Remembering the Right Things – The Parable of the Rich Fool

Series: Preacher: Date: August 20, 2000 Scripture Reference: Luke 12:16-21

A few months ago I heard the story of a man who was known-especially by his family-for his extreme ABSENTMINDEDNESS. The only GOOD thing about this was the fact that he was a college professor and, with apologies to Bill Stuart and Dale Smith, everyone tends to EXPECT professors to be absent-minded. Well, this guy really fit the bill. He was VERY forgetful. He regularly forgot his socks or his keys or his wallet or where he was going, or important engagements. In fact, if it weren’t for his patient and loving wife he would certainly have been fired long ago for the problems caused by his weak memory…

One morning when he came down to breakfast his wife said, Now dear, don’t forget. Today is moving day. While you are at work today the movers will come and move us to our new home a few blocks from here. He reassured her that she had nothing to fear. I mean, how could he possibly forget this special day? They had talked about it and planned it for months. But, knowing her husband’s nature, she said once more, Dear, PLEASE don’t forget. Today is moving day. So, remember, don’t come to this house after work. Come to our NEW home.

Well, he vowed not to forget and, taking his lunch box and briefcase in hand, headed off to work. To help him remember, his wife put post-it notes in his briefcase and lunch box. She even called him in the afternoon to remind him once again that today was moving day and that he should come to their new home after his last class. But, all these efforts were in vain because, true to form, when he left the campus around 5:00 o’clock, he absentmindedly drove right to his old house. He put his key in the lock and entered and saw that everything was gone…furniture, curtains, clothes from the closet, etc. And at first he panicked. He thought his family had abandoned him for some reason or that there had been some sort of foul play. But after about 10 minutes of wandering around the house wondering what had happened, he suddenly remembered. This was moving day! His family hadn’t left him! There had been no alien abduction! But, no matter how hard he tried, he could not remember WHERE they had moved. He could not recall where his NEW HOME was. So, he ran outside and when he did he saw a little boy riding down the sidewalk on his bicycle in front of his house. He flagged him down and said, Hey, kid! Do you know the family that used to live here? Do you know where they moved? The little boy got a disgusted look on his face and said, Aw dad! Mom said you would forget!

You and I can relate to this story because like this man we often struggle with failing memories. It is no doubt one of the side affects of living in an area like this with such a fast pace of life but all of us forget things…purses….keys….appointments. And I bring all this up today because I want us to look at a PARABLE that Jesus told about a FARMER with a memory deficiency. His recollection problem was unique in that he REMEMBERED the WRONG things and FORGOT the RIGHT ones. And, I want us to study this familiar parable together so we can bring to mind several important principles that we must never forget. Take your Bibles and turn to Luke 12 and let’s read together verses 16-21.

16 – And [JESUS] told them this parable: The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.

17 – He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 – 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.

19 – And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’

20 – But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then you will get what you have prepared for yourself.’

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

Now, if you look back a couple verses you will see that Jesus told this parable for the same reason He told many of His parables-He shared it as a way of dealing with a particular issue. In this case, a man had come to Jesus wanting Him to tell his brother to divide his father’s inheritance with him. And the fact that he would even ask this question of Jesus shows that his problem was really one of greed. This guy had a passion for possessions and our Lord of course realized this. You see Judaic law was very clear when it came to the disposition of a father’s estate. This well-known law said that the eldest son got two-thirds of the estate and the younger son got one third unless there were several sons and in this case this third was divided among all of them. So there was really no question about which brother got what. This younger brother’s real problem was the fact that he was not SATISFIED with his share. He wanted MORE and he hoped that Jesus might become his ally and perhaps say something that would make him feel like he actually had a RIGHT to a greater portion of his brother’s share.

So, what this individual needed was not some casual legal ruling by a religious teacher. No-what he needed was a basic understanding of how possessions relate to the purpose of life. Like many of us, he needed to understand that WHO ONE IS is far more important that WHAT ONE HAS or possesses. This man was in great danger and I’m not referring to the danger of being cheated out of his fair share of the inheritance. It is this danger that the Lord had in mind as He turned from the man to the crowd and warned,

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions!

Jesus was alerting them all to a very serious sin-the sin of GREED. And, in fact greed is one of the most dangerous sins because greed is so subtle. It isn’t obvious like theft or adultery. Like RADON-the invisible killer-greed doesn’t always show. This is why Jesus stopped and grabbed this teachable moment and then used this parable to help both His hearers that day and you and me to understand how dangerous greed can be. It is a sin that can consume us if we are not very careful. This story is usually called THE PARABLE OF THE RICH FOOL. Frank Pollard refers to it as THE FARM THAT OWNED A FOOL and I like his title!

