The Parables of Jesus
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Luke 12:13-21:

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  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.”
And he told them this parable:  “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.  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 man years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“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?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

One of the last letters that Paul ever wrote was to young Timothy.  I want to read a couple of verses as my introduction to this parable that we have just read.  In 2 Timothy 3:1-3 Paul says:

But mark this:  There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God....

This parable from Luke 12:13-21 of the rich fool has very important lessons for us living in these last days.  Number one, we are living in a capitalist country and number two, we are living in a time when materialism has become the god of mankind.  It is therefore important that we understand what Christ is trying to get across in this parable.

First of all I want you to look at the background.  Jesus was teaching the multitude.  He was exposing to them vital truths pertaining to the kingdom of God about God’s providential care; about the danger of rejecting the gospel and the promptings of the Holy Spirit; about our response to His kingdom.  Then suddenly while He was talking, this young man pops up his hand and he’s asking a question.  That’s in Luke 12:13:

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

You will notice that the request was completely out of context.  Obviously this man had not come to hear Jesus Christ; he had come to use Jesus Christ.  We have people today who come to church for various reasons and this young man had done the same thing.  Now what was the problem?  To understand his request you will have to understand the background of this man’s culture.

According to the Jewish culture, something that was quite commonly known in the times of Jesus Christ, the division of inheritance was not done like it is done today.  Number one, the wealth went only to the men — to the sons — because the daughter got it from her husband’s side.  Number two, if there were two sons, which seems to be the case because there were two brothers, they did not get the equal share of inheritance.  According to Deuteronomy 21:15-17, the inheritance was divided into three parts if there were two sons and the first son — the elder son, who was known as the firstborn — always got a double portion:

If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love.  He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has.  That son is the first sign of his father’s strength.  The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

This young man was not happy with this policy because he happened to be the younger of the two.  I think he would have agreed with it 100 percent if he was the older.  But he wasn’t; he was the younger and, by this time, Jesus had already made a name for Himself for being a nonconformist.  He had already attacked some of the rules and traditions of the Jewish religion.

This young man, aware of the reputation of Jesus Christ, thought that he could use Jesus Christ to fight for what he felt were his rights.  He felt that the inheritance should have been divided equally between him and his brother.  Notice how Jesus reacted.  Verse 14:

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”

After answering this young man, Jesus turns to the multitude and notice what He says, because the lesson He brings out is for us too.  Verse 15:

Then he said to them [that is, the multitude], “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Covetousness is one of the major human problems.  It is one of the reasons why this world has so many problems.

Having warned them, He gives this parable.  The New English Bible puts it this way:  “Beware!  Be on your guard against greed of any kind” for two reasons.  Number one, possession is not everything.  That’s the first thing Jesus says in verse 15.  Possession of material things is not everything and number two, wealth does not give you life or happiness.

With this in mind, turn to Luke 12:16-21, which is the parable for our study.  The parable is about a man, obviously a farmer, who had great success in farming.  I read in verse 16:

And he told them this parable:  “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.”

As we read the parable, we discover there were three problems with this young man.  Number one, you will notice that he only thought of himself.  No plans were made for God and no plans were made for his fellow man.

Notice verses 17-19 and count the number of times he uses the personal pronoun, the word “I” and the word “my.”  You will find that the word “I” is used six times and the word “my” is used at least five times in the original language:

“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 man years.  Take life easy
[remember, in those days there was no Social Security, so this man felt that he now had everything he wanted to his dying day]; eat, drink and be merry.”’”

Now that’s an incomplete statement.  He should have finished it by saying, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die.”  God had to tell him because God responds,

“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?’”

This man had an “I” problem and this is the major problem that faces the human race because we are all born egocentric.  I want to give you a passage that brings out the same issue.  Turn to James 4:13-16.  I want to show that what James is saying here is very similar to our parable.  This is discussing a group of people who have the same mentality as this young man in the parable:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”

Here is a group of people who feel that they are going to make money.  Verse 14:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Remember, in the Middle East it doesn’t rain very much, but every morning, because of the tremendous change of temperatures between day and night, there’s a kind of a mist that hovers over the ground and that’s what he means by the vapor.  As soon as the sun comes up, that all gets burned up and disappears.  James is using that as a metaphor.

