And someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you?" And he said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a certain rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' "And he said, 'This is what I will do: 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 many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
And he said to his disciples, "For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body than clothing. Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; and they have no storeroom nor barn; and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why are you anxious about other matters? Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. But if God so arrays the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith! And do not seek what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek for his kingdom, and these things shall be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Don't Fear: Trust God, Not Human Resources
This whole chapter of Luke (chapter 12) is strewn with words from Jesus about not being afraid. And in every case the contentment and peace and fearlessness and courage that he wants us to have is not owing to the human resources at our disposal (like money or ability or possessions or intellect or looks or status or connections). In every case the peace and courage and fearlessness is owing to the fact that God will be there for us even when human resources are small or fail entirely.
Those Who Kill the Body
For example, in verse 4 Jesus says, "Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." So there is an example of how the basis for fearlessness stands when all human resources of help fail and you get killed. Jesus says, "Even then, don't fear, because God will be there for you in death and after death forever."
Human Wisdom or Shrewdness
Another example is in verse 11: "When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and authorities, do not be anxious how or what you are to answer or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."
Don't rely on human wisdom or memory or creativity or shrewdness, rely on God, the Holy Spirit. When you feel utterly inadequate to know what you will say, trust God, and not yourself.
The Parable of the Rich Fool
A third example is in the parable of the rich fool who builds bigger and bigger barns when his income increases. And he thinks he has found the way to peace and security and freedom from fear. So he says in verse 19, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry." His contentment is in what he thinks he can control — his investments. But God says to him in verse 20, "Fool! This night your soul is required of you."
In other words, if a person finds his income rising and rising, and instead of funneling that increase into kingdom ministry he buys more and bigger things to increase his ease and security (like this rich man), then God will call that person a fool and take away his soul.
A fourth example is verse 22, "Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on . . . " Again in verses 29–31: "Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows you need them all. Instead seek the kingdom and these things shall be yours as well."
Here Jesus calls us to replace thing-seeking with kingdom-seeking, and to do it without anxiety for not having things. He calls us to be different from the rest of the world: "All the nations of the world seek these things." The followers of Jesus replace thing-seeking with kingdom-seeking. And they leave the financial "success" of their ventures with God as they focus on the spiritual payoff — the righteousness payoff and mercy payoff and Christ-exalting payoff — not the money payoff.
The basis of this fearless, single-minded focus on the kingdom of God in all that we do is God's promise to be there for us. Verse 30: "Your Father knows that you need them all."
Being Little Sheep
The fifth example of this is the one I want to focus on a little longer. Verse 32: "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Here it is plain again that the basis of fearlessness is not our human resources, but God's being there for us. Don't fear even though you are only sheep (in the midst of wolves, 10:3) and even though you are little and not great. And remember the basis of your fearlessness is: you have a Father who owns and runs the world and he really loves giving the kingdom to his sheep-like children. "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
What's the Threat That Makes Jesus Say This?
Now here's a question: What is the threat in verse 32 that makes Jesus say, "Fear not, little flock?" What are they being tempted to fear in this context? Don't jump out of these verses to answer the question yet.
You can find the answer in either direction: going backward a few verses or going forward a few verses. If you go backward, the thing they are in danger of fearing is the call to no longer be like the nations (verse 30) who seek things, who build bigger barns. If we actually focus on the kingdom and stop pursuing things and ease and security, will we really be happy? Will we really survive?
To this Jesus says, "Fear not, little flock." Don't be afraid to stop seeking things.
Or if you go forward in the context (to verse 33), the thing they are in danger of fearing is giving things away. Verse 33: "Fear not, little flock, . . . Sell your possessions and give alms." So if you go backward to verse 30 the fear is not seeking things the way the nations do; and if you go forward to verse 33 the fear is giving things away.
Seeking the Kingdom by Selling and Giving
And "seeking the kingdom" (verse 31) includes both of those things: something we stop doing and something we start doing. We stop focusing our quest on things, and we start selling what we don't need and turning our stockpiled resources into ministries of kingdom-bringing love.
And in doing this Jesus says we provide true treasure for ourselves in heaven. Jesus once said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field which a man finds and . . . sells everything he has to buy to have that field" (Matthew 13:44). The point of that parable is that the kingdom of God is a treasure more valuable than anything you own.
Here in verse 33 Jesus says that when we sell our possessions and give them as alms — as acts of love — we are providing "purses for ourselves that do not grow old and a treasure in the heavens that does not fail." That treasure is the kingdom of God.
The sequence of thought is: Don't seek to have things the way the nations do; seek to have the kingdom. How? Sell things and thus provide yourself the treasure, the kingdom, in heaven. Seek things like the nations and lose the kingdom. Sell things and give for the nations, and you will inherit the kingdom.
Does This Mean That We Buy the Kingdom?
No. Verse 32 is plain: "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." The kingdom of God is a gift, not a purchase; it's given, not earned. But it is a gift to those who want it more than they want things. It's a gift to those who seek it more than they seek things. It's a gift to those who fear missing it more than they fear not having earthly security. It's a gift to those who trust the King more than the dollar.
We don't buy the kingdom when we scale down our material lives and sell things so we can give. We show that we value the kingdom more than things.
