The Lord is making us feel how precarious our lives are in this world. Often the human response to the various health and financial crises of our times are worse than the issues themselves, but the Lord’s hand is over all, and we must yield to him and not complain about the human instruments he uses to accomplish his eternal purposes. Our Lord Jesus has called us to fear nothing but God and to confess him boldly before men (Luke 12:1-12). Where shall we find the courage to do this, especially when everyone around us is very fearful and suspicious, even angry, when others are not? To confess our faith in the supremacy and sovereignty of our exalted Savior is difficult in good times and can be downright terrifying in evil times. But we are taught here two things that will help us learn to fear God and to confess Christ our Savior. First, God is our treasure, and if we are rich in him, fear will not afflict us as much, for we have set our happiness upon our God, not how our lives go in the world.
Second, we can trust him to take care of our earthly lives, provided we seek first his kingdom. He always takes care of his servants and pays their bills. Now, the way he takes care of us will greatly test our faith. It may likely involve chastening for our unwise decisions, but remember that he does this to show us what is in our hearts (Deut. 8:2-5). This is the reason he sends earthly trouble to us – to humble us and to prove us. Yes, he is judging his enemies, and we must leave to him the government of the world, for he does not need our suggestions and fretting. But toward his people, he has a different purpose: to reveal our heart to us. He already knows what is in our hearts, but he wants us to know, so that we are humbled for our sins, repent of them, and trust his promises. Judging ourselves, we shall not be judged along with the world but vindicated as God’s children, both now and at the final day (1 Cor. 11:31). Above all, he calls us in troublous times to live by his word alone – not our planning, economic systems, personal fears, anger, or other delusions. We have his promises, and these encourage our hearts and enable us to overcome the world and endure every trial for Jesus’ sake.
Beware the Evil of Covetousness (vv. 13-21)
Give Me, Give Me, Says the Leach (vv. 13-15)
While Jesus was speaking, a man called out from the crowd: “Master, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It is clear from our Lord’s response that this was not a man stung by injustice but a man who was like the proverbial horse leach, “Give, Give” (Prov. 30:15). He was not satisfied either with the decisions of the priests or with his brother’s handling of the disbursement. Perhaps his brother would listen to Jesus; perhaps Jesus would give an on the spot decision by which his brother would abide. We do not know, but our Lord did not come to replace or supplant what God’s law said about inheritances or the Jewish courts that handled these matters. Nor would he give his support to selfish interests. He was a not a party man. He did not gain his kingdom and his disciples by appealing to the baser elements in men, doing favors so that men would follow him. He came pushing men away from everything but the narrow way. “Man” – a tone of derision – “who made me a judge or a divider?” I did not come for this reason. Now, our Lord is the Judge before whom all will stand, but he did not then come to judge the world or to interfere with the existing courts.
But he did make a clear judgment against covetousness. O, how he reads our hearts! Lord, help my brother, my husband, or my wife, to see how wrong he is so that he will come back to me and make it right. But he sees right through us – is your concern true righteousness or that you be thought right? Are you willing to humble yourself, as our Lord has done, to have lowliness of mind and secure your brother through humility and love? Our hearts are such a cesspool. Here the Lord confronts this man with his covetousness. Perhaps he was in the right about the inheritance. Let us assume he was, but you can make a good case with an evil heart that is eaten up with covetousness. To covet is to lust for more than our heavenly Father wants us to have. It is discontent with his wise distribution of his own pantry among the inhabitants of the earth. Covetousness drives the wealthy to crave more, to steal from men through their economic systems and debased currencies and deficit spending and market manipulations. Covetousness drives the poor to use the voting booth to stick their hands into other men’s pockets, to rob and take what they can. The evil of covetousness is that it says to the Lord, “I am not content with you, with what you have allotted to me. My life does consist in what I have, and since I do not have what I want, then I will get it however I can, or grumble.” The Holy Spirit says that covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5), for it sets up another god in opposition to the true God, who gives us richly all things and distributes to each one of us what he wants us to have.
