“Two Kinds of Rich”
“The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:16-20, ESV)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Death is coming. Whether you’re rich, poor, middle-class, employer or employee, death comes for all of us in the end. You may be able to avoid the tax collector, but you will not avoid the life collector. Perhaps God will say to you tonight, “This night, whatever you are and whatever you have is required of you. It was never yours in the first place. I demand that you return to me what I loaned you.” What will you give up? Cars, houses, boats, computers, TVs, stereos, cds, books, savings accounts, 401ks? What will you give up?
If a fire were to destroy your house and everything in it today while you are listening to me, what would you do? Would you do as Jonah did when God took away his shade? “[Jonah] asked that he might die and said, ‘It is better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’ And the LORD said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night’” (Jonah 4:8-10, ESV). Or will you be like Job’s wife who said, after God allowed all of Job’s family and possessions to be destroyed, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9, ESV)? Say, though, that nothing bad happens to you, and you continue to be as prosperous as before. Will you be like the man in the parable, who “thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”
Shall we quit denying and be honest enough to admit that we are, one and all, cut from the same flesh and blood as Jonah and Job’s wife and the man in the parable? Our possessions own us; they run our lives. And their grip is strong on our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls. Which of us will claim to be the exception to this rule? Will you deny that you have more than you need? Will you deny that you give to yourself first and to God last? Will you deny that it is foreign to your lips to sing, “What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits to me?” Do you enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise (Psalm 100:4)? No? Neither do I. I begrudge God what is His. I want it for myself. I spend it on my own selfish pleasure and I will not let it go without a fight. St. Paul said, “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Me? I’m still working on the “giver” part.
There are only two ways here, two kinds of rich: either you are wealthy for yourself, or you are rich toward God. Just as you cannot serve both God and money, neither can you store up belongings for yourself and be rich toward God. There is no third way. In the parable, Jesus describes “the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21, ESV), who has his priorities reversed. But these priorities cannot be listed in one-two order. They are mutually exclusive. That means that a person cannot do both of them. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or vice-versa. “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24, ESV).
But, if you think about it for a minute, what do you actually own? What can you call “yours”? In the parable, the rich man was made to realize that all of his crops and his goods that he wanted to store for the future were not really his to do with as he wished. Even his own self, body and soul, were required of him because they belonged to the God who had created him. Have you ever bought anything on credit? You might buy a car or a house, with such-and-such payments spread out over such-and-such months or years. Though you say, “That’s my house” or “That’s my car,” they are not really yours. The bank, or the lender, owns it until you can pay it off. Then, finally, it’s yours to do with as you wish—or so you think. Despite your best-laid plans, you can’t take a red nickel of it with you when you go. Besides the fact that your new car won’t fit in the casket with you, even if it could it would rot and rust away to dust, just like your bones. It’s not going anywhere but back in the earth, just like you. Even if you leave it behind above ground, you’re going to be parted from it and someone else is going to enjoy everything for which you worked. The author of Ecclesiastes knew it. “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun,” he says, “seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity….What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, 22-23, ESV).
Now, probably none of you feels like that. Work is always full of joy for you, and you never complain or feel like “work is a vexation.” You know why you’re working and what you’re working for and you are perfectly content with your position in the world. Right? Yeah, me too. But maybe, just maybe, one or two of you feel differently. You get up and go to work, 9-5, five or six days a week, 50 weeks a year, and the years pass like a breath. That’s what Solomon means when he says “vanity.” He’s saying that everything is as transient and fleeting as each breath you’re taking right now. It is vapor, it is nothing; you don’t even notice the inhaling and the exhaling most of the time. Two seconds and there goes another one. Lungs expanding and contracting. Now…and now…and now. Here, and then it’s gone. Maybe one or two of you have said it before, “Man, where have the years gone?” Or, “I wish I had appreciated those years more.” But we never do, do we? No matter how many times someone with more life experience tells us to appreciate the time we have, we don’t do it. You know how the cliché goes, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. All you have are memories and might-have-beens. And how many of those memories are unfulfilled wishes and words you left unsaid? How much sin and how much misery we leave in our paths. How many people we’ve hurt along the way. How many wives and husbands and children we’ve neglected in our search for success and the sweet life. How rich we are toward ourselves and how poor toward our God!
Do you have to sell everything and give to the poor in order to follow Jesus? Maybe. Maybe you do. Jesus didn’t give the rich man in Luke 18 any other options. While your possessions cannot save you, they surely can send you to hell. “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:24, ESV)! But—neither will you enter the kingdom of God just because you’re poor. In fact, it might be more dangerous because you might be tempted to think that the very fact of your poverty means you’ve entered the kingdom of God. No, your poverty or your wealth is not the issue, though for many people it can quickly become the issue. Whatever the earthly blessings that God has given you, in order to enter the Kingdom of God, you must be rich in that which is worthy in the sight of God.
Do you want that? Do you want to be rich toward God? The people for whom Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes asked Him, “‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work’”—notice the singular—“‘of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent’” (John 6:28-29, ESV). It all comes down to this: believe in Jesus Christ; receive His gifts. He will make you rich beyond your wildest imagination. “[A]s it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10a, ESV).
So, when you stand naked and alone before God, stripped of all you thought you owned, what will you offer Him? What work? What wealth? What payment? What possession? Hear Solomon again on every person under the sun, “As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15, ESV). You came into this life with nothing before God. Come to Him now with open and empty hands. It’s all you own anyway. Oh sinner, receive the clothes that will never fade nor rot away with time: You wear the robe of a righteousness not your own, and you are rich beyond belief—well, not beyond belief, but in accord with belief. It is faith placed securely in the crucified and risen Son of God that makes you rich before God; belief in the One He has sent. You are rich in ways of which this world has never even conceived! “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5, ESV).
Forgiven sinner, you will not stand naked before God. You are clothed with Christ, who is Immortality and Life. Do not trade that eternal, baptismal clothing for the dusty, rotting clothes of this world. Do not speak with the unbelief of Job’s wife; speak with the faith of Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21, ESV). Blessed be the Name of the Lord. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV). Do the work which you have been given to do, and do it joyfully. You have mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and neighbors who need you to do it. It will be frustrating and it will seem futile at times. Sin is not yet gone from our world. As Paul says in Romans, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21, ESV). So, children of God, be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. For you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. He uses it to serve His creation and to give His gifts to the sons of men. So work, play, eat, drink, and be merry—but never as if, like the man in the parable thought, those things are ends in themselves. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17, ESV). Work for the sake of those who need it. And distribute the gifts of God wherever you see that need. Give to the poor; clothe the naked; feed the hungry. Your wealth, your clothing, your food are pure gift, which comes from your Father in heaven. Follow the Son who follows the Father, and give freely as it has been given to you. Do not worry; He will take care of you.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/1/07