Imagine that a letter came tomorrow to say you've just inherited £50,000 from a distant relative. What would you do with £50,000?
I guess our answers would fall along a spectrum from what you might call the luxury end to the need end. At the luxury end you might be thinking, 'I'd do the house extension we've been dreaming about' – or something like that. While at the need end you might be thinking, 'I'd clear my debts, or start some proper saving.'
Well in this morning's passage in our series on Luke, the Lord Jesus speaks to both ends of the spectrum – to those who have more than enough, and to those who don't. But he also speaks to the attitudes of heart that you can have wherever you are on that spectrum. For example, wherever you are, you can always want more. And wherever you are, you can always be anxious about not having enough. So would you turn in the Bible to Luke 12, and before we go any further, let's pray.
Through these words you spoke while you were here on earth, please help us to see our lives, our wealth, our needs and our responsibilities from the vantage point of trusting in you.
In your name we pray. Amen
So look down to Luke chapter 12 and verse 13:
Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." (v13)
So there's my opening scenario: he's just inherited £50,000 (let's say) in joint property with his brother. And he wants to get his hands on his share. We're not told what he wanted it for. But what happens next suggests that Jesus knows he's up the more-than-enough end of the spectrum, with all the spiritual dangers that brings. So read on, v14:
But [Jesus] said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions." (vv14-15)
Ie, 'Don't think life equals having more or better things.' And that's the first of the three things Jesus says to us in this passage this morning:
1. Don't think life is having more or better things (vv13-21)
Look at v15 again:
And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness [which means the over-riding desire to have more or better], for one's life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions." (vv14-15)
A while ago a book about the advertising industry came out called The Want Makers – subtitled 'How they make you buy.' And the point it makes is that advertising isn't just altruistically aiming to match products to our needs (eg, 'You need to wash your hair… well here's Shampoo X'). Advertising is aiming to create desire for things we don't need (eg, 'Here's a lovely leather sofa that will now make you feel completely dissatisfied with the perfectly good one you're sitting on.') Like the book-title says, advertisers are 'The Want Makers'. And the definition of life they play on is that life is having more and better things. So Jesus then tells a story of someone who lives by that definition.
Look onto v16:
"And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' (vv16-19)
In today's terms, he's long since paid off the mortgage; he's done everything to his house that you could possibly think of doing to a house; and he has a pension big enough to retire on in style. To which the world says, 'That's success.' Whereas, v20,
"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God." (vv20-21)
And when God says, 'Fool!', he's not insulting him. Because in the Bible the fool isn't the person lacking intelligence, but lacking judgement. The fool is the person who misjudges life by leaving God completely out of his thinking. And the thing is: like this man in the parable, you can do that and be very successful. That may be you, right now. It certainly describes a lot of people I know. Which is one reason it's hard to share the gospel with them, because you start talking about God and they say, 'Look, I don't feel any need of a belief in God – life's going well just as it is.' To which I try to say, 'But isn't it possible that life's going well precisely because there's a God who's being good to you? Why do you draw the opposite conclusion? Isn't it possible that life's going well precisely because there's a God who's being good to you? And if there is a God who's being good to you, don't you owe it to him to relate to him properly?'
That's certainly the assumption behind Jesus' parable. After all, v16, who made the land of this rich man produce plentifully? God. And yet, like lots of people today, he lived on the illusion that he owed it all to luck or hard work or a combination of the two. And only being called into God's presence by death broke that illusion, when he realised – only too late to do anything about it – that life is not having more or better things, but having a relationship with God that survives death.
Now I remember looking at this with a Christianity Explored group. And one of the definitely not Christians said, 'Well, if this is true, turning to God is a no-brainer because if you don't, no amount of success in this life can compensate for what you lose in the next.' But then he repeated, 'If it's true…'
Lots of people have said to me, 'The thing, is, you can't know it's true until you die – so I'm just going to wait and see.' Which is a high-risk strategy. Because the New Testament (NT) says you can know: it says that Jesus rose from the dead, and that therefore there is life beyond death, and Jesus is waiting to meet us there. Which means that life is not having more or better things, but having a relationship with him that survives death.
