool
When I first began to read this parable honestly and contextually, I realized that I was in many ways similar to the rich fool. I initially assumed that my practice of tithing set me apart from him, and perhaps to some degree it did. But it occurred to me that the rich fool could have been a good Jew who faithfully tithed all of his life. And certainly it is possible to tithe and still lay up treasures for oneself on earth if one has an abundance. Surely it is possible to tithe and still be selfish with what remains. One may tithe and remain guilty of greed. The Pharisees scrupulously tithed, but according to Scripture, they were also lovers of money (Luke 11:42; 16:14), and they were also hell-bound (Matt. 23:13-15).
Should we think, for example, that God would have fully approved of the rich man if he had tithed on his abundant increase and then decided to take his ease and selfishly retire at that point in his life with his remaining abundance? Just because a rich person tithes his income, does that guaranteee that he is fulfilling the commandments to love God with all his heart and love his neighbor as himself?
But there are other ways this parable applies to many of us. Certainly we are just as foolish as the man in the parable if we think our lives consist of our possessions—and the primary pursuit in our lives is the acquiring and selfish enjoyment of material things. But isn’t that the picture of so many of us who profess to be Christ’s followers? Our lives revolve around acquiring, selfishly spending, and selfishly enjoying wealth. It is what we live for. We really aren’t seeking first the kingdom of God, as Jesus commanded us (Matt. 6:33). We are trying to find happiness in material wealth, not in knowing, loving, enjoying and obeying God. We are rich, but not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21), and the evidence can be overwhelming.
For example, why isn’t the average professing Christian involved at all in the basic things that Jesus said mark heaven-bound people, such as providing food and clothing for very poor believers (Matt. 25:31-46)? Why do we give so little money to help fulfill the Great Commission by supporting those who are called to preach the gospel and make disciples? Why do so few professing Christians even attain to the old covenant standard of tithing when it comes to giving?
Why do we respond to charitable appeals with the line, “I’ll need to pray about that,” but we don’t pray about spending discretionary income on ourselves?
Why are we so apt to aquire debt for non-essential and non-appreciating items, in order to own the latest and the greatest?
In short, why do so many of us who profess to be Christians show so little commitment to Christ in relation to how we spend our time and money? How can we deny that money controls our lives?
But the evidence that we think our lives consist of our possessions does not end there. We collect stuff. While members of our own spiritual family around the world lack basic necessities, while millions wait to hear the gospel and be taught to obey Christ’s commandments, and while we could be laying up in heaven eternally what is destined to perish on earth, we keep right on collecting more. Ultimately, our possessions possess us, consuming all of our God-given time and energy. There is no time to do God’s will because we’re slaves to our money and possessions. We’ve got so many things that must be used, enjoyed, polished, repaired, dusted, insured, stored and maintained. How can we honestly say that we are not, in reality, convinced that our lives consist of the abundance of our possessions? Jesus couldn’t have made it more plain. He said that the one who “lays up treasure for himself” and thus does not lay up treasure in heaven, is not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Not only must we have what advertisers say we must have, but we must have it all now. So we borrow to the limit, wasting a huge percentage of our wealth on interest payments for depreciating possessions. Many of our monthly payments are a continual testimony to our greed. If the essence of following Jesus is self-denial (Matt. 16:24), then where are the people who are following Jesus?
Interestingly, we spend the majority of our money on things that no one could spend their money on a hundred years ago because they didn’t exist, and on which the majority of people in the world today will never spend their money because they are too poor.
Worse yet, we are never content. We need more…and more…and more. And we don’t even recognize our greed. The lure of materialism has callused our consciences. The only real difference between the rich fool and many of us is that God is still giving us time to repent of our greed. The rich fool has already faced His judgment. Ours awaits.
If your conscience is being pricked, remember, guilt is good when it is based on God’s Word. Don’t resist it! Embrace it. God is speaking to you.
Still More Similarities
We are equally as foolish as the rich fool if we don’t consider the eternal ramifications of our earthly decisions regarding money and possessions. If no greedy or covetous person is going to inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Eph. 5:5), should we not seriously consider if we are guilty in this matter? Eternity depends, at least in part, on what we do with our money. Jesus expressly forbade us to lay up treasures on earth, but commanded us to lay them up in heaven, and the only way to do that is by sharing what God entrusts to us. All of us will have to stand before Him one day to give an account of our stewardship. Will He accept our excuses?
We are just as foolish as the rich fool if we don’t consider that God is the source of our every material possession—if not by direct blessing, at least by His permissive will. Thus He has the absolute right to direct our use of what He entrusts to us.
I might think, “I worked my way through college, and I’ve worked hard ever since. I’ve earned my wealth, so I deserve to enjoy spending it on myself.” But have I considered how my life would have turned out had I been born to a cocaine addict in a New York City housing project, or to a prostitute in Calcutta? Have I considered that God allowed me to be born in the wealthy country in which I live, and that He is the one who made me as intelligent as I am, and who made it possible for me to work hard or attend college? Thus, I am just as accountable to God for my wealth as the rich fool was in Jesus’ parable.
If God has blessed me, it is because He intends that I share His blessing with others. What would Jesus have thought of His disciples if, upon receiving the multiplied fish and bread from His hands, they had piled up for themselves what He intended for them to share? What must He think if we indulge ourselves with that which He intends for us to use for His glory? Are we faithful stewards?
Finally, we are just as foolish as the rich fool if we assume we have many years left in our lives. We should live every day as if it were our last one. We could be standing in front of Jesus’ throne one minute from now. In fact, Jesus concluded His thoughts about greed that day by warning His disciples to be ready for His return (Luke 12:35-48).
