“Then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and enjoy yourself.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared — whose will they be?’ That’s how it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What is the proper end for the things you have? Do you ever think about that? If you’re like me, that’s probably not a question that crosses your mind very much. You get stuff and you use it or don’t. That’s it. But what if there’s more to that story than you and I often think? What if the stuff isn’t really ours first? Let’s talk this morning about a new perspective on our stuff and one of Jesus’ most uncomfortable parables.
While many of Jesus’ parables are memorable and beloved testaments to God’s incredible mercy and grace, there are a few that are doozies. For instance, in Luke 16, there’s a story about a two guys who die and are able to communicate with one another from across the chasm separating the righteous dead from the wicked dead. It’s a wild story that implies some really interesting ideas about what life after death and before the final resurrection will be like.
There’s another story in which the guy we naturally expect to be the antagonist of the story winds up getting praised for his shrewdness. This is after he knowingly steals, lies, and cheats. It takes a lot of time reflecting before you start to make a bit of positive sense out of the whole thing.
Like I said: some wild stuff. This parable is no exception to this. Here we find a guy who has done really well for himself. He’s a farmer who has had a banner year. His fields have produced the bumper crop of all bumper crops. He has more than he even knows what he could do with. His total haul will fill all of his barns and silos to their absolute capacity. He couldn’t possibly eat it all. What on earth is he going to do?
After doing some thinking on the matter, he finally comes upon a good solution. Now, before we talk about his solution, let’s clear the deck for just a second. It is easy to imagine this guy as a kind of cartoonish rich man who has grown fat and happy off the labor of others while never lifting a finger himself. We could quickly peg him as the kind of man who is only on the lookout for himself and his interests, who simply doesn’t care about anyone else. But I don’t think that’s completely fair.
Other than how he reacts to his remarkable harvest, we don’t get a word out of him. We really don’t know anything about him. Our reactions to him are all rooted in our own biases and prejudices. For all we know, he could be sincerely considering how to be a good steward of his incredible riches. We draw some clues for our reaction from God’s response to him, but we can only discern so much from that.
In any event, as this man is wondering what to do with his windfall, He finally comes up with an idea: he’ll build bigger barns. He doesn’t want it to go to waste so he’ll build larger spaces to safely store it. And then, once he has it all squared away, he’ll sit back, relax, and enjoy his wealth. He will be able to simply enjoy life from now on. No more work for him. He will be set for life. In other words, he’s managed to achieve the thing most of us would be delighted to have: enough wealth to not have to work, but to instead simply enjoy it.
Yet just as we find ourselves a bit envious that this guy got what we want for ourselves, God enters the picture and makes a mess of things. As the man lay down to sleep, perfectly content in the fantastic future he has secured for himself, God comes and speaks to him in a dream. His words catch us entirely off guard. They are deeply unsettling. Rather than praising him for his hard work and ingenuity, God blasts him for his foolishness. “You fool! This very night your life is demanded of you. And the things you have prepared — whose will they be?”
Why did God respond to him like this? What did he do that was so wrong to warrant such a scolding from God? Honestly, I’m not sure how to take the part about his life being demanded of him that night. It could be that God’s judgment on whatever it was that he did was to take his life. It could also simply be that the timing was just perfectly wrong. Given the severity of God’s tone with him, I lean a little in the direction of the former. Yet given God’s character of mercy, I can’t remove the latter entirely from being a possibility. Still, though, that doesn’t answer the question of what he did.
A major clue to the answer comes at the end of God’s chastisement and in what Jesus says right after to give a sort of moral to the story. The heart of the man’s crime was an assumption. Really? An assumption? All of this over an assumption? Well, it was a really bad assumption. This man assumed that everything he had belonged to him. It was his to use however he pleased. Its purpose was to make his life more comfortable and enjoyable.
This assumption is one that we can make as well. And it is as dangerous as it is easy to make it. When we have something, we can see it. It may be that we did the work that led to our gaining it ourselves. The illusion of control in that moment it intensely real. If we decide to do something with it, we can. And, as long as we aren’t hurting anybody else directly or otherwise breaking any laws in what we do, no one is going to stop us or otherwise assess immediate consequences to us for doing it.
If I grab a book off my shelf, the options available to me as far as what I do with it are manifold. I could read it. I could put it back down in a new place on the shelf. I could throw it away. I could burn it. I could shred the pages into confetti. I could give it to someone else. I could sell it. It might take a little longer, but I could eat it. And I can do all of these things and more because I own it. It is mine. It’s purpose is to suit my fancy whatever that happens to be.
This same thought pattern applies equally easily to anything else we have including the various financial resources we label as “ours.” We live sometimes like we are playing a game of Monopoly. What we have is ours until we have to give it to someone else. We assume that what we have is ours to use however we please. Andy Stanley calls this the assumption of consumption. And it is a dangerous assumption to make as this man in Jesus’ parable found out the hard way.
This assumption is so dangerous to make because making it disconnects us from reality. The reality of our stuff is that it does not actually belong to us. Who does it being to? God. God is the sovereign creator of everything we see and don’t. If there is a thing, God created that thing. It all finds its ultimate origin in Him. It exists because He allows for it to exist. And, He has a purpose for it. All of it. It is all designed and intended to bring Him glory. Now, when we get our hands on it, we use it in all kinds of other ways that rather decidedly do not bring Him glory, but that’s because we make this dangerous assumption of consumption. And the longer and more completely we make that assumption, the greater the likelihood of our experiencing the negative consequences of our making it.
When we assume the stuff we have is for us rather than for bringing glory to God, we are not being rich toward God. He won’t tolerate that for long. He will eventually begin giving us reminders of whose it really is. Those won’t be particularly pleasant to experience. People who are good at being rich don’t make this assumption. Or at least they recognize when they are making it and do something about it. The best way to avoid making it is to get into the habit of regularly and sacrificially giving it away for the benefit of others and to the glory of God. If you want to be good at being rich should that day arrive, start working on building this practice into your life now. Don’t make the assumption of consumption. That’s not what it’s for. It’s for God.