LIFE IN LIGHT OF ETERNITY
Week of November 14, 2010
Bible Verses: Luke 12:13-21; Philippians 1:21-26.
Lesson Focus:† This lesson is about living life in light of eternal values.
What Life is Not: Luke 12:13-15.
† Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." † But he 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 his possessions."† [ESV]
A question often launches Jesusí teaching. The request comes from someone in the crowd. Jesus is addressed as teacher, a title that shows people view Him as a respected rabbi. A rabbi would often settle such disputes about inheritance because the regulations on them appear in the Pentateuch and the rabbi interpreted Torah. The dispute centers on the estate. A brother has refused to divide the inheritance, and this other brother hopes that Jesus will prevail upon him to be more generous. No more details are given concerning the problem. Jesus refuses to get involved in the dispute because His current mission is not to settle personal disputes. Jesus adds a warning about excessive focus on possessions. The warning is given to all, not just to the man. Disciples are broadly warned to be on your guard against all covetousness. Greed receives mention because it can fuel disagreement and disharmony. The danger of the pursuit of possessions is that it can make one insensitive to people. Greed can create a distortion about what life is, because the definition of life is not found in objects, but relationships, especially to God and His will. To define life in terms of things is the ultimate reversal of the creature serving the creation and ignoring the Creator. In Colossians 3:5 and Ephesians 5:5, greed is called idolatry because it tends to become a god that drives one to do things that are not good. Jesus will tell a parable to illustrate just how foolish this position is. Real life, He argues, possesses a far different focus. Real life is tied to God, His offer of forgiveness of sins, His values, and His reward. It is being faithful in response to Godís goodness. Real life, which is truly rich, is rich toward God, not things.
A Lose-Lose Situation:† Luke 12:16-21.
† 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.' † 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 toward God."† [ESV]
[16-19]† Jesus reinforces His remark in verse 15 with a parable. The story centers around one character, a rich man with very productive land. Jesus gives no other details about him. He is nameless and representative. Such a man would be envied in an agrarian context and might even be regarded as specially blessed by God, but He represents anyone in any profession who becomes greedy. Apparently, the harvest for the year was exceptional, leaving him in a favorable situation. It is important to note that the parable is initially neutral concerning the manís attitude. Jesusí parables always involve the element of surprise. The surprise here is that the man has a perfectly natural dilemma. Jesusí story is intriguing in that this manís additional wealth fell into his lap, he came by his wealth honestly because Godís provision and kindness blessed him Ė and yet such blessing still can present a problem of stewardship. Jesus will develop these seemingly favorable circumstances in a disturbing direction. This fortunate man has a dilemma: a large crop but no place to store it. So the prudent man reflects on his situation in a type of vivid monologue that adds color to the parable as the main character defines his problem for all. He quite naturally wants to preserve his crops, but there is a hint of a problem in his perspective, for throughout these verses the major stylistic feature is the presence of the pronoun my, not to mention the numerous first-person singular verbs. The fruit of the land and other elements of the parable are repeatedly described with my: my crops, my barns, my grain, my goods, my soul. Such language suggests exclusive self-interest, a focus that is often the natural product of ďearnedĒ wealth. The man moves to solve his problem. Given that he does not have sufficient storage space in his present barns, he develops a plan to expand his storage capability so that he will not lose what he now has. He will replace his barns with larger ones. Many new buildings are needed to cover the yield. After this expansion, he would have the capability to care not only for grain but for other goods as well. The parable pictures a man making prudent, efficient plans. Having made plans to resolve his problems, the man concludes that he can now live in total leisure and self-indulgence. Jesus criticizes the man  for adopting the common philosophy of taking oneís ease, eating, drinking, and being merry. His future perspective is entirely self-centered and self-indulgent as verse 21 will make clear, he has laid up treasure for himself alone. He has morally mismanaged his wealth, giving no thought to the needs of others or thanking God. With such a wealth of resources his responsibilities had only just begun. The man mistakenly thinks he is only responsible for himself. The comfort that allows the man to focus on himself is the product of greed.
