Luke 12(13–31) (Harvest 2018)


Since most of us live in Belfast — where we’re surrounded by buildings and not fields — we’re out of touch with what happens in the countryside. However, when I lived in Co. Kildare, there were members of the churches who were farmers and so I was more familiar with the pressures farmers faced and the worries they had. And very often, as the time for the harvest approached, they were worried. And usually they were worried about the weather, because they needed three or four dry days in a row to let the crops dry out before they could harvest them. And, of course, in Ireland, at this time of the year, you might get one dry day, or two dry days, but you’d have to wait a long time before you got three or four dry days in a row. Very occasionally — and it was very occasionally — you had the opposite problem: there was too much sunshine. So, the crops were drying out and they were beginning to wither before it was time to harvest them. So, sometimes there was too much rain and not enough sun. Sometimes there was too much sun and not enough rain. It seems that most years there was one problem or another. And since so many people in the Republic earn their living from the land, the news bulletins would have updates on the harvest and about how things were going for the farmers. You’d switch on the news at 6 o’clock, and a reporter was standing in a field, talking to a farmer, about how things were going that year. It was important, because their livelihood depended on the harvest. And ever since they sowed their crops, they were waiting for the day when it was time to harvest the crop; and whether it was good or bad determined how much money they had for the new year. The time coming up to the harvest was a worrying time for the farmers.

But, of course, it’s not only farmers who worry. We all worry, don’t we? There are things that happen in all our lives which worry us. It perhaps starts in school when you worry whether you’ll be liked or not and when you worry whether you’ll do well or not in the exams. It begins in school and it continues throughout our lives. We all know what it means to be worried.

And that’s what tonight’s passage is about. It’s about worry. In fact, we could have begun our reading at verse 4, where the Lord tells the people not to be afraid of those who can kill the body and after that can do no more. Don’t be afraid of them! And then he goes on to say that they don’t need to worry about how to defend themselves when they’re brought before the courts and are accused of wrongdoing because of their faith in the Saviour. Don’t worry about how to defend yourself, because the Holy Spirit will help you and teach you what to say at that time. So, we could have begun our reading this evening at verse 4. But instead we started at verse 13 where we read that someone in the crowd asked the Lord to do something for him.

The Opening

The man’s request — on the face of it — seems to have nothing to do with what the Lord Jesus was talking about. The Lord was talking about believers being taken to court and having to defend themselves because of their faith in the Saviour. That’s what the Lord was talking about. But the man’s request concerned a family inheritance. It seems to be entirely off topic, doesn’t it?

Now every preacher realises that in any congregation, not everyone is listening as they should; and people get distracted and their minds wander and they begin to think of other things apart from the sermon. So, is that what’s happened here? Has this man’s mind been wandering?

Perhaps it was. Or perhaps there’s a connection between what the Lord was just saying and what the man said. And perhaps the connection is this: both the Lord and the man were thinking about things that worry us. The Lord was teaching the people not to worry about persecution; and the man was worrying about his life and how he was going to make ends meet.

Listen again to his request. He said:

Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.

Presumably there were two brothers; and according to the law at that time, the elder one would receive twice as much as the younger one. And presumably this was the younger brother, and he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more. And so, he asked the Lord to intervene on his behalf.

Interestingly, the Lord Jesus refused to get involved. Did you notice that in verse 14? The Lord said:

Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?