The Parable of the Rich Fool (vv. 16-20)
Covetousness feeds fear – will I have enough? What if I do not have enough? The Lord has just told us to trust and fear the Lord (Luke 12:5), but if we set our hearts on the things of this life, then what we fear most is not having what we want and think we need. This quenches any sincere fear of the Lord, the adoration and love and worship that ought to be our passion. Then, we do become afraid of men, of their schemes and threats. Covetousness makes men slaves, as we learn from the parable that our Lord spoke at that very moment to warn against covetousness. It is well known. Here was a man whom the Lord blessed with great abundance, for which he ought to have blessed God, held but lightly to, and done what he could to alleviate the needs of those around him (v. 16). Instead of preaching to himself about God’s goodness and generosity, which should be our daily sermon, he began preaching to himself one of those maniacal lessons that spew up from hell. I have run out of room for my abundance; what am I do to (v. 17)? I will pull down these small barns and build bigger barns (v. 18). It is an odd thing about abundance, part of its cancerous nature – it deceives us into thinking that “in our prosperity we shall never be moved” (Ps. 30:6). The good times will last forever; the good times should last forever. There is no reason that markets should not expand forever, that we should not count debt as somehow an asset, that there is no infinite possibility to exploit and borrow so that ten percent annual increase is the norm.
Prosperity deceives. This man should have kept his same barns, filled them, given away, and recognized that next year his current barns may have been too small. Testing and restraint often follow abundance, for the Lord will not deceive us into thinking that this life is heaven and unending prosperity. But look what happens when we think it is. I have all I need, this man said to himself (v. 19). He was talking to his soul, trying to deceive himself. Take your ease; do not worry about tomorrow. Eat, drink, and be merry. But then that very night he was preaching and believing these pleasant sermons, the Lord called him a fool. The world envies the wisdom of the wealthy – the way they get ahead, even when others are suffering. God called this particular wealthy man a fool, for he gave no thought to his eternal soul. Be as rich as Croesus in this life, eat the best food each day, wear the best clothes, live in a mansion, have servants galore, and be the envy of the neighborhood – you will be rotting in the ground as soon as the Lord says your time is up. What is worse, you will be called before him to give an account. And, who will have all the things you have gathered up? Hear the word of the Lord: “Labor not to be rich: cease from your own wisdom. Will you set your eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven” (Prov. 23:4-5).
God the Only True and Safe Treasure (v. 21)
This is the destiny of all who lay up treasures for themselves. It is a fool’s errand. Our Lord forbids it, for the verb is imperative (Matt. 6:19). The Lord may prosper and make his people rich, but we are not to make it the goal of life, either to be rich because we want money and things or because we fear not having and therefore want to build our own versions of bigger barns to protect ourselves from all the uncertainties of life. It is not that wealth is intrinsically sinful; goal, standard, and motive are everything. What is the goal for which the rich man lives – to have more or to worship and be more thankful and look for ways to glorify God by helping men? What is the standard by which he gains wealth – honest industry or suspicious speculation? What is the motive – fear or the glory of God? Constant and strong are our Lord’s condemnation of covetousness and seeking to be rich. Each one of us, rich or poor, must examine honestly our hearts to see if we crave this world’s goods or whether we are seeking to be rich in God.
For that is the great remedy for covetousness – to seek the true riches that are found in God alone. To be rich with reference to God means to be often in his fellowship, so that his communion through prayer and the word are the joy of our lives. This would have been our joy, as Adam had for a brief time, if we had maintained our original uprightness. His comfortable presence we may now enter again through Jesus Christ our Lord. These are the riches that neither persecution nor poverty can take away from us. With his fellowship comes his graces of faith, love, and hope, “every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:3), so that even if we have little, we have a feast, for God sits at our table with us. And also his gifts we must esteem and seek, for he is a generous God and Father. Our Lord Jesus also has spoiled the devil and his hosts and now gives us many gifts with which to serve him. This is the reason that true Christians are the only really wealthy people in the world. They even look and speak differently in calamity – not grumbling but trusting God, looking for occasions to serve and encourage, and recognizing God’s hand in all that happens, so that like Joseph and Daniel, they do not speak proud words against the powers that be but submit to the Power that is, God in Christ, our exalted Savior sitting and reigning at the Father’s right hand. These are riches that none can take from us, and we must heed our Savior’s call to be rich in God. Then, if prosperity turns, we do not set our hearts upon it; if it does not, or the times grow worse, we know what to do and what God is doing. He is trying our hearts and showing us what is in them. Do we trust him to take care of us? This is the next lesson to which our Lord turns his attention.