[20-21]† Ironically, the years of ease this man eagerly anticipates are unexpectedly cut short by the one who has authority over his life. He did not fulfill his moral responsibility before God to care for the needs of others. Now God issues a rebuke and takes action: He calls the man a fool and requires his soul. God rejects his covetousness. He demands an account of the manís mortal soul, and his grain and wealth cannot pay his debt. The time for the man to report to his Creator comes just at the point when he is set to enjoy all his possessions. The pursuit of possessions has left the man empty in terms of his ultimate priorities before God. Jesus shows that to focus on possessions and not be concerned with spiritual things is a grave, long-term error. Though riches may be enjoyable in the short term, they do not exist in the long term. Their mere possession does not bring accreditation before God. Jesus applies the parable by noting that this is the fate of all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich toward God. The basic contrast in this verse is between for himself and toward God. The parable does not condemn planning or wealth per se. Rather, Jesusí complaint is against the person who takes wealth and directs it totally toward the self. Storing up treasure for oneself and not for God is the problem. The main element of the comparison is that wealth is ultimately a wasted accumulation, for the person cannot present it to God for admission to heaven. Life does not consist of oneís possessions, and to regard life as such is to be gripped by greed. It is important to note that the issue in the parable is not wealth, but how wealth is directed. The sin is accumulating riches for oneself as shown by three errors made by the rich man: (1) hoarding oneís possessions, (2) assuming that life can be secured and measured by possessions, and (3) regarding property as oneís own. Godís care is made available to those who have the right priorities in life.
A Win-Win Situation:† Philippians 1:21-26.
† For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. † If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. † I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. † But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. † Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, † so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.† [ESV]
† After asserting his eager expectation that Christ will be glorified in his body, whether by life or by death , Paul now affirms what living and dying mean to him. The personal pronoun at the beginning of the sentence (For to me) emphasizes the intensely personal nature of his affirmations. His bedrock convictions are set forth in forceful exclamations that do not contain verbs in the Greek: To live Christ, to die gain. The absence of a verb may be filled in many ways: to live is Christ; to live means Christ; to live depends on Christ; to live honors Christ. The foundation, center, purpose, direction, power, and meaning of Paulís life is Christ. Certainly, life so transformed and empowered by Christ is life on a higher level and of a different quality than common, ordinary human life. Yet, Paul repeatedly defines the kind of life he has in view as life in my body  and life in the flesh [22,24]. Paul is not referring merely to his inner spiritual life, his private religious life, or his future eternal life. Live in the body and in the flesh is the outward expression of everyday earthly life in words and works. In the previous section, Paul is focused on the proclamation of Christ [15-20]; in the next sentence he speaks of fruitful labor . His fruitful labor of proclaiming Christ is the outward expression of the life of Christ in his body and in his flesh. Paulís claim here is that every aspect of his present, bodily, earthly existence is completely permeated by Christ. As a tree depends totally on water, earth, and sun to bear fruit, so Paul depended totally on the life of Christ to bear fruit. Taken as a definition of his life, the declaration Ė to live is Christ Ė implies perfection. If it is always and totally true that every breath, every movement, every thought of life is Christ, then not one aspect or moment of life would be lived apart from Christ. That would be perfection: life perfectly empowered by and conformed to Christ. But later Paul emphatically denies perfection [3:12]. Rather the declaration in verse 21 expresses the meaning and goal of Paulís life. But that meaning and goal have yet to be fully realized. He desires to know Christ and be conformed to Christ [3:10]. He presses on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of him [3:12]. To live is not a static position but a dynamic process of becoming and growing. For Paul the purpose of living is pressing forward to know and serve Christ each day. When the goal of living is Christ, then living inevitably follows the way of Christ, the way of self-giving, self-humbling, and self-sacrifice [2:5-8]. This way of living is not an escape from suffering. Paul writes that living is Christ while he is in chains for preaching the gospel. For Paul the reality that living is Christ meant that he considered everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ, and, in fact, Paul had lost all things and considered them rubbish, in order that he might gain Christ [3:8]. Gaining Christ more than covers any loss incurred for the sake of Christ, even the loss of life itself. The word gain means something advantageous, a profit. Since Paul uses the same word for gain here in 1:21 as he does in 3:8 (that I may gain Christ), he appears to be saying that the gain of dying is Christ. Paulís aspiration of knowing Christ more fully in the process of living would be completely fulfilled when he enjoyed the immediate presence of Christ after death. Dying is gain, not because it is an escape from life, but because it leads to union with Christ, the goal of life.
