In What Does Life Consist

November 20, 2016 / No. 3855

Dear Radio Friends,
Thanksgiving is not only for a farming community. Originally, it is true, this holiday was established in order to give thanks for the harvest. It is still that idea behind the thanks we give at this time of year. We are reminded that the harvest is given us from God’s hand. And just as we pray for a bountiful harvest in the spring, now we give thanks for that harvest. That many in our day are no longer farmers does not mean that Thanksgiving Day is null and void—without meaning for us unless we have something to do with agriculture.
On the contrary, we are reminded in this day to give thanks for all things we receive from God’s hand. Thanks for salvation and the gifts of the Spirit, yes—but thanks too for all things earthly that the Lord has given us. And in the giving of that thanks we are also reminded that the things we have received from God’s bountiful hand are not an end in themselves. We need to be reminded that the things of this present world are not in what life consists. He that lays up treasure for himself on earth does not understand in what life consists. This is the instruction of our Savior in Luke 12:13-21, the passage we are going to consider today in light of the Thanksgiving Day holiday. That instruction reads: “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? 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. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, 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.” This account and the parable Jesus spoke we wish to consider for a few minutes today. In what does life consist? That is the question we answer: in what does life consist?
I. Not in Earthly Possessions
Both before and after the parable of our text Jesus very clearly points out why He tells it. We read in verse 15: “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” In verse 21: “he that layeth up treasure for himself is not rich toward God.” These verses lay out clearly both the negative and the positive answer to the question, in what does life consist? Negatively, we are told that life in this present world does not consist in the abundance of the things that a man possesses. Now, we ought to be clear on this instruction Jesus gives us here. When Christ speaks of life, He is not interested in mere earthly existence.
There is no doubt about it that you and I are called to labor in this life. We are to work in order to be able to supply our needs. Jesus does not promote any kind of laziness on our part. He is not saying, since life does not consist in earthly possessions, do not attempt to acquire them. We have certain needs in this earthly realm in which we dwell. We desire a comfortable existence. We need houses, we need food, we need clothing. And if it is possible we like to have nice homes, good food, and suitable clothing to wear.
We do not desire to live at poverty level, even though at times this may be our lot in life. Christ is not saying that life in this present world does not necessitate possessions. Neither does Christ intend to teach us here that if by means of our hard labors God blesses us with riches, that these riches are in themselves wrong and sinful. Many of God’s people have been blessed with an abundance of riches: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were wealthy men. So were Job, David, and Solomon. Jesus, therefore, does not teach us here that we must not work or even accumulate wealth. What He is saying is that life does not consist in these earthly possessions—not true life—not true life to come or life in this world either. The life that is in us as God’s children is not mere earthly life. We possess eternal life. Christ has worked in us His life. He dwells in us by His Spirit, and that Spirit imparts to us, even while we are in this present world, a life that will never end. That means that once we die, our life goes on—it goes on into all eternity! And that truly is life. The spiritual life we have right now, therefore, does not really consist in how many earthly possessions a man can accumulate to himself. These earthly possessions will all be left behind when we die. The Lord gives us these things in this life and then takes them away again at death. Naked we came into this world and naked we will leave it! That is the reality of life. For that reason, too, life, true life, eternal life, does not consist of the abundance of earthly possessions. Neither do these possessions in this world earn for us a place in heaven. We cannot buy our way into heaven with our earthly riches. They are useless when it comes to life because life does not really consist in these things.
For that reason, Jesus gives us the warning of verse 15: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness!” Covetousness is a strong desire to have what another possesses. Covetousness is not being satisfied with life as God gives it to us, but wanting more. Covetousness is driving oneself in this world to accumulate as much to himself in the way of this world’s possessions as he is able. It is looking at one’s neighbor and desiring what he has. It is competing with the neighbor and trying to outdo him. It is being dissatisfied with life, always looking to make oneself wealthier and more powerful in this world. Take heed and beware, Jesus tells us!
This Thanksgiving Day we take heed and beware! God has given us more than most people in this world. Even being poor by our standards is still rich by the standards of many others. God has given us houses, plenty of food, clothing, and more. But many who receive these things want and desire—covet—much more. And they drive themselves to gain it! Everything else seems to slip by the wayside in their drive to gain more and more of this world’s possessions. Their family life wanes, so much so that there is not even time for them to sit down together as families and read and pray together. Their zeal for the things of God’s kingdom flickers and is almost blown out because there is no time for church and life in the church. One is working too hard to gain to himself the possessions of this world. As a result, he finds himself spending all his time pursuing after the things of this world. He does not necessarily become rich, but nevertheless his whole life is spent trying to gain more to himself in the way of earthly possessions.
Beware!!! Take heed to yourselves, Jesus says, because this is a real temptation to us! Beware lest, instead of giving of thanks in this day, we say, but I need more before I can give thanks. Or, thanks, but I need more. I will continue to give thanks only if I continue to have more! Beware and guard your hearts, Jesus tells us, lest you begin to think that life consists in uncertain riches, and then you become so obsessed with them that you gain the world and lose your soul!
