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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

No Pockets in a Shroud

Luke 12:13-34

It is surprising for new Christians to learn just how much the Bible has to say about riches. From what most preachers use for sermon topics, it is at best a once a year sermon on the subject of tithing (usually the opening of Stewardship Month, which precedes the annual budget meeting.) The reluctance is understandable; it is rather tacky to ask for more money when you’re the one whose salary depends upon the giving. It must be tough to rely on the contributions of others for your salary.

On the other hand, the Sunday School teacher is a volunteer. He actually pays for the privilege. So, no fear! When the Bible talks about money, so do I.

The Questioner

(Luke 12:13-15 NIV) Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." {14} Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" {15} Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

The Imperative

Note the phrasing of the man in the crowd: it is in the “imperative tense.” For those who are not English teachers (or who did not have Miss Hornbuckle in the seventh grade) that means that this is a command. We so often encounter the desire for money that it is not hard for us to infer some things about this man:

·         It may be that he is moved by a desire for justice – but I doubt it, from Jesus’ reply. It sounds more like bitterness, the gnawing envy that comes from being so close to the money.

·         How could I know when such a man was present? One symptom is that of “constant friction”[1] that comes from such a lifestyle.

·         He has failed to ask the right question; indeed, it is not a question at all. But it should be asked: what is the right amount of wealth for me to have? Did you know there is an explicit answer to this?

(Prov 30:7-9 NIV) "Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: {8} Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. {9} Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

Christ as Arbiter

At first glance it is curious that Christ will not do as he demands. Christ is our High Priest, and the priest or rabbi of this time was accustomed to settling such disputes. Indeed, such was Jesus’ authority that the man felt no doubt that he could now get what he deserved. But Christ rejects his demand. Why?

·         Christ will not decide between two sins; he will condemn both.

·         The imperative command is presumptuous; one does not order God about, nor give him policy advice.

Be on your guard

Can Jesus really be serious here? After all, the chasing of money is one of the major preoccupations of the world. Is he really serious? I think so. Paul tells us that those whose money is gotten from swindling are to be shunned in the church, for example.[2] The root of the matter can be seen in the Greek word translated here as “all kinds of greed.” That word is pleonexia, and it has an interesting history. It is composed of two parts. The first, pleo, means “the majority of (something).” The second, nexia, means “to grasp.” So this word in the original means “to grasp the majority of (something).” Once you see that the meaning is “I have to have the most,” you begin to see the addictive nature of greed. Solomon put it this way:

(Eccl 5:10 NIV) Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.

The Parable

So Jesus, to make the point clear to them in the most vivid way, launches into one of his parables:

(Luke 12:16-21 NIV) And he told them this parable: "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."

What shall I do?

There is one key point which must be recognized here: “he thought to himself.” This is an act of the will. It is not something that the man just stumbled into without thinking; this involved his financial planner. He actually thought about it.

He thought about it, however, without thought for God. The Old Testament is quite clear on that issue;[3] such a surplus is not to be hoarded but shared with the poor.

How hard that is! My wife and I are inveterate packrats. One of our friends had need of a breeze box fan (their air conditioning had malfunctioned). We have three such fans; we need at most two (really only one). But when my wife mentioned giving (or even loaning) the fan, I could feel the twinge saying, “Hey, we might need that thing some day.”

What is this attitude? Is it not really, “Despite the evidence of my eyes, the mass of good things that God has given me, I don’t trust him to continue to do so in the future.” And therefore I hoard.

Eat, drink and be merry

This attitude has passed into cliché in the English language. But the Jew was warned about this,[4] as is the Christian today.[5] Indeed, the story of Lazarus and Dives (which many feel is not just a parable, as it uses a name) is the ultimate in warnings. Yet we persist.

When much younger, I worked with a man who was the volunteer retirement counselor at Pacific Telephone. He told me that retirees came in two types: those who would die several years after retirement, and those who would die within six months. The latter chased money, power and prestige all their lives, saying, “When I retire…” When they retired, the chase was over. So was life.

