In Leo Tolstoy’s short story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” Tolstoy introduces us to a man, a Russian peasant farmer named Pahom. One day Pahom overheard his wife talking to her sister. The older sister was telling Pahom’s wife that she and her husband have such a good life since they live in town, dress nicely, and are enjoying the finer things of life like going to the theatre and promenades. As Pahom was listening in, he was thinking to himself about his own life. It was true, his work was hard and time consuming. He and his wife didn’t have time for the “finer things of life,” but he was happy except for the fact that he didn’t have enough land. Pahom said to himself, “If I only had plenty of land, I wouldn’t fear the Devil himself!” Pahom started off with no land, but as the story progresses he decided to buy a small piece of land from a local man. After awhile he ran into some conflict with his neighbors and decided to move somewhere else where he could buy some more land. Pahom was a hard-working, successful guy, but he was renting the land he was farming, so he decided to move and buy his own land.
One day Pahom met some nomads, the Bashkirs, who really had no use for farmland. They told him that for 1000 rubles he could have as much land as he could walk in one day. He could spend the day walking around their land, marking his path with a spade, and if he could make it back to where he started by the end of the day, he could have all of the land he had covered.
When Pahom started out he saw the beautiful land and decided to try to go farther and farther. With every step he took he saw more land that he wanted. He suddenly realized that he was far, so far from where he had begun the day. Pahom noticed the sun was going down so he began to run as fast as he could, with all of his might, in the blazing heat. If he was ever to make it back to his starting point he could not rest. He did make it back, just as the sun was setting, but he was so exhausted that he fell down. The Chief of the Bashkirs welcomed him, congratulated him, but the man died.
What was it that had killed the man? It was greed. The unquenchable thirst for more, more, more. In the last line of Tolstoy’s story, Pahom’s servant picked up the spade with which Pahom had been marking his land and dug a grave for Pahom: “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”
How much of anything does a person need? And the answer is “more.” And not only more, but better. The more we get, the more want. Even though homes have gotten bigger during the last fifty years, they are not big enough.
I was reading an article this past week about the explosive growth of self-storage facilities. 2017 set a new record for investment in self-storage units, with just under $4 billion dollars spent on the construction of new facilities. That’s up from $2 billion spent in 2016. Over the last several years, the size of self-storage space completed in the United States has risen from 18.5 million square feet in 2015 to over 36 million square feet by 2017. The United States, with more than 50,000 facilities, has 90% of the global market for self-storage facilities. Self-storage is a $38 billion dollar industry. That’s more than three times Hollywood’s gross box office revenue for 2017. And more are being built as we speak. Jesus said,
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NIVO)
Jesus often spoke about money and possessions. Sixteen of His thirty-eight parables deal with the subject of money and possessions. Pastor Tim Keller says at least 28% of the time Jesus spoke, He talked about money. In our parable for today, the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus taught the crowd to be on their guard against all kinds of greed. Let’s turn to Luke 12:13-21 and read the parable.
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 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.” 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “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. 19 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.”‘ 20 “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?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21 NIVO)
It’s important for us to notice the context of what Jesus had to say. At the beginning of Luke 12, Jesus told the massive crowd that was listening in, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” He went on to talk about the cost of discipleship, the cost of being His follower. Jesus told the crowd,
8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9 NIVO)
Suddenly, a man blurted out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” What does that have to do with anything Jesus had been speaking about? The answer is quite simple…nothing. I do believe it reveals how fixated we are on money and the material things of life. Jesus didn’t resolve the man’s predicament, but He did use the man’s preoccupation to teach the crowd an important lesson. Jesus said, “…be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Let’s read all of Luke 12:15.