That's the first thing Jesus says to us here. The next is:
2. Don't be anxious, as if you didn't have a Father in heaven (vv22-30)
Someone once said, 'There are two problems with money. One is having too much. And the other is having too little.' And having dealt with the spiritual dangers of the too much end, Jesus moves on to the spiritual problems of the too little end (or at least feeling you have too little, or fearing you will have too little). So look on to v22:
And he said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. (v22)
Now imagine a Christian man who's married with small children; his wife's not working; and he's just lost his job. And he is worried about paying the rent or mortgage, and about paying the bills and putting food on the table, and so on. Is Jesus saying that's wrong? Well it all depends what you mean by worried. If you mean feeling concerned and feeling responsible then no, that's not wrong – that's perfectly right. Jesus isn't saying, 'Let's all be happy-go-lucky and carefree and irresponsible.' Instead, Jesus is saying two things here. He's saying don't be anxiously concerned about your needs. And he's saying don't be all-absorbed in meeting your needs. And he then gives a string of reasons why not. So read on, v23:
For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (v23)
Now obviously life is physical and we have physical needs. But Jesus is saying, 'Life is more than just physical.' And we desperately need to hear that in a culture where human life is constantly being reduced to the merely material or economic. So, for example, take education: more and more, you hear people talking about it as if the only aim is to turn out cogs for the machine of the economy. Just this week I heard someone on the news criticising schools and he said, 'We're just not producing the kind of economic units we need.' To which Jesus says, 'Life is more than just being an economic unit.'
I know a family where, when the children were young, things went wrong financially. And the husband and father worked for years to lift them out of debt. And the children – who are grown up now – would say that really became his all-absorbing priority – not just to get them off that end of the spectrum, but to get them so far up the other end they need never fear getting into difficulty again. And he did, by working round the clock all his life. And I remember one of the children saying, 'I'm really grateful for what he's done; but looking back I realise I didn't really want more money and more of what it bought us. I really wanted more of him.' Because, v23,
life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (v23)
And it's more than better houses and holidays and all the rest of it.
So that's the first reason Jesus gives for not making our needs our anxious, all-absorbing priority. But then his next reason is that your Father in heaven is looking after you – if by faith in Jesus, God has become your Father. Look onto v24:
Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! (v24)
You may have heard on the news last week a woman being interviewed who hadn't eaten for three days, so that her children still could. And that instinct of a mother or father to provide for their children is one of the most powerful instincts there is. And it reflects God's commitment as Creator to provide for his creation – eg, for the ravens. Now as Jesus says, they don't sow or reap or have barns. But that doesn't mean they're just passive. They still have to look for their food – they actively have to find the road-kill rabbits and so on that the Lord leaves out for them. So the raven example isn't saying, 'Do nothing and God will provide.' It's saying, 'God will provide as we use the means through which he provides – which in the ravens' case is looking for the road-kills; and in our case is looking for work and then working, and so on.'
And this isn't a promise that believers will immediately find work; or that we'll never face redundancy or unemployment; or that God's provision will always come in consistently rather than through some times of plenty and some times of faith-stretching need. But it is a promise that, over-arching all of those circumstances, God will provide. Your Father in heaven is looking after you – even at times when that's not obvious.
And then Jesus adds a very pragmatic reason against anxiety – which is that it doesn't achieve anything (except, possibly, ill health). Verse v25:
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? (vv25-26)
I'm aware that some of us here are facing big health issues, and it's natural to be anxious about how a condition is going to develop. But the truth is that worrying can't influence our remaining quality or quantity of life in the slightest – any more than it can protect a pregnancy from miscarriage or a child from accident or illness or help a patient get better. We have this illusion that anxiety somehow influences those situations. But Jesus reminds us that it can't, because the only person with ultimate influence over all those things is God. And worrying is actually a way of trying to play God, trying to control or influence things by mental and emotional effort. And trying to play God is very stressful – it's always stressful when we try to do something that's beyond us. And the truth is that only God ultimately controls and influences all those things. Which is why Jesus comes back to a second example of how our Father in heaven is looking after us, because he knows we can only let go of anxiety by passing it over to God.
That's why, in Philippians, Paul doesn't just say,
do not be anxious about anything (Philippians 4.6)
That by itself is never a very helpful thing to say or be told. Instead, Paul says:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And [then] the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4.6-7)
We only let go of anxiety by passing it over to God. I remember that vividly, for example, from the time when Beth and Ellie were tiny, premature newborns. And you know there's such a thing as cot death. And you know that as you shut the door of the nursery, you can't keep watching them or listening for their breathing – and even if you could, that wouldn't keep them alive. And you just have to hand them over to God again and again and again. And that's what Jesus is calling us to do here, whatever the anxiety is about. So verse 27, here's his second example of our heavenly Father's care:
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! (vv27-28)
And then verses 28-30 sum up this second part of the passage:
And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. (vv29-30)
And, again, he doesn't mean we don't have to work and spend and save responsibly. In those two verses, to 'seek' means to make meeting your needs your anxious, all-absorbing priority. And that's what he's calling us not to do, because unlike the unbelieving world, we know we have a Father in heaven who knows what we need.