[22-24]† Paulís reflection on living and dying leads him to consider a perplexing question in verse 22. What makes the choice between life and death so difficult is the benefit of each: living means fruitful labor; dying means to be with Christ. When Paul contemplates the real possibility that he may not be executed, but be released and continue to live, he is not in doubt about the positive consequence of remaining in the flesh. Paul was totally confident that to continue in this physical life would result in fruitful labor. In the immediate context, the work Paul has in mind is that of proclaiming the gospel in the world  and of strengthening the faith of the church . Paul did not view his work as a grim duty or burdensome obligation, but as the fruitful out-flowing of Godís faithful in-working. This prospect of reaping the fruit of changed lives by participating in the gracious work of God makes continuing to live so attractive that Paul is genuinely perplexed: Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. Then the gain of dying is compared to the fruit of living, it is difficult to tell what the best alternative is. Paul now restates and describes in more depth the nature of his dilemma as he faces the real possibilities of his own death and the continuation of his life. I am hard pressed between the two, he exclaims. Paul uses the verb hard pressed to convey the compelling and controlling force of Christís love in his life. The verb vividly portrays the strong inward pressures Paul feels from two conflicting desires: his desire to be with Christ by dying, and his desire to serve the needs of Christians by living. First, he explains why he desires to die: My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. Paul links his death to his union with Christ. Death is the gateway to eternal union with Christ. Paul was willing to delay crossing the finish line in his own race in order to serve the needs of the believers in Philippi. He set aside his personal ambition so that he could do what was necessary for them. Serving the community outweighs individual desires. Remaining in the body for the progress and joy of others is more necessary than sacrificing the body in death as the ultimate witness to Christ. Paulís willingness to postpone his own goal to promote the welfare of others exhibits the self-emptying, self-humbling character of Christ.
[25-26] Paulís insight that remaining in the flesh was best for the believers led him to his conviction that he would stay alive and continue his service to them. At first it seems strangely contradictory to hear Paul emphatically express his strong conviction that he will continue living just after he has said that he did not know whether to choose life or death. But as we follow the process of his thought, we can see how he reached this conviction. When he reflected on exalting Christ in his body by life or by death, he questioned whether he would choose life or death. He carefully weighed the benefits of each as a way to glorify Christ. Life meant fruitful work; death meant union with Christ in His sufferings and death. When he reached the point in his thinking where he clearly saw the real need for him to continue his work on behalf of the church, the question of life or death was answered. He became convinced that he would continue to live so that he could continue to serve. The purpose of his continued service was for your progress and joy in the faith. Here we see Paulís concise definition of the need he saw in the life of these believers. They all needed to experience progress and joy in the faith. The words progress and joy are united as twin objects of the same preposition (for), and they are both modified by the phrase in the faith. Real progress in the faith will result in genuine joy in the faith. Progress without joy is spurious; joy without progress is counterfeit. By the word faith, Paul could mean the subjective process of believing in Christ [29: believe in him] or the objective content of belief [27: the faith of the gospel]. Since both meanings are found in the immediate context, Paul could have both in mind when he speaks of progress in the faith. His goal is to assist all believers to make solid progress in learning to trust Christ and in standing firm together to contend for the faith of the gospel. Joy in the faith will be the evidence of their progress in the faith. Just as Paulís life was characterized by joy , so he expected that their lives would be characterized by joy. In verse 26 Paul states his ultimate objective for his return visit to the church in Philippi. The word glory means to take pride in, exulting in, glorying in, and boasting in something or someone. The same word refers to the pride Paul expects to have in the effective witness of the church as a result of his mission to them [see 2:16]. When Paul uses this word to express the purpose of his return visit, he uses two prepositional phrases: in me Ö in Christ Jesus. What Paul is saying is that Christ is the ultimate reason for boasting while Paulís mission is the specific occasion for the boasting. Paulís total identification of his life with Christ means that boasting in Paul really leads to boasting in Christ, the source of Paulís life, and boasting in Christ leads to boasting in Paul, the faithful manifestation of Christís life. What Christ has done in and for Paul serves as the ground for their boasting in Christ. Paul was convinced that it was necessary for him to be with the church in Philippi again so that they would boast in Christ Jesus and take pride in his mission. This verse on boasting in Christ and in Paul is an apt conclusion to Paulís report of his mission [1:12-26]. His report emphasizes that his time in chains has served to advance the gospel: the whole palace guard is hearing about Christ; others are boldly proclaiming Christ; and Christ will be exalted by Paul, whether by life or by death. Therefore, there is no need to be ashamed of Paulís imprisonment. Instead everyone should take pride in all that is being accomplished by Paul, even while he is in chains. And everyone should give Christ all the glory for all that He has done in and through Paul.
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† What is the danger of the pursuit of possessions? What does ďreal lifeĒ consist of?
2.†††††††† What is the point of the parable Jesus uses in Luke 12:16-21?
3.†††††††† From Philippians 1:21, what is the meaning and goal of Paulís life? What difference in your life would having this same goal make?
4.†††††††† In Philippians 1:25, Paul defines the need of the Philippians: to experience progress and joy in the faith. This is really the need of every believer. What things can you do in order to have this need met in your life?
Luke, Darrell Bock, Baker.
Luke, Robert Stein, NAC, Broadman.
The Letter to the Philippians, G. Walter Hansen, Eerdmans.
Philippians, Moises Silva, ECNT, Baker Academic.