Now, that’s interesting because the Lord Jesus is the Eternal Son of God: the one who made all things; and who rules over all things; and the one who will one day judge all things. When he comes again, he’ll judge the living and the dead. But on this occasion, he refused to judge between these two brothers. Now this is just an aside: but this is an important verse to support what is called the doctrine of the spirituality of the church. That doctrine teaches us that the church has been called by God to accomplish a spiritual purpose; and it’s to use spiritual means to accomplish that spiritual purpose. The church has been called by God to make disciples of all nations. That’s our purpose, our task. And we’re to accomplish that purpose by means of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, well-meaning believers like to think the church should get involved in lots of other worthy causes. And whenever someone hears about some worthwhile cause, they say the church needs to do something about it. However, here’s the Lord Jesus — the head and king of the church — who is being asked to get involved in a worthy cause and to settle this dispute between these two brothers. And with his perfect wisdom and his mighty power and authority, he could easily have settled this dispute. But he refused to get involved, because this is not what he was called to do. In the same way, the church must not become distracted, even by worthy causes. The church has been called by God to make disciples of all nations by means of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the church’s calling, its task in the world; and the church must not be distracted, even by worthy causes. Individual believers can get involved in these things and do such things for the glory of God; but the church is called by God to a different task.

But that’s only an aside. Let’s think for a moment why this brother was upset and why he asked the Lord to intervene. Now, there may have been lots of reasons why he was upset, but presumably one reason is that he was counting on that inheritance. Perhaps he had been counting on it for years. You know, life might have been hard for him. He may have found it hard to pay his bills. He had a wife to support and a family. Every week there were bills to pay; and he was being asked for money from this person and from that person. We can imagine him finding it hard to pay all those bills; and every week he was falling deeper and deeper into debt. And so, perhaps for years and years, as he saw his elderly father become older and frailer, he began to think about the day when he’d receive part of his father’s estate. And he’d worked it out in his mind that with his share he could clear his debts and have enough left over to make things easier for him and his family for years to come. So, he was counting on the inheritance to take away all his financial worries and to give him a fresh start in life. Everything would be fine, once he got his share of the family inheritance.

And then disaster! It was a disaster, because whatever he received from his father’s will was not enough. His plan for financial security was destroyed; his hopes were dashed; what was he going to do?

And so, whenever the Lord mentioned things that might worry us, and when the Lord talked about not worrying about how to defend ourselves in court, this man decided that he would ask the Lord to intervene on his behalf.

But as we’ve seen already, the Lord refused to get involved in this financial matter. And instead he issued the man and all who heard him with a warning to guard against all kinds of greed. Was the man being greedy? Well, clearly he was greedy for money and greedy to receive what he considered his fair share of the inheritance. But, of course, very often what lies behind greed is worry. We worry how we will cope. We worry how we will make ends meet. We worry whether we will have enough. And because we’re worried, we want more and more and more for ourselves. Because we’re worried, we’re unwilling to give away any of what we have. Because we’re worried, we want more for ourselves and we want to hold on to what we have. And so, the Lord warned the people about being greedy. And he tells them the parable of the rich fool.

The Parable

And in the parable, the Lord describes a rich man who gets even richer. Isn’t that often the way it is? Poor people struggle all of the time; and they never seem to have enough. But it seems so easy for those who are already rich to get even richer. They seem to have the Midas touch, so that whatever businesses they’re in and whatever schemes they invest in do well; and their wealth is multiplied. Whatever it is they have, they just seem to attract money. And that’s what happened here, because we’re told that this rich man’s land produced a good crop. In fact, it was so good, he doesn’t know what to do with all of it. He has nowhere to store all of his crops.

So, he thought about it; and he came up with the perfect solution: he decided to tear down his existing barns and rebuild them, but bigger than before. It’s the perfect solution. And since he now has plenty stored up for the future, he realised that he was able to take early retirement and take things easy for the rest of his life. So, instead of having to go to work each day, he can take things easy. He can eat and drink and be merry, because he didn’t need to work again. Doesn’t have to worry about getting the seed planted at the right time. Doesn’t have to worry about getting the right people to work in his fields. Doesn’t have to worry about getting the harvest in on time. Doesn’t have to worry about the weather again. Doesn’t have to worry about rising costs and falling prices. Doesn’t have to worry about anything anymore, because he’s got enough stored up for the rest of his life.

