The Danger Of Building Bigger Barns
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 NIV
Jesus made an important point about greed when He told the story of a man whose fields had produced so much crop that his storage facilities were filled to overflowing. That seems to be a happy problem, right? But, what was he to do?
The Rich Fool
After some deliberation, the man decided he had one option: “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.’ 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?’” Ever since these words were written in the Bible, that man has been known as “the rich fool” (Lk. 12:13-20).
What was wrong? Wasn’t it wise to adequately shelter his excess profits? Jesus’ concluding comment on this parable puts the picture into proper perspective: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21). The key words here are, “for himself” and “not toward God.” The man had accumulated a plentiful supply for a long future, and had planned a lavish retirement. But his two-dimensional view of life deceived him. He was thinking only of this life, assuming that things would continue indefinitely as they were.
Lacking the ultimate dimension – the God dimension – his picture was flat, colorless and empty. He was extremely rich, yet he was destitute with respect to God and eternity. Goods – material means and possessions – are only good for a time; even if it’s a long time, they’re never good forever. The “forever” dimension is the dimension no one can afford to ignore; it’s the only ultimately real dimension. Everything else is just the countdown to forever.
The larger context of this parable actually begins with someone appealing to Jesus: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” To which Jesus replied: “Man, who appointed Me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then He seized the teachable moment with these words: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Lk. 12:13-15).
The developed world’s materialistic, consumer mindset focuses so totally on the present and predictable future that all sight is lost of the ultimate beyond. We go on making plans and laying up treasures to prepare for our retirement, and in the process crowd out of our consciousness the fact that there is a future far more real beyond what we can now see and touch. This is fatal denial.
Jesus’ parable portrays the classic behavior of the materialistic consumer. His exaggerated assets fund a lavish lifestyle, and they seem inexhaustible. He allows himself to become convinced that his life does indeed consist in the abundance of his possessions. His materialistic “growth rate” seems to promise that the good times will only get better, inspiring a sense of invulnerability that prods an instinct to indulge with abandon. The illusions of abundance and inexhaustibility impart a false sense of security and conveniently enable denial regarding the distant beyond. Until the crash landing.
All matter, including the material part of our humanity, is on a timer. Like sand in an hourglass, too soon it runs out and we’re sliding helplessly down through the narrow part of the glass to the sandpile of eternity. Interestingly, Jesus didn’t say simply that the man was going to die. He said, “your life will be demanded from you” (12:20). He would have to surrender his life, account for how he used it and reap eternal consequences!
When we die, we are dead forever. How significant, then, are the years we lived? What do they matter in eternity? This is where the God-dimension is essential. Being “dead forever” is not eternal unconsciousness, nor extinction. The eternal God created us to live (with Him) forever. Thus, to not be “rich toward God” – to not be “born again” into the infinite wealth of an eternal relationship with Him as His children – is to continue in endless conscious remorse, pain and death in the absence of God and of all good. God “inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15 NKJV) – it is His environment. His years “go on through all generations” – they “will never end” (Ps. 102:24,27). “From everlasting to everlasting (He is) God” (Ps. 90:2).
The greatest news ever heard on planet earth is that the infinite God offers His eternity, His limitless life, to time-bound, terminal humans. There are conditions, of course. But He fulfilled the most important condition Himself, when, in the person of His Son, He entered our time environment and became the willing sacrifice to atone for our sins, the barrier that otherwise would shut us out from God and eternal life. Eternity is not simply a one-dimensional linear stretch of time; it’s a quality of life that is infinitely richer and fuller than we finite creatures could ever grasp from within our time-bound dimension.
The Rich Young Man
Another one who failed to grasp the idea of being “rich toward God” and the implications of “eternity” came to Jesus asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He was very religious and disciplined about complying with all the requirements of the Law. He thought he was doing pretty well.
Jesus answered: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” The poor fellow couldn’t believe his ears. “He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mk. 10:17-22). He, too, was rich for himself. He was so close. Only one thing stood between him and the eternal life that he claimed to seek. He too thought his life consisted in the abundance of his possessions: Another victim of the “deceitfulness of wealth” (Mk. 4:19). An eternally terminal mistake!
