Phil Cox

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Greed

22nd September 2008

Let's look at the Parable of the Rich Fool, in Luke 12v13-34.

Verse13
Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

We can see from the preceeding verses that Jesus had been speaking to his diciples and to a large crowd. He gave them profound and wonderful teaching about hypocrisy, judgement, the value of every person, blasphemy and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then a man stepped out of the crowd and made this request.

He can have had no concept of the significance of Jesus’s words. That’s how he managed to ignore them to pursue so humdrum a request.

And we can be in a church meeting, listening to God’s word being taught. And we can leave the auditorium and start talking and thinking about things of no eternal significance just a few minutes later. We lose what we’ve been taught. We can't have understood its importance, or we wouldn't move so quickly from the sacred to the mundane.

Verse 14
Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?"

Jesus will judge the whole Earth one day. But He had only a few months to teach us about the Kingdom of God before He laid down His life for us on the cross. He wasn't going to spend time arbitrating family disputes when He had to so much to teach us.

Sometimes, Jesus says “no”.

Verse 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."

The man's case may have been a just one. He would certainly have been foolish asking Jesus to decide the case if it wasn’t. But Jesus accused him of greediness. Why?

He was greedy because he considered his own financial well-being to be just as important as the things of the kingdom of God.

“Watch out! Be on your guard”. We can be guilty of greed without even noticing. With other sins, I’d like to think we realise what we’re doing, even though we sometimes do them anyway. It’s hard not to know that you’re stealing, or committing adultery or murdering someone. But we can be greedy and not even know it.

The Greek word for "greed"is pleonexia. It means having more, receiving more, wanting more, for myself. It’s meaning extends to “outdoing others”, “being superior” “taking precedence” or “forging ahead” (at other’s expense).

We live in a generation when we’re taught to be greedy financially. We’re taught to maximise our investments, to provide for our future, for our retirement. These things are actually good in themselves, but they so easily move into being mean in our giving to others and to the work of the gospel. We can think that we can’t afford to give, because we want more for ourselves.

Greed isn’t just greed for money, or for food, or for power of or anything else. It’s the sin of wanting more for myself, even when that means taking from otrhers, or denying others a share in what I have. It’s sort of the opposite of generosity, sharing and love.

And Jesus says “be on your guard against all kinds of greed”. It's easy to be greedy in one area of our life without noticing it - especially if we're proud of being generous in other areas. We can claim (at least to ourselves) that our generosity in one area proves we’re not greedy at all, when in fact we're greedy about a completely different thing. We can be generous with money but greedy for power (we can even use our generosity with money to gain power). We can be generous with time but greedy for affection. And so on.

But in this case, Jesus is rebuking a man for thinking about money when far more important things are being discussed. Why was he thinking about money when he could be thinking through what Jesus had been teaching?

And, in this instance, the greed was indeed for money. But the parable Jesus told at this point applies to all sorts of greed.

Verse 16
And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.

The man in the parable was blessed by God. It was his ground, not himself, that produced a rich crop.

Verses 17-19
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."’

The man was blessed by God. His business was going well. He was making a lot of money. And his only thoughts about how to respond to this blessing was “what can I do for my own comfort?”.

Read again what he thought in verses 17-19. You'll find:

  • 11 references to himself
  • 0 references to others
  • 0 references to God

God had blessed his business with abundant success. And he wanted it all for himself.

And he didn’t give thanks to God for his prosperity – he imagined that he deserved it, that he’d earned it. Really, no matter how had we work, all our prosperity comes from God.

And he thought he had years left to live. No-one knows if we’ll be alive even tomorrow. We could be run over by a bus today.

And he assumed – took for granted – that he had “plenty of good things laid up”. Prosperity today doesn’t necessarily guarantee prosperity tomorrow. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. As many shareholders have recently discovered. As anyone who had Zimbabwean money knows only too well. And prosperity today doesn’t guarantee health tomorrow, or happiness tomorrow. You can be wealthy and sick. You can be wealthy and lonely – especially if you’re so greedy that you don’t share your blessings with others.

It’s not a bad thing to have savings and a pension plan. It’s good, responsible stewardship of what God has given us. But it can so easily become greed. We can save most of what we earn, and then claim to have nothing to give to others, or to God. Or we can live extravagant, wasteful lifestyles, and then look to others to provide for us what we would have had if we hadn’t wasted it. That’s another form of greed.

God calls us to share the fruit of our labours:

1 Timothy 4v11-12
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

But also to:

Ephesians 4v28
...work, doing something useful with [your] own hands, so that [you] may have something to share with those in need.

And the man thought that the best use of his life was to eat, drink and be merry. This is an extremely selfish view, and a very foolish one; no-one who dedicates his life to food, drink and merriment will ever be happy or fulfilled. Although the pursuit of fun is a major ambition for many people in our society, fun is never fulfilling.

Paul said to the Ephesian elders:

Acts 20v35
In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"

Do you live out your confidence that Holy Scripture is inspired by God and 100% true? Do you live as if you believed that it's more blessed to give than to receive?

Verse 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?’

One day we will die. And when we die, all the money in our savings accounts, all the wine in our cupboards, all the jewellery in our drawers, all the carpets and cars and pictures and TVs we have, will be of no value to us. All the times we hoarded possessions and money will have been in vain. And we will stand before God, with His grace our only security for the future (as, in fact, it always was).

All the opportunities we had to give time and money to help others, and to further the work of the gospel - which is the ultimate helping others - all the times we chose instead to work and to save and buy things to make us more comfortable and to make us feel more secure, will be sources of regret to us.

We will see how foolish we had been.

Verse 21
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God."

Jesus is saying that everyone who is greedy – that is, everyone who wants more and more for himself: more power, more money, more comfort, more fun, regardless of the fact that his resources may have been better invested in helping others and to reaching those who don’t yet know Jesus as their saviour - is a fool.

God will call us fools if we're greedy – wanting things for ourselves all the time, dedicating our lives to our own comfort and security - because we will not have been rich towards God.

Later in Luke 12, Jesus said:

Luke 12v32-34
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Don’t be afraid of the future. Don’t hoard what you have. Give to the poor – the financially poor and the spiritually poor. Lay up treasure in Heaven, where it will last for ever, not treasure on Earth that will soon be of no use to you.

If we are rich towards God, God will be rich towards us.

If we put His kingdom first, He will supply ALL our needs.

Is our faith in Him, or in our own ability to provide for ourselves?

Do you trust Him? Will you commit all your ways to Him, and let Him sort out the consequences? Will you invest your money, time, skills and relationships in His service and look for Him to meet your needs?

Where is your treasure?