Vol. 3, No. 4
The parable of the Rich Fool appears only in Luke. The topic that the parable treats, though, is neither new nor found singularly in Luke's Gospel record. Our Lord here spoke about covetousness.
“And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15).
God only needs to say something once for it to be so and incontrovertible. However, some subjects are addressed many times in the Bible. The repetition with which the Scriptures speak about a subject emphasizes the difficulty that mankind generally has complying with the respective divine mandate. Money is such a biblical theme. Evidently, we are especially vulnerable to temptation through improper attitudes toward material wealth. One does not have to be especially blessed with this world's goods to manifest a malignant disposition toward material prosperity. The rich, though, seem more disposed to suffer this sin. “They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches” (Psalm 49:6).
The Lord's people are not immune to the sin of covetousness. It is “. . . very easy . . . to overlook the sin of covetousness.”1
If the Parable of the Good Samaritan is the most practical of all the parables, the Parable of the Rich Fool is the most necessary. . . . Even among professed Christians it is so prevalent that it is scarcely recognized for what it is -- a deadly sin.2
"The Sin of Covetousness . . . is perhaps one of the greatest sins of which professed Christians are guilty."3 Among the biblical warnings regarding covetousness, the apostle Paul instructed Timothy to especially caution the rich about covetousness. He employed some of the most forceful words anywhere in Scripture pertaining to covetousness.
"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (1 Tim. 6:9-11).
"Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life" (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
The occasion of the parable was the interruption of our Lord's discourse by a man desiring Jesus to settle a family argument.
"And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me" (Luke 12:13).
"Many of Christ's choicest teachings were given in response to some kind of interruption."4 "While speaking to the multitude around, including His disciples, Jesus was interrupted by a listener who presented a most inappropriate demand . . ."5 Jesus, however, declined to allow himself to be distracted by the untimely plea.
"And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" (Luke 12:14).
"Jesus rejected the appeal because it was outside the sphere of His proper mission."6 Some think that the man interrupting Jesus may have had a valid complaint. ". . . [H]is elder brother would not give him the one-third of the estate that was rightfully his."7 Irrespective of whether the petitioner was entitled to that over which he was concerned is irrelevant. Jesus Christ's mission was not secular. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).
It was a blunt question with a blunt refusal to have anything to do with a quarrel over family property. The Jewish law was specific enough on cases of this kind. . . . (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). This was a law of long-standing that allowed no debate. The man who spoke to Jesus obviously was the younger brother.8
However, Jesus did seize the opportunity to speak concerning the underlying problem in that family which resulted in sibling rivalry. The immediate concern of which the interrupter spoke was secular and not directly a matter requiring the attention of the Master Teacher. The cause of the discord, though, was spiritual. Therefore, Jesus spoke concerning covetousness.
There are many people who want Jesus to solve their problems but not to change their hearts. Jesus knew that this family feud over money was only a symptom of a greater problem of covetousness. The Lord dealt with causes, not symptoms...9
"And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21).
Jesus introduced a farmer from whom spiritual lessons could be taught. As one might suspect, the Jews, even in the time of our Lord, were still chiefly an agrarian society. The parables of Jesus are filled with illustrations drawn from the daily lives of his listeners. Farming was one popular illustration employed by Jesus. With word-pictures depicting their everyday lives, the Master Teacher used circumstances with which they were familiar to teach them spiritual truths about which they knew little or nothing.
In this instance, Jesus highlighted negative qualities of the farmer in his parable. Farming, though, is not inherently sinful. Concerning the rich man of the parable, "He was a successful farmer, a manager of an honorable and honest occupation."10
The man was wealthy and apparently by legitimate means, farming. . . . He appears to be a farmer of wisdom and skill.11
Evidently, the harvest was more bountiful than in any previous season for the farmer. This is implied, since: (1) He was surprised to discover that his barns were inadequate for the harvest, whereupon he proposed to make sufficient storage available for his crop. Were he accustomed to having harvests of this proportion, he would have built new barns previously. (2) He imagined that the harvest was plentiful enough to provide a good living for years to come. Had he enjoyed similar harvests before, the farmer would have retired from his daily toils already. The rich man's new-found prosperity provided a temptation for which he was not prepared.
The rich man used an unusually high number of pronouns in his musing with himself over his dilemma. He thought that the dilemma was where to store his harvest, while he was completely unaware of the real and serious dilemma -- appearing before God unprepared for eternity. This farmer was self-absorbed in his own secular circumstances. He was clueless about his undone spiritual condition.
"In his passion to produce and hoard up mundane things, the rich man had no thought of their divine source and the use of them for divine purposes."12 "... [Y]our Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45).
This fool forgot that "the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof" (Psa. 50:10-12; cf. Hag. 2:8). It is a truism that "what we give, we keep; what we keep, we lose."13
Even men's souls belong to God. "Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4). Our souls return to their rightful owner when we die (Ecc. 12:7).