Do Not Be Anxious about Your Earthly Life (vv. 22-30)
An Absolute Command
God has promised that he is our portion (Ps. 16:5; 73:26; 119:57, and we are his (Deut. 32:9). We belong to him, and he belongs to us. He is our ultimate inheritance, our highest good, and our true, eternal pleasure. Because he is our treasure, we can trust him. Our lives are his responsibility! To this our Lord now pointedly turns. He absolutely forbids us to be anxious about our earthly lives – jobs, food, clothing (v. 22). The verb merimna,w (merimnao) means to be troubled with care, to be on the lookout for something. The command is absolute, but we do little more than crawl toward this blessed assurance. But the Lord does not give this command to beat us up but to encourage us. This entire section rebukes our worry and fretful outlook on life, especially in times of persecution or public calamity, but it does far more than this. All the reasons our Lord Jesus gives not to be anxious say to us, “God is your Father, and he loves you. Learn to trust him. Do what he says first, and he will take care of you.” The basis for the command, therefore, is the omnipotence, love, and faithfulness of God. Because of who he is and what he has promised, we must not be afraid or discouraged or troubled about our earthly lives. This does not forbid prudence, but prudence can be another word for fear if it is not done self-consciously trusting God, depending upon him for today and tomorrow, and looking to him like baby birds to their mothers for every scrap we need.
Not So Common Encouragements to Trust God (vv. 22-28)
Our Lord’s prohibition of worry extends to everything in this life: the body itself, health, food, clothing (v. 22). Life is about far more than these (v. 23). We are not dumb animals, skulking about for our next meal. Secularism has in many ways adopted this sub-paganism. If we can give men medicine and money, it is sufficient, for men are but complex, accidental, chemical machines. But they are not enough. We need leaders who call upon us to pray, to repent, and to seek the Lord as a nation. We need churches and ministers who call upon us to see the Lord’s hand in all these things and stop thinking solely in terms of inconvenience, limitations on free markets, and potential threats to economic, civil, and religious liberty but to see the hand of God, repent, walk more closely with him, and leave it to him to deal with enemies of the reign and gospel of his Son. Look up to the ravens. They do not farm or gather into barns, but God feeds them. Let this sink in ~ God feeds them. Our Lord did not take a secular view of the earth’s ecosystems. God feeds the birds (v. 24). Whatever the natural means, it is still his hand feeding them. And we are more valuable than the birds. The implication is that God will certainly feed us. This is the reason secular man is so fearful. Denying that God uniquely made him, God’s ownership of his life, that he owes his life to God and should seek everything from him, he can only look to himself and to his government and dollars. It is no wonder he is scared to death. Unless we trust that God will feed us, we shall be afraid of our own shadow.
Are you worried about how tall you are? You can worry all you want, but you cannot add to your height (v. 25). If we cannot do this, our Lord asks, why should we worry about the greater issues of life, presumably how we shall care for ourselves, whether tall or short, young or old (v. 26). It is commonplace this time of year to see blossoming flowers, but this is a remarkable work of God. They do not spin their clothes, but Solomon’s finery cannot compare to the beauty of the flowers (v. 27). And the grasses of the field, particularly the flowering wild grasses – God clothes them beautifully, even though they will be cut down and thrown into the fire later that day (v. 28). Think, our Lord says, think seriously of the implications of this – if God clothes the flowers, will he not clothe us? This is a gloriously simple argument from the lesser to the greater, but it requires faith in God as the Creator and Provider for all he has made. Atheistic materialism is a stark philosophy that has always bread statism, tyranny, and slavery. Only faith in God frees a people from fear so that they trust him to provide for them while they are confessing Christ and braving the wrath of men. Ah, yes, the flowers; God clothes them, and he will provide for me and my family. I do not need to worry. This is the way the believing man reasons.
The God of All Knows What We Need (vv. 29-30)
We might think that everyone thinks and feels the same about food and drink, shelter and clothing, but our Lord says otherwise. First, he tells us not to seek them, meaning that they are not to be our obsession, as if we absolutely need them to live. This is a trusting philosophy not learned from syllogism but from God’s word (v. 29). We are not to be a “doubtful mind,” meaning of fluctuating opinion or wavering hope. No, God is telling us by his feeding the birds and clothing the flowers that he will take care of us. Unbelievers desperately seek these things and make them the priority of life (v. 30). We know something they do not. Our Father knows that we need them. He did not give us life only to forget about us, but he pledges to take care of us and to provide everything we truly need. This everything widely varies over the face of the earth and even among God’s children. It is important in this satanically egalitarian age that we not take this as a pledge that we shall enjoy the same level of earthly prosperity and that we should expect and demand God to make the same distribution of his goods to everyone. He does not, but he does promise to take care of his people with food that is fitting for them and that will enable them to do the most important thing.
