Today’s parable is one of the parables found only in Luke.
And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: 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 many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21 NASB)
The modern version:
A man living in a small house began to collect many valuable works of art and treasures; soon the small house could not hold any more. The man thought to himself, “If I buy a larger house, I will have much more room to store my valuables for many years to come.” However, God said to him, “You fool! Tonight your life will end and then what will happen to all your precious treasures?” Anyone who is greedy and only stores up things for himself is like this fool. He is not rich with God.
The context for this parable places Jesus teaching the masses again. A man approaches him and demands that Jesus tell the man’s brother to fairly divide their family’s inheritance. After rebuking the man for trying to involve Him in petty family squabbles, Jesus then presents this parable on greed. Whether the parable was meant for the man’s brother or the man, himself, you can decide.
What is this parable talking about? I think it is important to keep in mind when analyzing these parables that the “bad guy” in the parable is usually not some evil person that no one can relate to. They are usually normal everyday people who just about anyone can relate to, which is what makes them so effective for teaching. The rich man in the parable might have started out with noble intentions, he is storing up enough food/provisions to make sure that he has enough for when emergencies such as famine or illness comes along, such as we might have an “emergency fund”. He gets into trouble when he has gathered so much wealth that he begins to take his focus off of the Provider of the wealth and starts to focus on the wealth itself. Need has a way of keeping us focused on the provisions of God. When our needs are fulfilled, especially to the excess, our focus tends to shift toward our own resources. 1 Timothy 6:9,10 warns us:
But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (NASB)
And verse 17 says:
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. (NASB)
In verse 10, the Greek text uses a word that means “seduce”. Some are “seduced” by wealth and it pulls them away from the love of God. Not a good position to find yourself in.
So, we have established that hoarding his resources/treasures is what the man is doing wrong in the parable. What should he be doing with his excess wealth instead? We might find additional insight in 1 Timothy:
Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Timothy 6:18,19 NASB, emphasis added)
Look at Luke 12 again, in verse 15:
Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
Jesus says life isn’t about what you possess. It’s about God’s gifts and how you choose to use them. God will give abundance…:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; (1 Corinthians 9:8 NASB)
… it’s up to you to be responsible and God-focused enough to use the resources in the right manner and in a way worthy of your calling as Christians.