And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Have you ever stopped to notice the things that you worry about? If you made a list of the last three things you worried about, what would be on it? I ask this question because most of us live isolated lives. We have a place to live. We have enough food to eat. We aren’t in danger of starvation or homelessness or dying from a simple infection because we can’t afford antibiotics. We’re insulated from the dangers of extreme poverty that afflict millions of people worldwide.
The problems most of us complain about are a little less life-threatening. In fact, our problems are so minimal in comparison to the rest of the world that they have earned a strange nickname: First World problems. First World problems are inconveniences, not threats. They come from having too much of everything and not enough gratitude for anything. All of us are familiar with Third World problems: poverty, hunger, lack of good health care, etc. But what about First World problems?
I found a list of “100 Funny First World Problems.” I’m only going to read a few of these. I won’t ask you to raise your hand if you’ve ever worried or complained about any of these. But I think most of us will recognize ourselves somewhere in this list. Have you ever made any of these complaints?
My house is such a mess! There’s stuff everywhere.
My walk-in closet is not big enough.
Polishing the marble in my bathroom is such a thankless job.
There’s too much ice in my iced coffee from Starbucks.
The portion sizes in this restaurant are too big.
My house is so big that the wi-fi signal is weak in some of the rooms.
There’s nothing good on TV right now.
I can’t believe I bought a toaster with no bagel setting.
Believe me, those are only problems in the First World!
Our Scripture Lesson today is about a man who suffered from First World problems. And though we may not have the same problem as the man in this story, we may have the same attitude he did. And according to God, that’s the biggest problem of all. So, I hope you’ll open your mind as you hear our lesson for today.
Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people, and someone in the crowd says to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus could’ve made money, or goats, or vineyards, whatever counted as half of this man’s inheritance, appear out of thin air. He could’ve easily solved this man’s problem. The man would’ve been thrilled. The crowd would’ve been impressed. But no one would’ve learned anything about God. And that’s the greatest need any of us have in life. Jesus knows that. We need to remember that the next time we question why God doesn’t solve our temporary problems. Jesus didn’t come to make our life better; He came to lead us from death to life. In the Book of John, chapter 17 verse 3, Jesus says, now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. Read through the first four books of the New Testament. When Jesus doesn’t give people what they want in life, it’s because He’s about to give them what they really need: a greater understanding of God, the Source of true Life.
Back to our Scripture lesson. So He says, ‘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; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’
Then He told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 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 my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, you have plenty of grain 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 whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.
A grandma asked her granddaughter, how much ice cream would you like? The little girl thought for a second, then said, give me too much! I can relate to her granddaughter. Can there ever be too much of a good thing? Apparently, there can be. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Especially if the good things we pursue distract us from the life God intends for us.
There’s something unique in this story in Luke that I can’t find in any other parables in the New Testament. This is the only time in the Gospels when God directly calls someone a fool. In Jesus’ stories, there are lots of people who do foolish things. But this is the only one of Jesus’ stories in which God speaks up and calls someone a fool to his face. That’s pretty serious stuff. The Bible contains whole lists of foolish versus wise living. And the foolish behavior almost always boils down to living without the perspective of God. Fools live only for themselves and only for the moment. Do you want to reach the end of your life and have God call you a fool? I don’t! So, let’s take a serious look at the difference between the fool’s perspective and God’s perspective.
The fool saw his wealth as a storage problem; God saw his wealth as a mindset problem. Only in the First World do folks have to rent warehouses to store the overflow of stuff. If you have a storage problem, you might also have a mindset problem.
There’s only one way to stop materialism and the destruction of body and soul that spring from covetousness, and that’s to want God so much that we can’t be bothered with inordinate wants for anything else.
There’s only one way to change our mindset of wanting more, more wealth, more stuff. And that’s in wanting God so much that we can’t be bothered with lesser things.
Our love for God creates two changes in our attitude that keep us from living like a fool. The first change is an increased sense of gratitude for the things that money can’t buy, like love and hope and peace and joy. The gifts of the Holy Spirit that come with finding new life in Jesus Christ.
The second change is a deep desire to share God’s love with others in practical ways. That’s why most hospitals, orphanages, homeless shelters and soup kitchens all over the world that were started by Christians.
A man was cleaning out his garage, piling stuff in his driveway. His son was playing in the front yard alone. And his neighbor struck up a friendly conversation with him. But in the midst of the chitchat, he made an offhand comment along the lines of, the more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you.
And the neighbor replied seriously, maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff. That comment really stuck with him. He noticed his young son playing alone in the yard. And he wondered why he was working so hard to clean up his stuff when he could have been playing with his son.
Not long afterwards, he and his wife, committed to living a minimalist lifestyle, giving away most of their stuff and cutting back on shopping. Since that time, they started a non-profit organization to build family-style orphanages in Mexico and Honduras.
The comment that changed his attitude: maybe you don’t need to own all this stuff. Once he and his wife began giving away their stuff, they discovered an even greater desire and ability to help those in need. They gained God’s perspective on their wealth. Generosity toward the poor is in perfect alignment with the character of God. And aligning our attitude and actions with the character of God is a sure way to avoid foolish living. So, the first reason God called this man a fool was this: he saw his wealth as a storage problem whereas God saw his wealth as a mindset problem.
The second thing that made this man a fool was that he talked to himself about his money situation rather than talking to God about it. Let’s read verses 17-19 of our Bible story again: (The rich man) 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 my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, you have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.
The rich man proved himself to be a fool because he lived as if there were no God. He lived as if the highest purpose of his life was the pursuit of his own pleasure. In reality, God is our Creator. We were made by God’s hands and in God’s image and for God’s purposes. Wise people know this and they daily work to align their values, priorities, desires and actions with the character and will of God.
And that brings me to the final thing that made this man a fool: he saw his wealth only as an opportunity for pleasure; God saw his wealth as an opportunity for giving. Let’s look at verses 18-21 again: then (the fool) said, this is what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I’ll store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, you have plenty of grain 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 whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.
I can’t stress this enough: every blessing we receive from God is an opportunity for greater giving. We have an opportunity to partner with God in meeting the needs and healing the hurts of others. We have the opportunity to be the presence of Jesus in real life. And we do that by sharing with others. But we also do that by giving ourselves away. If God gave you strength and health, use it to help those who are sick or impaired. If God gave you love, use it to help the lonely or rejected. If God gave you influence, use it to help the powerless or the oppressed. There is always some way to give to the work of the Lord.
You got one shot on earth. You want to do what you can to advance the kingdom. Whatever it costs to get yourself in a position where you’re really using your gifts to serve God is well worth it.
You don’t want to reach the end of your life and discover that you’ve wasted it. You don’t want to discover that God had a greater plan and a purpose for you than you could ever imagine, and you ignored it. So how do you take on the perspective of God? Give your life to God today. Jesus is your Lord and Savior and commit to following His example in your daily life. God has greater plans for our lives than the pursuit of our pleasure or security. But we will never know what God can do in and through us until we trust Him with our lives.