Jesus knows that greed can warp our minds and cause our ability to REMEMBER important truth to be greatly diminished. In this short and simple story, Jesus told of a farmer who had enjoyed a run of unbroken prosperity. He was wealthy at the beginning of this story but a surprising harvest made him even more so. In fact, he was so prosperous that his barns could not hold all his produce. Well, his solution was to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones and then sit back and enjoy himself for many years to come. But God interrupted his plans by telling him that his soul would be required of him that very night. This morning I want us to take a close look at this story and see where the farmer went wrong so that we can learn from his mistakes instead of our own. And lets follow this outline. First let’s focus on the things this farmer remembered and then let’s look at the things he forgot. Because, as I said a moment ago, his greed caused him to remember the WRONG things and forget the RIGHT ones. Let’s begin by looking at the WRONG things this foolish farmer REMEMBERED. The first was this:

1. He remembered HIMSELF….

I don’t think there has ever been a speech so full of the first person singular as the soliloquy of this rich fool. If you read through these verses you’ll see that he said I six times and used the word my or mine four times. So self was certainly something that this foolish farmer easily recalled! For him, the purpose of HAVING was SELF-indulgence. He would have been a firm believer in the popular selfish slogans of our day such as, I deserve it, or I owe it to myself.

It has been said that one reason Jesus came into our world was to teach us to banish the words I and mine from life and to substitute we and ours. We see this in the way that He taught us to pray, for I-first person singular-never appears in the LORD’S PRAYER. Jesus instructed us to say things like, OUR Father and, Give US this day OUR daily bread and forgive US OUR trespasses…as WE forgive those who trespass against US. When He taught us to pray like this He was reminding us that when it comes to Christianity there is no such thing as a solo act. We have a responsibility to others. We are linked to other Christians. And, as I said last week we have a God-given duty to see the needs of all people as our own.

This week I read of some ancient monks in the Egyptian desert who had a very wise custom. Their rule was that no monk could ever say My book, my pen, my room; and to use any of these words was regarded as a crime for which they were disciplined. So often these days its just the opposite. Like the rich fool we tend to forget about others and remember only ourselves…our needs…our desires. A teacher once asked a little boy what part of speech, my and mine was. He said, Well I think they are AGGRESSIVE pronouns. And he wasn’t too far from the truth. For, when our mind revolves only around me and mine we become dangerously aggressive. We resemble another farmer who said, I don’t’ want much-just the land that joins mine. When we are self-centered like this foolish farmer we live in a little world where we are the only thing that matters. This parable is the final condemnation of the man to whom the most important word in the English language is I.

So, this foolish farmer remembered himself. He was number #1 in his life. The second wrong thing that he remembered was:

2. …this temporary world.

He was so pre-occupied with the things of this world that he forgot that there was another world — an eternal world. Someone once wisely said, This world is a bridge. The wise man will pass over it but will not build his house upon it. In other words this world is just is a preparatory stage to another world, and the person who forgets this IS foolish for he has really forgotten the main object of life which is to prepare for eternity.

I once toured the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina. It is a huge, beautiful estate. They used it in the filming of the movie, RICHIE RICH. Our tour took three hours and we didn’t even scratch the surface of the square footage of that immense house. It contains the first indoor pool and bowling alley. There are gigantic priceless tapestries and paintings hanging everywhere. It is a place of unbelievable luxury.

My favorite feature though was the bath tub in the master bedroom. It is a pretty big tub, but the thing I liked about it was not its size but the fact that Vanderbilt had it fitted with a movable mirror so that while bathing he could always see out the window and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the surrounding mountains. I once heard someone describe this place and the things in it and say, These are the things that make it difficult to die. And you know, if we are not careful THINGS can have that effect on us. With this story, Jesus was warning His listeners that it is possible for us to become so preoccupied with the temporary things of this world that we forget the eternal.

Tolstoy once told the story of a Russian peasant who was told that he could have all the land he could walk around in the time between sunup and sundown. So, with the rising of the sun the peasant began walking as fast as he could. By mid-morning it seemed that he was moving too slowly. So he increased his pace and didn’t even stop for lunch. As the afternoon heat beat down on him he hurried his pace even more. He felt that he simply must circle more and more land. By late afternoon he was soaked with sweat from head to toe. He was exhausted. He had walked around a huge section, but still he yearned for more. So, he began to run. Breathlessly he pushed himself into a fatigue he had never known. His heart beat wildly. Then sundown was only a few minutes away so he ran faster. But, as he raced toward his point of beginning, a point that would make him the largest landholder in the district, he fell to the ground dead. This reminds me of that old cliche’ about the man who loses his health trying to accumulate wealth and then loses his wealth trying to get back his health. Proverbs 23:4 warns against this foolish philosophy when it says, Don’t wear yourself out to get rich. Have wisdom to show restraint. Wise people will heed the warning in Proverbs 11:4 where it says, Your riches won’t help you on judgement day. Only righteousness counts then. (The Living Bible)

So,this farmer was foolish because in his prosperity he REMEMBERED the WRONG things. He remembered only himself and the temporary things of this world. But he also showed his folly in the fact that he FORGOT the RIGHT things. For example:

1. …He forgot His neighbors.