So Jesus says: don't think life is having more or better things; don't be anxious, as if you didn't have a Father in heaven. And,
3. Seek God's priorities and trust him to provide (vv31-35)
Look on to v31:
Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (v31)
And 'his kingdom' basically means his rule over our lives – so Jesus is saying, 'Make that your over-riding priority and trust God for the consequences and your needs along the way.'
So for a start, he's saying, 'Let God rule in your own life, and trust him to provide as you do.' For example, I have a Christian friend who's always found work hard to find. And after qualifying professionally, he finally got to a second round interview, in which he was suddenly asked, 'Would you be willing to lie for the company?' And without hesitation he said, 'No.' And he said that was basically the end of the interview – they weren't interested. But his over-riding priority was to let God rule in his life, and to trust God to provide him with a living some other way.
But 'seek his kingdom' also means 'work for God's rule to come in other peoples' lives.' Which means sharing the gospel – to extend God's rule to new lives. And it means building up those who are already believers – to deepen God's rule in their lives. Ie, it means being committed to our mission as a church – to church growth here and world mission support elsewhere – including the financing of that. And with the latest total of our St Joseph's gift week now up to over 90% of what's needed, at £636,000, there's obviously been more serious seeking again of God's priorities among us. Just take in what has happened: in the last two years, God has stirred us up and enabled us to give nearly £1.9 million to see our multi-site future begin. Which is an amazing thing he's done for his glory. But that now sets the stage for us needing to give more to the regular ministry costs of two sites – until more people are coming to faith and becoming committed givers alongside those of us who already are. So we're not remotely 'out of the woods': we're really going to need to keep trusting him to provide for our needs, when I guess giving has impacted our savings and left us smaller margins for contingencies.
But I've never forgotten the example of this v31 promise that the Lord gave me at my last church, St Andrew the Great in Cambridge. We were giving towards the new building there and I had the princely sum of £250 in the bank. That was my total savings. And that gift week, one of the Parish Assistants crashed my old car. And my dodgy, backstreet garage man said it would cost £250 to repair. So I gave the £250 to the gift week and had no idea what to do about the car. I handed my cheque to the church office on Monday morning. And that evening on my doormat was an unmarked envelope with £250 in notes. And I hadn't told anyone I needed that for the car. Apart from God, the only person who knew about the £250 was my dodgy garage man and, rightly or wrongly, I'd ruled him out as being my anonymous angel. Whoever God did it through, it was an unforgettable example of:
seek his kingdom, and these things [ie, these things you need, these things you're worried about] will be added to you. (v31)
And I thank God for teaching me that when I had next to nothing, because now there are several more noughts on the end of my total savings, it's ironically much harder to give.
But God's kingdom ultimately lies beyond this life, when his rule will come perfectly in heaven. So 'seek his kingdom' also means, 'Live with that eternal perspective – which the fool in the parable completely lacked. So let's read from verse 32 to the end:
"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom [that eternal future where, as Jesus says elsewhere, you'll 'inherit the earth'. So in light of that, v33:] Sell your possessions, and give to the needy [which doesn't mean sell and give all; it assumes we'll continue to have possessions but be willing to give out of them regularly for others' sake]. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (vv32-34)
So beyond meeting our own needs and paying taxes, the Bible gives just two other over-riding priorities for our use of money. One is financing the spread of the gospel and the building up of the church. And the other is meeting the needs of the poor. And the ideal is when those two things go hand in hand – as they do, for example, through our partners in Mburi, from whom we heard those enthusiastic greetings in the video just now. And Jesus is saying: prioritise the use of your money now for those things, so that when you look back in heaven, your use of money will have had eternal value. So that you have the treasure of believers from Mburi coming up to you in heaven and saying, 'Thank you so much for the clinic you paid for – it saved my daughter's life.' And you have the treasure of believers from Tyneside saying, 'Thanks for paying for that building in Benwell – that's where I first heard the gospel, that's how I come to be here in heaven today.' And above all, you have the treasure of hearing Jesus say, 'Well done with your money. That's exactly how I wanted you to use it.'
The Treasure Principle, Randy Alcorn, Multnomah [very short, readable, highly practical book on principles of stewardship and giving]
Money, Possessions & Eternity, Randy Alcorn, Tyndale [much longer book looking at the same subject in greater depth]
CAP:Money course – see details of this course we run on the church website: