The Parable of the Rich Fool

Series: Preacher: Date: January 11, 2009 Scripture Reference: Luke 12:16-21

This week I read a story about three sisters—ages 92, 94, and 96.  These elderly siblings had never married and had lived together their entire LONG lives. One night, the 96-year-old sister drew a bath for herself. She put one foot into the water, then paused and called out to her sisters asking,  “Was I getting in the tub or out?” The 94-year-old hollered back, “I don’t know sister, but I’ll come up and see.”  She started up the stairs, but stopped halfway and with a perplexed look on her face called out to her siblings, “Was I going up the stairs or coming down?” The “little” sister—the 92-year-old—was sitting at the kitchen having tea and she listened to her sisters’ interchange with a smirk on her face. She shook her head and said, “I sure hope I never get that forgetful,” and knocked on wood for good measure. Then she yelled out, “I’ll come up and help both of you as soon as I see who just knocked at the door.”

We can relate to this story because like these three spinsters we often struggle with failing memories. It is no doubt one of the side affects of living in an area like this where we endure such a hurried pace of life—but the truth is all of us forget things: names, purses, keys…appointments. I bring all this up today because—let’s see—WHY did I bring this up? Oh yes—I brought it up because as we continue our study of stories that have changed the world we come to a PARABLE that Jesus told about a FARMER with a memory deficiency. In my opinion his particular recollection problem was very unique because he REMEMBERED the WRONG things while at the same time FORGETTING the RIGHT ones.

My plan this morning is for us to study this familiar parable together so we can bring to mind several important principles that we must be careful to 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 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 elder 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 of course our omniscient Lord 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. The law was very clear and he knew it. His 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.

In my mind, like many of us, this man wanted Jesus to solve his problem—but not change his heart—and of course Jesus is more concerned with the latter than the former. I mean, what this individual needed was not some casual legal ruling by a religious teacher. No, what he needed was heart change. He needed a basic understanding of how possessions relate to the purpose of life. Like you and me, he needed to understand that WHO ONE IS….is far more important that WHAT ONE HAS or possesses.

And—please understand—this man was in great danger. I’m not referring to the danger of being cheated out of his fair share of the inheritance. No—the danger I’m referring to is the danger that the Lord referred to in verse 15 when He turned from the man to the crowd that day 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 about a very serious sin—the sin of GREED.

And, the fact is GREED is one of the most dangerous sins because greed is so subtle.  It isn’t obvious like theft or adultery. No—like RADON gas—the invisible killer—greed doesn’t always show. This is why Jesus stopped and grabbed this teachable moment, using it to tell this parable in the hopes of helping both His hearers that day and you and me to SEE how dangerous greed can be. And of course, it IS dangerous. If we are not careful GREED is a sin that can consume us and warp our values and perceptions.

I’m reminded of the story of a rich young man who was driving his Rolls Royce on a mountain road when he lost control and his car went over a cliff. The young man was thrown clear but his left arm was severed in the process. He stumbled to his feet, stood at the top of the cliff looking down at the burning wreck of his car, and cried out, “My Rolls!  My Rolls!” The driver of another car stopped to help and heard him crying out like this.  He gently grabbed the man and said, “Sir!  You’re in shock. Your arm has been severed!  Let me help you.”The young man looked down and when he saw that his arm was gone he cried out, “My Rolex!  My Rolex!”We chuckle—but the fact is GREED can make us blind to what is truly important in life. This world-changing story is usually called “THE PARABLE OF THE RICH FOOL” but Frank Pollard refers to it as “THE FARM THAT OWNED A FOOL”— and I like his title because GREED can twist our thinking such that our possessions possess us! Greed can warp our thinking and cause our ability to REMEMBER important truth to be greatly diminished.

Well, 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. 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.

Okay—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. We’ll follow a simple two-part outline. First we’ll focus on the things this farmer remembered and then we’ll 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.

What was the first WRONG thing this foolish farmer remembered?

(1) He remembered HIMSELF.

I say this because this rich fool’s soliloquy is absolutely packed FULL of the first person singular. 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 obviously something that this foolish farmer TOO easily recalled! You could say he had “I” trouble because, for this guy, the purpose of HAVING was SELF-indulgence. He was a firm believer in the popular selfish slogans of our day such as, “I deserve it,” or “I owe it to myself.”

No need to call out your answer but—how many times have you justified an extravagance with that statement? “I’ve had a hard time lately so I DESERVE this or that.” Here’s another question to ponder. How easily do YOU remember SELF first when you get an unexpected blessing? How often does SELF pop into your mind in times like these?

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.” In fact, we see this in the way that He taught us to pray, for “I”—first person singular—never appears in the LORD’S PRAYER.

