It is Thanksgiving week and I hope that your plans are all made and that you’ve already begun to think about what you are thankful for this year. We can easily forget that most countries around the world don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I think it is probably one of the best holidays we have, not just because of the food, although I am a BIG fan of that. I was talking to my daughter Hannah, who is currently serving as a missionary intern with London City Mission in England, and I asked what her plans were for this week. She said that she and the other American kids were putting on a Thanksgiving for the other interns. She’s gotten a few of her mom’s recipes. She’s excited about doing this.
I think a Thanksgiving holiday for us is especially appropriate and important. We live in a very prosperous nation. When you consider that more than a third of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, we truly have a lot to be thankful for.
I think this time of year is also a good time for us to take inventory, to evaluate our attitude toward our prosperity and our attitude toward our view of money. I know that any time a pastor mentions money there is a tendency to want to check out or duck out of the service, but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea; this isn’t a topic we talk about every week. And I can promise you that you won’t hear from me today that all you have to do is open your checkbook and that new car you’ve been wanting will be sitting in your driveway when you get home, or that new house will be given to you for free! I wish it worked that way. It doesn’t and any preacher who says it does is lying and just trying to line their pockets.
For those who want to know why this is the subject for today’s message, it is not because we are behind on income in the budget this year. It is true, we are behind, but a least once a year, I try to bring us around to the topic of money, giving, generosity, and our attitudes toward it, because of the great importance it holds in our lives.
Do you realize that Jesus spoke about money a lot too. So, I am in good company. In fact, 11 of his 39 parables in Luke are about money. For those that like numbers, that is 28% of the parables about this one subject.
This should show us that there is a real danger when it comes to how we view money. There is something here we need to pay attention to. And today, I want us to look at one of these parables in Luke to remind us how it is not who has the most toys that wins in the game of life, but that there are different types of rich and we need to be sure we are rich toward God.
In Luke, we find an interesting interaction between Jesus and a guy that’s a part of a crowd who has been listening to Jesus. Jesus has been teaching and a crowd has gathered around him, pressing in to hear what he has to say.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 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.”
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“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. 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.”‘
“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?”
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
This story may seem strange to us, but for the times, it wasn’t uncommon. Jesus was recognized by many as a Rabbi, or teacher. If there was a dispute, it was common to take the dispute to a rabbi for adjudication. Here was a man whose father had died and he wanted his inheritance. The man obviously thought he was being treated unfairly in the distribution of that inheritance, and he wanted someone to make it right. So he went to Jesus hopeful that he would get the answer he wanted.
What is interesting is how the man words his request for Jesus to intervene. It is the way he makes his request that reveals to us what Jesus saw in this man’s heart. He doesn’t ask for Jesus to tell his brother to do what is fair, or to do what is customary according to Jewish law. He says, “Tell him to divide it with me.” In essence, he is telling Jesus, “I know I haven’t presented both sides of this case; you don’t know the entire story, but I still want you to decide in my favor.”
Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach not just this man, but the entire crowd, a very important lesson about money, greed, and abundant life.
Abundant Possessions or Abundant Life
As we read this story, it is easy for us to make some assumptions about what Jesus is pointing out, but I want us to be cautious here. What we may think Jesus is calling out, he might not actually be making a judgment on. At first glance, we could read this and think that Jesus is telling us that having money is wrong, or that making money is wrong, or that saving for the future is bad. And with that line of reasoning, we then assume that Jesus is saying we can’t keep any of it, we are to give everything away, we can’t plan for the future, and we certainly shouldn’t have fun doing it. This guy wanted to eat, drink, and be merry, and that got him killed.
Not exactly. Never in this story does Jesus say money is bad. We aren’t told that this man made his abundant harvest in a nefarious way. In fact, this was a good business man. He had a great year. Where the man goes off track is when he makes his money, we see what is really important to him and what his priorities are. He has morally mismanaged his money. As it often does, money reveals our true character.
Verse 17 and 18 are very telling for this man. “What shall I do? I have no place for my crops.” And he goes on. We see ten times this man references himself. He shows that all he cares about is himself.
Before we talk about what a terrible person this is, we need to realize that this is the danger any time we earn money. There’s a danger of becoming self-focused and being more concerned about how much we have than we are about what we can do with what we have.
Jesus said it. “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” The danger of the pursuit of possessions is that it can make us insensitive to others around us. It can cause us to live with blinders on, oblivious to needs around us, so that we only focus on ourselves.
What is interesting is how Jesus phrases this: “Abundance of possessions.” If you’ve read much about Jesus, that word “abundant” should bring forth another idea when he talked about abundant. In John’s gospel, Jesus was talking with the religious leaders and trying to get them to understand why he came.
In John 10:10 we read,
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
I definitely think there is a comparison here that we need to pay attention to.
What will we pursue? Abundant possessions or abundant life? Are these mutually exclusive? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Over and over in the Bible, when Jesus is talking about money, he says it is one or the other.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” —Matthew 6:24
We need to realize the allure and pull of money. Most of us want to be generous. No one usually plans to be selfish. But as my own life testifies at times, when we make more, we want more. We buy more. And when the shiny wears off, and the screen to the new phone cracks, we find our contentment gone and all we can think about is the next thing we can get for ourselves.
