THE RICH FOOL
And one of the company said unto him. Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them. Take heed, and beware of covetousness:
or a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. and he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying. What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said. This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul. Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him. Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. Luke 12. 3-21.
One of the most notable features of the Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry is the way He seized every opportunity to teach the truths of the Gospel to the people around Him. Filled with a true compassion for the souls of men and women, and fully understanding the sins in which they were living, and the errors in which they were held fast, the divine Soul-Winner constantly sought to enlighten the benighted people with whom He came into contact. Nothing seemed to please Christ more than to bring as many people as possible under the sound of the glorious gospel He had come from heaven to declare. Time and again we find Him exploiting the request of an individual to instruct a crowd, often illustrating and underlining His teaching by means of parables.
A fine example of this practice of the Lord Jesus Christ is recorded in the passage now before us. As we see from the thirteenth verse, one of the company, obviously deeply disappointed of expected gain by the terms of a recent will, asked Christ to intervene on his behalf. “And one of the company said into him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me”. Quite rightly, the Lord refused to become involved in the matter, and quickly made it plain to the person concerned. “And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” (v. 14). But we notice that while Christ refused to interfere in a matter which had been settled already by law. He did lot stop speaking. Realizing that here was a golden opportunity to teach some basic Gospel truths to a number of people. He turned to address the folk around him. “And he said unto them . . .” (v.l5).
Let us consider what Christ had to say to this gathering, and try to see the relevance of His teaching to so many people living in Great Britain today.
1. Christ’s warning against covetousness
No sooner has the Lord refused to intervene on the man’s behalf than He turned to the people around Him, and gave them a direct warning: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness… (v.l5). Christ knew that at the root of the man’s request lay a deep-seated longing to lay his hands on at least half of the inheritance that had come lawfully to his brother. His words remind us that God knows the human heart perfectly, and that covetousness lies deep in fallen human nature. Covetousness, which God has expressly forbidden by the tenth commandment (Ex. 20.17) is like a cancer. Often its early workings are not suspected and remain well hidden from view, but in due time will prove its presence by open symptoms. Sometimes covetousness makes itself known in the way we see here, by a relative making determined efforts to obtain part of a deceased relative’s estate. Oh. what warring goes on in many families when a relative, known to have had considerable possessions, passes beyond the scene of time: the writer still remembers an older friend telling him, of the time he was forced to threaten a close relative with legal action unless she returned furniture which she had unlawfully removed even before the funeral had taken place. But covetousness is a many-headed sin, and manifests itself in many different ways today. What lies behind the high incidence of muggings, shoplifting and burglaries in Great Britain today, but covetousness? Why these lengthy trials of prominent businessmen accused of serious fraud and embezzlement, but a coveting of power and possessions? Why such dissatisfaction with wages, leading to lengthy, costly strikes, but for the workings of this particular sin? Why are so many people struggling with crippling debts, but for this inner craving for material possessions? Oh, faithful, timely warning from the lips of the blessed Son of God: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness …”
2. The reason for Christ’s warning
Having sounded His warning against covetousness, Christ imediately goes on to explain to His hearers why they must take heed and beware of this particular sin: “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (v. 15). The -Lord strikes at the false philosophy of life He knew lay behind the longing for part of his brother’s newly-acquired wealth, and behind he covetousness of so many others in Israel at that time. Could any
comment be more up-to-date and necessary than Christ’s words here? Why are so many people in Great Britain today so obsessed with obtaining more money and all the material things money can buy? Is it not because they believe that a man’s life does consist in the abundance of the things he possesses? Have they not been taught over many years, through school, literature and the media, that they are but highly evolved animals, devoid of an immortal soul or of responsibility to a divine Creator, and that their death – like that of the animals, ends everything? And is it not because of this erroneous and atheistic view of themselves and their life in this world that so many people display a frenzied concern to acquire material possessions and pleasures which they blindly think can bring meaning and satisfaction into their purposeless and empty lives? Oh, how many folk are walking illustrations of the truth of the Apostle Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15.33: “Evil communications corrupt good manners”. The writer has never forgotten how this point was brought home to him some years ago, while living in a small town in central Scotland. He had gone into a newsagent’s shop to purchase some sweets, but found his way to the counter blocked by two elderly ladies engaged in deep discussion. Their debate was over whether one of them should yield to her friend’s counsel to buy a packet of cigarettes. “Well, I really don’t know whether I should . . .” said the one. “Oh, go on,” urged her persuasive companion, “enjoy yourself while you can. After all, you’re going to be dead a long time”. No wonder, then, that Christ, in His compassion for the souls of men and women, went on to expose the false view of human life that encourages and excuses sin.
