The Bible rarely calls people names. I've been watching the presidential debates going on and people are calling each other all kinds of names. But you rarely see that in the scriptures. There is one instance that comes to mind where the Lord calls a rich man a fool. In one place he said you shouldn't call anybody a fool, but this man he calls a fool, probably because he deserved it.
He calls the man a fool because this man allowed the love of money to make him forget some of the more important things in life. It's a familiar story and is found in Luke 12. It begins, actually, as someone interrupts Jesus with a question. Jesus is with a crowd normally around him, and he's answering a question and then someone interrupts him. The question that interrupts him is about settling a money dispute over two brothers. Jesus actually doesn't answer that question. He responds to it but he doesn't go into detail answering, "Well, you ought to go to a lawyer." He doesn't do any of that. He uses the question as a way to teach the crowd a lesson about the dangers of worldly mindedness and selfish ambition. He tells them the story of a certain wealthy man and shows them that there is no fool like a rich fool.
13Someone in the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14But He said to him, "Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?" 15Then 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." 16And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man was very productive. 17And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' 18Then 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. 19And 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."' 20But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' 21So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."
- Luke 12:13-21
This is a very simple story. I don't need to explain the ins and outs of it. We see that the rich man was a fool but not because he was rich or successful and he decided to retire. He wasn't a fool because he decided, "Look, I've got enough money. I've got all this stuff. I think I'm just going to take it easy." He's not a fool because of that. He was a fool because despite these blessings he forgot several very important things.
1. He Forgot God
In the entire passage, the rich man uses the words I, my, or mine twelve times but not once does he mention God. He forgot that everything that happens to us does so with God's permission and to make plans without reference to God is foolish indeed, especially plans on how to use his blessings. It's one thing to make ordinary plans, I'm going to go here, I'm going to go there. But when you are blessed, when you recognize you've received something that you don't deserve, it's just a huge blessing, to decide what to do with all of that without consulting the Lord, the source of the blessing? Foolish indeed.
2. He Forgot Others
Not only did he not mention God, he did not even think of how his blessings could in some way benefit other people. I mean obviously he had more than enough for himself. He had more than enough for himself, and the only solution for the abundance was to build bigger barns so he can kind of maintain as much as he could for himself. Paul, the Apostle, tells us in Ephesians 4:28 that caring for other people is one of the primary responsibilities that we have in the use of our resources, in the use of our abundance. And so the rich fool forgot that one of the reasons God blesses us is so that we might have the ability to bless other people. It's a wonderful promise that God makes. He tells us, "I'm going to give you enough so that you have enough for yourself and I'm even going to give you more so that you can give to someone else." What a wonderful promise that is. Enough for me, and enough for me to bless somebody else. But the rich fool, he was a fool because he just thought of himself. It never crossed his mind that his abundance might serve someone else.
3. He Forgot That Man Is More Than Just Matter
Life is not just about having stuff. Life is not just about keeping our stuff or buying more stuff or having the newest stuff, the coolest stuff, the most different stuff, the most exclusive stuff. That's not what life is about, although you wouldn't know that by watching television. The biggest complaint I have about being online is the pop-up ads. You want to just read something, and you have to wade through all kinds of advertising. For what? To buy stuff. Have stuff delivered.
Amazon Prime is fun but it is also dangerous. With just one little click, that's all it takes. Buy now, one click. That's all you have to do. Your credit card is entered in. They already know your address. Before you take a second breath you've got an email waiting for you with your receipt.
It is so easy for our life to just become a series of clicks. I want this, I want that. I want to look at that. I want to see that. I want to know this. Click, click, click, click. But life is about loving, and knowing, and serving God.
I'm pretty sure all of us could pass that test if I asked that question on a quiz. What is life about? What's most important? To know God, to love God. That's what life is about. That's what eternal life is about. And yet, we are seduced in this life to click away our life and make our life just about stuff.
Life is also about loving other people and experiencing that love from others. That's the flip side of the Internet, sites that allow you to see and interact with your friends and family. In a way, that is a whole lot easier than ever before. Life is about experiencing that love from other people. That's what real life is about.
My wife Lise and I were watching a show called Downton Abbey and on the finale they tied up all of the loose ends. It was a happy ending, the girl gets the guy and they get married. The other fella gets the job that he's always wanted. We thought to ourselves, "Wait a minute." The thing that the happy ending is in the movie, well that's what we got. They're making movies about what we've got. We love each other. We've been married 38 years. We have children. We have grandchildren. We love our children. Our children love us. Our grandchildren love us. That's our life. And yet when you watch a movie, isn't that the very best happy ending in a movie? These made up stories, they have to make up stories so that the satisfaction will be that these movie stars, what are they getting? They're getting what we already have! Which is so "ordinary." That's what life is about.
The rich fool, he forgot that the purpose of wealth is not to insulate yourself from other people. That's one of the dangers of great wealth, you can just insulate yourself. You can build a moat around your house. You can build a high fence, so no ugliness gets to you. You're insulated from other people. You're not in contact with other people. You don't have to get your hands dirty with other people. The purpose of wealth is not to insulate you from other people but rather give you the freedom to become involved in other people's lives for good. If you don't have to spend all that time scratching in the dirt to earn your living, and you've got a lot more free time, you've just been given a gift. You've been given the gift of time that you can invest in other people, to make their lives better, to make their lives easier. The rich fool forgot that life is not about stuff, keeping stuff, hoarding stuff. It's about knowing God, and in the name of God, loving other people in some way that they need.
