Monday, 04 November 2013 13:24

The Parable Of The Rich Fool

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Dear friends, do you know the tenth commandment? “You shall not covet”, God says. With this commandment God means you shall not desire in your heart in a bad way that which is not yours. You and I are called not to live with ungoverned, selfish, idolatrous desires for whatever another has, or for what is not given to us. The commandment in full is thus: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

This is a climactic commandment because it deals not just with our words and deeds, but it zeros in on our thoughts, our innermost desires. The tenth commandment is unique in that it deals with our motives in life. In Proverbs 23:7 the wise man states: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Everything in our life stems from our thoughts, and desires, our cravings and longings. This tenth commandment is climactic because, as Paul also confesses, it exposed him to being such a sinner after all. While he lived as a self-righteous Jew by the Law, that is, such a straight and orthodox impeccable life, Paul thought of himself as quite the good man. Yet Paul, by God’s grace, came to realize before the tenth commandment of God: “Oh, what a sinner I actually am before God by nature! How many and wicked are my covetous thoughts all too often!”

It is a solemn truth, isn’t it, that even just one single covetous thought on your part or mine is sufficient to bar us forever from the presence of God, the Holy One, and to banish us forever in the place of everlasting punishment, left to ourselves. The tenth commandment gets at the source of all our sins and sinfulness, and it shows how vile we all can be and are within apart from God’s cleansing and renewing power.

How wonderful when this is also your conviction and confession of faith in regards to the tenth commandment. In promotion of that too in your life and mine, let us study this commandment further by considering also Jesus’ promotion of it as taught to us in Luke 12. There Jesus tells a parable in connection with being covetous, the so-called parable of the rich fool. It fits well with our study now also of this commandment.

The setting is that while Jesus was preaching and teaching about the gospel of salvation and the godly Christian life and the promise of God’s care and keeping and infinite security in all our needs for body and soul, then this man in the crowd suddenly interrupts Him. He asks Jesus to serve as a mediator or judge regarding an inheritance dispute he was having with his brother. The man’s brother was cheating him from what he thought should be his share of the inheritance. That outburst from this unnamed individual led Jesus to say what he does in Luke 12:15: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Then Jesus gave this parable of a rich man who lived only for his riches and put all his hope in his possessions, living unmindful of God and eternity. The rich man was a fool, Jesus says, for he lived covetously, always wanting more and putting all his security just in the possessions he had.

With this parable Jesus, by way of illustration and vivid story, would drive home the point of not coveting. To covet is to look for your own security and satisfaction in life anywhere and everywhere but from God. To live and die that way, said Jesus, is to live and die as a great fool indeed. One commentator said rightly in regards to Jesus’ parable: “The real issue is the focus of life...Foolishness consists in thinking that responsibilities end with securing one’s own economic future. Life should not be focused on self, but on God and his purposes, [and especially being rich toward God, by grace through faith in Christ the Saviour].” This same person also wrote: “It is worthy making explicit that it [Jesus’ parable here] …is not merely for the wealthy. A person does not have to be wealthy to be like the rich fool. It may be easier for the wealthy to ‘treasure up for themselves’, but those without resources can be just as driven by greed and just as wrongly focused on things instead of God….”

So I thought now to pursue the stated theme for this sermon, “The climactic loving tenth commandment and Jesus’ promotion of it.” In our further study of this holy law of God, “You shall not covet”, let us consider reasons why this law ever remains so good for us, and ways to help keep it too.

We should be thankful for all God’s law, and true Christians will testify with John in I John 5:3 that God’s commandments are not grievous for us but very good. But what makes it especially good for us and why should we be grateful to the Saviour and for His warning: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness”?

Can’t we say, and should we not confess in praise to God as confessing Christians, this commandment is so good because, for one, it is so convicting? It uncovers and discovers us as sinful before God in ourselves. It helps makes sense of Scripture’s teaching, as Paul expressed it in Romans 3: “There is none righteous, no, not one….there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” The tenth commandment helps make clear what David says in Psalm 130: “If thou Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O LORD, who shall stand?” “And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified”, David says also in Psalm 143:2. Those expressions make indisputable sense when considering just the tenth commandment of God.