3. Christ’s parable of the Rich Fool
How wise Christ always was as a teacher. He never assumed that a bare exhortation or warning was sufficient to convey His meaning to His hearers. On this occasion, as on many others, we find Him illustrating and underlining His faithful warning by following it with a parable. If we are to understand His meaning and feel the force of His warning, we must work through the parable of the Rich Fool, as it is usually called.
(a). The rich man’s coveted problem
The Lord begins His parable by bringing before us a wealthy farmer or landowner faced with a dilemma. “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” (v.l6). We must notice that although Christ tells us the rich man was non-plussed at first as to what to do with his increase. He does not mention him experiencing any regrets. The man knew he
was ‘on to a good thing’ and realized that many would covet being faced with such a problem. How many people today would be only too glad to be confronted by such a dilemma! Oh, to see the wealth come flowing in, either in cash or in kind, and to such an extent that it eventually poses its owner the problem of what to do with it: How people reveal their own values and priorities by the type of person they love to read about and admire: Who is the man who is being noticed and commended at the present time? Is it not the workaholic, the successful entrepreneur, the fast runner, the star performer, who has seen his ’empire’ expand rapidly, and his income increase, until he scarcely knows what to do with his newly-found wealth? Well, as the psalmist said, “. . . and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself.” (Psalm 49.18). The farmer in the parable found himself in an enviable situation indeed.
(b). The rich man’s selfish solution
In the following verse, the Lord tells us how the wealthy farmer decided to solve his happy problem. “And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods” (v.l8). In common with successful people today, the wealthy farmer neither acknowledges God as the giver of his increase, nor seeks His guidance as to its use. But the important thing is the decision he soon comes to. He does not consider the possibility of using some of his surplus to help the poor around him, nor arrange for some of it to be sent to needy people further afield. No, the only person he studies is himself, and so the problem of what to do with the excess is soon solved – by deciding to build even larger barns where the entire crop can be stored for his future use. This type of selfishness is often found today, especially in those who could so easily help others in real need by dipping into their own ample stores? The writer has before him the centre-spread of a national daily newspaper containing a biographical sketch of a successful builder in the south of England. The article describes how rapidly the entrepreneur built up his business from very small beginnings, and soon found himself a wealthy man. It goes on to tell how a country mansion was eventually purchased for hiimself and his family, and then reveals what the subject of the article did when the money kept flowing in. Alas, there is no -mention of him considering the needy; just an account of him sinking thousands of pounds into his favourite whim. As soon as the necessary funds rolled in, the well-to-do builder purchased yet mother World War II fighter aircraft. By the time the article was written, he had no less than five of these valuable machines, all of which he kept in flying condition. So covetousness and selfishness walk hand in hand.