You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Our life is like a vapor.  Once I witnessed a very tragic death and my wife had to remind me of something I had forgotten.  The first time I ever came to Walla Walla, Washington, was in December 1982 to speak for the Ministerial Club at the College and the family that put me up were a very godly couple.  They were both younger than I and their lives were snatched like that.  Our lives are like a vapor.  I thank God that they died in Christ.  That is the wonderful hope that we have.

Christ is warning us against people who have allowed money, who have allowed materialism to take the place of our confidence and our wealth in Jesus Christ.  So James goes on to say in this passage, James 4:13-16 in verse 15,

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

In other words, we must always place God in our plans.  We must always allow Him to be at the head of our plans.  God is not against our making our plans.  He has given us the privilege of making our choice but we must never make plans without God.  This is what the text is saying.

Verse 16 adds:

As it is, you boast and brag.  All such boasting is evil.

Anyone who does not have God in his plans cannot succeed.  God has no objection to you becoming rich but He does warn you that if you are seeking for wealth without Him that eventually you will end up a pauper.

Let’s go back to Luke 12.  God is against anyone who is living independent of Him. This was the second problem.  He thought that he could gain happiness; he could enjoy life through his own personal effort and material gain.  He equated material blessings with happiness.  He thought that riches could give him everything he wanted.  I have news for you because wealth does not bring you happiness.  In my life, I have lived in two countries that may be considered the richest countries in the world.  One is the United States and the other one is Sweden.  Sweden is supposed to be the richest country in Europe and probably one of the richest countries in the world.

Both these countries have a very high standard of living.  About three years ago I had to speak for a publishing department seminar in Portland and the head nurse of the Portland hospital who was a missionary with us in Ethiopia took me out for a meal.  She took me to a very posh restaurant.  I’ve forgotten the name; I don’t think I will ever step in there again.  It was a very expensive meal.  Next to us was a Swedish family who was visiting America from Sweden.  They were discussing America not knowing that this African bush preacher understood Swedish.

I was listening and they were comparing Sweden with America.  I remember one of the girls saying to her brother, “This country is not as great as our country.”  They were comparing the things you can get here and the brother said, “Well, yes, but they have things here that we don’t have.”  They were comparing the materialism of both countries.  But do you know that the highest suicide rates in the world are in these two countries?  Do you realize that there are greater social problems in these two countries than in any other country in the world?  Money does not bring happiness; it brings problems.

One dear lady in Africa told my wife, “When I leave the house, I don’t even lock my door.  Do you know why?  Because I have nothing to be stolen.  You overseas people have to lock your door.  You have to have a dog there.  You have to have a guard.  You must be miserable.”  She was right; the more you have, the more you are concerned.

I want to give you a text which is in this light that materialism does not bring you happiness.  It is given to young Timothy because it is in our youthful years that we think wealth is happiness.  I want you to listen to what the apostle Paul is counseling this young man.  1 Timothy 6:9-10, the same idea that Jesus is bringing across but coming from a different angle.  Verse 9:

People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

Now these are strong words.  In other words, Paul is not saying and God is not saying it is wrong to get rich but to those who want to get rich, Paul is saying “Be careful” because riches is one of the snares of Satan.  Then he explains what he means in verse 10:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil....

Notice Paul is not saying money is the root of all evil but the love of it, the coveting of the money is the root of all evil.

Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The Protestant Christians can be divided into basically two camps:  Armenians and Calvinists.  One of the differences is that the Calvinists say that if God has chosen you to be saved, it is impossible for you to be lost.  It is on this doctrine of predestination or rather double predestination that you have the idea of “once saved, always saved.”

But the Armenians teach that it is possible for a believer to fall from faith.  You see, there are two extremes that we must avoid.  One extreme is the Calvinist extreme which says that if you have accepted Christ and you are saved you can never be lost.  That is unbiblical.  The other extreme is just as bad and many Armenians fall into this trap.  The Calvinists fall into the trap of “once saved, always saved.”  The Armenians fall into the trap that every time you make a mistake you become unjustified.  Nowhere in the Bible does it teach that.  Both of these extremes are unbiblical.

Since we are justified by faith, it is possible for us to lose justification by unbelief.  Unbelief is the deliberate, willful turning of our backs to God.  Satan has many ways of doing this.  Persecution is one of them.  But the other two we need to be aware of.  Perverting the gospel is one of them.  That is how he tried it on the Galatian Christians.  Notice that Paul says anyone who moves from justification by faith to justification by works of the law has fallen from grace and Christ has become of no value.  Galatians 5:2-4:

Mark my words!  I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.  You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.

