The Parable of the Rich Fool

[To help with our thinking generally at this time of the Giving Review, I have produced another edited piece from the "Expository Thoughts" of J.C.Ryle. The Victorian first Bishop of Liverpool is always challenging on the subject of money. His own wealthy father was bankrupted when Ryle was in his twenties. The following is from Luke's Gospel chapter 12 - David Holloway.]

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he 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 who 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” (NIV).

The parable we have just read gives us a remarkable instance of people's readiness to bring the things of this world into the middle of their religion. We are told that a certain hearer of our Lord asked him to help him in his temporal affairs. "Teacher," he said, "tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."

He probably had some vague idea that Jesus was going to set up a kingdom of this world and to begin to reign on earth. So he resolves to make an early application about his own financial matters. He asks our Lord to interfere in the business of an earthly inheritance. Other hearers of Christ might be thinking of a place in the world to come. This man was one whose chief thought, evidently, was on this present life.

How many hearers of the Gospel are just like this man! How many are incessantly planning and scheming about the things of time, even under the very sound of the things of eternity! The natural heart of man is always the same. Even the preaching of Christ did not arrest the attention of all his hearers. The minister of Christ in the present day must never be surprised to see worldliness and inattention in the middle of his congregation. The servant must not expect his sermons to be more valued than his Master's!


A solemn warning

Let us note, first, in these verses, what a solemn warning our Lord pronounces against greed.

"He said to them [the crowd], 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.'"

It would be impossible to decide positively which is the most common sin in the world. It would be safe to say that there is none, at any rate, to which the heart is more prone than greed. It was this sin which helped to cast down the angels who fell. They were not content with their first condition. They were greedy and wanted something better.

It was this sin which helped drive Adam and Eve out of paradise and bring death into the world. Our first parents were not satisfied with the things which God gave them in Eden. They were greedy for more; so they fell. It is a sin which, ever since the fall, has been the fertile cause of misery and unhappiness on earth. Wars, quarrels, strifes, divisions, envyings, disputes, jealousies, hatreds of all sorts, both public and private, may nearly all be traced back to this fountain-head. Let the warning which our Lord pronounces sink down into our hearts and bear fruit in our lives. Let us earnestly try to learn the lesson which St. Paul had mastered when he says,

"I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances" (Phil 4.11).

Let us pray for a thorough confidence in God's superintending providence over all our worldly affairs and God's perfect wisdom in all his arrangements concerning us. If we have little, let us be sure of his plan for our good. If the things that we have are taken away, let us be satisfied that there is a purpose. Happy is the one who is persuaded that whatever is, is best, and has ceased from fruitless wishing and become "content with what they have" (Heb 13.5).


The folly of worldly mindedness

Let us note, secondly, in these verses, what a withering exposure our Lord makes of the folly of worldly mindedness. He draws the picture of a rich man of the world whose mind is wholly set on earthly things. He paints him scheming and planning about his property, as if he was master of his own life and had simply to say, "I will do this," and it would be done.

Then he turns the picture and shows us God requiring the soul of this man of the world and asking the heart-searching question, "Who will get what you have provided for yourself?"

"Folly", Jesus makes us learn - nothing less than "folly" - is the right word by which to describe the conduct of the man who thinks of nothing but his money. The man who "stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God," is the man whom God declares to be a "fool".

It is an awful thought that the character which Jesus brings before us in this parable is far from being uncommon.

Thousands in every age of the world have lived continually doing the very things which are here condemned. Thousands are doing them at this very day. They are storing up possessions on earth and thinking of nothing but how to increase them. They are continually adding to their wealth as if they were to enjoy it for ever, and as if there was no death, no judgement and no world to come.

And yet these are the people who are called clever and prudent and wise! These are the people who are commended and flattered and held up to admiration! Truly the Lord sees not as we see! The Lord declares that rich who live only for this world are "fools".

Let us pray for the rich. Their souls are in great danger. "Heaven," said a great man on his death-bed, "is a place to which few kings and rich men come." Even when converted, the rich carry a great weight and run the race to heaven under great disadvantages. The possession of money has a most hardening effect upon the conscience.

"The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Tim 6.10).

Poverty has many advantages. Riches destroy far more souls than poverty.


Being rich towards God

Let us note, lastly, in these verses, how important it is to be rich towards God. This is true wisdom. This is true providing for the time to come. This is genuine prudence. The wise man is the one who does not think only of earthly treasures but of treasures in heaven.

When can it be said of a man that he is rich towards God? Never until he is rich in grace, rich in faith and rich in good works! Never until he has applied to Jesus Christ and bought "from him gold refined in the fire" (Rev 3:18)! Never until he has "an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands" (2 Cor 5.1)! Never until he has a name written in the book of life and is "an heir of God and co-heir with Christ" (Rom 8.17)! Such a man is truly rich. His treasure is incorruptible. His bank never collapses. His inheritance never fades away. No one can deprive him of it. Death cannot snatch it out of his hands. All things are his already - the world, life, death, the present or the future (1 Cor 3.22). And best of all, what he has now is nothing to what he will have afterwards.

Riches like these are within the reach of every sinner who will come to Christ and receive them. May we never rest until they are ours! To obtain them may cost us something in the world. It may bring on us persecution, ridicule and scorn. But let the thought comfort us that the Judge of all says, "You are rich" (Rev 2.9). The true Christian is the only person who is really wealthy and wise.

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