Whose shall those things be? Luke 12:20
Few would deny that we live in the perilous times about which the apostle Paul warned us in 2 Timothy 3:1. He foretold by the Spirit that in the last days men would be lovers of their own selves. Not surprisingly, the next characteristic he mentions is covetousness, for as soon as a man starts to love himself above all others, he will long to have what others have. Rather than be “ready to distribute”, he will be more than ready to accumulate. This the Lord Jesus warns His followers against in Luke 12:16-34, to which we now turn our attention.
The second man
There are really only two men in the Bible; the first man, Adam, and the second man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the last Adam. The rest of men are either under the headship of the one or the other. Luke’s gospel is the Gospel of the Second Man, and is written so that those who are under the headship of this Second Man may learn to imitate Him.
Believers, who in principle have put on the new man at conversion, are expected to display the features that are found to perfection in Christ. Our old man, (our pre-conversion self considered as to its links with Adam), was crucified in company with Christ, Romans 6:6, and, as far as God is concerned, is cancelled. We are reckoned to be a new creation in Christ Jesus, and the old things have passed away, in principle, 2 Corinthians 5:17. In practice, however, we have to face the fact that we are still able to sin, for our bodies, although bought with a price, 1 Corinthians 6:20, are as yet not fully redeemed. That awaits the return of the Lord Jesus, when we shall sing in triumph, “O death where is thy sting?”, for “the sting of death is sin”, and that sin will be forever gone when our bodies are changed, 1 Corinthians 15:55-57. No longer will they be the headquarters of the sin-principle within us. Meanwhile, we need the exhortation of Romans 6:12 to not let sin, (covetousness included), reign in our mortal body. Just as Luke was often the companion of the apostle Paul on his journeys, so the gospel of Luke is the companion of the Pauline epistles.
Up to Jerusalem
In Luke 9:51 the Lord Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem. We must not conclude from this, however, that Luke is about to record a single journey. There were, in fact, three journeys by the Lord Jesus to Jerusalem after this point, and “go to Jerusalem” covers them all. There was the journey mentioned in John 7:2,10, when the Lord attended the Feast of Tabernacles, which took place at the end of September. Then, in December He was in Jerusalem again, this time at the Feast of Dedication, John 10:22. Then, in the Spring, He made His final journey to die at Passover time. Now John records events at Jerusalem connected with these journeys, whereas Luke records other matters, without being very specific as to place and time. Indeed, it is remarkable that Luke, renowned as an accurate and painstaking historian, who is deeply interested in recording detailed facts, only names Jericho as a place visited by the Lord after He had begun to “go to Jerusalem”. Even Bethany is called “A certain village”, Luke 11:38. It is as if, like His Lord, Luke has his eye fixed on Jerusalem, where the Second Man will cancel out the first man.
It is the ministry and miracles that took place in between and on these journeys that Luke is concerned with – what is called Christ’s Perean Ministry. This is highly significant in connection with the ministry given, for Perea is Old Testament Gilead, the territory half of the tribe of Manasseh preferred instead of fully entering the Land of Promise with all its blessings. The reason they gave was that Gilead was good for their business of cattle raising, Numbers 32:16,39. How significant are Christ’s words during His Perean ministry, therefore, “Beware of covetousness!” How significant, too, that so much is said in His ministry at this time about attitudes to possessions, money, and generosity. See Luke 9:57-62; 10:30-42; 11:41; 12:13-34; 18:18-30; 19:8-10; It is sadly possible for believers to prefer the business opportunities of the world to the enjoyment of spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Of course, every true believer possesses these blessings, but like the half tribe of Manasseh, they may cross the Jordan with the rest of the people, but then return to the place of compromise. How important it is to set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth, for Christ is in heaven, sitting on the right hand of God as the dispenser, as First-born, of all the blessings His death has won for us. As the Lord Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, Luke 12:34.
The Feast of Ingathering
Another relevant fact about the Perean ministry is that it is given before and after the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast was a reminder of God’s faithfulness to their forefathers in providing for them whilst they were in desert conditions, travelling on to Canaan. The feast of tabernacles was also called The Feast of Ingathering, for it was a time of celebration for harvests reaped and winepresses overflowing, the land having been reached, Leviticus 23:39. This was the time when they could bring the “Tithes into the storehouse” as Malachi puts it. Or, in other words, bring to God their offerings. So they praised the God who provided for their need, and they offered to Him out of their plenty.