If we love God and put His will first in our lives, then whatever material blessings we receive will only draw us closer to Him. Wealth will be our servant, not our master, and we will invest in things eternal.14
The rich farmer misinterpreted the significance of his bumper crop. Though he was praiseworthy for his ambition, the character in our Lord's parable allowed otherwise noble ambition to consume him.
In itself, ambition is commendable. . . . The rich man's ambition was selfish and sensual.15
". . . [H]e did not distinguish between what a man has and what a man is."16 "The covetous person thinks that an abundance of things is the key to a successful life, but in this parable Jesus warned that an abundance of things could make a person a failure."17 Our farmer did not realize that "[a] vast difference exists between making a living and making a life."18 "'Things' are necessary to a living, but they do not make a life."19 ". . . [T]he success of a man's work cannot be measured in terms of what he has been able to accumulate."20 "Wealth is no measure of worth."21
A contemporary complaint toward male breadwinners is that they often envision that working hard and earning a living is an ample contribution to their respective families. Of course, this they should do (2 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8). However, a greater, personal participation is necessary to maintain a happy marriage and to successfully rear children. Likewise, each Christian must do more than pursue an honorable livelihood. Things are poor substitutes for faithfulness to God, a happy home and service to others.
The rich farmer's plan was simple: "eat, drink and be merry." The plan, though, was too simplistic, for he failed to consider his eternal future.
A popular expression of Greek Epicureanism was "eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die" (cf. 1 Cor. 15:32). The rich fool omitted the last phrase from his quotation; he had no funeral plans for tomorrow! But where men propose, God may Dispose!22
He forgot God. The greatest blunder of the rich man was that he did not take God into account. There was nothing wrong with his decision to tear down his barns and build larger ones. A good farmer must have foresight and plan ahead. But his fatal mistake was that in all of his well-laid plans not one thought had been given to God. A common downfall of many believers is to forget God when they are making their plans.23
There is abundant warning in Scripture of what also should be obvious -- ". . . it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). "Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Prov. 27:1). "'If the Lord wills' must always be the attitude of a believer."24 Further, the brevity of life and the swiftness with which it can escape is set forth in these passages, too: Job 14:1; Psalm 90:10; James 4:13-16; 1 Peter 1:24; 2 Corinthians 4:17.
"But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" (Luke 12:20).
God's evaluation of this farmer contrasted with the esteem in which he would be held by his fellow men. God's perspective, however, affects the eternal disposition of one's soul and far outweighs the trifling thoughts of mere mortals (Isa. 55:8-9; 1 Cor. 1:25).
The world considered him a wise man. . . . God said that he was a "fool."25
"The farmer was called foolish because, while he thought of his body, he forgot his spirit."26 "One may be wise in material things and a fool in spiritual things."27 "A person may be a millionaire, yet a spiritual bankrupt."28
Obviously, the Rich Fool in our Lord's parable could not enjoy the fruits of his labor, since he was overtaken by death.
How much did he leave? All that he had. How foolish that he spent all his life striving for the things he had to leave behind and neglecting the true values that he could have taken with him.29
His greater error was not making preparation for eternity. Like many of us, our farmer imagined that the time of his demise was not near. He, though, did not know that and neither can we be assured of longevity. "The rich fool, in his shortsightedness, never thought of his mortality . . ."30 Recognizing the frailty and uncertainty of our tenure on earth, we must lay up spiritual treasure in heaven.
"So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:21).
"The one who keeps on treasuring (present participle) selfishly, is a spiritual pauper!"31 "It is clear that God considered the farmer foolish because he thought of himself and forgot about his neighbors."32 Compare Matthew 6:19-21 and Luke 12:33-34 with Luke 12:21 above.
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:19-21).
"Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:33-34).
Following the parable of the Rich Fool and preceding the verses immediately above, Jesus illustrated the benevolence of God toward his creation (Luke 12:22-32). Our Lord cautioned his disciples against worry and assured them that the Heavenly Father would be no less gracious toward them than he is toward wildflowers and grass.
In a concluding word to the disciples, Christ commanded them to stop worrying (the force of the present imperative) about the daily needs of this life. They were to trust in the providence of God and seek His kingdom. This did not exclude work and proper planning (2 Thess. 3:10 -11; Prov. 6:6-8), but it does put first things first (cf. Mt. 6:33).33
The parable of the Rich Fool is a warning to guard against covetousness. Covetousness is ". . . an excessive or inordinate desire for gain."34
Covetousness . . . selfish desire to have possessions for the sake of having them. . . . Covetousness is making earthly possession our chief aim for life. Life's success is too often estimated according to wealth.35
Scripture refers to covetousness as idolatry, for which the wrath of God is reserved (Col. 3:5-6). Covetousness is included in several catalogs of sins and is a sin for which souls will forfeit heaven (Rom. 1:29; 1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:3).