15 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.” (Luke 12:15 NIVO)
Jesus could not have worded His warning any more strongly. “Watch out! Be on your guard…” We might say, “Keep your eyes wide open!” I had a coach in college who would tell us that we needed to keep our head on a swivel. Simon Peter sounded the alarm in 1 Peter 5:8,
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 NIVO)
“Watch and guard.” The Greek word for “guard,” means “to guard, keep watch, to guard oneself from a thing, to observe for one’s self something to escape. We are told in Luke 2:8 that there were shepherds out in the fields guarding their flocks during the night. In Acts 12:2, we are told that four squads of soldiers with four soldiers in each squad guarded Peter when he was arrested. In 1 Timothy, Paul told young Timothy to guard the truth of the Gospel. And in 1 John 5:21, John said, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” Jesus could not have worded His warning any stronger.
Jesus followed His warning with the statement: “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” There are two words in Greek for “life.” The word, “Bios,” is the word from which we get our word “biology.” Biological life, being alive. The other word, “Zoe,” is altogether different, it is much more than merely possessing a heartbeat and brain waves. “Zoe” is used to refer to spiritual life, a deeper, more meaningful existence than merely being alive. We are told, in John 1:4, that “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” Abundant life is found in Jesus, in a living, transforming relationship derived from being united with Jesus. This is why Paul wrote,
4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4 NIVO)
Through Jesus, “we too may live a new life.” An abundance of possessions doesn’t produce the kind of life God intends for his people. That’s a tough message to sell in our society. People are much more inclined to believe that a bigger house, a newer car, new toys and trinkets hustled by Madison Ave., or some other thing or experience will finally get them over the line and into the land of happiness, peace, and joy.
The people of Jesus’ day were no different than we are my friends. That is why He spoke so much about money and possessions. Jesus shared a parable with the massive crowd who had gathered to listen to Him teach. In the parable, “the ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” That’s interesting how Jesus worded it isn’t it? Jesus didn’t say the man was a better farmer than any other farmer in Israel. He hadn’t discovered new techniques, he hadn’t installed drip irrigation systems in his fields, and neither did Jesus say that he had applied fertilizer at critical growing times. He was blessed with a bountiful crop, but he failed to recognize whose hand was behind the blessing.
Seeing the biggest crop he’d ever witnessed in all of his years of farming, the man thought to himself: “What shall I do?” That’s a great question, but it is vitally important that we take that question to God and not to our own best thinking. The man never considered God. He has a problem, it’s a great problem, but it is still a problem. He has this bumper crop and not enough space to store it all. So he says to himself, “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” He didn’t want to infringe on his fertile land so he decided to tear down his existing barns and build up, on the same footprint, but with added stories. Brilliant!
Did you notice, the man didn’t say he simply needed more space for his harvest, he also needed more space for his “goods.” He would have loved living in America in 2019 wouldn’t he? And then, in verse 19, we find that he is still carrying on a conversation with himself. He said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Did you hear that? He was planning on selling his John Deere. He was going to buy the biggest flat screen he could find, get Netflix, buy a country club membership, sleep until noon, and play golf until the sun set. That’s the life! He had big, big plans!
That’s what Carolyn Bushong thought as well when she closed her psychotherapy office in Colorado in 2012 and moved to Tucson, Arizona. She moved in with her boyfriend, a financial adviser, and the two of them had more money than they needed. They could just live the good life with no worries. It was great at first, but then Carolyn got bored. Carolyn said, “This is our fifth year and I’m bored to tears. This is a beautiful prison.” Volunteering didn’t interest her, but for that matter she lost interest in everything. The good life she envisioned didn’t turn out to be so good.
Back to the parable. The man who had been incredibly blessed and put together the perfect retirement plan for the next 20 years of his life had to have been shocked when he was told, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” The parable reminds me of something else Jesus said in Mark 8:36.
36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36 NIVO)
So, is the lesson of Jesus’ parable that we are not to be prosperous? Are all of the followers of Jesus to take a vow of poverty and live out our days in abject destitution? That’s not the lesson at all. There are many men and women in God’s Word who were wealthy, they were blessed by God. The problem of the man in the parable is that he left God totally and completely out of the equation. Not only did he leave God out of the equation, but he left every other person on the planet out of the equation as well. Did you notice how many times the words “I” and “my” appear in the parable? All he thought about was himself. “My crops,” “my barns,” “my goods.”