We should have a weekly feast of ingathering. Having partaken of the bread and wine, we remember God’s abundant provision for us in our deep need. But then we should transfer from our storehouse to God’s storehouse. The apostle puts it like this, “Upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him…” 1 Corinthians 16:2. As it happens, the collection envisaged by the apostle in that place was literally brought to Jerusalem, but not of course to be put into the offering boxes in the Temple courts, but to supply the needs of the poor saints in Judea. But the principle remains the same – a practical and tangible response from the heart in view of great blessings granted.
Covetousness is condemned by both law and grace. The last of the ten words of commandment said, “Thou shalt not covet”, Exodus 20:17. This was the command that slew Saul of Tarsus. Whilst his fellow Israelites might sum up his outwardly religious life as being “blameless”, Philippians 3:6, yet the command that exposes heart and motive slew him, Romans 7:7-11. He was as good as dead as far as pleasing God by law-keeping was concerned. Only grace can make a man want to be a generous giver. In that connection, note the repetition of the word “Grace” in 2 Corinthians 8,9, the chapters that have so much to say about giving.
Covetousness is condemned by grace too, for He who is grace personified, God’s Ideal Man, not only condemned it by His words, but also by His attitudes and actions. The first parable of the Perean ministry is that of the Good Samaritan. He who was vilified by men in the words “Thou art a Samaritan”, John 8:48 is pleased to accept the title to show that He was completely free from racial prejudice. It was others who robbed the traveller of money, clothes, and, very nearly, his life. But it was the Samaritan who gave his time, his energy, his oil and wine, his beast, his two pence, and also whatever other cost was involved during his absence. He became poor that the robbed man might be rich. And then comes the oft-forgotten command- “Go thou, and do likewise”. Apt as the parable is to illustrate the gospel, we should never forget the “Do likewise”. Martha did not forget, for Luke immediately records that she received Him into her house, Luke 10:38, and she took care of Him, as the Samaritan and the inn-keeper had taken care of the traveller.
An abundance of things possessed
A man of a contrary spirit appealed to the Lord Jesus in Luke 12:13,14, for it seems he was dissatisfied with his share of an inheritance. The Lord utterly refuses to become involved, for there were procedures the man could follow if he had a grievance. But his request does give the Lord the opportunity to assert that “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth”, Luke 12:15. A man’s natural life does revolve around necessities, but luxuries are no part of life, properly understood. These two things, luxuries and necessities, are the basis of Christ’s ministry at this point. Verses 16-21 have to do with luxuries whilst verses 22-34 give teaching about necessities.
Luxuries are expendable, and it is against the accumulation of the expendable that the Lord now warns in what has become known as “The parable of the Rich Fool”. This parable is often used, and rightly so, to warn the unsaved of the brevity of life and the certainty of death, and other things besides. We should note, however, that the application of this parable is addressed to disciples, verse 22.
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully, Luke 12:16. If he was a Jew, the man would no doubt have prided himself on his blessedness. Were not his riches a sign of Divine favour? After all, God’s promise to those who obeyed His law was plentiful harvests, Deuteronomy 28:1-14. Only those who disobeyed would know famine. But the response of the man to his plentiful harvests is a certain indicator of the state of his heart. He sees in his plenty an opportunity for ease and enjoyment, all the while ignoring the needs of others.
With the coming of Christ a great change came in regard to riches. He came in grace, a higher principle than law. Since He has come, those who say “Gain is godliness”, must be withdrawn from, 1 Timothy 6:5, so contrary is that idea to the spirit of Christianity. Whereas in Old Testament times the spiritual person should have been pleased to associate with one who was blessed materially, for God was with him, now it is different. Too often, it seems as if the Lord’s people are still in Old Testament times in this regard. Those who only have enough, and have none to spare, are sometimes thought of as being inferior- perhaps even work-shy and incompetent. But would we dare to display this attitude to Christ? That most spiritual Man, who magnified the law and made it honourable, (and who therefore merited riches as a mark of Divine favour), became poor for our sakes. Behold His poverty at Calvary!