(c). The rich man’s extraordinary promises
The rich farmer now exhibits that sad consistency so often found in ungodly people. Having determined to replace his bulging barns with larger ones, and store his surplus crop for his future use, he then makes three extraordinary promises – all to himself: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (v.l9). First, he promises himself long life. This is implied in the way he assures his soul “thou hast much goods laid up for many years”. What a sad and erroneous assumption, and one that is opposed to the warnings of God’s word. “Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27.1). Yet the same foolish assumption is made by so many today, even though each day brings before them abundant evidence of the uncertainty of life in this world. On the very day the draft of this paragraph was written, news came in that forty-six people had been killed by a severe storm which had swept over the British Isles in just twenty-four hours. Secondly, the wealthy farmer promises himself security of goods. He seems equally sure that he will have “much goods laid up for many years”. What an extraordinary promise, since each day brings so many illustrations of the truth of Proverbs 23.5: “. . . for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” Thirdly, look at the way he promises himself happiness through idleness and sensuality. “… take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” As though the profoundest needs of man – the needs of his immortal soul – can ever be met by abandoning oneself to a life of sinful idleness and sensuality! Here again, is there not a familiar ring about the rich man’s words? How many people today agitate for shorter working hours, yet more pay, and grab at the first prospect of early retirement! And to what end, but that they may have both the means and opportunity for sensual indulgence. Oh, how true-to-life is Christ’s portrait of the wealthy farmer!
(d). The rich man’s unexpected visitor
Just as the wealthy farmer is putting the finishing touches to his plans, and promising himself a long life of leisure and pleasure, he receives an unexpected visit. How graphically Christ identifies the caller at the beginning of verse 20: “BUT GOD SAID UNTO HIM . .”. The last person this materialistic man expected to hear from, knocked on the door of his life, and began to address him. What a shock it must have been to him, and what a reminder to people today that, although they may choose to forget God, God never forgets them. They may deny His existence, but He never ceases to exist. They may deny the truth of their creation by His hand, but He never ceases to be their Creator who holds their very breath in His
hand. They may mock the idea of being held responsible by God, but it is to God that they will all have to give an account. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9.27). Sooner or later, God will knock at the door of every person’s life, often without giving prior warning of His intended visit, and make His own admission and command a hearing.
(e). The rich man’s folly
We see from the remainder of v.20 that the rich farmer’s divine Caller had not come on a casual visit, but to deliver the most solemn message a man can ever receive from the lips of his Creator. “. . . Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” Notice the ingredients of this solemn message. Firstly, the way in which God calls the man a fool. “But God said unto him, THOU FOOL…” As we have already seen, this wealthy man was wise in his own eyes, and in the estimation of many who knew him. But here we are reminded that God’s estimation of man and his ways is very different from man’s estimation. Many a person today, whose beliefs and behaviour are much admired in the world, is but a fool in the eyes of Infinite Wisdom. Secondly, the way in which God assures the man of his imminent death and judgment. “… this night thy soul shall be required of thee …” Here we see one reason why God calls the man a fool. Death was about to overtake him and bring him before his Maker. The next dawn would see him standing before the Creator whose existence he had denied, whose Name he had blasphemed, and whose Word he had ignored. And these great realities were the last things he had thought about, let alone made provision for! Thirdly, the way God asks him who will own his goods once he is gone. “… then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” Here is another reason why God calls this wealthy man a fool. Death would not only take away his life in this world, it would also rob him of all the good he had doted over. “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Tim. 6.7). Oh, how often is this story repeated in real life today. The writer looks again at the newspaper article referred to earlier. The journalist goes on to record how, on the previous day, the Lord’s day, the rich builder, having completed a little more business, decided to go for a short flight in one of his beloved Spitfires before lunch. That flight was to prove his last. Shortly after take-off the aircraft was seen to spin out of control, and crash into some woods. A photograph in the article shows the poor man’s funeral pyre. The words which Christ took from the mouth of His Father in the parable had been spoken again.
