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God’s Word for You

Luke 12:16-21 The Rich Fool

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 13, 2018

16 He told them a parable: “The fields of a certain rich man produced a very good crop. 17 He started thinking to himself, ‘What will I do? I don’t have room to store my crops.’ 18 He said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 Then I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods stored up for many years. Take it easy. Eat, drink, and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have provided?’
21 “So it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

This is not a difficult parable to understand or explain, so my prayer is that I will not step in the way of anyone’s understanding by adding my own comments here.

“The fields… produced a very good crop.” Right away the careful reader will notice what the fool did not. He is not the one who was the source of his fields’ abundance. David sings, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). This is why we thank God specifically before meals, including meals we have personally prepared from beginning to end, because God is the true source of everything from hunt to harvest to pantry to table. Even if we lay up preserves, canning or pickling or smoke-drying to store things up, it is God’s hand that preserves the preserves. And if God gives a little or a lot, he has his own reason. “God gives you an abundance so that he may either overcome your avarice or condemn it” (Ambrose).

“I don’t have room to store my crops.” If God gives an abundance to us—whether crops or compound interest or a bonus at work or simply the number of our children—our first thought should be: What does God have in mind for this windfall? He gives to his church through his people, and if I’ve been unable to give very much, is he giving me an opportunity to give from this bonus he’s given to me? Or if he has given me many children, do I understand that he will also help me to provide for them, for service in his kingdom? If I already have enough for myself, where should all of the extra go? But it takes a mature Christian to have such thoughts. Some mature Christians are quite a bit younger than others.

“I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones.” To prosper one year doesn’t mean that the prosperity will last. Would the expense of tearing down and building bigger be wise, or foolish? There could be an application here to the traditions of the Pharisees and the modern Jews, or the traditions of the Catholic Church (tearing down God’s simple words for human traditions), but we should remember especially that every parable has one purpose in particular; one comparison with our lives, and in this case that is given simply and clearly by Jesus: “So it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” It is not a crime to be wealthy in this world, but it is foolish not to really grow in our spiritual wealth, which is faith in Christ and understanding God’s word. Pull down your earthly barns if you must, but it would be better to pull down the worldly barns and storehouses of human knowledge in your mind to make room for God’s wisdom, which is proclaimed to you in his word and every week from the pulpit. The stock market won’t change a single point while you’re in the pew. Go listen to your pastor, confess your sins and receive the absolution, sing hymns and pray with your family and friends who are there, and be filled up with God’s bounty and goodness.

“Then I will say to my soul, ‘Soul…’” This is another brilliant turn of phrase by our Lord. Certainly psyche (ψυχή) can mean “inner self” or even “self,” but since the rich man uses this word to address himself, “soul” is a perfectly good translation. Also, God uses the very same word in the next verse for “soul.” It isn’t for any one of us to decide what happens to our soul. Apart from the grace of God, my soul would be lost, condemned forever in hell. God can call my soul to account anytime it pleases him, and only God can rescue my soul. “He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light” (Job 33:28).

“Eat, drink, and be merry.” These words, the motto of the Epicureans, do not really need any further comment, but it is with sadness that we still see the ridiculous bumper stickers on cars today: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

“This very night your soul will be demanded of you.” This is what God says to the wicked, but not to the righteous. The wicked has nothing at all, not even hope. He only has whatever he thinks is his in this world. “For what hope has the godless when he is cut off, when God takes away his life? Does God listen to his cry when distress comes upon him?” (Job 27:8-9). What does the Christian do? Does he scream and flail about? Not at all. “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul” (Psalm 86:4). “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my trust” (Psalm 130:5).

“Then who will get…” This phrase uncovers a part of the parable that is hidden to most people in our culture, and it might possibly show Jesus’ judgment on the man asking the original question. The man in the parable does not know who will inherit all his wealth. Did he have no family? No heir? Although marriage is not commanded by God, it is not to be despised, and it is a gift that God encourages for everyone except a very few who are able to serve him without the temptations of the flesh overwhelming them. Paul said, “Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). A man with no heir at all seems to be a man who (1) has no wife and children, and (2) does not even have a nephew or niece. Is this a pattern in his family; an attitude passed down from his parents, who nevertheless had at least one child?

“So it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” This is the point of the parable. Will I take care of my soul myself, or will I entrust it to God? Will I care about riches on earth, or will I lay up riches for myself in heaven? The man who is concerned only with this life will have nothing afterward but pain. He won’t be able to buy his way out of hell, or cut a deal, or appeal to his reputation. The Christian who puts all his faith in God, suffers for his faith in this lifetime, and seems to have nothing at all to show for it will have a place with God, not on account of his suffering, but on account of God’s grace.

For the ungodly, death is the end of pleasure and the gate of eternal agony and terror. For the Christian, death is the end of pain and uncertainty and the sweet sleep from which he will awaken to everlasting peace, pleasure, and rest. “Wake up, O sleeper,” Paul prophesied, “rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). This is truly the doctrine behind the entirely Christian sentiment: Rest in peace.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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