Having seen the rich man’s sham blessedness, we now are told of his real foolishness. It is no surprise to learn that he is a fool, for he thinks “within himself” :17. He is not prepared to allow the authority of the Word of God a place in his thinking. It is only as we allow the mind of Christ to govern our reasonings that we shall respond in a spiritual way to the temptations that riches represent. It is instructive to notice that when offered choices, Solomon refused riches and chose wisdom. But then because he had chosen wisdom, he was entrusted with riches as well, 1 Kings 3:5-13.
We next learn of the man’s lavishness. Unconcerned by the need all around him, (“For the poor ye have always with you”,) he embarks upon an extravagant building programme. Did he really need to pull down his barns? Could he not have erected an extension to the existing ones, and donated the money saved to a good cause? It was Ambrose who said, “The bosoms of the poor, the houses of widows, the mouths of children, are the barns which last for ever”. Goods bestowed in those barns will reap an eternal reward.
But there is worse yet, for he is determined to eat, drink, and be merry, refusing to consider the plight of others. The words of the apostles are relevant here, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone”, James 2:15-17. “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth”, 1 John 3:17,18. These are searching questions posed by the apostles – what doth it profit?…how dwelleth the love of God in him? Can those who profess to have been so remarkably and eternally benefitted by God is His love, shut their eyes to the needs of those around them, whilst all the time indulging their appetites?
Contrary to what he thought, this foolish man did not have “many years”. He was guilty of shortsightedness, as we all can be. It was that night that his soul was required of him, and he was called into eternity, and what he had done and been on earth was assessed. Solemn thought! The deeds believers have done in the body shall yet come under review, whether good or evil, and we shall receive for what we have done, 2 Corinthians 5:10. The good will be rewarded, the evil will be rebuked.
Now there comes the question, “Whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” This is a question we could all profitably ask ourselves. The words of Job are plain- “Naked came I out of the womb, and naked shall I return thither”, Job 1:21. Job realised that he would not carry his vast possessions with him into eternity. And the apostle Paul no doubt had this in mind when he wrote, “We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we shall carry nothing out”, 1 Timothy 6:7. We ought to give serious attention to this matter of what will happen to what we possess, (be it much or little), when we leave this scene. Is it not the case that too often there are surpluses which could be invested in the work of God now, rather than waiting for Inheritance Tax to take its sizeable share?
Rich toward God
The summary the Lord gives of the situation is brief. “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God”. These are the alternatives, self or God. It should not be difficult for a believer to choose between the two. As the word is in another place, “Ye cannot serve (as a slave) God and mammon, (riches), Matthew 6:24. It is possible to have two employers at the same time, but it is not possible to be a slave to two masters at once, for slavery involves the total surrender of the will to another. We should ask ourselves the question therefore whether we are slaves to money or to God – there is no middle ground.
Having corrected a wrong attitude to luxury, the Lord now turns specifically to His disciples to ensure that they have a right attitude to necessities. Of course it is scriptural for believers to provide for necessities. To not do so is to be “worse than an infidel”, 1 Timothy 5:18. Here, however, the warning is against obsessive, anxious care. Having food and clothing we should therewith be content. Food sustains our life, but what we do with our life is vastly more important than the food which sustains it, for “the life is more than meat”, Luke 12:23. So with the body. How we serve the Lord with our body is much more important than the clothes we put on it. It is sad indeed if believers are more concerned about food and clothing than the work of God.
We are given an object lesson in creation to teach us these things. The ravens do not have a care about their food – they do not store it up for the simple reason that they do not fear a shortage. Are not believers better than ravens? Have they not God as their Father, whereas ravens only have Him as their creator and sustainer? Then they should act more intelligently that the birds of the air. If He cares for His creation, will He not care for His children? The lilies of the field are regally clad, being dressed with garments more fine than even Solomon’s. Yet can we imagine casting Solomon’s royal robes on the fire? But this is what happens to the lilies when grass is collected for fuel, for the lilies are collected with it, and both are burned. If God is so rich that He can clothe fire-fuel with splendour, can He not clothe His people whom He has delivered from the everlasting burnings?