Unless we have a rich relationship with God, we’re not ready. If all we’ve done with our lives is acquire more for ourselves, we’re fools, because everything we’ve lived for will be gone in a moment. The only thing that is eternal is our relationship with God and the treasure we’ve laid up in heaven.
A Warning to Those with Little
Jesus had still more to say on the subject of greed. He didn’t want us to think greed is a sin only committed by those who have abundance. I again quote His elaboration to His disciples:
For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; and they have no storeroom nor barn; and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life’s span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why are you anxious about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you, O men of little faith! And do not seek what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things shall be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Luke 12:22-34).
Notice that Jesus began by saying, “For this reason I say to you…” Those words tie everything He already said to what He was about to say. The subject was still greed and the folly of those who think that life consists of their possessions. Notice also the similarity of Jesus’ words here about life being more than food and His previous words about life not consisting of the abundance of one’s possessions. The subject hasn’t changed.
Now, however, Jesus applies what He has just said to those who have very little. It is possible for them to be just as deceived as the rich if they are primarily focused on earthly possessions, even if those possessions are basic necessities such as food and clothing. Just because a person has few possessions, he is not automatically more devoted to God or less of a servant of mammon. Anyone, rich or poor, who thinks that life consists of possessions, is making a grave mistake.
Jesus does not want His disciples to be preoccupied with even the necessities of life, because God will take care of those things. Certainly, if God doesn’t want us to be preoccupied with life’s basic necessities, how much more does He not want us to be preoccupied with non-essentials?
Needs and Wants
Like me, you perhaps have struggled to determine where to draw the line between needs and wants. In the just-quoted passage about food and covering, however, Jesus helped us. He said, “Your Father knows that you need these things” (Luke 12:30; emphasis added). Those things are all we actually need. Everything besides food and covering is a want. That is why Paul wrote,
For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction (1 Tim. 6:7-9).
Can we honestly claim that we would be content if all we had was food and covering (I think it would be safe to assume that covering would include both clothing and shelter) when we are obviously not content with the abundance we now possess?
Can we say we are convinced, as was Paul, that the desire to be rich is potentially damning because of the many temptations to be selfish and greedy that confront those with such a desire?
All of Christ’s followers are supposed be seeking for His kingdom, just as Jesus taught (Luke 12:31). His kingdom is the only thing that is eternal, which is precisely why Jesus instructed all of His disciples (as we just read) not to lay up treasures on the earth. All of our earthly possessions are destined to perish; in fact, most are perishing before our eyes right now. Thus it makes perfect sense to sell our possessions and lay up eternal treasure in heaven as Christ commanded.
As martyred missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” But how many Christians do you know who have obeyed Christ’s clear command (that we just read from Luke’s passage under consideration) to sell their possessions and give to charity, as did the first Christians (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35)?
Jesus couldn’t have made His point more clear. He does not want our hearts to be fastened to this world. Rather, He wants our hearts to be in heaven (Luke 12:34). When our lives revolve around temporal gain and selfish pursuits, can we honestly say that our hearts are not on the earth? Can we honestly say our hearts are in heaven, and that what we do with our money and possessions reflects that heavenly affection?
I warned you that this wasn’t going to be easy! Remember, Jesus loves you, and His commandments reflect His love for you. He isn’t trying to take anything away from you or rob you of happiness. Rather, He’s trying to prevent you from making the foolish mistake of laying up treasure on earth temporarily when you could be laying it up in heaven eternally! He wants you to have no regrets.
If you’re feeling convicted, embrace it. Confession and repentance will be the result. When I first felt convicted by the Holy Spirit regarding Jesus’ teaching on this subject, I was so full of pride that it was very difficult for me to admit my sin. But I just couldn’t ignore what Jesus taught, and as I would humble myself just a little, confessing my sin, God poured out more of His grace and opened more of His Word to me. Don’t forget: He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
If you find yourself resenting what I’ve written so far, it’s probably time to get on your knees and pray fervently for God’s help and grace, admitting your desperate need for both. Then go back and reread this chapter. Believe me, you aren’t ready for the next chapter until you can face up to this one. You may still have some questions or objections, but I assure you that we’ll cover them in following chapters.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way (Ps. 139:23-24).
 Someone suggested that Jesus may have been thinking about the man’s brother as being the one who was guilty of greed, as evidenced by his not sharing the family inheritance with his brother. Because of Jesus’ refusal to arbitrate the dispute, however, I doubt that He would have jumped to a conclusion about the man’s brother after hearing only one side of the story. Also, there is no proof within the text that Jesus’ warning against greed was spoken in reference to the man’s brother, while there is certainly some evidence to suggest that the man who made the request was in danger of yielding to greed. Regardless, Jesus’ subsequent warning about greed had application to the man, his brother, the crowd that day, and everyone since then. Greed is often the reason that people fight over inheritances and money.
 The King James Version translates the last part of Jesus’ statement in 12:15 slightly different: “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”
 Of course, how Greek words are translated can vary from one English translation to another. I am referring to how pleonexia and pleonektes are translated in the NASB.
 Some may object, saying that Jesus never said that the man went to hell. But are we to believe that this man, who served as Jesus’ illustration of greed in action, whom God referred to as a fool, who was not “rich toward God,” who laid up no treasure in heaven, was saved and went to heaven, only forfeiting certain rewards there, in light of the fact that the New Testament teaches that no greedy/covetous person will inherit God’s kingdom? (1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:3-6).
 The concept that our real needs consist of only food and covering is found in other scriptures. See, for example, Gen. 28:20; Prov. 25:21; Luke 3:11; 12:22-30.
 The King James Version does not soften Paul’s warning here as much as the NASB seems to: “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (emphasis added).