I’ve heard sermons on this passage and I’ve read books on it; and usually the preacher or the author criticises the rich man for what he said and for what he was planning to do. And, of course, they’re justified in doing so, because the Lord called him a fool and he was thinking only of himself. So, those preachers and authors who criticise the man are justified. However, I suspect that lots of the people who were listening to the Lord Jesus as he described this man might have though to themselves:

Wouldn’t it be great to be like him? Wouldn’t it be great to have so much put away that I’d be able to retire early? Wouldn’t it be great never to have to worry about anything ever again? Wouldn’t it be great?

And perhaps we think that way ourselves whenever we read about people who experience the same good fortune. We hear about people who come into a fortune; and they’re able to pay off their mortgage and buy homes for all their children; and take it easy for the rest of their lives. And we wish something similar happened to us. Or someone sells their business at just the right time; and they’re able to retire and spend the rest of their lives on a beach in the sunshine. And we think:

Wouldn’t that be great?

Or perhaps there’s someone we know from schooldays, who’s been able to take early retirement, while we have to keep working. We hear about people like that and very often we think:

Wouldn’t it be great to be like them and never have to worry about money ever again?

And the people in the crowd, listening to the Lord Jesus, may well have thought that this rich man in the Lord’s story was so very lucky. He was set up for life. He could eat and drink and be merry, taking it easy, enjoying life, and never have to worry again, because he had enough money to last him for the rest of his life.

But here’s the thing: Was the rich man’s life any more secure than any other person’s life? Did he have more security than anyone else? Well no, because that very night, he died. He had all the money you could ever want; and yet, his money didn’t give him the security we often think it gives. We think money gives us security, so we don’t have to worry. But having lots of money didn’t make this man’s life any more secure. And that’s why the man was a fool: he thought his life was secure because he had money; but it wasn’t.

So where can we find security? What do we need to know or do in order not to worry? Well, the Lord will get to that in a moment. But first, he issues a warning. And the warning is in verse 21.

A Warning

In verse 21 the Lord said:

This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself and is not rich towards God.

We store things up for ourselves because we believe storing up things for ourselves gives us security. We think to ourselves that if we have enough stored up in the bank, then we’ll be okay; and our future will be safe; and we don’t need to worry. But the Lord warns us not to be like that. Instead of storing up things for ourselves, we’re to be rich towards God.

Now, that’s a curious expression, which is hard to understand. But if the Lord is warning us about storing up things for ourselves, then the opposite must be giving things away for God. In order words, using what we have for God’s glory. And we use what we have for God’s glory when we use it for the good of others. The rich fool was only thinking about himself, when the Lord’s people are meant to think about God’s glory and the good of other people. Instead of using all that we have for our own benefit, we’ve to use what we have — even the little that we have — for the good of others. So, think of Zacchaeus, that greedy man who met the Saviour; and his life was turned upside down, so that he returned all the money he got by cheating; and he offered to give away half of his possessions to the poor. Or think about Paul’s words to those in the church in Ephesus who used to steal. Once they were thieves, but now they’ve been converted to Christ. And Paul says to them in Ephesians 4:28:

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands….

So, instead of stealing, work. But that’s not the end of Paul’s instructions. What are they to do with the money they earn? Paul says:

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands that he may have something to share with those in need.

Instead of stealing, work. And instead of keeping what you earn, share it with those in need.

So, instead of storing up things for ourselves — and remember: storing up things for ourselves doesn’t make our life any more secure — instead of storing up things for ourselves, we should be rich towards God, which means we should use what we have for God’s glory and for the good of others. And the Lord Jesus Christ — who did not think of himself but who gave up his life on the cross for our sake, gives us his Spirit. And his Spirit, living inside us, is able to renew us in Christ’s likeness; and he’s able to help us to become more and more like Christ, so that we too will say ‘no’ to self; and instead will use what we have for the good of others.

Do Not Worry

So, first of all there’s the Lord’s warning not be store up things for ourselves. But then, secondly, he tells us where we can find security, so that we don’t need to worry. Security cannot be found in storing things up for ourselves. But security can be found in knowing God as our Father.

In verse 22, the Lord said:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.

Why not? Well, the Lord goes on to make really four points.