Greed is a sneaky, insidious, and deadly self-affliction. The really scary thing about greed is that we can spot it in others from a mile away, but we fail to recognize its deadly effects taking place in our own lives. The media and politicians have put a target on the super wealthy to try to turn the rest of the population against those who have so much, but don’t kid yourself…greed is deeply seated in the hearts of all people. And this has been true for all of time. Jeremiah wrote,
13 “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. (Jeremiah 6:13 NIVO)
“All are greedy for gain.” I would say that about covers it. “All” means everyone, each and every single one of us. Yet, if we went around the room this morning and asked everyone if they are greedy I would imagine we would be hard pressed to find anyone who would admit to it. Pastor Tim Keller said, “even though it is clear that the world is filled with greed and materialism, almost no one thinks it is true of them. Greed hides itself from the victim.” Greed hides itself from the victim. Maybe this is why God’s Word sounds the alarm over and over again for you and me.
Greed grows much like cancer. Our bodies are made up of more than a hundred million million cells. Cancer starts when a cell or a small group of cells goes rogue. We don’t know it, we can’t feel it, it hides itself from the victim. Left unchecked it will destroy the victim…and so it is with greed.
I was talking to Dr. Brian Geister this week and he told me that for cancer to be detected by tests used by doctors, one billion cells have to have joined the rogue forces of cancer. Cancer hides itself from the victim. And then Brian added to my sermon illustration. Brian said, “The crazy thing is some people who have clear symptoms, let’s say a large tumor that they can see and feel, they still don’t do anything about it.” And I would have to agree, greed works in the same way. We see clear signs, we notice we are stingy with others, we notice that we are quick to lavish ourselves with the luxuries of life. We say we are just taking care of our own family.
Greed is not only insidious, but it is insatiable. We think to ourselves, “If only I had…” Our wish, our desire, grows into an obsession until we get it, whatever it is, but not too long after we get it the new wears off and we are off on a search for the next thing. The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant once said, “Give a man everything he desires and yet at this very moment he will feel that everything is not everything.”
If ever a man had everything it was king Solomon. Solomon had more money to try more things to bring him happiness and contentment than anyone who has ever lived. He tried it all and declared, “It’s empty. It didn’t deliver.” He also wrote in Ecclesiastes 5:10,
10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIVO)
It’s not money that is the problem, it is our attitude toward money and material possessions that causes us great problems in life. John MacArthur said, “We have so many possessions that they are possessing us. We are consumers being consumed by our consumption.” What we have far too often has us.
So, what is the remedy to our problem of greed? Will we ever be able to break free? Will we ever be able to see our greed, our thirst for more, be transformed so that our greed is replaced by genuine, consistent, joyful generosity? Let me make something perfectly clear: We will never be less than greedy without a transformed heart, a heart that is transformed through a relationship with Jesus. Jesus said,
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:24-33 NIVO)
Don’t run like a pagan “after all these things,” but run after God–“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” In Jesus’ parable, the man who had made big plans for many years to come was told he wouldn’t see another day. Then he was asked a question, “Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” I don’t know if the man had any heirs at all. Were there children who would inherit his vast fortune? Let’s say there were. Statistics show that in 60% of cases, inherited wealth is completely gone by the end of the second generation. Daniel Akin writes, “The fear of billionaires who are self-made is that their spoiled children who never knew hunger will not have wisdom and resolve to handle so much money.” I would say that’s not a good investment.
In the last sentence of the Parable of the Rich Fool, Jesus said,
21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21 NIVO)
I want to be rich towards God. I don’t want to store up treasures on earth, but I do want to store up treasures in heaven. How can I do that? Well, first of all, I need to surrender my heart and everything else about me to Jesus. “It’s yours Lord. It’s all yours Lord. Use me, use everything I am as well as everything I have for your glory and for the blessing of your people.” Is that your heart’s desire this morning? Can you imagine what could happen if all of us, with one heart and mind, committed to being “rich towards God” and His people? I pray we will make this commitment and watch God move in ways we can’t even imagine.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 10, 2019