For What Do You Labor?
We have heard the story too many times – a family that was close was fractured when it came time to divide up the family inheritance. It is a sad fact that money and possessions can become more important than family closeness. We may say such a thing would never happen to us, but look around . . . there are many hard feelings as a result of estate issues.
This morning we see someone who tries to drag Jesus into a family estate conflict. What the man gets is not what he desired . . . but it is what he needed. Jesus gives us some principles which, if followed, will change our lives as well.
Life is About More Than Stuff
Let’s turn to Luke 12:13-14
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”
This man doesn’t ask Jesus to decide what is right . . . He asks Jesus to take his side in a family dispute. Jesus refused to do so. It’s possible that Jesus refused for one of two reasons:
- If He started rendering decisions in situations like this He would be overwhelmed with these kinds of issues just like happened to Moses.
- He knew this man’s heart was motivated by greed and therefore addressed the real problem rather than the surface problem.
Jesus turned to his followers and said,
15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
This is an important principle to remember: Jesus points out that our value is not measured by our net worth. Life’s goal should not be indulgence but faithfulness.
To illustrate His point Jesus told a story about a very successful farmer. This man had a bumper crop and we get the impression he had a number of bumper crops. He was so successful that he could not store all the surplus.
Don’t draw the wrong conclusion here. There is nothing wrong with what has happened to this man or with material prosperity….it is a blessing from God. Abraham, David, Solomon and many others throughout the Bible were abundantly blessed. The problem is seen in the verses that follow
17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”
Notice how many times the man said I (6 times) and how many times he says “my” (5 times) in these three verses. The man had become self-absorbed. He had been blessed abundantly and never even considered how he might honor the Lord or help others with what he had been given. We see this in the concluding picture in verse 21: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
To illustrate the emptiness of the man’s pursuit the Lord said, “‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” The point: It’s all temporary! It’s a mirage. It’s not real. No matter how much we have it can be taken from us in an instant or we could be taken from the stuff in an instant!
Warning Signs of a Materialistic Heart
The Bible speaks quite clearly about greed and coveting. Greed is the excessive want of things. In Ecclesiastes 5:10 Solomon wrote: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” In 1 Timothy 6:10 Paul wrote, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Let’s try to be very concrete here so we can get a firm grasp on what it means to be guilty of greed or coveting when it comes to material things (this is not just possessions, it can also be positions or accomplishments.) What characterizes a distorted view of the material?
First, when we begin to believe that our worth is tied to what we possess we have a materialistic view. Jesus said, “a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions.” (15) (However this is not the way the world around us tends to view things. People are considered “successful” or “valuable” based on their
- Net worth
- Their earning potential
- The achievements of their children
- Their appearance
- The number of committees on which they serve
Jesus points out that all of these things are superficial and temporary! The Lord does not measure our lives this way. Man looks at the surface things but God looks at the heart!
Max Lucado writes,
Think for just a moment about the things you own. Think about the house you have, the car you drive, the money you’ve saved. Think about the jewelry you’ve inherited and the stocks you’ve traded and the clothes you’ve purchased….
All that stuff—it’s not yours. And you know what else about all that stuff? It’s not you. Who you are has nothing to do with the clothes you wear or the car you drive. Heaven does not know you as the fellow with the nice suit or the woman with the big house or the kid with the new bike. Heaven knows your heart. “When God thinks of you, he may see your compassion, your devotion, your tenderness or quick mind, but he doesn’t think of your things.
Define yourself by your stuff, and you’ll feel good when you have a lot and bad when you don’t. Contentment comes when we can honestly say with Paul: “I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have.… I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty” (Phil. 4:11–12). 
Second, a person is caught in greed when they are more focused on gaining rather than giving and using. In verse 21 we read, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” When the goal is to accumulate there is a good chance that we have missed the boat. When God gives great blessing He does so in order for us to use that blessing to accomplish his purposes. When an increase in blessing does not result in an increase in generosity it indicates a heart problem.
The best way to live would be to discover what we need to live on and then give away everything else. If we did this our standard of living would remain the same even though our income rose. Increased earnings would mean increased opportunity to share with others. If our income suddenly dropped we would still be fine.
However, that’s not the way we live is it? As we earn more we “need” more. We buy bigger homes, nicer cars, and cooler gadgets. Think about how many people you know who are making a great deal of money but they are just barely getting by. They are living paycheck to paycheck because of their debt. We have much but become imprisoned by our greed.
Think about your life right now. Do you believe you would be happy if you could only attain something you don’t currently have?
- A different home
- A better marriage
- A different job
- An altered appearance
- A new “toy”
- A certain award
Most of us can name something. Things can’t make us happy. It is all an illusion! Happiness comes from within. We truly enjoy life when we learn how to be content and satisfied in the Lord and not in the stuff which tend to become our idols.
Third, we know we are caught in the snare of greed when We live to retire rather than to serve. The goal of this man’s life is seen in verse 19 “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” The goal of this man’s life was to be able to do nothing!
The only time the Bible talks about retirement is in this passage of the Bible – and it is a negative reference! We have a wrong view of labor. We look at work as a way to pay bills and provide what we need to buy stuff. God meant labor to be something productive; a way for us to serve Him and bring Him honor and glory.