Why do all too many people persuade themselves they aren’t really so bad, and they don’t need a sinless, perfect, crucified, and risen Saviour of sinners to cleanse and renew them? They are not persuaded of their sins and sinfulness under the searching scrutiny of God’s law, especially also this tenth loving commandment. You shall not covet, that is, not selfishly and idolatrously crave for what doesn’t belong to you or what God has not granted to you. But isn’t this something we all fall short in, every day again even? Will you all be awakened and convicted by this law? Doesn’t it prove beyond all question the fact that you are a sinner by nature and you need Jesus the Saviour to be also your Saviour and Lord shall it be well with you before God and for this life and for eternity?

Another reason surely to be so grateful for this commandment too is that it is given by God not only to convict us, but in His great care for us. Covetousness leads to so much misery and disappointment and discontentment. Covetousness breeds so much evil and sin in our lives and in this world. Who will deny this? J.C. Ryle writes correctly about covetousness: “It is a sin which, ever since the fall, has been the fertile cause of misery and unhappiness upon earth. Wars, quarrels, strifes, divisions, envyings, disputes, jealousies, hatreds of all sorts, both public and private, may nearly all be traced up to this fountain-head.”  

The point now is, when God says to His people, “You shall not covet”, He means thereby also to spare us so much misery and distress. The covetous are never satisfied, always discontent, always caught up in further evil, and bring misery upon themselves and so many others too. Being covetous means settling for nothing ultimately and being left altogether empty-handed in the end. The pathway of sinful coveting all amounts to vanity of vanities in the long run, and with the tenth commandment God is urging: “Don’t go down that dead end street.” Don’t be like the rich fool in the parable Jesus told. Take heed, and beware of covetousness!

With the tenth commandment the Lord is not trying to keep us from true treasures and real blessings. No, He is guarding us from the way which will surely leave us with only counterfeit treasures and unfulfilling pleasures, and in the end without hope and only everlasting distress and sorrow. Oh, that Absalom would not have lived and died sinfully coveting the kingship and throne of David! Oh, that Ahab would have seen through the wicked folly of coveting Naboth’s vineyard! Oh, that Achan would have counted the eternal cost of coveting the forbidden treasures of Jericho! Oh, that Balaam would have left his covetous ways and returned to God in spirit and truth! Oh, that Ananias and Sapphira would have thought through lying before God and the church with covetous hypocrisy! In I Corinthians 6:10 Paul mentions the covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. When God says, “Do not covet”, He is something like that person standing on a road where the bridge has been washed out and redirecting the traffic. Don’t keep going down the road of coveting because it will drown and destroy you and lead you on the way to hell. Isn’t God good and kind in being so out to keep us from the broad way that leads to destruction?

There is yet another reason too that God gives also the tenth commandment. It is not only to convict us of sin and to lead us to Christ and to keep us from harm and danger, disappointment and distress. But surely also God will have us learn the way of true contentment and everlasting enjoyment and fulfillment in life! And what is that? It is in finding our all in all in Him, and with Him, our Triune covenant keeping Saviour God, our Creator, Provider and Redeemer, and Friend and Bridegroom ‘par excellance’! Notice here the context of the parable of the rich fool who lived and died being covetous for earthly treasures.

Before the parable, Jesus was teaching about true security and blessing in the care and love of God towards us in and through the Saviour. And following the parable, how much more doesn’t Jesus bring this out? In Luke 12 Jesus tells us of God’s great care for all His creation and how much more still He will take care of those who trust and follow Him, living in daily dependence on Him. “Fear not, little flock, [Jesus says to His followers], for it is yourFfather’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Imagine that! What God has in store for His people already in this life, and then in the life hereafter, is boundless comfort and endless treasures and pleasures. It is eternal love and joy and fellowship with Him and all the redeemed. It is the never-ending discovery and enjoyment of all His creative handiwork in the redeemed universe. It will be awesome beyond words and that forevermore!