The one thing that barred him from eternal life was the primary object of his heart – his wealth. Jesus wants to be (and is the only one worthy to be) the one thing for our hearts, as He so clearly explained to Martha and Mary: “Martha, Martha, … you are worried and upset about many things (preparation of her home), but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better (sitting at Jesus’ feet), and it will not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10:38-42).
It seems like this otherwise promising young man’s idea of eternal life was “another” barn big enough to store the potential pleasure and rich indulgence that his huge wealth seemed to promise him. Jesus’ answer recalls His teaching recorded in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The heart focused on earth and earthly things is blind to heaven and eternity.
The Shrewd Manager
Jesus further reinforced this teaching with yet another parable (Lk. 16:1-15). A landowner was informed that one of his managers was mishandling company assets. So the landowner ordered him to turn over his records and prepare to be dismissed. With no unemployment compensation in sight, the manager had to think quickly. On his last day in charge of the company he called in his master’s debtors and substantially reduced their debts in order to win their friendship for the day when he would need their help. The landowner actually “commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly” for his own future interests. The owner acknowledged his shrewd actions within the context of this parable.
Jesus extracted this teaching from this example: Citizens of this world are often more far-sighted in their day-to-day business than are believers who have an eternal future in heaven. We must learn to use present, temporal advantage for longer-term eternal benefit. Dishonesty, irresponsibility or lack of diligence in minor matters does not logically become honesty or diligence when handling major matters (though we deceive ourselves into thinking that the small doesn’t matter, and we’d be more responsible with the large). Moral/ethical conduct is usually an established pattern, no matter how small or large the scale.
Obviously, everything earthly and temporal is “little” and the eternal is “much” for the simple reason of the immense difference between the two. Trustworthiness in important (eternal) matters is established in our handling of minor (temporal) matters.
One of the most insightful of Jesus’ observations here is His contrast between what is one’s own and what is another’s. The “little” assets are not our own, because they belong to earth and we don’t get to keep them; but they are important because they can teach us an eternal perspective on value. In the ultimate dimension (eternity) we will be given “our own” as a reward for wise administration of what is another’s. Earth and its materials are our practice course and tools, our training ground, for eternal success. In that case, how foolish to cling to the “little” bit of stuff that is not even our own in this life while missing the opportunity to “store up … treasure in heaven” (Mt. 6:19).
The “rich fool” of our first example completely failed this test. He thought all his stuff was his own and he essentially “gambled” eternity on it and lost everything, most importantly his own soul.
Jesus further taught: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Mt. 6:24). The temporal/material can easily blind us to the eternal/spiritual. We cannot keep both as priorities. We must choose. And we need God’s perspective to make the right choice.
And Jesus gives it to us again, this time in reference to the the Pharisees. “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and sneered at Jesus. He said to them: ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight’” (Lk. 16:15). Our human value system is completely upside-down compared to God’s. And God’s is the only one that’s eternally real.
Jesus’ words to His disciples in Matthew 16:25-27 again emphasize this principle: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what he has done.” A right appreciation of the “eternal,” “temporal” and “material” will defeat greed, because the ultimate eternal-spiritual abundance is already the believer’s possession in Christ.
Greed is so self-absorbing that it blinds one to reality and ultimately even to eternal life itself! We can never build a barn big enough. And if we could, it would still be a material barn that would not survive the meltdown of planet earth that will precede our entrance into eternity (2 Pet. 3:10- 13). Heaven’s storehouse, however, is as immense and limitless as eternity itself. Our choice is between a win-win situation and a lose-lose situation!
Let’s consider these words of Jesus as a summary statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3). To be poor in spirit is the opposite of being greedy in spirit; it is to humbly acknowledge one’s impoverished condition and deep need, and to readily accept a gracious, loving Father’s provision and the true contentment that comes with it.
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org