A New Priority

Explore the Bible Series

November 21, 2004

 

Background Passage: Luke 12:1-59

Lesson Passage: Luke 12:13-34

 

Introduction: Americans live in a consumer society characterized by greed, wasteful spending, and poor stewardship of material wealth.How should Christians detect and resist the detrimental effects of this consumerism?The twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Luke addresses this vital question.This lesson will focus on the following issues.

  1. What does the Bible teach about the acquisition of wealth?
  2. How should Christians understand the role of work?
  3. Should Christians engage in saving wealth to meet the needs of the future?
  4. How should Christians distinguish between their legitimate needs and wasteful extravagance?
  5. Is there a connection between consumerism and spiritual, emotional, and psychological problems?

 

The first eleven verses of this chapter indicate that Jesus was engaged in a very intense teaching session with a vast multitude of people.Serious concerns demanded his attention: the dangerous teachings of the Pharisees, the possibility of persecution and martyrdom for Christís disciples, and the blaspheme of the Holy Spirit.One could hardly imagine more grave matters; yet, in the midst of this important teaching, a thoughtless man interrupted the Lord with a comparatively trivial matter (vv.13-15).This insensitive man asked Jesus to arbitrate a dispute over a family inheritance, and Jesus refused to let this man deter him from his God-appointed task.The Lord sternly rebuked the tactless enquirer in three ways.

  1. Jesus began his rebuke by referring to him as ďman.ĒGeldenhuys observes that this particular address was a sharp rebuke that alerted the man to his insensitive and audacious interruption of the Master.
  2. The Lord asked this man who appointed Jesus as arbiter in this matter.The manner in which Jesus posed the question, anticipated the answer to the man.Jesus did not come into the world to mediate mundane matters; rather, he came to seek and to save that which was lost.
  3. Jesus issued a serious warning about the greed that motivated this manís enquiry.The heart of this matter did not center on the manís inheritance; instead, it focused on the covetousness attitude of this self-centered man.

 

Clearly, Jesus diagnosed this manís problem very quickly.The man was consumed by greed.Greed is a sin that often masquerades in seemingly noble attire.Covetousness, for instance, may appear in the guise of thriftiness.Of course, frugality has its place, and Christians should practice simplicity of life; however, stinginess may underlie many claims of frugality.Also, covetousness may hide itself behind the mask of wisdom.The Scriptures clearly teach that Christians should wisely provide for their own needs and take financial responsibility for their families. Sometimes, though, men mask their greed with extravagant provision for investment and retirement.(Note, John Piper has questioned the whole notion of retirement, in his fine work entitled, Let the Nations Be Glad.Christians may retool and redirect, but Piper argues that disciples of Jesus should not retire.)Greed may easily deceive us, and Jesus gave sober warning of the danger of falling prey to such deception.How does one recognize greed?The following parable provides some very helpful insight into this most dangerous sin.

 

Biblical Principles for Recognizing Greed (Luke 12:13-21)

 

1.      Greed distracts a man from the primary issues of life.How often do we allow comparatively trivial matters to distract us from lifeís principal concerns?This man stood in the presence of the very Son of God; yet, greed so clouded his judgment that he disregarded the matchless privilege of hearing Jesus teach.Sadly, he had his own agenda, and that mundane concern robbed him of great blessing.One would think that standing in the Masterís presence would diminish this manís preoccupation with trivialities, but his greed distorted his discernment. The greedy heart is distracted from primary issues.It sinks the soul into the quicksand of the inconsequential.He parable of the rich man underscores this point. This prosperous man focused his whole attention on the relatively inconsequential things of life.His barns were full, but his heart was empty.Earthly treasures abounded, but this rich man had a bankrupt soul.The valued riches that he coveted would be left to another, and this man would enter eternity in spiritual poverty.

2.      Greed makes poor use of the blessings God bestows.The wealthy farmer had no place to store his possessions.It apparently never occurred to him that he might share his bounty with others; rather, he sought larger storehouses in which to hoard his abundance.We find no mention of concern for the poor and no concern for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.His ingenuity and imagination focused not the good he might do with his wealth, but on ways to store it for his own purposes. The Bible has much to say about the neglect of the poor.Christians who traffic in a consumer society mat easily adopt unholy views about the poor.James reminded his readers that true, undefiled religion was to care for the helpless, weak, and poor (See James 1:27 and 2:15-17).The Old Testament prophets often scolded the ancient Hebrews for their sinful disregard of the poor (See, for instance, Amos 5:10-13). Over a billion people on this planet live in staggering, grinding poverty.They are indigent, lacking often in the basic necessities of life.More often than not, these people also live in helpless, powerless situations.They have no political voice and few opportunities to better their circumstances. Godly people cannot turn their backs on the needs of the world.

 

Please pardon this personal sidelight.I do not understand how, in good conscience, the contemporary American Church can justify the staggering amounts of money that evangelicals spend on excessive and unnecessary things.In light of the monumental needs of the Kingdom, how can we spend so much of the ďLordís moneyĒ on extravagant trinkets?The world is dying around us, and American evangelicals cannot live without their family life centers, gymnasiums, and in-church Starbucks.It is unconscionable.††

3.      Greed fosters pride.The arrogant farmer took too much credit for his success.Obviously, this man and servants worked hard to produce a rich crop: tilling the soil, tending the field, and harvesting the crop. The text, however, reveals that the manís land was very productive. God blessed the manís labors and made his soil rich and fruitful.The abundant crop should have produced humble gratitude; instead, the farmer clearly felt self-sufficient and self-congratulatory.†††

 

A Better Way (Luke 12:22-31)

Jesus used an imperative (ĒDo not be anxiousÖĒ) to outline a better way for his disciples. The Lord redirected his remarks specifically to his disciples at this point (v. 22).They were not to evidence the same worldly priorities as the foolish man who had just interrupted the Masterís teaching.Instead, Jesus encouraged them to avoid the kind of unsettling anxiety that troubled the inquirer.The Lord then outlined several reasons why the disciples should not let anxiety rule their lives.

1.      God feeds the ravens that neither sow nor reap (v.24).Our gracious Heavenly Father values his children more than he cares for the birds.If he meets the needs of the ravens, he will certainly provide food for his beloved children.

2.      Worry is fruitless (vv. 25-26).These verses probably refer to length of life rather than a personís height.Anxiety does not lengthen or enrich oneís life.God determines our length of days (See Job 14:5).

3.      God clothes the lilies of the field (vv. 27-28).The flowers have little lasting value; yet, God arrays them in glorious splendor.Will he not also provide the needed clothing for his children?

4.      The unbelieving nations of the world seek (an unwarranted and unseemly preoccupation) these things (vv. 29-30).If the sinful, worldly people seek these things, Christís disciples should be aware of the dangers that attend willful preoccupation with mundane concerns.

Jesus closed this passage with a command and a promise.ďBut seek for his Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.ĒKingdom concerns should always take priority for the children of God. Then, Jesus gave a blessed promise.The promise grows from the command.Seek Godís Kingdom and the other concerns of life, God will provide.J.C. Ryle provides some helpful words to conclude this important study of Scripture.

 

††††† The man to whom the promise before us belongs, is the Christian who gives to the things of God their right order and place.He does not neglect the worldly duties of his station, but regards them as of infinitely less importance than the requirements of God.He does not omit due attention to his temporal affairs, but he looks on them as of far less moment than the affairs of his soul.††† In short, he aims in his daily life to put God first and the world secondóto give second place to the things of the body, and the first place to things of his soul.