Firstly, because there’s more to life than what we eat and what we wear. And so we shouldn’t spend all our time worrying about these things, when there’s more to life than these things.

Secondly, the ravens don’t sow or reap; and they don’t have storerooms or barns. Nevertheless they have what they need. And they have what they need, because God feeds them. He provides for them. And the point is that just as God provides for the birds, so we can count on him to provide for us, because — after all — we’re more valuable to him than birds.

Thirdly, there’s no point in worrying, because worrying about your life will not extend the length of your life. So, what good does worrying do?

Fourthly, the lilies of the field don’t labour or spin. They don’t make clothes for themselves. And yet, they are more beautiful than even King Solomon who had all the money in the world and all the finest clothes money could buy. Even Solomon in his fine clothes was not dressed as well as the flowers in the field. And since God cares for and provides for flowers and grass which is here today and which tomorrow is fuel for the fire, we can count on him to care and provide for us.

And so, think about the way God cares for the birds; think about the way God cares for the flowers; think about the way God cares for the rest of his creation; and instead of worrying about what you’ll eat tomorrow and what you’ll wear tomorrow and how you’ll manage tomorrow — instead of worrying the way the pagans who do not believe worry — remember this: Your Father in Heaven knows what you need. Your Father in Heaven knows what you need. And since he’s in heaven, he’s mighty and powerful and he’s able to help us. Nothing is too hard for the one who rules and reigns in heaven. And since he’s our Father, then we can count on him to help us. An earthly father may be wicked and may abandon his children. Or an earthly father may not know what his children need. But our Father in Heaven is perfect, isn’t he? He knows us perfectly; and everything he does for us is perfect. And so, he will never, ever abandon his children, because he loves them with a perfect love. In fact — as we read elsewhere in the New Testament — since our Heavenly Father did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us and for our salvation, then he will also — along with him — graciously give us all things. There’s not one good thing which he will withhold from his people.

The man who wanted the Lord to sort out the family inheritance was relying on the family inheritance for security. The rich fool in the parable was relying on all the things he had stored up in his barns for security. But security is not found in the family inheritance; and it’s not found in what we can store in barns or in the bank. Security is found in knowing God as our Father, because God our Father will take care of us. He knows what we need; and he will not withhold any good thing from his children; and so we can trust in him. And even when he sends trials into our lives — as he sometimes does — he’s able to use those trials for our good and his own glory. Didn’t he do that with Joseph in the Old Testament? Joseph — who loved the Lord — was sold into slavery by his brothers; and was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife; and was forgotten by the cupbearer; and he languished in prison for years. But his loving Heavenly Father was with him and helped him and raised him up from prison and exalted him. His loving Heavenly Father did not abandon Joseph, and he used all the terrible things that happen to Joseph for good.

And so, trusting in our loving heavenly Father, counting on him to care for us, we don’t need to behave like the pagans who don’t believe, and who worry constantly about what they’ll eat tomorrow, and what they’ll wear tomorrow, and how they’ll manage tomorrow. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, we can give our attention today to seeking God’s kingdom, which means — as citizens of his heavenly kingdom — we’re to give our attention to serving Christ our King and to doing his will here on earth as it’s done in heaven. Instead of worrying about earthly matters, we’re to give our time and attention to how to serve our Heavenly King while we wait for him to come again.

Does that mean we’re not to go out to work and instead we’re to wait for the Lord to send the food we need each day? Well no, that’s not right. Think of the fourth commandment, which not only commands us to rest on the seventh day, but it also commands us to work for six days. So, while we go on living on the earth, we’re to keep ourselves busy for six days each week. Our Heavenly Father sends us out into the world to do our work for his glory. But instead of being anxious about tomorrow, we’re to trust in the Lord to bless the work we do here on the earth; and we’re to trust in him to provide for our daily needs here on earth. And while we do our work here on earth, we’re to do it in such a way that it brings glory and honour and praise to our Father who is in heaven and to Jesus Christ our Saviour.