Sadly, though, covetousness has become a respectable sin in which Christians carelessly indulge. However, not only is covetousness sin itself, but it often prompts one to commit additional sins, too (e.g., stealing, adultery). At the very least, "[i]t can keep us from coming to the Master in total submission."36
Jesus designated the farmer in his parable as a fool. The word means ". . . lack of commonsense perception of the reality of things natural and spiritual."37 He was a:
Godless Fool. David portrayed a fool as a man who affirms, "There is no God" (Psalm 14:1). The words, "There is," are in italics, added to carry the sense of the passage. No God! is the original expression, as if the fool is one who says, "No God for me!" This implies not actual atheism, the denial of God's existence, but a practical atheism, the denial of the moral government of God. This is why fool and wicked are sometimes treated as synonymous terms. A life lived without God is a God-less life. . . . The man Jesus described may not have been a morally bad man. There is no evidence that he had added wealth to wealth by any fraudulent practices. He appears to have been a diligent, thoughtful sagacious man. His great folly was that he was ignorant of the divine hand supplying his multiplied prosperity. . . . He failed to see himself as God's steward of all with which He had enriched him.38
The unchurched and church members alike ask if one can go to heaven by just being a good moral person. This parable, and God's Word throughout, opposes this baseless fantasy. Christians must be good moral people, but morality in the absence of redemption, New Testament worship, Christian living and Christian service is not enough to proffer the grace and mercy of God. The Rich Fool was:
The Doomed Fool. . . . Instead of barns, he had a burial; instead of anticipated luxurious laving there came a call to account to God for his hoarded possessions.39
The Rich Fool was, of course, unable to take any of his material wealth across the threshold of eternity.
Shrouds have no pockets; we leave it all behind. "Riches kept by the owner thereof to his hurt" is surely a grievous, yet common, evil under the sun (Eccl. 5:13; cf. Psa. 39:6; 49:6; Job 27:17).40
The rich man in this parable is reminiscent of a rich man in another account Jesus presented (Luke 16:19-31). In neither instance did Jesus condemn wealth as such, but in both cases the rich men failed to act as good stewards of the wealth with which they were entrusted.
The Rich Fool and the other Rich Man contrasted with Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), did not use their riches for others. "The deceitfulness or riches" choked any desire for God and His Word. . . . The parables of The Talents and The Pounds reveal how God expects His servants to use what He has given them . . .41
Whereas Luke 12:16-21 represents what must be left behind, Luke 16:19-31 prescribes what lies ahead as a consequence of covetousness. "Both of these rich men went to Hell, not because they were rich, but because they had left God out of their life."42 The rich fool
. . . failed to be "rich toward God." This was not a tirade against riches as such, but a warning against the desire for their acquisition to dominate life and destroy all thought of and desire for God.43
"We should look beyond ourselves for opportunities to do good."44 After all, the final judgment, in part, will be determined by how effectively we have used our resources and opportunities (Matt. 25:31-46). Truly, the character in the parable of the Rich Fool
. . . was a poor rich man. Like the Laoician Church, he was rich, increased with goods, having need of nothing, yet poor and miserable.45
1 Lindsey Warren, “The Rich Fool,” The Parables of Our Savior, Garfield Heights church of Christ, 171.
2 Neil R. Lightfoot, The Parables of Jesus, Vol. 1, Abilene, ACU Press, 69-70.
3 W. Gaddys Roy, Sermon Outlines on the Parables of Jesus, Anniston, AL, W. Gaddys Roy, 45.
4 Warren W. Wiersbe, Windows on the Parables, Wheaton, Scripture Press, 111.
5 Herbert Lockyer, All the Parables of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 267.
7 Wiersbe, 111.
8 Lightfoot, 68-69.
9 Wiersbe, 111-112.
10 Roy, 44.
11 Wayne Jackson, The Parables in Profile, Stockton , CA, Wayne Jackson, 69.
12 Lockyer, 267-268.
13 Jackson, 70.
14 Wiersbe, 120.
15 Lockyer, 268.
16 Lightfoot, 70
17 Wiersbe, 112.
18 Ibid., 114-115.
19 Jackson, 70.
20 Lightfoot, 69.
21 Wiersbe, 113.
22 Jackson, 69.
23 Lightfoot, 72.
24 Wiersbe, 119.
25 Roy, 45.
26 Lindsey Warren, “The Rich Fool,” The Parables of Our Savior, Garfield Heights church of Christ, 174
27 Jackson, 70.
28 Lockyer, 268.
29 Lightfoot, 72.
30 Lockyer, 269.
31 Jackson, 70.
32 Warren, 173.
33 Jackson, 70.
34 Lightfoot, 69.
35 Roy, 45.
36 Warren, 171.
37 Lockyer, 267.
39 Ibid., 269.
40 Jackson, 69-70.
41 Lockyer, 268.
42 Ibid., 269.
43 Ibid., 268
44 Jackson, 70.
45 Lockyer, 267.