Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.Here is a parable of a man with an abundant harvest that ran out of space to store his crop. He then thought to tear down his barn and build bigger ones. He would then say to himself that he is set for many years and he can now relax, eat, drink, and celebrate. Then that night the Lord demanded his life from him.
The seduction of success is very difficult to ignore. There are so many reasons to pursue it, and on the surface, the pursuit to fill our barn may seem like a very good choice. But there is a difference between what the worldly man does and what the godly man does. The worldly man stores up riches for himself, while the godly man is rich toward God (12:21).
The Seduction of Success.
We are spirit, soul, and body. Our body needs food and shelter, and it wants these so it may survive. There is no greed in these basic needs of our body. However, the seduction of success is not directed towards our body. Our body does not know lust, gluttony, or greed. When we need food, our body tells us through hunger. This is by no means the same as craving, for it is not our body that tells us we must eat a cake or a cheeseburger. The body, with regards to food, only has the signals of intensity of hunger— whether we are full, satisfied, hungry or starving. Our body also signals us when we are sick, so when we are tired, we sleep, and when we are exposed to the elements, we seek shelter. The body does not demand a king sized bed in four rooms of our house, nor a chandelier in our living room. To provide for our body is to work to fill the small barn.
Seeing that the body only asks for as much as it needs and not to excess. It is in the realm of the soul that greed, gluttony, and lust are present. It is of the body to be hungry and need food, but it is of the soul to demand that it should be this or that, or bought from this specific place.
I use the word “demand,” because that is what a selfish soul does. Food from fancy restaurants and a nice sweet chocolate cake are not sinful in itself, but when our soul demands that we must have it and we cannot do otherwise but bend our will to the demands of our soul, then we ought to be careful. It is when our soul demands and our will breaks and we give in, that we start to fill the bigger barn. This is because our soul, when fed with what it wants would naturally want more. If our soul says that it will be satisfied with a nice pair of shoes, and we feed its demands, it will soon ask for a bicycle, then after that a car. Our soulish desires would escalate and would soon rise to the level of sin when we end up being a slave to it. There will be no end to our greed. This is the seduction of success.
On the surface, hard work and material success seem like something good to strive for. Through it, we show that we are responsible enough to provide for ourselves and we are not a burden to other people. Through wealth we can save more and thereby give more. After all, hundreds of well meaning poor people can give a small amount, and the total of the funds they give would not even match one donation from a wealthy man. Quantity, however, is not how the Lord recognises our work. Remember the widow’s offering (Mark 12:41-44) and see how the rich man gave out of his abundance while the widow gave everything she has. The rich man, though the quantity of what he gave was larger, was still laying up treasure for himself. It was the widow’s offering that Jesus recognised to be of higher value.
Underneath the surface of every man’s wealth and industry lies the reason behind his work. Is it covetousness that makes him work? Is it the seduction of success? Is it a demanding soul that makes him labor day after day? If it is, then he must learn to guard himself from such greed.
What then does Jesus ask of us? Is it to labor to fill the small barn but not the bigger barn? Should we work to satisfy our body but starve the demanding soul? Jesus says no such thing.
We are spirit, soul, and body. To work to satisfy the body would make us equal to animals. We would be nothing more than soulless beasts. To work to satisfy the demanding soul would make us human— a sinful greedy human. To work to satisfy the spirit, however, is what Jesus calls us to do. He tells us to be rich toward God.
Rich toward God.
Jesus ends the parable of the rich fool with the words, “rich toward God.” He then elaborates on this by telling his disciples to not be anxious about the needs of the body, but instead to, “seek his kingdom.” Jesus says, “Seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (12:31) Seek his kingdom and the needs of your body will be provided for. This is our work: to seek his kingdom.
How then will our body be provided for if we do not work to feed and shelter it? God will provide. We do not need to strive; yet we shall be fed and clothed. We are to seek the Kingdom of God, and it is from this that God would fulfil His promise to provide for the body.
Let me illustrate: a dog without a master roams the streets looking for food. His work is to strive to find the next meal. A dog with a master, however, seeks the presence of his master because of loyalty and love. Yet the dog with a master is well fed.
The parable of the rich fool is there to show us what covetousness looks like. Our response is certainly not to imitate the rich fool, and neither is it to be the fool with the small barn. Having seen what covetousness looks like, our response is to do away with the barns altogether, for these barns represent the riches for ourselves. Instead we work to be rich toward God, seeking His kingdom first, and trusting Him to provide us with the food (12:24) and clothing (12:28).
Note as well that the Lord has promised to provide for the needs of the body but there is no mention of Him providing for the demands of the selfish soul. God will not feed your sinfulness. Instead he sent His son Jesus to die on the cross so that your sinfulness may be crucified with him. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and now He lives so that your spirit may live in Him as well.
God will provide for the body but He crucified the soul. Because of this, we are no longer under the power of the demands of our soul and we are more than able, through Jesus Christ, to be free from the grasp of sin. Not by our own effort can we overcome sin, because then that would be our own soul trying to please God, but through Jesus Christ can we reckon our soul dead in Christ and our spirit alive in Him.