If his barns were too small to hold his crops there must have been many needy people around him who would have been only too glad to share in his surplus. If he had only looked around he could have found many ways of generously disposing of the too much that he had. But in this story we read not one single word about him rewarding the good people who worked with him…He apparently felt no social obligation to better the community in which he lived. As I said a few moments ago, the only beneficiary in his mind was himself. He thought nothing about others. The great hymn writer, John Wesley, had a rule in life that went like this, EARN all you can, SAVE all you can, GIVE all you can. When he was at Oxford he had an income of 30 lbs. a year. He lived on 28 lbs. and gave 2 lbs. away. When his income increased to 60, 90, 120 lbs. a year he still lived on 28 lbs. and gave the rest away. But this foolish farmer was not like Wesley. He was in fact just the opposite. Wesley’s motto was GET all you can and GIVE all you can. But this farmer’s was GET all you can and CAN all you get! Stock it away in a jar somewhere for my own future use! Forget about sharing with others in need.

And, this leads us to the second RIGHT thing this foolish farmer FORGOT….

2. He forgot the source of real joy in life.

His philosophy of happiness was to kick back and take it easy…to eat… and drink. If we make this mistake and connect enjoyment with only ourselves then we are all wrong for, real joy in life comes not when we hoard for ourselves but when we give to others. Its just like the old saying that goes, Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from their own lives.

I don’t know about you but I have never known someone who was a truly giving person who did not also have a smile on their face. Giving and joy seem to be a package deal. When I served on staff at the First Baptist Church of Damascus one of our members was a Godly woman by the name of SHIRLEY SHIPLEY. Shirley always had a smile on her face and you couldn’t be around her without your spirits being lifted. The source of Shirley’s joy was the fact that she ran a clothes closet in Damascus and helped the needy of that area for decades. She lived by the truth of Proverbs 19:17 which says, He (or she) who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be rewarded for what he (or she) has done. Helping others is hard and often thankless work but Shirley did it as to the Lord and found a joy that always left her with a smile a mile wide!

This farmer thought he could be happy by eating and drinking and indulging himself. He mistakenly thought that happiness had something to do with the accumulating of things…getting instead of giving. We have a framed saying at our house that says, The best things in life are not things. And they are not. As this parable teaches, accumulating earthly riches is not a source of eternal joy. But so often we forget this. Materialistic to the core, we convince ourselves that Jesus was wrong, that life DOES consist in the abundance of things, that contentment is NOT limited to food and clothing, that the birds of the air and the lilies of the field don’t know what they’re missing without all these creature comforts.

King Solomon foolishly went down this road. Listen to the words of Ecclesiastes 2:3-10 and you’ll see what his folly taught him about this issue, I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine…and how to lay hold on folly, ’til I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees..I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, a man’s delight…and whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure…

But after Solomon had gathered all these things and had evaluated their worth, he bent down and wrote, All [this] is vanity and is striving after wind. In other words, he came to realize, like countless other fools, that lasting happiness is not to be found in things. Money cannot buy a sense of usefulness, a clear conscience, and it certainly will not get us contentment with God and man. No-eternal joy is found in GIVING and not getting.

3. The third RIGHT thing this farmer forgot was time.

In verse 19 he said, I have plenty of good things laid up for many years! He thought he had plenty of time when in reality he only had a few moments left. There is an old story of three apprentice devils who were sent from hell to earth to serve their time. Before they left they told Satan what they proposed to do to draw mankind from God. One said, I will tell men that there is NO GOD. But Satan said, That will not do because in their heart of hearts they know there is a God. The second devil said Well, I will tell men, that here is NO HELL. And Satan said, That is still more hopeless for by living in their fallen world they have experienced the remorse of hell. Then the third devil said, I will tell men, that there is NO HURRY. Go. said Satan, tell them THAT and you will ruin them by the millions. And apparently this rich fool was one of this demon’s first stops because he was in no hurry to deal with things of eternal significance. He forgot time. He forgot that all this is temporary…that time does fly by. My son Daniel is a senior this year and he’s already had his senior pictures taken. We looked at the proofs a couple weeks ago. And when I saw him in that cap and gown I got a big lump in my throat because it seems like only yesterday that I was looking at pictures of him in a receiving blanket. 17 years can’t have gone by already! But they have! Time does pass so quickly. Eternity comes before you know it.