We need to remember the shortness of our days:

(James 4:14 NIV) Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

“rich towards God”

We are commanded to be “rich towards God.” Most of us think of it the other way around; that God is rich towards us. But we are to be his imitators.

The ancient viewed this another way. The Old Testament is full of illustrations of those who were favored by God, and God showed that favor by making them rich. This idea was very prevalent in Jesus’ time. But we need to remember that this is not an exclusive rule:

·         Just because you’re poor does not mean that God is against you.

·         Just because you’re rich (and most of us in America are) does not mean God is for you (indeed, there is warning for America in that)

·         God still causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

The Commandment

Just in case you didn’t get the point of the parable, Jesus now gives the commandment;

(Luke 12:22-34 NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. {23} Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. {24} 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! {25} Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ? {26} Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? {27} "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. {28} 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! {29} And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. {30} For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. {31} But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. {32} "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. {33} 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. {34} For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

At first this seems beyond sense. How could I not worry about such things? And, for heaven’s sake, why not?

Why not?

·         In verses 29-31, he tells you plainly that such worry gets in the way of the kingdom of God. First things first; if such worry keeps you from the kingdom (and it does) then get rid of it.

·         By such worry, we deny the words of our Lord that our Father cares for us.[6]

·         Such worry actually hinders our prayers![7]

·         Think about this one: what good does it do? It is not pleasant, and produces evil effects on your body. No good at all![8]

·         God tells us not to worry, because he will never forsake us.[9] When we worry, we deny the faithfulness and power of God.

How can I do this?

For most of us, the problem comes down to the practical: we don’t know how not to worry about money. The Scripture gives us three clues:

·         First, cast your cares upon God.[10] In prayer, confess your worries, and hand them over to the Lord God. As my old friend Charlie Fields put it, “You might as well give it over to God. He’s going to be up all night anyway.” My experience has been that he will let you do the worrying, or He will do it for you – but not both.

·         Next, do not be afraid. Isn’t this what it boils down to, that we are afraid? And what casts out fear but love?

·         Finally, is this not an issue of faith, “o ye of little?” Ask God to strengthen your faith, to follow him without worry.

The Principle of Separation

One of the great lessons of the Old Testament is that God’s people are to be separate from the world around them. We are “in the world but not of the world,” as my teachers put it.

·         Look at verse 29. The question is not “whether or not” we will eat and drink. We will. The question is “what” we will eat and drink. Many of us are perfectly willing to dine at God’s table – but we want to see the wine list first.

·         Verse 30, however, tells us that this is the characteristic of the world. God knows we need it – but He wants to choose the menu.

·         Verse 31 shows us that the outward characteristic shown by the Christian is that he is carefully careless about what to eat, drink or wear.

The issue is not whether or not we shall eat and drink, nor even what we shall eat and drink. The issue is whether or not it is our care.

An affair of the heart

Ultimately, it comes to this: where your heart is, there your treasure is also. There is the test: where is your treasure? Look there to find your heart.

Thomas à Kempis put it this way in his prayers:

Pardon me also, and deal mercifully with me, as often as I think of anything besides You in prayer. For I confess truly that I am accustomed to be very much distracted. Very often I am not where bodily I stand or sit; rather, I am where my thoughts carry me. Where my thoughts are, there am I; and frequently my thoughts are where my love is. That which naturally delights, or is by habit pleasing, comes to me quickly. Hence You Who are Truth itself, have plainly said: “For where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” If I love heaven, I think willingly of heavenly things. If I love the world, I rejoice at the happiness of the world and grieve at its troubles. If I love the flesh, I often imagine things that are carnal. If I love the spirit, I delight in thinking of spiritual matters. For whatever I love, I am willing to speak and hear about.

There is the test: where is your heart? Where is your treasure?

[1] 1 Timothy 6:3-5

[2] 1 Corinthians 5:10-11

[3] See, for example Isaiah 58:2-7

[4] See Deuteronomy 8:11-14

[5] 1 Timothy 6:17-19

[6] See Matthew 6:25-34

[7] Philippians 4:6 implies this.

[8] See 1 Corinthians 7:32

[9] Hebrews 13:5

[10] 1 Peter 5:7

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