A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions

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Luke 12:13-34

In June of last year it was reported that a 17 year old Chinese youth sold his kidney to buy an iPad2.

We recognize the folly of that kind of covetousness instantly.  But what about greed that is closer to home?

Recently I read an excellent discussion of the much-used phrase “material blessings” in our church prayers.  We thank God for all our “material blessings” but why do we consider our possessions to be “blessings”?  God is to be thanked for all good things certainly, but are we sure that He smiles on every purchase?  In presuming that they are “blessings” are we not immediately and unthinkingly justifying our lifestyles, no matter how grand?

Perhaps the most frightening thing about greed is the blind spot we all have when it comes to ourselves.  Lusters feel their lust.  Haters feel their hate.  At once these sins feel sinful.  Greed doesn’t feel greedy.  Far more often it will feel like a need or a desert.  Mostly it is born out a sense of entitlement or of unthinking selfishness.  Our standard of living rises like the temperature in the pot, and we are the proverbial frog being slowly cooked alive.

Jesus was once interrupted by a member of the crowd shouting:

“Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” (Luke 12:13)

The Judge of the world would surely prove an excellent arbitrator here.  But Jesus is not interested in the case.  That should give us pause for thought.  How often do we petition Him regarding our own private gain?  And how often does He respond with effectively the same reply:

“Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?”  (Luke 12:14)

Jesus is not interested in hearing our compensation claims.  He’s far more concerned that we hear His warnings:

“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness:  for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”  (Luke 12:15)

We nod sagely at His wise words.  “So true Jesus” we concur, thinking of all those other people who really need a copy of the sermon.

And Jesus says “Take heed and beware.”  It’s emphatic.  And to drive home the point He tells this parable:

“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 12:16-21)

Up-grade, up-scale, up-market, upwardly-mobile – this is the direction of his life.  And it’s the life of so many of us.  Our phone contract expires and what do we do?  We sell our old car, what’s our next purchase?  We leave behind the crummy neighbourhood, where do we look next?  We up-grade of course!  What else!?

And we can be certain that this man considered his fruitful ground as a “material blessing”.  Also his many goods.  And barns to store them in.  Surely they were tokens of God’s good pleasure!  He used these fruits, wheeled and dealed, and planned beautifully… for the medium term.  His eyes were fixed on the yacht, the Caribbean island, the villa in Tuscany and plenty of golf.  Yet on the very eve of retirement, the plug is pulled and He faces “Him with Whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:13)

Instead of a golden handshake and a pat on the back, the final verdict on his life is “Thou fool”.  Those words must have come as such a shock.  It was probably the first time he heard that assessment.  On earth he only ever heard praise (or else jealousy).  We would look on his life with envy, that same envy which took him to hell.  But God sees it with crystal clarity “Thou fool!”  That’s the true verdict.

The story was prompted by a man’s dispute with his brother.  The man wanted Jesus to arbitrate in a small claims court.  But at the end of the story we hear about a much bigger court of judgement and a far more important verdict.  It’s that verdict that should shape our lives.

How will we see Jesus then?  Our small claims Advocate?  Or our only Defence for the verdict that really matters?

How will we see God?  An endless Dispenser of financial blessings?  Or the One who holds our life in His hands?  (Daniel 5:23).

How will we see our life?  An up-scaling journey to ease and safety?  Or the opportunity to pursue another kind of riches – a richness towards God?

“Take heed; and beware of covetousness:  for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

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