There is a beguiling temptation to read Jesus’ parable of the rich man’s meditation as nothing more than an admonition against wealth: “Flee from the comforts of this life, for death is coming, and cometh soon!” Instead, the Holy Spirit leads our weary souls to a something more profound: a Gospel-oriented meaning where we find freedom from fear and the peace of Christ.
The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13–21)
Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And He said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Admittedly, there is a charge to guard oneself against the love of money. Love of money is indeed the issue. There are those who obtain wealth through sin, but God also grants wealth in many forms. It is the love of wealth and comfort that leads us away from faith in Jesus and causes us to neglect our neighbor.
The “someone in the crowd” missed the point of Jesus’ ministry altogether. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to redeem a sinful world at the cross. This person perhaps respected Jesus but sought Him to be little more than an authoritative third power—to enforce the laws of the land. He failed to see Jesus’ larger mission to endow him with wealth toward God.
The rich man’s sin was not possession of wealth, but rather riches for their own sake. Sinners seek peace and comfort in God’s gifts rather than our Lord Himself. The rich man expected that he would have all the time in the world to know the Lord, and that his barns would sustain him.
Look at Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12–14 for a connection to the vanity of seeking things such as wealth, that are “done under heaven” (v. 13); that is, earthly things.
There are two Gospel pieces. First, all wealth—in fact, every good thing—comes from a loving God and for the sake of Jesus Christ. God sustains the world and all people, both believers and unbelievers, on account of the work of Jesus. Without Christ’s work, there would be nothing but wrath and destruction. God patiently preserves the world for the sole purpose of reaching the lost.
Second, God’s good gifts are fine and provide comfort and pleasure, but the Almighty wants far better for sinners. That is Christ. Jesus died and rose again, not that we would merely have a 401(k), good health care, and Disney vacations, but that we would know Him. Jesus desires the rich man to detach from his vain obsession with harvests, crops, and barns to instead crave forgiveness and eternal life. This is richness toward God and comes through faith in Jesus.
Consider this strategy for teaching about the richness we have toward God in Christ:
Prepare real or play money in various denominations. Have your students sit in a circle. Place pot deep enough to hide its contents in the circle’s center. Give each student a certain amount of money. Make sure the amounts vary considerably.
Before starting, place three signs in the pot: FORGIVENESS, ETERNAL LIFE, and HEAVEN. Prepare three more signs: PERFECT OBEDIENCE, CROSS, and RESURRECTION. Next, ask your students to share how much money they have. When this is finished, drop PERFECT OBEDIENCE, CROSS, RESURRECTION into the pot in turn, while discussing what Jesus gave for us. Because of this we are rich toward God. Then pull FORGIVENESS, ETERNAL LIFE, and HEAVEN from the pot one by one to demonstrate what we receive from God. We are all equally in need of salvation; God wants this salvation equally for all. In response, we are called to be rich toward God.
Help your students to understand that while some have more of what the world offers than others, through faith, all Christians can be rich toward God. This richness is the same regardless of what we have. Ask your students to share what they think “richness toward God” looks like.
Consider this strategy for older students (it will require some research and preplanning):
Ask your students what they plan to pursue as a career in the future, then reveal the median income for that career in your city or state. In the same way, discuss homes, cars, and the like. Help your students to understand that much, if not most, of life is spent earning a living. Finally, reveal the average age for death in your city or state. Connect this to Jesus’ words “the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Ideally, this will help students see the importance of centralizing Christ.