Zacchaeus illustrates what this means in Luke 19:9. He was the rich tax collector. When Jesus visited his home his heart was changed and he stood up and said, "Half my possessions I give to the poor." When Jesus heard that, he said, "Today salvation has come to this house." Did he mean Zacchaeus bought salvation? No, he meant salvation changed Zacchaeus, and the proof was his radically different attitude toward money.
How you handle your possessions shows where your heart is. And where your heart is determines whether you are saved or not. And whether you are saved or not determines whether you will inherit the kingdom — the treasure in heaven that does not grow old.
Selling your possessions and giving rather than accumulating more and more things for yourself is the pathway to the kingdom, not the payment for the kingdom. It is the proof that you love the kingdom more than possessions. That you trust the King more than money.
Jesus Knows It's a Fearful Message
Jesus knows that this message strikes fear into the hearts of his disciples. When I say these things, there is fear in many of you that God's will for you might be a lifestyle very different than the one you are striving for or living in. Jesus knows that it is a fearful message.
And so he says, "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." The pathway to the kingdom is the path of falling in love with King Jesus, trusting our heavenly Father, falling out of love with things, and taking on a wartime lifestyle that maximizes all income for the cause of the kingdom. And since this is the pathway that leads to the kingdom, and since Jesus says our Father will give us the kingdom, then we can be assured of God's help to stay on this path.
God Does the Impossible
That's what Jesus meant in dealing with the rich young ruler in chapter 18. He said, "Sell all that you possess, give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me" (verse 22). But he wouldn't do it. And Jesus said, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" (verse 24). He compared it to a camel going through the eye of a needle. When the disciples said, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus said, "The things impossible with men are possible with God" (verse 27).
In other words: God does the impossible; God gets people into the kingdom; God gives the kingdom. People may be so in bondage to things and to the security and the pleasures and the prestige of their possessions that they can't "sell their possessions and give alms." They can't trust God more than the security of things. They can't delight in God more than the pleasures of things. They can't take on a wartime lifestyle that puts a cap on their spending for things and funnels all surplus money into the kingdom causes of compassion and righteousness and truth.
But what they can't do, Jesus says, God can do. What is impossible with men, is possible with God. That's what conversion is: the work of God changing the heart and filling it with the wealth of the glory of Christ and freeing it from slavery to the vain glory of things.
The Kingdom Is a Gift of God
"Unless a person is born again he shall not see the kingdom of God," Jesus said (John 3:3). "Unless you are converted and become like children you shall not enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 18:3). Being born again and being converted and becoming like a child is a miraculous gift of God. Without it no one gets on the path that leads to the kingdom and no one stays on the path and gets to the kingdom. The kingdom is a gift of God. It is not achieved in our strength.
But it's a gift not because there is a broad path that leads to life. The way that leads to life is narrow and it is the way of selling possessions and giving alms. Of putting a cap on the ever-expanding capacity to buy and buy and buy — barn after barn. The way that leads to life — to the kingdom — leads through a wartime lifestyle that aims not at the security and ease and prestige of accumulation, but at saving the lost and sending missionaries and feeding the hungry and healing the sick and teaching the simple and dignifying the poor with work and care. And when that lifestyle happens, it is a miraculous gift of God.
Relating All This to Our Situation at Bethlehem
In relating all this to our situation here at Bethlehem I call your attention to the leaflet called "Our Giving Account" published by the Financial and Property Administrators. It gives the history of our growth; the percentages of the 1.4 million dollar budget that go to missions and pastors and staff and education and worship and office and maintenance; and the reasons for the cash crunch that we are in right now. These are available at the information table.
On the back it says that I am supposed to give you a special challenge. I prayed about this again and again yesterday. It occurred to me that I could point out that each Sunday attender giving an extra $4.16 a week would meet our budget need through the fall. Or more realistically an extra $6.89 a week from the regular 725 adult giving units would do the same thing. I pledge to do at least that, as God enables me. About $14 more every bi-weekly pay check.
But that is not what I felt the Lord urging me to give as the special challenge to you this morning. What I think he wants me to say is much closer to the words of Jesus. I will call it the William Carey Wildcard. My challenge is that you take the risk of playing that card.
In October 1795, William Carey received a packet of letters in India. One of the letters criticized Carey for "engaging in affairs of trade" instead of devoting full time to his missionary work. Carey was hurt and angered by the accusation. If he had not worked, he and his family would have starved since the support from England was so slow and small and sporadic in arriving.
He wrote back these words which describe the William Carey wildcard,
It is a constant maxim with me that, if my conduct will not vindicate itself, it is not worth vindicating . . . I only say that, after my family's obtaining a bare allowance, my whole income, and some months, much more, goes for the purposes of the gospel, in supporting persons to assist in the translation of the Bible, write copies, teach school, and the like . . . I mention . . . [this] to show that the love of money has not prompted me to pursue the plan that I have engaged in. I am indeed poor, and shall always be so till the Bible is published in Bengali and Hindosthani, and the people want no further instruction. (Mary Drewery, William Carey: A Biography, p. 91)
The William Carey Wildcard is not some little gimmick to get you to give another $6.89 to Bethlehem. It is a radical call to remember that we are fighting a war for the eternal lives of men and women and to use your possessions like you really believe it. "After an allowance for me and my family, my whole income goes for the purposes of the gospel." That's the William Carey Wildcard. And I believe that's the call of Jesus to all his disciples.