James 4:13-15 alludes to this fact when it says, 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. 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 it vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and we will do this or that.’

One thing this story reminds us is that we must not put off preparing for eternity for this kind of procrastination can be very costly. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:26 ? He said, What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?

Sigmund Freud once told the story of a sailor who was shipwrecked on one of the South Sea islands. When the natives found him they lifted him to their shoulders and marched triumphantly into their village. The sailor feared that he was to be their main dish for dinner that night. But to his astonishment they put him on a throne, put a crown on his head, and proclaimed him as their king. He was the absolute ruler. Every native was his servant. He greatly enjoyed his new station in life, but after a while he began to wonder about it all. He thought this must be too good to be true. So, he discreetly asked some questions, and he found that it was their custom once each year to make some man a king, a king for a year. He also learned that at the end of his year, the king was banished to an island where he would starve to death. Of course the sailor didn’t like that too much, but being a resourceful man, he put his mind to work and he hit upon a marvelous solution. Since he was king, his orders were obeyed so he put the natives to building boats. When they had enough boats, he started transplanting fruit trees to the island where he was to be sent.

He had the carpenters go there and build comfortable houses. He set the farmers to clearing the land and planting crops. So when his kingship was over he had a place of abundance to which to go.

And you and I need to think of our life here on earth in this same way for, in comparison to eternity, our time here is brief no matter how long we live. And in this brief time we have, we must prepare for eternity for, as Jesus said in verse 20 of this parable, it is then …that we will get what we have prepared for ourselves. This is why Jesus taught that, We must not store up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in an steal. We must store up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20 )

4. And then, the last thing this farmer foolishly forgot when he was making his plans was God.

He didn’t utter one word about God in considering what to do with his bounty. Remember? He said, MY fruits….MY barns. He apparently forgot where all this had come from! As I Chronicles 29:12 says, Wealth and honor come from You, oh God. You are the ruler of all things. But, this foolish farmer’s first thought was not Praise God…for His blessings. No, instead he asked, How can I keep for myself what I have.

He was a man who had dollars but no sense because he disregarded God. In the Old Testament language of Psalms and Proverbs a fool is any individual who makes decisions like this farmer…as if God doesn’t exist. Remember the words of Psalm 14:1 ? The fool says in his heart there is no God.

The man who makes plans with his possessions and leaves out God has forgotten the most important factor of all. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, Look to God and live for God, that’s where you will find what you really want and need in life. You know, one very important way that we REMEMBER God, when it comes to our material blessings, is by tithing — by giving a portion of our money to further His kingdom. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops. When we bring our gifts to God we acknowledge the fact that all we have is from Him. We remind ourselves that it is He Who constantly provides all of our blessings. There’s an old poem I came across this week. It goes like this:

Go give to the needy sweet charity’s bread.

For giving is living, the angel said.

And must I be giving again and again?

My peevish, petulant answer ran.

Oh, no, said the angel piercing me through,

Just give till the Master stops giving to you.

God is the source of every blessing we have and it is foolish not to acknowledge Him by giving back a portion of our income. This reminds me of a bumper sticker I heard of that goes like this: Tithe if you love Jesus. Any fool can honk!

So, in this little story Jesus taught that a good memory is very important when it comes to dealing with material possessions. This parable reminds us that it is vital that we not allow greed to make us absentminded. We must REMEMBER the right things in life…things like the needs of others. Giving to help other people instead of hoarding can bring us great joy. We must also remember time. Our lives here are really very brief. Time spent preparing for eternity is certainly time well spent. And we must remember to include God in our plans. We must give Him praise for all we have and acknowledge our relationship with Him by returning to Him a portion of our income.

Well, how is your memory this morning when it comes to THINGS? Perhaps God has used our study like a post-it note to jog your memory and help you see that you really need to rethink your philosophy of possessions. Some of us here this morning may need to ask God’s forgiveness for our selfishness. You may be here and feel God leading you to invest your TIME in the Rockville area in the ministry of this church by joining us in our work for God. And maybe God has used this parable to help some of you see that you haven’t prepared for eternity. You realize this morning how much you need Jesus in your heart and life. I invite you to make any of these decisions public by walking the aisle as we stand now and sing and sharing your commitment with me or Steve.

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