Instead Jesus instructed us to say things like: “OUR Father” and, “Give US this day OUR daily bread and forgive US OUR WE forgive those who trespass against US.” When our Lord 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, or “my” room; and to use any of these words was regarded as a crime for which they were disciplined. I like that because 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 because when our mind revolves only around “me” and “mine” we becomes dangerously aggressive. We become like another farmer who said, “I don’t’ want much—just all the land that joins mine.” The fact is, when we are self-centered like the foolish farmer in Jesus’ story 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.”

This farmer reminds me of a new reality show we watched a portion of this week.  It’s about 10 physically attractive people who were brought together and told they were competing in a contest—the winner of which would be listed in People magazines’ 100 most beautiful people. I was going to cut and paste in their individual pictures into this power point slide but their heads were too big! Unbeknownst to the contestants is the fact that there are hidden cameras all over the place and the judges are watching to see how SELFISH these beauty kings and queens are.

And, I have to say—I’ve never seen a more selfish group of people in my life.  They give new meaning to the word NARCISISM because, due to their “I” trouble they love nothing more than to look at themselves in the mirror. They want nothing more than to please SELF. They are their own #1 fan. They are like the this foolish farmer who showed his memory troubles by remembering only himself.

Here’s the second WRONG thing that he remembered.

(2) He remembered 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 because in doing so he has really forgotten the main object of life which is to prepare for eternity.

I once toured the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, TN. It is a huge, beautiful estate. Here’s a picture of the main house—front—and back. Our tour of the main house took three hours and we didn’t even scratch the surface of that immense home. 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 bug movable gold-framed mirror so that while enjoying a long soak in that hot water he could always position it such that he could 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.

Do you remember the story Tolstoy told the story about the Russian peasant who was told that he could have all the land he could walk around in the time between sunup and sundown? Well, 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 his heart gave out and 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…I’m sure you will agree that 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:

(3) He forgot His NEIGHBORS.

I mean, I’m sure there must have been many needy people around him who would have been only too glad to share in his surplus harvest. 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 there’s not a 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. He FORGOT all about that.

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. Well, 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 for my own future use! Forget about sharing with others in need.

This leads us to another RIGHT thing this foolish farmer FORGOT….

(4) He forgot the source of real JOY in life.

His philosophy of happiness was to kick back and take it easy…to eat, drink, and be merry. Listen.  If we make his mistake and connect enjoyment with only ourselves then we are all wrong because 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 spirit 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! She is the opposite of this foolish farmer because he assumed he could be happy by 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. In fact, an abundance of THINGS can bring the opposite of joy. They can make us miserable. I mean think of it—how much of your life is spent in worrying about or taking care of THINGS?

—changing the oil in your car, doing your laundry, cleaning your house, working in your yard, paying the bills for all your things. So—you see, instead of adding to the joy of our lives—our things steal our joy and take on a life of their own. This reminds me of something that W. E. Sangster said,“America has more things than any other nation in the world—and at the same time more books on how to find happiness.” HOARDING things never brings us happiness. As Jesus said, “It is more blessed to GIVE.” But so often we forget this. Materialistic to the core, we convince ourselves that Jesus was wrong. We tell ourselves 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 that 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, till 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 bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house;  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 done 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, like countless fools he came to realize that lasting happiness is not to be found in things. Money cannot buy a sense of usefulness or 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.

(5) The next 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 lots of TIME—when in reality he only had a few moments of life 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.” Well, 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 that all this is temporary…that time does fly by. 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 that the right use of time is to prepare for eternity. Putting that off—that kind of procrastination can be very costly. As Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “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.

You and I need to think of our life here on earth in this same way because, in comparison to eternity, our time here is brief no matter how long we live. In this brief time we have, we must prepare for eternity because, as Jesus said in verse 20 of this parable, it is then “…that we will get what we have prepared for ourselves.” So—do not, “…store up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in an steal…no…instead 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)

(6) 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! He forgot that as 1 Chronicles 29:12 says, “Wealth and honor come from You, oh God. You are the ruler of all things.” 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 the Almighty. In his abundance He forgot the Source of every good and perfect gift.

In 1863, to help our nation avoid this mistake, Abraham Lincoln designated April 30 as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. He said, “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has grown, but we have forgotten God.” We need to heed Lincoln’s words because if we are not careful we will be just as forgetful as this fool. Riches can have that affect on us.

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.”  Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.” These texts should remind us that one very important way we REMEMBER God, when it comes to our material blessings, is by tithing…by giving a portion of our money to further His kingdom. You see, 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…and that 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 so 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 moving your membership here—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 Bobby.

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