I’m not saying that it is wrong to stop working at your place of employment at a certain age. There are times when we can no longer physically and sometimes mentally do what we used to do. We may reach a point where we cannot do what we once did. However, at that time we should be looking for things that we can do. Many people reach a point in life where they can now volunteer on the mission field, in a hospital, in a children’s ministry. He frees us to visit those who are sick, help those who are troubled and reach out to those who are lost. Nowhere in the Bible does God call us to be lazy, self-absorbed or to simply amuse ourselves.
Fourth we know we are caught in the grip of materialism when we grieve excessively over the loss of that which is temporal. Let me illustrate this. How would you respond if your car was totaled in an accident (and you could not afford to replace it)? Would you mourn excessively? If so, your attachment to stuff may be too great.
Think about how we moan when the power is out. We can’t watch TV, we can’t use our computers, we can’t get on the Internet, we don’t have any air conditioning (or heat), our microwave won’t work so we are afraid of starvation! We moan and complain because “life is so hard!”. We need to listen to what we are saying! We have become inordinately attached to things!
When people survive a fire, flood, or storm though they lose everything else people often say this: “I’m just glad no one was hurt . . . the rest is just stuff”. At those moments those people have gained an important insight that we so easily forget: Life is a gift. We should be grateful.
God has given us all the good things we need for life. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has prepared a place for us in Heaven. God has blessed us so abundantly that the rest of the world considers us to be spoiled brats. Yet we complain. We feel entitled to a certain standard of living and insist that the government make that standard possible.
Where is the gratitude for our daily bread? Where is the humble appreciation of the simple things of life? Where is that attitude that says with Job, “Naked I cam from my mother’s womb and naked I will return. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Fifth, We are caught in the grip of Greed when we place our security in material things. Too many people live their lives with the goal of being financially independent. In other words when they reach a certain level of income they will feel secure. It is a mirage! Money can’t make us secure . . . only God can grant us security. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to take refuge in our stock portfolio or to put our trust in our 401k.
Looking to the material for security is like driving fast on ice. You can tell yourself that you have everything under control . . . but you are wrong! The first time there is a difficulty and you have to hit your brakes you will slide helplessly out of control. The idea that we are in control of our lives is a myth. We have very little true control over anything.
It is much better to anchor ourselves to the Lord. He never changes. He cannot be defeated. He is not impacted by the economy, disease, or the fickleness of men. No matter how slippery the circumstances of life may become . . . He can keep us steady and get us to our destination.
How to Combat the Obsession with Stuff
So how do we move from obsession with the stuff of life to devotion to the one who never changes? Let me give you three ideas.
First, we need to regularly consider the shortness of life. We like to think that we will live forever or that we are invincible. We need to tell ourselves the truth: Life is fleeting. We must not delude ourselves. If this is all there is then we should be miserable . . .we live, we die, we’re forgotten. However, if Jesus is telling us the truth . . . if He truly did rise from the dead (and I believe with all my heart that He did do so) then this life is only a prelude to the real thing.
What would you think of an athlete who exhausted himself or herself in the pregame warm-ups? What if a person made it their goal to score more than anyone else in those warm-ups and jumped up and down every time they hit a ball out of the park from the batting practice pitcher? We’d say the person was a loon. They were missing the point that the pregame warm-ups were designed to prepare us for the actual game!
Aren’t we doing just that when we anchor our sense of value, joy, fulfillment and security to earthly things? We are expending all our energy in the wrong place.
Second, We need to Confront our excuses ruthlessly. We are great at justifying everything. I can quickly move from “I’d like this” to “I need this”. Before long I can convince myself that my life will actually be diminished if I cannot obtain this certain thing. I can easily be consumed with my desire. I suspect the same is true for you.
We need to regularly tell ourselves the truth
- I’m hungry but not starving
- I don’t need it I just want it
- Life will not be appreciably better because I have certain stuff . . . in fact the more stuff I have the more complicated life tends to become. Maintaining our stuff makes demands on our lives.
- Things will not make me happy, will not earn me status, and will not give me a sense of completeness for very long. Like a drug, the “high” of newness or accomplishment will always be followed by emptiness and a “need” for more. Materialism is an addiction that can destroy our lives.
Third, we need to Redirect our Natural Covetousness toward things of God. Our challenge is to develop the kind of hunger for God that we have for that bigger paycheck, the more prominent title, or the newest “thing”. To do this we must fall madly in love with the Lord. We must take time to reflect on His greatness. We must learn to rest in His love; trust His sufficiency; savor His Word; and pour out our hearts in prayer. If you are like me, I am a long way from this goal.
At its core our problem is this: we don’t really believe God has our best interest at heart. We know what He commands. We have heard His statement that if we put Him first; if we pursue His Kingdom; we will find what we truly need and we will also receive many of the other things we desire. God tells us that He knows what is best for us. The problem is this: we don’t really believe Him. If we did, we would follow His instructions as one follows a treasure map. We would listen carefully, obey precisely, and move forward with anticipation.
If we want to be free from the grip of the material we must start with one basic question: Are we willing to radically and fully trust the One who has loved us since before we were born? Will we trust His wisdom, knowledge and love?
The other option is to continue to trust the crowd, Madison Avenue, and our own ever-changing desires. This is the more popular course but trusting God is the more satisfying path. Trusting what is temporary will lead to a constant need for more, and eternal emptiness. Choosing to trust the Lord will lead us to contentment, love, a new sense of the true value of people and, did I mention, a life that never ends.
God in His wisdom has left us to choose the course we take. If you get nothing else out of this message understand that this is not a decision to make carelessly. Not only will this decision effect your joy both now and in eternity . . . it may also impact what happens to your family after you have gone.