So the point is, why get all caught up in the here and now? Why be always coveting after the passing, fleeting, impoverishing treasures and pleasures of this world apart from God since God promises His people way better and way more enjoyments and treasures in this life and the life to come? The poorest Christian here on earth all focused on Christ and His love and gospel cause has far greater peace and joy and fulfillment and purpose than the richest man on earth apart from God. Therefore don’t be coveting what this world offers and what sinners indulge in, but seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these other things will be added unto you. That is the positive gospel message also with the tenth commandment. Peter speaks thus also in I Peter 1:3-5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively [living] hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

So do not covet, and take heed and beware of covetousness for these reasons given now and based on God’s Word. Truly, as one wrote: “How blessed it is when Christ uncovers us to the valuelessness of accumulating the things of this world, in light of eternity.” In view of all this teaching from God’s Word, yes, from Jesus Himself, who will not take heed and beware of covetousness? Oh, in the words of Jeremiah 22:29: “Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.” How many sadly perish forever living and dying in covetous pursuit of the world’s treasures and fame and pleasures. They are like the fool in the parable Jesus gives in Luke 12. But you will hear the Word of the Lord now, won’t you, by God’s grace? What common sense reason to hear what Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, has to tell us!

And now for the Christian let us think on this other practical point. We have considered why this tenth commandment is so good for us, but now consider with me some ways to help us keep it too. May I be so bold to give here at least ten helps in keeping this commandment as confessing Christians?

1. Let us realize always how deadly and distracting is all disobedience to this commandment. Covetousness is literally a mother sin that brings on a whole breed of so many other sins if not nipped in the bud. Covetousness is an inner sin but just because it is not external and visible as such, that doesn’t mean it is any less detrimental. You can’t be covetous in your mind and heart and zealous for God and His honor at the same time. One of the Puritans wrote pointedly: “You may as well bid an elephant fly in the air, as a covetous man live by faith.” Paul writes in I Timothy 6 that the love of money, a covetous grasping for more and more of it, is the root of all evil. How we need to take this to heart also to combat covetousness and to stay clear from it and to resist it as soon as those covetous thoughts come to mind and heart. “A covetous man is like a bee that gets into a barrel of honey, and there drowns itself.” Yes, as the same person put it: “being covetous is like the ferry man taking on so many passengers to increase his profits, but only, alas, to sink his boat.” We drown ourselves in perdition when allowing covetousness in our lives. So, yes, take heed and beware of covetousness, Realize how dangerous and deadly sin it is.

2. Read the Bible often. How the Bible teaches the sinfulness and great folly of covetousness, while at the same time promoting the way of faith and reliance on God and living in all things to His glory and honor in Christ Jesus. Scripture examples of people who foolishly lived and perished in covetousness and of people living in humble dependence on God and being so blessed and such a blessing in their life and death all drives home by the Spirit not to live always coveting this and that from this world and what others may have. No, but seek and serve the Lord in all things above all! With God’s Word as your daily meditation, won’t it help you in seeing through the lie of covetousness, and motivate you to seek God and His righteousness always above all else? Are you reading and reflecting on God’s Word not just in church and in family devotions but also personally before God?

3. Guard your mind and heart from all the world’s temptations and allurements. That is extra difficult no doubt in our multi-media age with the advertisements of the world’s treasures and pleasures ever being put before us in one way or another. But still, are there not things you and I can do to keep from being bombarded by the world’s attractions and treasures? Can we not avoid television more, and forget looking through all too many catalogues and worldly magazines that scream to us to get immediate gratification, and ‘don’t worry, buy now, pay later’? Do we really need so many apps on our phone and ipad too? Thinking of computer and video games as well, how many of them actually feed on us being covetous by nature and draw out more and more sinful covetousness in our minds and hearts? Is it not right to say: ‘Be careful of the numbing dulling effect of these things especially also in regards to coveting’? Of course we have to make use of catalogues and apps and other things in this world in our daily life responsibilities often, but my point now is: ‘Let us in all things be thinking and discerning believers’. Isn’t there so much need always to be guarding ourselves against the subtle and unending assaults of Satan to get us off track and into a sinful coveting lifestyle in one way or another? Are you so putting on the whole armor of God day by day, on guard for the wiles of Satan and the worldly temptations and lusts of the flesh?

