Oh, how vulnerable the fallen human heart is — John Piper’s heart. Oh, how vulnerable is my heart to feeling that having lots of things means being really alive. How vulnerable I am to equate having and being, having and living. You go to Best Buy and you feel it: “If I had that, I would be alive.” But it’s crazy to think that things are going to give life. That’s the lie.
What is life? Jesus says, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Life is not having things. Life is knowing God. So he tells a parable. He told the parable to the people that overheard the question about the inheritance (Luke 12:13). Jesus has a word for all of them and a word for us. Luke 12:16–21:
And he told them a parable, saying, “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?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
It is not a bad thing to be a productive farmer. It’s not a bad thing when your land produces plentifully. It’s not a bad thing when your business prospers. It’s not a bad thing when you get a promotion with a pay raise. It’s not a bad thing when your investments increase in value. That’s not the evil in this parable.
“Money lures you out of love for God. It lures you away from treasuring God.”
He’s not called a fool because he was a productive farmer. God knows this world needs productive farmers and profitable businesses. Why is he called a fool? That’s the question of the parable. And he’s not only a fool; he loses his soul. Luke 12:20: “God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you.’” He’s a damned fool, strictly.
Here’s the way I would put it: By the way he used the increase of his riches, he gave no indication of being rich toward God. He kept building bigger barns, and that might be okay if you’re going to store up grain to use for something that makes God look like your treasure. Bigger barns are neither here nor there. It’s what he said that matters.
Verse 19: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years.’” What are you going to do now? And he blew it: relax, eat, drink, fun. The use he plans to make of his wealth says one thing: “My treasure is relaxing, eating, drinking, and partying. That’s my treasure. Those are my riches. That’s my life. And the riches in my barns make it possible. They’re making it possible to get what I really, really value: relaxation, food, fun, partying with other retirees.”
Is that cool? What’s wrong with that? Nothing — if there’s no God and no resurrection. That’s what Paul said, right? “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’” (1 Corinthians 15:32). That just makes total sense: maximize present pleasure if there’s no God and no resurrection — no infinitely valuable God to enjoy forever.
And then Jesus gives this key concluding verse and makes the point clear. Luke 12:21: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” What does that strange phrase mean? This is the only place in the Bible it occurs. It’s an odd phrase, but rich toward God is a good, literal translation. What does it mean? I think the meaning is pretty plain from the contrast in the verse. It’s the opposite of laying up earthly treasures for yourself. So being rich toward God is the opposite of treating yourself as though it were made for things and not for God. Being rich toward God is the opposite of acting as if life consists in the abundance of your possessions. It doesn’t. It consists in knowing God. That’s what life is.
So being rich toward God is the heart moving toward God as riches. Being rich toward God is the heart moving toward God as your riches. Being rich toward God is moving toward God as your treasure. Being rich toward God is counting God greater riches than anything on the earth. Being rich toward God means using earthly riches to show how much you value God. This is what the prosperous farmer failed to do. So big farmer fail written over this right here. And the result was that he was a fool who lost his soul, and we will too if we are not rich toward God.
“Life is not about having things. Life is about knowing God.”
So that’s what I mean when I say money is hazardous. It lures you out of love for God. It lures you away from treasuring God. Now again, the issue here is not that the man’s field prospered. The issue is that God ceased to be his treasure. If God had been his treasure, what would he have done differently? If God had been his treasure, and not eating and drinking and relaxing and partying, what would he have done differently?
Instead of saying, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years. Relax, eat, drink, be merry,” I think he would’ve said something like this: “God, this is all yours. You made my fields prosper, and you made me. Show me how I can express with my riches that you are my treasure. How can I make that plain in the world, God? I’m a rich man. My fields just blew me away. And there it is, available at my disposal.”
And you pray, “O God, I don’t need a bigger and bigger safety net. I don’t need a bigger pad. I don’t need a bigger and better anything. I don’t need better food. I don’t need better drink. I don’t need better parties. I do want to make merry because you said it is more blessed to give than to receive. I want to maximize that, so would you just help me know how to invest and how to give this prosperity so that I can make merry in how much good it does others in pointing them to you? Help me discern that.”
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