At the heart of the issue is: What are we chasing? Abundant life or abundant possessions? That’s the point to this story. Because chasing after possessions reveals a heart of greed.
Guard Against Greed
As Jesus responds to the man’s request, he tells him, the crowd, and us as well, “Watch out!’ We must be on guard against greed in our lives. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. It is interesting to me that whenever someone begins to talk about money, we can get very defensive. After all, “It’s mine. I earned it. I can do with it what I want.” And even though our society might tell us that, from this passage we see this isn’t the case. So, what do we do to guard against greed?
First, we have to be willing to be honest. We must stop being defensive and evaluate our motives. Let me say, it is not wrong to save and plan for the future. That is wise. It is not a sin to have a good paying job. But we have to be willing to dig a little inside ourselves to ask why we are doing it.
Why do you want the money? Why are you working so hard? Is it only to get or is it so you can live more generously? Is it so you can live the life you always wanted? Is it to get away from the problems in life and take it easy? Or are you saving up to be able to do and give more away?
The tragedy of the parable that Jesus told isn’t that the man died. It is that before he died he thought he had arrived. This is the ultimate “you can’t take it with you” passage! To overcome greed, we have to ask ourselves why we are pursuing more.
Next, we need to realize that generosity is a part of discipleship. There can be no significant spiritual growth unless we surrender our attitudes about money, along with our money into God’s hands. To think, “I want to know God and be close to God, but I don’t want him telling me what to do with my money” is impossible.
Then we need to realize what keeps us from giving. Is it fear? Are we afraid that if we give, we won’t get? Does that fear show a lack of faith, when we say, “If I give, God may not provide for my needs”? Do you realize in the Old Testament, people were called to give their first fruits. This is very significant. What if they gave their first fruits to God, but the rest of the crop failed, shriveled up and died? To offer the first of the harvest was a sign of faith that you trusted God to provide for the rest.
Maybe we don’t give because we don’t love. We can’t be selfish and love at the same time. It doesn’t work. If we aren’t giving, is it because we don’t care about others or other ministries more than ourselves?
Maybe we don’t give because we can’t see beyond the here and now. That was the parable man’s problem. When we don’t invest in church and we focus on our stuff, we show that we believe the here and now is more important than eternity, but when we live generously, we recognize that people last forever. And when we invest in people, we can have an eternal impact.
We combat greed by asking ourselves the hard questions. We must deal with our fear, lack of faith, and lack of love. We decide to live for more than just the temporary. And we pray and ask God to overcome these things so we can live as generous people. And finally, we can become rich toward God.
Being Rich Toward God
What makes you rich? The balance in your bank account or your relationship with God? What Jesus is telling us here is that our riches don’t come from our paychecks, or the size of our houses, or the size of our investment accounts. To be rich toward God means to see God as our riches, nothing else.
When we see God as our riches, we will see him, and our relationship with him, as greater than anything else. The issue isn’t whether or not you have money or if you are successful. The issue is whether or not God is your supreme treasure. Because when we live richly toward God, our attitude toward money will be exactly where it needs to be. We will live generously because we realize that we serve a generous God, a God who was willing to give all for us.
The reason Jesus talked so much about money was because he knew and understood the allure of wealth. This isn’t just a 21st century issue. From the beginning, man has had a problem with having a proper attitude about money. Jesus understood that money lures us away from treasuring God.
Some of you out there make a good living, you have some savings, and you are thinking, “I am so ready for next week. Let’s start those Christmas messages!” Yes, but before we get there, we need to take a moment to consider what we are doing with what we have been given. What if you have what you have in order to bless the church, a ministry, or someone else?
Does how you currently deal with your resources match what you say is important to you? Does it reflect a heart passionate after God? If not, why not? And what can you do about it?
If you are thinking, “Good. I am glad the preacher man is sticking it to those with money today!” can I tell you that you don’t have to be wealthy to have the same problem the man in our story today had? Even if you have little, you can still honor God with what you do have. The same message applies to you. If you don’t have much, what are you doing with what you do have?
For those who follow Jesus, what I want to make sure you take away from this message is this: when the church treasures God above all that money can buy, and when we understand that how we deal with money reveals what’s really in our hearts, and if we understand that the church is crucial for God’s work in the world, then we will have everything we need to pursue God’s mission of justice, mercy, evangelism, and ministry.
We cannot change the world without radical giving.
Am I asking you to give to us? No. I am asking you to consider what your attitude toward money and generosity reveals about you. Have you bought into the lie that more stuff means more contentment and happiness? It doesn’t. As many who have chased that dream will tell you, even when you get more, you always want more.
Contentment and satisfaction can only be found when we are rich toward God. If you are chasing that illusive dream, always reaching for the carrot that keeps getting pulled away, maybe its time to stop trying the same thing over and over and try something different. Maybe it’s time to try Jesus for your contentment and realize that abundant possessions are temporary, but abundant life in Jesus is forever.
Jesus reminds us of the great danger that exists surrounding our possessions and our attitude toward money. We have to be on guard against greed. We need to make sure we understand how rich we are because of our relationship with God.
Wherever you are today on your faith journey, may we all strive to have richness toward God and really show this world what generosity is all about.