The Rich Fool
June 9, 2002 / No. 3101
Dear radio friends,
Last time we began a series of sermons on “Preparing to Die Willingly.” To die willingly is a privilege and a blessing which the child of God has through faith in Jesus Christ.
Still, for many, death remains a most frightening thing to face, and the reality is too painful even to consider. Only as we look to God and His Word, the Book of Life, will we find great comfort in life and in death.
Therefore, consider with me the Word of God this day as we look at the Parable of the Rich Fool, which particularly illustrates the necessity of preparing to die willingly. The parable itself is found in Luke 12:16-21. Open your Bibles and read through the parable.
You will notice the context in which this parable was spoken. In fact, in verse 13, we find a rather rude intrusion, as one in the company comes to the Lord Jesus saying, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” There has been a death in the family, probably a parent. And this man asks the Master that He will make a judgment so that he will get his due inheritance. He comes to Jesus not to seek for comfort or to seek for God, but he comes with the desire to have an answer to a money problem. Sad to say, often in times of death money becomes a sticky and painful matter. So also here.
But you notice how our Lord Jesus Christ responds. Jesus said unto him, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” Then He continued: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” That is the theme, the lesson, that the Lord Jesus Christ will now teach as He does so through the parable of the rich fool.
The parable begins, then, with the information that we have regarding this rich man. We read that “the ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully.” Here was a rich farmer, described as a certain rich man. He had plenty of earthly possessions even before the harvest had come in. Now, with the harvest to come, he was overloaded, so to speak, with more than enough. He knows that he will need greater barns to store all his earthly possessions and the fruits of the ground.
Now we must not be mistaken to think that this man was rich through evil means. We are told simply that his ground brought forth abundantly. Nothing wrong with that. He was a farmer and a business man. Nothing wrong with those things. There is no reason to believe that he prospered dishonestly either, or even cruelly. Nothing in the parable suggests this. No, he labored diligently. And all that was good. His land, notice, produced so greatly that he had no room to store away all his goods. O, how many would love to be in his shoes, if not openly, at least secretly? Perhaps you say to yourself, “Hey, I’d rather have that man’s problem. My problem is that I don’t have enough.” But beware! The parable reminds us that a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. This man laid up treasure for himself. And he was clearly not rich toward God.
Notice how self-centered his inward thoughts are. Notice the “I’s” and the “my’s” in his speech. “What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits…. This I will do.” Notice that there is no concern whatsoever with what God would have him do. Thus, no wonder he is anxious and perplexed with his prosperity. His problem is, “I have so much.” And what is the solution this rich man comes to with his perplexing question? Does he acknowledge that what he has belongs to God? Not at all! Does he consider, perhaps, sharing, giving some away to the poor? It never crosses his mind.
“This will I do,” he says. “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.”
Ah, but that is not the whole story yet. Notice the inner conclusion of his heart: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years,” he assures himself. “Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” As if earthly abundance, earthly goods will satisfy his soul. He imagines that these earthly riches will give him peace and joy and hope and life. Sorely mistaken was he!
If you were to ask this rich fool about death, what do you think he would answer? I surmise, on the basis of the parable and the lesson that the Lord Jesus Christ would have His disciples learn, that this rich fool would say, “Death, what are you talking about? I am only now getting ready to live it up. I am rich. And I am going to get richer. Oh, I know death will come when I am old someday. But not now. Not for many, many days. And, if I get sick, I have medical insurance. I have good doctors. I even have retirement funds to take care of me in those times of old age.”
I ask you, beloved, is this man or any like him really prepared to die? Death is far from this man’s mind, as it is from the minds of many, especially the rich and those caught up with earthly possessions. They block out of memory the reality of death with eating, drinking, and making merry. And even when death does come, they try to cover it up with expensive cosmetics and make even death look nice.
But the truth is, the reality of death is painful and often times is sudden and disastrous.
Listen to the rest of the parable. This night it is all over, even before he could reap the next harvest. “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.”
You are not like this rich fool, are you? You are not living merely to increase your riches, are you? Your trust is not in riches, is it? For you, death will not come as it did for this rich man, will it? Listen to the just judgment of God concerning life and death: “But God said unto him, Thou fool.” “But God,” we read in this parable. And I say to you that this is the most important thing: “But God!” Clearly placed where it is at the beginning of verse 20 for emphasis. Man says, “Eat, drink, and be merry.” But God! Man has plans, dreams, and his own fight. But God has something else in store. Listen, O man. Our thoughts, our plans, our ambitions are so often so different from the ways of the Almighty.