There once was a rich man who had property and barns aplenty. But it just so happened that this rich man’s fields brought forth a harvest with an overabundance of fruit. It was not as if this rich man needed this harvest. He was already rich and he already had big barns. But those barns were not big enough to hold the harvest. So, he said to himself, “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my goods.” Why not? He had the wealth to do it! Build bigger and better! I mean, would we not do that too? No sense throwing our harvest away! Build bigger and better barns and these will be able to store everything. It is logical. But this rich man added this to what he said: “Soul, thou has much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” This, together with what this rich man had already said, reveals to us the heart of this man. I will do this. I will pull down my barns and I will build bigger so I can store all the fruit that I have grown. Selfish sounding, is it not? This man thought that eating and drinking and making merry with all this wealth is what life consisted of. In other words, he never looked beyond this earth and its wealth. He believed that true joy and ease was found in an accumulation of the possessions of this earth. And that is where this rich man failed. He lived for today and gave no thought for the life hereafter. He was so obsessed with ease in this world, he cared not one whit for that life which is to come. He had it all, did he not? He had come by so much wealth and ease that he need not worry about a thing!
But maybe this rich man should have worried a little more about his soul and where that soul would go when he died. Listen to what God had in store for him: “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee!” That night God required that man’s soul to appear before Him. Now, that man faces what was the essence of life—the life hereafter. Had he laid up in store for himself riches in heaven? Had this rich fool been rich toward God? Obviously not! God Himself called this man a fool! This man was not wise in the ways of God. This man foolishly looked upon His wealth as His own. He did not care about heaven. He cared only about the things of this present world. And for that reason His soul was required of God. His life consisted in those things that perished, and that life perished along with those possessions. In his greed and covetousness he failed to lay up for himself treasures in heaven. Beware and take heed that we be not as this rich fool, who spent his entire earthly life in acquiring those things in which life does not consist but lost his soul.
II. But in Riches Toward God
In what, then, does life consist? In this: being rich toward God. That is how we render to Him thanksgiving today. That is how we render God thanksgiving all our days. That is how we walk in thankfulness before God in all of life. We are rich toward God. Now, that is a nice phrase—but we ought to know concretely what it means. What is it to be rich toward God? First of all, to be rich toward God requires coming to Him and finding our life in Him. We are to turn away from the things of this present life and the temporary joy they might give us, and we are to turn to God and see Him as life and joy for us. We must see that in Him is found all riches and blessings! Already, if you notice, that directs our attention away from the earthly. That we come to God, of course, is a work of God’s grace in us through the Spirit of our risen Savior. No man can come unto the Father but by me, Jesus explains to us. In order for us to see that all true joy and happiness is found in God alone, Christ must work in us. We must be regenerated through the Spirit in our hearts. Then we are made to see the things of the kingdom of heaven. All of this is true by means of the power work of the cross. There Christ destroyed the power of sin and unbelief. There Christ crushed the head of the serpent and set us free. Then, by means of His Spirit, Christ bestows on us His resurrection life. As a result we live! And that life is what is of the essence. In what does life consist? In Christ! He imparts all true life to God’s children! To be rich toward God therefore means that we are filled with the riches of our Lord Jesus Christ!
So, being rich toward God requires of us a proper understanding of what life consists of. It consists of life eternal—the life that is to come. That life to come must be of essence to you and me while in this life. It must be the main concern of our lives. Then we will begin to look at life in this world not as an end in itself, but as a means to achieve a higher end—that of life to come. It is looking at our spiritual lives in this world as that in which life consists. It is understanding that our relationship with God Himself is the most important thing in all the world. And when we are rich in our hearts toward God, seeking His glory, His kingdom, and His will in all of life, then all the rest begins to fall into place too. Because if that is the motivating principle of our lives, then that will influence us in how we view today what God has given us. That will work in us contentment and joy in what we are given from God—without looking on the next guy and what he has. We will not be motivated by covetousness but by contentment. And when we are content with what God has again given us in this year gone by, then we can bow before God at this time of year with
And that is true, you see, because when we are rich toward God, this will affect the way we view our earthly possessions. Our earthly possessions will not be in what our lives in this present world consist. We will not live to be rich. We will not obsess over getting more and more in the way of this world’s possessions. We will not consume ourselves in making ourselves more and more comfortable in this life. On the contrary, the things of the kingdom of heaven will be our goal and will direct our activities. We will not allow the things of this present life to get in the way of our spiritual growth and development. Do you see what I mean? It is hard to be properly thankful to God when we give thanks to Him and then turn around and not seek Him in our lives. We are not properly seeking God when we do not spend time with Him in fellowship and prayer. How much time do we take to pray, to study God’s Word, and speak with our families of the things of the kingdom of heaven? How much time do we spend attending church and the functions of the church in order that we might be properly fed? It is all implied in thankfulness, you see. Does our life center in the things of this world and its pursuits, or do our lives center in the kingdom of heaven and its pursuits? How often we must be reminded of that! How often we can be taken in with the pursuits of this present life—not only the earning of money but the spending of it again—sometimes on things that are so earthly and mundane!
And this is where being rich toward God becomes so, so applicable to life. God gives us what we earn in order to fulfill two important functions in this life. First of all, to be able to live. We earn money in order to support ourselves and our family. We labor to do that. We labor to make our life in this present world comfortable. That is not wrong. Give me neither poverty nor riches, Solomon writes. We work to get ourselves above a poverty level and to live comfortably. And yes, we may even work in order that we might enjoy what God has given us in this life. That is the first reason we earn our money. The second is to help the poor and the needy—those who are unable to live as comfortable a life as we are. We labor not only for ourselves but for our fellow saints. Having fulfilled those functions, if we are still wealthy beyond need, we yet use those riches to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. We realize that all these riches we will leave behind. And just as the Lord asked of that rich fool whose life He took, we ask ourselves the same question: “then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” Those possessions will become someone else’s. We ought not labor therefore for the meat that perishes. But in thankfulness to God today bow before Him and acknowledge that all comes from His hand. God bless you and me in that knowledge in this time of year. And, in all our celebration, remember in what really life consists: that we are rich toward God!