4. He Forgot the Source of True Joy
The wealthy fool was excited and happy at the prospect of greater wealth, but he was only fooling himself in thinking that his bigger barns would provide a secure retirement. Had he lived he would have needed to maintain and protect his wealth against thieves and natural calamities. He would have found out that increasing wealth does not increase one's peace of mind or joy. The world is full of miserable millionaires who prove this point. Believers understand that the source of true joy is:
- Faith and trust in God.
- Personal righteousness and purity.
- Hope for eternal life.
These things money can serve, but it cannot buy - and the rich fool forgot this. He thought that having a lot of stuff made him rich. He didn't realize that having a lot of stuff, had he not died that night, would have simply caused him more stress, more concern, more involvement of the world, because the more of the world you own, the more the world owns you.
5. He Forgot About Death
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment
- Hebrews 9:27
We should always live our lives in a such a way that we never forget that one day we're going to die. And more importantly we're going to be judged. We should live always with that thought uppermost in our minds. Because this gives us freedom to try, and to be the best, because time is limited. I don't have time to waste on hatred and revenge because my time is limited.
It also gives us the wisdom to remember to obey the One who will judge us. And let's be assured, he will judge. So the rich fool enjoyed life so much he forgot about death. He enjoyed himself so much he forgot about judgment. He forgot to ask himself the question, "How will God judge me in the use of what he's given me?" We all have something, we all have some blessings. How will God judge us?
We're always worried about the idea of how will God judge me. Did I lie, or cheat, or sexual immorality, whatever. We think of the moral things. But a lot of times we don't think how will He judge us in the use of our gifts, in the use of the good things He's given us. Has He given you good health? Has He given you stamina? Has He given you an opportunity to get an education? Has your life been one where you were born in a free country and you had access to everything because you were born in a rich and free country? What did you do with that blessing?
I often think our brothers and sisters in Haiti, for example, an extremely poor country. People living in boxes like what your refrigerator comes in. Well, that's somebody's house, with tin stuck onto it, and leaves, and more cardboard. And some of these people are Christians. They come to services on Sunday, and they pray, and they sing a capella, and they take the communion, and some brother gets up and preaches to them, and they say, "Amen." And they go to Bible class, and they have fellowship afterwards. You'd feel quite at home at their service. And then when services are over, they go home to their box!
These are our brothers and sisters. And I've often said to myself, wow, I have all of this. All the food I can eat. All the clean air I can breathe. I can go anywhere, do anything. I have all of this. On top of all of this I get to go to heaven. And my brother down there, he's got a box to live in, and he's my brother. And he's looking forward to going to the same heaven that I'm looking forward to going to. How have I used all of this? Because all of this was just given to me. I didn't earn it or deserve it. An accident, or perhaps providential birth put me here, and put my brother living in a box. I need to think about things like that.
There is no fool like a rich fool. All of the blessings and advantages of wealth that should have pointed this man to God and thankfulness. This doesn't make me look good, but sometimes in my prayers I say, "Lord, thank you so much that I don't live in a box. Because I know some of my brothers and sisters are living in boxes. I didn't do that to them, but thank you so much that I don't live in a box." Well, the rich fool, he never made a prayer like that. It should have pointed him to God and thankfulness, his wealth. It should have pointed him to service. But instead he used his wealth selfishly. His wealth served only to darken his heart and blind him to the true wealth that God will give freely to those who acknowledge him.
I know something else about my brother who lives in a box because I've met many of those brothers. And those brothers say, "Yes, I live in a box but I'm going to heaven one day! And that thought, keeps me sane while I live in the box."
I believe that in comparison to many, we're the rich. Certainly in comparison to those in other countries, not just Haiti, but in Eastern Europe, and Russia, China, other developing nations. I also believe that it's okay to be rich and it's a blessing from God to be rich, and it should be accepted, and it should be appreciated.
The danger is not just being rich. The danger is being a rich fool. So let's not fall into the same trap:
- Let's remember God and all that we have, whatever that may be.
- Let's remember others, and how we can use our resources to help others.
- Let's remember true living cannot be accomplished without reference to faith in God and involvement with other human beings.
- Let's remember peace and joy are spiritual things and they can only be obtained through spiritual activities. They're not commodities that can be traded or purchased on the stock market.
- Let's remember that in the end, God will judge everyone.
Don't let those who are evil and succeeding discourage you. Because my brother who lives in the box, when I met him, he loved me. He loved me. He was happy to see me. I did not sense in any way a resentment in him because he lived where he lived and I lived where I lived. The only thing I sensed from that brother was that together we were both going to finally live in a mansion in heaven. In the meantime, we have different living arrangements. Because in the end God will judge everyone.
Let's not be discouraged for those who have more than we have. In the story, God took the rich fool right in the middle of his planning, building and enjoyment. That's how it works. We don't always have time to make the big turnaround.
Last winter, I tripped on the four or five steps that exit the church building. I said to Celestia, "I'll go check the mail." I went outside and I slipped on a piece of ice and fell off of the step and went flying down and landed on my face on the concrete. I laid there for a moment thinking surely I had broken something. Nothing, just winded a little bit. That's how death happens. You're on your way to get the mail and then you're dead because you stepped on a piece of ice, and you fell, and boom, hit your head, and you're dead. You're driving along and you're just about to change the radio and somebody comes through the intersection and you're dead. You're feeling fine one night. You go to bed, you wake up. You're feeling a little queasy. You go back and lie down and then you're dead. That's how it works.
We don't always have the opportunity to make things right or to come back with God. "I'm going to make it all right one day." No! The best time to make a change, and to resolve to improve, or turn away, the best time is always right away, right now.
That's why we encourage you to do two things at the end of our lessons, because you might not make it back for the next service. So if you've forgotten some of the things, like the rich fool, maybe now would be a good time to make those things right in your life so that you can avoid the surprise of being called by the Lord when you're not ready.