Seek God’s Kingdom First (v. 31)
God’s Remedy for Anxiety
And this important thing is God’s remedy for anxiety about life ~ seek his kingdom first, above all else, as your first priority, your dominating passion, the very purpose of your life. There can be no progress in overcoming worry and anger against wicked and foolish men unless we take this truth deeply into our souls. We are not here to have the life we think we should. We have no right to expect other people to do right by us. God did not create us to grab all we have, enjoy our best life now, and have everyone do what we think best. We are here for God alone. The only reason for our existence is to glorify and enjoy him. Along the way, he certainly gives us plenty of his blessings to enjoy – family, work, food, worship, and especially his word and gospel – but we are here to praise him, to serve him, and to seek in our lives and in the world the recognition of his rule over everything. This is so big that I cannot take it in. Think of all the worrying we do about the basics of life. The Lord says to us, “Do you not think that all the sources of the universe are in my mind, for I made everything. Trust me to take care of you. Stop taking upon your own puny shoulders my responsibility.”
His Redeeming Power and Rule in Us
Not every man can have this confidence. Yes, our heavenly Father feeds and clothes his enemies, but they have no pledge from him. We have this promise, for we are his children, the heir of all things in Jesus Christ, and thus have God for our portion and can claim through humble prayer his providence and promises for our aid. The confidence that God will care for us comes indirectly. It vanishes as soon as we make it our aim. But if we make his kingdom our aim, the confidence that God will take care of us is more immovable than the broadest mountain range. What is God’s kingdom? Now that Jesus Christ has come, God’s kingdom is his saving power and rule exercised through his Son. He raised his Son from the dead, invested him with universal dominion and power (Matt. 28:18), and pledged to him the nations for his inheritance. Every knee must bow to him and every tongue confess that he is Lord. It is a work well under way, and recent events will only intensify men coming to him.
We must seek this kingdom – heaven’s open, gospel-pearl gates; our Father’s pledge to help and provide for us as we serve him; his glory spreading throughout the earth through all the little ways and gifts and graces he distributes among his people; our confessing that Jesus Christ is the true Lord and that all our calamities may be traced back to our failure to bow the knee to him. “Now is come the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ” (Rev. 12:10). When? When our Lord proclaimed “It is finished,” was crucified in weakness, raised by God’s power, ascended to rule heaven and earth, and thereby cast out Satan. Let us rejoice that we are privilege to have this kingdom and called by God to seek him. As we do, we need not worry that he will take care of us, now and forever.
Ways We Seek His Kingdom
Let me suggest in closing and in this context five ways that we seek first God’s kingdom. This is the same thing as five ways we can overcome anxiety about this life and about what is going on in the world that is casting such a bleak shadow. First, we must trust God’s faithfulness and power – remember the ravens and the lilies and the grasses. Since God takes care of them, he will surely take care of us. Second, color earth with heaven. What I mean is let these heavenly glories color your expectations. I have lost my job and means to provide for my family; what should I do? Let me take this to my Father in heaven and lay it out before him, as Hezekiah did the threatening letter from the Assyrian envoy. God never promises to provide for me in the way I think best, but he has bound himself to me. He will never leave me or my family. Therefore, third, I must reject all unbelieving, distrusting thoughts – casting them down so that Jesus Christ may be exalted in my thoughts (2 Cor. 10:5). If I start running down the path of “what if’s” and “why’s,” I doubt his Fatherly care. Let me cast off unbelief and worldly thinking. Let me bring heavenly thinking, God’s sworn promises, to bear upon my life and attitudes. This is the way we seek first his kingdom. Lord, you rule this situation, you rule me, as you want to. Then, fourth, we can expect him to work powerfully in us and for us. This does not mean free money from the sky. It may mean harder work than ever, in less pleasant circumstances, but all circumstances are improved if we consecrate them to the Lord and determine to serve him with all our hearts.
But this means, fifth, that we surrender this morning to our King – surrender our rights to have the life we think we should. Also we must surrender our anger and fears to him. He never calls us to bear burdens that only he is strong enough to carry. We must also surrender our worries about the future, our bitterness against life and personal circumstances to him. Whenever we complain about what is going on, we are spitting in our Father’s face and pushing away his hand – I do not like how you are governing all things, the ways you are turning the king’s heart. I want this to go my way. It will go the King’s way, and that King is our Lord Jesus Christ. Surrender to him. Turn from your sins and believe the gospel. Trust him alone for cleansing and righteousness. Bow before his throne right now. Confess, “Lord, you alone are Lord, and I take you for my Lord. Rule over me as you think best. I only want to serve you.”