The Rich Fool

Book Reflection // June 11, 2023 // View Series

The Parables of Jesus by James Montgomery Boice

Chapter 11 // Luke 12:13-21

This is the second of the parables on wisdom and differs slightly from the previous parable in that there is no contrast between wisdom and folly. This is a story about folly itself with the emphasis on wisdom coming at the end. This parable speaks to our modern culture in many of the same ways it did for those present while Jesus was speaking. Modern worldly wisdom, much like ancient worldly wisdom, measures a person’s worth chiefly by the terms of his possessions and wealth or status. We wrap up our value and meaning of success by measuring the bank account of a person or looking at the material things that he owns. We honor the person who builds his own personal kingdom of wealth and we seek to emulate their path to “success”. Jesus brings us this parable to dispel that illusion and teach us to be rich toward the things of God.

Misuse of Wealth

The Bible doesn’t have many places where it records God calling someone a fool but in the Old Testament, the atheist is considered a fool for saying there is no God.  This parable of Jesus links the foolishness of the atheist to the foolishness of the materialist for the materialist operates as a practical atheist in that he is seeking satisfaction through possessions and wealth and placing his trust and hope in his material wealth instead of God alone.

Why is the materialist considered a fool? First on the list is that he has misused the wealth that God has given to him. Whether the foolish man acknowledges or even understands the source of his wealth, it is clear from the parable that Jesus wants us to know that our wealth is a direct result of the providence of God. When we misunderstand, forget, or even choose to ignore the source of our wealth we always make ourselves the source and reason. “Wealth tends to trap us into self-absorption, materialism, and insensitivity to others – just as sin traps us.”

The Bible is also clear that money, wealth, and possessions are not forbidden or wrong. God’s word shows us that it is the love of money that drives us to misuse our possessions and embrace this self-indulgent sin. The fault is not in money or material things but in the heart of those who use it to replace God. The Bible teaches us that the accumulation or renunciation of wealth is not the proper answer. The answer “lies in the proper use and proper estimate of the things God has provided.” We are called to use all that God has given us to the glory of God.

Possessions will Perish

“The chief reason the man was foolish is that he allowed his concern for riches to eclipse the far more important concern that he should have had for his soul.” Since we live in a physical environment we trust our physical sense far more than we trust or even understand our spiritual sense. Spiritual realities and truths are easy to ignore as we can placate ourselves with the physical and material realities around us. We trust our eyes more than we trust our souls. If we’re being honest, we scarcely believe that we even have a soul at times. Like the rich man in this parable, we too will live a life focused on the material because it is the thing right in front of us and it is the reality that is reinforced and prioritized by everyone. We neglect our souls and become singularly focused on the material things of the world. Even if there is an acknowledgment of our spiritual soul, we act as though the time to deal with that is after this physical body perishes. We think that when we are in the spiritual reality, we will then deal with our souls. We strive with all our energy to accumulate and gain wealth in this physical world. We place our identity and value in material possessions. We judge the identity and value of others by their material possessions. We never fully realize that all we strive for and give value to in this physical world is passing away. It is meaningless in the spiritual eternal reality that surrounds us.

Rich Toward God

If the fool is someone who prioritizes and strives for material wealth, what is the wise man doing? He should be “rich toward God”  in spiritual things. The riches of the wise man are to be found in faith and good deeds. These spiritual treasures are of immense value because they cannot be given or taken away by the world. This richness toward God is the eternal spiritual life of faith and trust in Christ alone. How do we become rich toward God? “We must become poor in spirit before we can become rich in spiritual blessings.” We must be humble. We must see and understand our sin. We must acknowledge our weaknesses and frailty. We must repent and believe in the One who has saved us, loves us, and treasures us. To be rich toward God is to let the material trappings of this world lose their priority and importance in our heart and simply value the presence of Christ. Whether the Lord brings material wealth or poverty, we can all be rich toward God. The wise man casts off his preoccupation with material possessions and seeks only to please his heavenly Father with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19–21 (ESV)

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