4. Be humble enough to admit in certain areas of life you are too weak to handle the least covetous thought and the desire to indulge. For example, if one drink for you just never stops at that but all too often leads to more so that you feel defeated and ashamed and grumpy then admit for you one drink is too much, and you need to refrain from it altogether.Why keep coveting what others can do such as drink alcohol and it never bothers them? Realize your weak spot, repent and be resolute before God in dealing with it, and don’t ruin your life and reputation and family by staying covetous. Maybe your weakness is not at all with alcohol but with going to the beach and a lustful eye, or with having a credit card that you just can’t control responsibly, or whatever. The point is, where we are weak in standing up against sinfully coveting more and more, will you, will I, resolve to deal with it radically, and not be controlled by sinful coveting?

5. Realize the shortness of life and the endlessness of the world to come. No restriction on yourself in any way is a loss when you choose it to help keep close to God in your mind and heart, and to resist sin and the devil. Before we know it the battles will be over and it will be all glory and joy and eternal wonder and thankfulness in the presence of God and the redeemed and the good angels in the new heavens and earth. The devil wants to have us give up in the good fight of faith saying it is too long and too hard. But the devil is a liar from the beginning. Remembering the brevity of life can help in persevering in godliness with contentment. Paul writes in Philippians 4:5: “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.”

6. Read about those who have it far worse than you. Just think of the many people suffering so much in all kinds of ways in this world when you are tempted to covetousness. In this regard how good it is for you and me to be sure to read and stay informed of Christian organizations that reach out in help to those in real need all across this world. How many suffer and endure great hardships in ways we can hardly imagine. Immerse yourself in the needs of others to fight being covetous for more treasures that in many cases you don’t really need at all.

7. Be involved in one or more Christian ministries of helping others. If you will only open your eyes and pray about it, you will find countless ways to give yourself in helping others. Rather than amassing more treasures for ourselves, isn’t it good to use our extra time and resources responsibly and generously, as God grants us that, to help others? We read in Acts 20:35b that Jesus said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” and that is actually true. And so living, by God’s grace, can be such a positive help and cure against a covetous mindset!

8. Pray and work to covet in a godly way, like seeking more and more to develop in the fruit of the Spirit and in the knowledge of Scripture and the understanding of Christian doctrine and the treasures of Christian church history. A healthy holy coveting is seeking and desiring more and more to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ as only Saviour and Lord. As someone put it: “To be full of Jesus is to be in the state where covetousness is out of mind. We must make sure we are actively contenting our souls with Christ.” Doesn’t Paul mean this too when he writes in Philippians 4:11-13: “…I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content….I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.”

9. Focus on desiring and rightly coveting for others all kinds of blessings for body and soul in their lives. As Christians, one put it: “We ought to prayerfully covet for others, blessings in regard to possessions, people, position, accomplishments, and spirituality…. Such gracious godly coveting [for many good blessings in and with the lives of others in family, church, community and world] will free you from the plague of sinful covetousness.” Isn’t there a lot of truth to this, if we are honest?

10. Look to Jesus and Him crucified and risen again and again as your precious Saviour and wonderful Lord. This is probably the most important one no doubt. Seek truly and more and more to know and grow in discovering and knowing and enjoying Christ Jesus and His love as your all in all.

Maybe you can think of more helps still against sinful coveting. The earnest gospel lesson now is that we take heed and beware of covetousness. “The things of this world can no more ease a troubled mind than a gold cap can cure the headache” wrote Thomas Watson. But in the way of the Lord and godly wisdom in Christ Jesus, as it says in Proverbs 3:15, “all the things you can desire are not to be compared unto her”, that is, living in union and communion with Jesus Christ as only Saviour and Lord and in love and service to Him and His glory. Even so, will you make it your earnest prayer and care in the way of true faith and repentance, “that even the smallest inclination or thought contrary to any of God’s commandments never rise in [your] heart; but that at all times [you] hate all sin with [your] whole heart, and delight in all righteousness.” How blessed when such may be your response by God’s grace! So prosper Your Word Lord, we pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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