The unbeliever is marked by a restless search for food and raiment, but the believer should be marked by a search for the kingdom of God, actively seeking ways of promoting God’s interests. Those who do this will be relieved of anxious care, for they will be too busy to be over-occupied with the ordinary and the mundane.
Two kinds of rich men
The apostle Paul reinforces these lessons as he writes to Timothy. He has in mind two types of person. Those who will be (are determined to be) rich, and those who are rich already, 1 Timothy 6:9,17. The first group will find that their riches will drown them, their zeal for God squeezed out of them by the things they have surrounded themselves with. The second group are warned against high-mindedness, as if their riches have elevated them morally and spiritually. Riches in themselves are no indication of godliness, it is what is done with them that matters before God. Those riches should not be relied on, for there is only one thing certain about riches, and that is that they are uncertain. As the Scripture says “For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven”, Proverbs 23:5. God is the Living God, energetic in His care for His own-feeding the ravens, clothing the lilies, doing the same, and much more besides, for His redeemed people. We should trust Him therefore, and not rely on material things.
Zeal for good works
We should remember that those who are on an average wage in the Western World, are in the top 10% of the world’s wage earners. Remember, too, that riches are anything in excess of what is required to provide necessities. It is clear then, that there is plenty of scope for the wise distribution of resources. How then shall we do this? The apostle tells us. Relieved from anxious care about necessities, we should actively consider how to put the excess to good use. Use, that is, not for ourselves, but for others.
We rightly emphasise to the unsaved that good works will not save them, and it is vital that we do this. Let us not forget, however, that Christ has purified to Himself a people that are to be marked by their zeal for good works, Titus 2:14. These good works are part of God’s eternal purpose for us, Ephesians 2:10, so we should be concerned about performing them to His glory. We profess to follow the steps of the Lord Jesus, but we should remember that He went about doing good. While it is true that we are not able to work miracles today, we do have the opportunity to express the love of God by our good deeds.
It is one of the paradoxes of the Christian life that we are only as rich as we have become poor. Only those who are “rich in good works”, 1 Timothy 6:18, concerned about the needs of others, can be described as rich. The reverse is true also. It is said that the First epistle to Timothy was written at Laodicea. Whether this is true or not cannot be determined with certainty, but one thing is certain, that the Laodiceans were rich and increased with goods in a material sense, yet in fact they were poor in God’s sight, Revelation 3:17.
Rich in good works
Returning to 1 Timothy 6:18 we learn that we should be ready to distribute, where the word “ready” has the idea of being liberal. A scant and miserly response to God’s rich giving to us is hardly appropriate. We should be like those of Macedonia, who, although poor, gave out of their deep poverty, so that Paul can commend them for the riches of their liberality, 2 Corinthians 8:2. They had clearly appreciated the way in which the Lord Jesus, although rich, had become poor for them. The Corinthians, on the other hand, although full of promises and good intentions, had failed to contribute as they should and could. Would it not be a good exercise to ask ourselves whether we are Macedonian or Corinthian in our giving? There are third-world evangelists in desperate need of bicycles to take them to preach in outlying villages – do we really need such luxurious limousines? Christian parents in Pakistan whose children have to make bricks all day to help the family finances -do we really need that expensive holiday? Destitute children on the streets of many a city who could be enjoying the care of a Christian orphanage -is our extravagant lifestyle justified?
Righteous deeds that remain for ever
Not only should we be ready or liberal in our distribution, but willing also. This involves being alert to the needs of others, and prompt in our response to those needs. Is there anything we meant to support but never did? It is not too late to make amends in some way.
The end result of obeying these injunctions is that we shall lay up in store for ourselves. We have already noted this paradox – those who become poor become rich, those who empty their barns fill them. And moreover, the emptying only lasts for time, the filling lasts for eternity. In 2 Corinthians 9:9 the apostle quotes from Psalm 112:9 in connection with the giving of a righteous man. “He hath dispersed abroad; he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever”. Righteous actions performed now will remain in the memory of God, and be to the praise of God, for all eternity.
Let us remember the exhortation given to the apostle Paul, “Remember the poor”. Let us remember, and imitate, his response, “The same which I also was forward to do”, Galatians 2:10.