The third way that Satan destroys our faith is by dangling the trinkets of this world before us — materialism.  I tell you, it is not easy to avoid it in a materialistic country.  When I was at a college one weekend, some of the young students who are very sincere asked me a question, “How can we walk in the Spirit?  How can we maintain a living connection with Jesus Christ?”  I had to confess to them that it is much easier to walk with Christ in a country where persecution exists.  In Ethiopia, it was easy for us to walk in the Spirit.  In Uganda under Idi Amin, it was easy.  It is extremely hard to walk in the Spirit in a country like America where it is so easy to get everything.

I want to warn families coming from poor countries to America:  please don’t let the materialism of this country get you because now you are facing that danger.  You never faced it in your own country; you are facing it here.  But we who live here have to take this message seriously.  That is why in 1 Timothy 6:12a Paul says,

Fight the good fight of the faith.

Now this young man did not realize this.  He did not realize that true happiness does not come from material wealth.  I would like to read a couple of statements.  In Ecclesiastes 2:3-11 is a man who is talking out of experience.  This is not some philosophy; this is out of experience.  He says,

I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly — my mind still guiding me with wisdom.  [What he is saying here is, “I tried to get the best of two worlds.”]  I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.
I undertook great projects:  I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house.  I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.  I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well — the delights of the heart of man.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.

Here was a man who did everything for himself.  Now look at verse 11:

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Do we have to repeat the same thing?  Why can’t we learn from this preacher (that’s what Ecclesiastes means)?

When I was teaching in our college in Ethiopia, one young man stood up in the class and said, “You know, Pastor, we agree with all that you have taught us.  We agree that Christ is everything but it’s easy for you to say that Christ is everything because now you are an old man.  We would like to enjoy this world and, when we get to your age, we’ll accept Christ.”  Now that, by the way, is one of Satan’s greatest traps for young people and that is why I would like now to turn to the third problem that this man faced.

Please go back to Luke 12.  This man said to himself, “I’m going to eat, I’m going to drink, and I’m going to be merry.”  Luke 12:20:

“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?’”

In other words, this man did not take into account — and it’s a problem that all young people face — the fact of the problem of death.  Death can overtake you at any time.  Do you know that the young man who spoke those words is dead today?  He was shot in the Marxist revolution.  He did not live to my age.  He never reached the age I was when I was teaching there.  I don’t know whether he accepted Christ because this happened after we left the college.

Young people, there are two things that you need to keep in mind.  Number one, death can come any time.  You don’t have to live in difficult countries.  We have had the experience of two people whose lives were crushed in a split second.  Number two, every time you resist the Holy Spirit you are hardening your conscience further and further so that you will reach a point of no return.  Many, many young people who said, “We will enjoy life until we get old.”  Many of them became old and never accepted Christ because they reached the point of no return.

Judas was one of them.  Judas did not respond and, as he failed to respond, his conscience became harder and harder until he reached the point of no return.  There in the upper room we are told that the devil entered into him and that was the end of him.  So as we turn to this parable Jesus says in verse 21:

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

You have to choose between God and wealth.  Remember in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said (Matthew 6:24a):

No one can serve two masters.

You can’t serve money and you can’t serve God.  God has no problem with you becoming rich.  Abraham was rich but he always put God first.

Our scripture reading stopped here but I would like to read you the rest of the passage.  Jesus takes this parable, turns to the disciples — His followers, not the multitude but His followers — and He warns them (Luke 12:22-24):

Then Jesus said to his disciples:  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens:  They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!

Then He goes on about our stature and then about the lilies.  Then in verse 29 He says,

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.

Now comes the punch line.  Verses 30-31:

For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.  But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

But some of you say, “We have been seeking the kingdom of God but I have problems; I have financial problems; I have house problems.”  Well, listen to the next verse (Luke 12:32):

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Sometimes God withholds things from you because He wants to give you the kingdom.  Sometimes He allows you to go through problems so that your faith may be strengthened to develop patience.

It is my prayer that in all your planning, especially young people, you put God first because the material world doesn’t give you happiness.  Also, the material world doesn’t guarantee you eternal life.  Your only hope is Jesus Christ.  It is my prayer that, in spite of living in the world around us, we all will learn to put God and His kingdom first.  One day we will hear these wonderful words, “Come inherit the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  This is my prayer in Jesus name.  Amen.

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