“But God said unto him, Thou fool.” Yes, God calls him a fool, a rich fool. No, not a stupid fool, as if he had no brains. He did. In fact, he was rather enterprising and, humanly speaking, very successful. Probably the envy of all his neighbors. He was, in modern terms, a rather successful farmer and business man who probably could retire early. Why, in the sight of man, perhaps even in our sight, we would say, “What a life. He lived it up. Not even guilty of crimes like murder, adultery, and theft or such like sins.”
Why, then, is he called a fool? Because foolishness, according to God’s Word, is a matter of the heart and points to the spiritual mind or mindlessness of men. Foolishness has nothing to do, you understand, with your academic qualifications. You can have many titles attached to your name, even perhaps professor of theology, and still be a fool. Foolishness is spiritual blindness of heart. It has nothing to do with our earthly talents or possessions. In this particular context, that foolishness is sin of covetousness, wanting more, and more, and more, and never content with what we already have. We read in Psalm 14:1, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” He is a fool who knows God’s Word but walks contrary to it. He is a fool who has no gratitude, no worship, no reliance upon God. He is a fool who makes God his belly, imagining that food and drink and car and all his earthly possessions can satisfy his soul. He is a fool who does not consider God in all that he has and all that he does.
Here we have in this parable the description of a rich fool. No doubt this describes the worldling who knows not God but makes things gods. If we are honest, we must admit, also as the people of God, that much too often we fall into the trap of loving and depending on and pursuing earthly riches. We are being warned here: beware lest riches blind and deceive us as they did the rich fool. “This night,” God says, “thy soul shall be required of thee.”
Notice it is God who comes with this verdict of death. God gives life. God gives rain and sunshine so that the ground brings forth plentifully. But it is also God who withholds and it is God who says, “You must die.” Death is from His hands. Suddenly, but surely, death must come.
In the passage of Scripture ( Luke 12), in verses 4 and 5, our Lord Jesus Christ made that abundantly clear. “I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” The Lord Jesus Christ is teaching us to fear God.
And He points out to the disciples, in the verses that follow, that we must walk out of the trust that we have in the living God. We must not fear men, we must not even fear circumstances or the devil. We must walk in the fear of God. So many have the wrong notion that the good God will never send suffering or death or hell. This parable clearly teaches us that death is the judgment of the holy and just God. Remember, death is not just against wicked deeds and crimes. But the very greed of man’s heart is being punished in this parable. As we saw last week in Romans 5:12, death is a universal sentence which the just God has pronounced against all men. It is important that we realize this important revelation of God’s Word. Death must come upon all. That is obvious enough, although we too often forget it. But also, especially this, that death is the judgment of God. It is not natural. It is His punishment.
And, finally this, for the fool, death is loss and destruction of everything. God asks, “Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” Now, perhaps this man had children and it could be left as an inheritance. We are not told that in the parable. Leaving an inheritance, of course, in and of itself is not unbiblical. In fact it is a good way to die. Still, preparing an inheritance must never be at the expense of godly living, the expense of sacrificing the things of God’s kingdom so that all you are interested in is to build up an estate for yourself and your children and children’s children without proper regard for God and with the knowledge and understanding that it is foolish indeed to set our trust in those riches.
You are not like that rich fool in this parable who expressed no concern for God or man, are you? Do you ask, “I have so much God has given me, how shall I glorify Him? Shall I give to the poor? Shall I give to the cause of Christ’s kingdom?” Or do you simply say, “My soul, take thy ease. Build bigger barns. Enjoy even more. Pursue the things of this world.” This is the selfish motive of the wicked. Jesus Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount that this is what the Gentiles do. They ask, “What shall we eat, what shall we drink, wherewithal shall we be clothed.” But the Lord says, “Your heavenly Father knows ye have need of these things. He will provide. Trust in Him. Make not the mammon of this world your god.”
Even when many a worldling does leave an inheritance for his children, still the question stands: “Whose shall those things be?” Perhaps the children will enjoy those things for a while, but then it will all be gone. If the inheritance left behind is not the riches of God but the riches of this world, I say to you, those riches will soon fly away. They will probably be abused by the children who themselves will act like fools, following in the footsteps of their parents – unless God, in His mercy, intervenes and saves and shows those riches of God to them.
