By Steve DuPlessie | February 19, 2018
Jesus has a plan for his disciples; a very radical plan that invests our money differently with a much different and much bigger payoff in the end than the investment plans of our culture. Here’s the principle: Define yourself by what you give, not what you have.
So let’s dig down on this idea. Turn with me in your bible to Luke’s Gospel, chapter 12, verse 13: “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, (that’s what they called Jesus: Rabbi, or teacher), teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’”
Ok, so this brother didn’t just want what he already had. He wanted part of his brother’s inheritance too! Jewish law and culture was pretty clear in Jesus’ day about family inheritances. The first-born son always got double what the others got. So if there were two sons, the first-born got two-thirds of the inheritance, and the second son got one-third. That sounds pretty unfair to us in our culture, and apparently this guy thought it was unfair, too. So, this guy wanted to get Jesus, the great teacher, on his side in the family argument. He was willing to do whatever he had to, to get what he wanted. He simply wanted … more!
And, to be honest, we’re just like that guy; maybe even worse. We always want more! We’re all infected with the sicknesses of consumerism and materialism, the subtle, unseen disease of want and greed. So, it makes the sense that the first important step is for us to recognize and acknowledge our problem … we always want more.
We always want more…
So even before He shares His parable, Jesus gives us … a warning: The fight against wanting more is a constant, ongoing struggle. Look at verse 15: “Then Jesus said to all of them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed!'” Now, I need to point out to you the sternness of this warning from Jesus. This phrase, “be on your guard,” is a present imperative … it tells us that we must be constantly, continuously, vigilant against wanting more stuff, because that temptation simply never goes away.
In fact, just when we think we have a handle on this materialism thing, our consumer-based society dangles another juicy prize in front of us – a new phone, a new TV – and greed will once again swamp our good intentions at moderation. In fact, marketers have already budgeted to spend billions this year in their ad budget to make you discontent with what you already have, to tease you with new gadgets, to help you justify more stuff.
So, Jesus said we’ve got to be ready to carry on a constant struggle in our hearts and minds against the attractive lure of more stuff: “He said to all of them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.”
Who you are is so much more important that what you have…
So in the face of this temptation, Jesus wants you, wants me, to be thinking right – countercultural, transformational, but right! Verse 15b: “… a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus is telling this man, “Who you are is more important than what you have!” Did you know iPhone owners are about 21 times more likely to tech-shame a date who uses an Android phone. Incredible!
That’s a lesson that most of us never really learn, permanently. Oh, we claim to know that … and we might win little battles against consumerism and materialism in our lives … but we never really seem to grab hold of our real identity … as loved, chosen, forgiven, redeemed, daughters and sons of God! That’s your primary identity, that’s who you really are: a loved, chosen, forgiven, redeemed, daughter or son of God! Grab that! Believe that! Internalize that!
You already have more than you think you do…
As you let this truth sink in … “who you are as a child of God is much more important that what stuff you have” … look at how Jesus lays out the logic of this next truth in the parable: “You already have more than you think you do.” Verse 16 says: “…The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.” Notice the man didn’t get rich because he had the good crop. He was already a rich man! He already had plenty! He just didn’t recognize it.
Now before you mock that guy as clueless, recognize that followers of Jesus in the United States control 55% of the wealth in the entire world, and 70% of the wealth of Christ followers worldwide. 70%! It’s hard to imagine just how rich we are until you spend some time in Haiti, or India, or any one of dozens of third world countries with no electricity – so no refrigeration; no indoor toilets, just a latrine out back; no public schools; no health care down the street … You already have much more than you think you have.
The more you get, the more you want…
But the next lesson in the story Jesus told was “The more you get, the more you want.” Look at verse 17: “He (the rich man) thought to himself, `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 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. 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.’”
Did you see all of the personal pronouns in those verses? I, me, my, myself … This guy was really wrapped up in himself, wasn’t he? Pretty self-focused, definitely self-centered. He had a great crop, a great opportunity, so what did he decide to do? Build more barns, and bigger barns so that he could store all of his stuff and make room for… more! He gave absolutely no thought to blessing someone else with what he’d received. His goal was to retire young, party-hearty, enjoy all the comforts that he had! Really?
Listen, that’s the cycle of greed. That’s why The Apostle Paul wrote in his first advice letter to Timothy,“The love of money is the root of all evil.” Now don’t misunderstand me here. Wealth is not inherently evil. The bible doesn’t condemn money or even riches or possessions in themselves. In fact, Paul told Timothy, just a few lines later, that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
But our culture is in love with money and stuff. And it’s not just the rich who are in love with money. Some of the poorest people I know are still in love with the money that they wish they had.
And, sadly, whether we know it or not, many of us in this room are entangled in the love of money. I know that I am. Always wish I had more. We think we have a handle on our desires, but we really don’t.
That’s why Jesus said and “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” We get caught up in debating about what the camel and the eye of the needle means, and we totally lose the pointed warning about our dangerous fixation on money, our potentially eternally fatal obsession with m money and more stuff, that becomes an idol, a security blanket that subtly replaces dependence on God, and a pleasure center that replaces enjoyment of God.
You can’t take it with you…
So the next lesson here in the parable here in Luke 12 for those of us who want to follow Jesus is this: “You can’t take it with you.” Look at verse 20: “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’”
You know, it really should make us wonder: if we can’t take the material things of this world with us when we die, why are we so totally and completely focused upon accumulating this stuff now? Why do we invest so much passion, so much energy in getting more stuff? I remember walking out of the Nursing Home the day my dad crossed over to glory … with one small box that had all his possessions. Jesus said in verse 21: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Brothers and sisters, God has better, higher plans for us. You can’t take it with you; but, you can send it on ahead. Jesus told the crowd that day, verse 32: “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you … the Kingdom! (WOW!) For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom! So sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
Listen, Jesus wants to replace our natural, well-practiced selfishness … with new, un-natural self-less-ness. He wants to replace valuing stuff … with valuing relationships. He wants to replace investing in personal comfort and convenience … with investing in the Kingdom of God. It won’t make much sense to the world around you … but it makes complete sense in God’s ultimate long-term investment plan.
A new attitude…
God’s way of looking at things reveals the character, the heart of our tri-une God. God the Father is a giver. He demonstrated that in giving His one and only Son Jesus as our desperately-needed savior (John 3:16). And Jesus the Son is a giver: He gave us the much-needed Holy Spirit (John 15:26). And the Holy Spirit is a giver: He gives all of us good gifts that equip us to serve God and each other (1 Corinthians 12).
If you and I are going to be disciples of Jesus, who follow and reflect in our own lives and attitudes the Rabbi we follow, then we need to have his heart. And that comes down to the simple principle: Define yourself by what you give, not what you have.