TO BE RICH TOWARD GOD – Pete Bauer
This sermons was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on October 5th, 2014. To listen to the audio, click on this link – Rich Fool.
What Does it Mean to Be Rich?
Context: As Jesus was warning his disciples about hypocrisy and calling them to live genuine lives before God, he was interrupted by a man from the crowd who called out to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
It is likely that this man was a younger brother whose older brother had inherited the entire family estate. As a younger brother, this man would have no legal claim on the inheritance. However, it was common practice for people to bring these kind of disputes to Rabbis who would settle them according to the Old Testament Law. This man was asking Jesus to make a judgment in which he could demand authoritatively, as a famous rabbi, that the older brother share the inheritance. Maybe he imagined that Jesus would take his side as a matter of doing justice.
Jesus’ response can be confusing. First, he asked the man, “Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?”… then he went on to tell a parable that sounded like the judgment the younger brother was looking for… then he flipped the parable on its head saying, “So it will be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.”
The Real Question–What Does it Mean to Be Rich? What we see when we look at the context of this interruption and subsequent parable is that Jesus uses these things to continue to talk about genuine life vs. hypocrisy. Jesus didn’t answer the man’s request by coming down on one side or another (judging between the brothers), but by putting the whole situation in a new light. In essence he asked; “What does your life consist of?” “What does it really mean to be rich?” These question have to do with what it means to live a genuine life of conviction and love for God. Jesus was/is interested in these deeper questions about life.
Understand The Parable.
God Cares About People: There were commands in the Old Testament Law regarding the harvest. The Israelites were not to harvest the corners of their fields. Instead, they were to leave the crops at the corner of their fields for the needy and the alien, (Lev.23:22). In the same way, If when they were reaping their harvest, they forgot a sheaf in the field, they were not to go back and get it, it was to be for the alien or the orphan or the widow, “… in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” (Deut.24:19).
God gave these commands because he cared about the needy and the unprotected and the uncared for. God said to the Israelites, “You shall not deprive the resident alien or the orphan of justice… for, remember, you were slaves [aliens] in Egypt.” God wanted this core desire of his care for people also to be something his people shared and understood.
The Rich Man Cared for No One: These Laws never specifically say, “if your harvest is really big don’t hoard it all to yourself.” There was no specific Law compelling the rich man to share or show compassion (and here, Jesus is certainly speaking to the older brother–who is, perhaps, in the crowd). The rich man could not technically be convicted of breaking the Law.
On the other hand, if we understand God’s intent–the reasons for which he gave these Laws–the rich man comes off as a thief, an oppressor, and as one who trusts only in himself. Notice how Jesus says, “The land [or ground] of a rich man was very productive.” What God provided for both the man and for the poor who would benefit from the extra, the rich man stole. His greed did harm to the poor. God provided the man with enough to fill his barns and have more left to bless his neighbors–but he neither trusted God to provide, nor loved his neighbors, nor had compassion on the poor and needy, the widow and orphan.
What The Parable Does Not Say: There is a tendency, by some, to see this parable with a very negative view towards God. If we do not understand the Law behind the parable, it can look like the rich man had a good day and God killed him for it out of some vindictive rage. This understanding creates a false spirituality about how we should not be too happy lest God punish us. Unfortunately there are many Christians who have this view of God.
Some have seen this as a condemnation of wealth or saving. But the sin of the rich man is not wealth–he was already rich. Nor was the sin of the rich man saving and storage–he already had barns, (all farmers had barns). The sin of the rich man was a complete disregard for his neighbor whom he was expected to bless. And the view of God that comes out of this parable is not of an angry, vindictive judge–but of a defender of the poor, the needy, the uncared for and the stranger.
True Wealth is…?
Hard to Define: It is clear that the rich man, in some very basically important way, was not truly rich. This is, in part, what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Beware, and be on your guard against all covetousness; because the life of anyone does not consist or the abundance of his possessions.” Life does not consist of what we can earn, buy, possess, store away or secure. Jesus gives us a clear negative here–but the positive he leaves undefined.
That can be very frustrating for us–we like answers. But here, I think, Jesus is more interested in having us ask questions. What is true wealth? To answer by saying, “happiness” or “treasure in heaven,” really only leaves us with more questions. These questions are important… What is true wealth? What is genuine living? These are lifelong questions that bring us to God to look for answers and understanding–they create genuine life in us.
True Wealth Will Enable You to Be Rich Toward God: One way to know whether we have true wealth is by our response to God. What the parable does bring out for us are two ways of being toward God: Being Rich toward God vs. Being Poor Toward God.
~ Being Poor Toward God: If we have understood the parable this question is much less about money than it is about the way we respond to God. The Rich man saw God’s commands as Laws which did not need to effect him because they weren’t specific enough. He was able to justify his actions, plunder his neighbors, distrust God and be self-satisfied.
~ Being Rich Toward God: Those who are rich toward God see his commands not as Laws, but as clues to the character of God–what he is like–what he loves. To be rich toward God is to respond to what we see in God’s words by loving and desiring the things he loves and desires. This makes us genuine.
Celebrating Communion in Wealth or Poverty: This morning we are celebrating communion. We do this in a very free way that points to the generosity and grace of God. However, the way we celebrate communion, while it points to a true way of looking at God, does not do away with our need to consider our response to it.
~ Poor Communion: Communion can be a safe thing–something we don’t have to think about–an automatic and easy relationship with God. Communion can become a Law–something we have to do–only guided by the thought of whether we are safe or not–whether we have the right understanding or not.
~ Rich Communion: But communion is meant to be more than a safe practice–or something that we do better or worse than another church. Communion consists of the most personal elements of a person–Jesus Christ–who wants to be known, understood, talked to, loved, worshipped. Rich communion does not just understand intellectually–it engages with the crucified and raised person, Jesus Christ.
- What do you think Jesus wanted the younger brother to understand from the parable he told?
- Do you know of any examples of people who seem to be “rich toward God?”