Really, whose shall they be – those earthly things and riches? No one’s. They shall be burnt up finally. And if our trust is in those things, then there is no hope. Then we are not prepared to die.
Therefore, take heed, prepare to die, and that willingly and cheerfully, by pursuing the true riches of God. Lay not up treasures on this earth and put your trust in them. But, rather, the call of this Word of God is: Be rich towards God, trust God.
The rich fool’s problem was covetousness, simply wanting more and more. The warning must be sounded out (I Tim. 6:10), “The love of money is the root of all evil.” As the parable illustrates, it is not those riches that are evil, but it is the trusting in those riches that makes one a fool. Perhaps your problem is not trusting in a big harvest. Perhaps it is trust in your cars and in your houses and in your job and in life itself. We must turn from such idolatry. This is the lesson for the disciples. Jesus is teaching them and us: Take heed and beware of covetousness. Life does not consist in the abundance of things. This man had treasures to himself; but was he happy? Was he at peace? I hear him saying, “What shall I do? What shall I do? Oh, shall I build more? Oh, how do I take care of this problem?” – all in the hopes, and in the imagination, of perhaps one day resting. No, tonight, he is told, you die. And, of course, he was not at all ready to die.
We must not be like this rich fool, spending all our time and energy simply in the pursuit of things earthly. Otherwise we too will not be able to face death at the hand of God. Be absolutely clear about this: No man is ready to die whose heart is on this earth. No man is ready to die willingly who wills to be rich, whose pursuit in life is gold and silver, who simply lives his life looking at the stock market and desiring all of his life to become richer and richer, and whose hope is in the prosperity of this present world. No man will be ready to die willingly unless he is rich toward God, as Jesus says. Therefore, we must ask and answer, “How can one be rich towards God?” Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” He goes on to describe them as those who mourn and will be comforted; as those who are meek, for they shall inherit the earth; as those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. They are blessed, they are really rich towards God who set their eyes on the true riches of God and heaven. These know that life does not consist in the abundance of things, but life consists really in knowing and loving and serving God.
Having this heart after God, then such will use everything for the service of God. Not “everything is mine.” Not even, “Well, I will put some aside for God and the neighbor.” But, “all that I am I owe to God. And with everything that I have, I serve the living God. If God makes me poor, I humbly serve Him. If God makes me rich, I serve Him also with joy and thanksgiving with those riches.” Then it will mean that I constantly ask, also in my inner thoughts, for God sees and knows, “Is it God’s will for me to have this bigger house? Or should I dedicate what I have to the service of His kingdom? Why am I doing what I am doing? Is it, indeed, for the prosperity of my soul and that of my children and that of my fellow saints? Or is it simply for the pursuit of an earthly kingdom? Is it God’s will for me,” I must ask, “to enjoy this luxury?” Perhaps it is not even wrong in itself, but I must ask, “Am I glorifying God with it?” Or is it a department of my life, so that I think that now I am going to set this aside for my own lusts, for my own pleasure? Is it God’s will for me to enjoy this sin, this lust in my bedroom? If it is not, it must go! I must be rich toward God. I must not live poor toward God and rich in the things of this world and the pleasures of this world.
And the child of God knows, as you and I must know this day, those riches are only in Jesus Christ. For, as we are by nature, we are not only of the earth earthy, but we are sinful. We might not be criminals, or have riches like the fool in this parable, but God knows our heart, what our ambitions and desires are by nature. So He sent His Son to die for our sins, to make us new. And by His Spirit He now renews us so that we are rich towards God and, therefore, ready to die.
No man can say that, unless he knows the riches of God in Christ Jesus. It is only when we know His forgiveness and His sanctifying power that we can say, “This is my only comfort: I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own but belong unto my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” All who die in Christ find great riches indeed. They do not leave this life empty and naked as the rich fool did; but, rather, robed with the righteousness of Christ, which even death cannot take away, they enter into glory and hear the words: “Well done. You were faithful in earthly life, now enjoy heavenly riches through Jesus Christ your Lord.” Amen.
O God, may Thy Word spoken and heard have served the comfort and edification of Thy people and may we be rich toward Thee through the unspeakable gift of Thy Son. Amen.