(f). The rich man’s poverty
We must not make the mistake of thinking that the wealthy farmer’s folly consisted only in failing to consider the possibility of sudden death. It is only as we follow him beyond the scene of time that we see something of the full extent of his errors. The Lord sums it all up in v.21, where He says, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” In other words, the real tragedy about the rich man was his appalling spiritual poverty. In the eyes of men, he had so much; in the eyes of God, he had nothing at all. We have already seen the shock experienced when he heard the voice of His Creator suddenly calling him into eternity. Now view him as he is arraigned before the judgment seat of his Maker, and the records of his ungodly life are unrolled before his eyes. What answer can he give? What plea of mitigation can be made to avert the terrible sentence about to be passed on him by divine Justice? Has he not lived throughout the whole of his earthly life, wilfully and boastfully ignoring and denying God, trampling upon His commandments, without any concern for the salvation of his precious soul, or any pity for the needy people around him? When the Lord was asked which is the most important commandment. He replied: “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:
this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12.29-31). And does not that underline the guiltiness of the rich farmer? If these are the greatest commandments, then it follows that to transgress them is to commit the greatest sins. No wonder, then, that covetousness is viewed by God as a form of idolatry. “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” [Eph. 5.5). Alas, the wealthy farmer’s whole life had been lived in that godless way. But is there no hope for him beyond the grave? None at all, for the Bible knows nothing of God admitting all men to heaven at last; nothing of the Roman Catholic notion of purgatory, and nothing of sinners repenting and being converted after death. ‘Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience” Eph. 5.6). Truly, there is no man so poor as the man who is “not rich toward God.”
(g). The rich man’s relatives
At first sight, there may appear to be no mention of the rich man’s relatives in the parable. But if we look more closely at v.21, we see
that the wealthy farmer has always had plenty of relatives in this world: “SO IS HE . . .” In other words, every person who “lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God”, is truly related to the foolish farmer in the parable. His worldwide family is well represented in Great Britain today. How many people, though differing considerably in rank, race, work, and even creed, manifest the same family characteristics seen in the rich fool! Their atheistic view of themselves and their life in the world; their thinly-disguised, almost obsessive concern to obtain more wealth; their obvious selfishness, and their pursuit of an ever-increasing variety of pleasures, all proclaim their family name. Like their foolish ancestor in Christ’s parable, they do not know where they have come from, what they are meant to be doing while they are here, nor where they are going. Without any real understanding or experience of the saving truth of the Gospel, they continue to live “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2.12), and are heading, slowly but surely, toward the same hell as the rich fool in the parable. Alas, many in Great Britain and the western world at large today belong to the numerous and widespread family of the rich fool. Reader, are you one of them?
4. Spiritual riches through Christ’s poverty
One great question remains to be answered. How can one who finds himself in a state of dire spiritual poverty ever become “rich toward God”? There is only one sure place where we shall find the answer, and that is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the one and only reply we find in that Gospel is that spiritual riches come through Christ’s poverty. The Apostle Paul puts this in a clear and concise way for us in 1 Corinthians 8:9, where we read, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” What a perfect summary of the Gospel! So great was the love of the eternal Son of God for sinners, that He left His rightful place in heaven, laid aside for a while the insignia of His glory, and appeared in this sinful world in the form of man. But the poverty of Christ involved much more than just His humbling Incarnation. Christ went on to subject Himself willingly to His Father’s law, to obey it perfectly and fully, and eventually go to that awful death on Calvary’s cross to make atonement for the transgressions of all those He represented. Oh, it is only as we see the blessed Son of God suffering such agony on the cross on behalf of these poor lost souls, that we begin to appreciate the depths of poverty to which He sank. Reader, is your one, great, overiding concern to become spiritually rich? Then you must repent of your sins and believe on the blessed Saviour of sinners. The pathway to
spiritual wealth is a very humbling one for any person to tread. To have to go to God, perhaps after years of ignoring Him, blaspheming His Name, and transgressing His commandments, and confess one’s folly, guilt and shame, is always humbling to proud human nature. And to have to admit, at the same time, one’s inability to do anything at all to merit God’s favour and forgiveness, and to plead with Him for a free and full pardon, solely on the basis of what He has done through the obedience and atonement of His dear Son, is equally humbling. Yet this is God’s appointed pathway to true riches, riches which will last for eternity. God’s promise remains as true today as it has always been: “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10.11-13). Not a single, bankrupt soul who truly sought spiritual riches through Christ’s poverty has ever been turned away empty-handed from the door of Heaven’s Treasury.
P. D. Johnson