Text: “…a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
I would venture to say that you and I learned a long time ago that material possessions are not the most important items in life. The first ten years of my life was spent in the coal-mining hills of Southern Ohio. We lived in a small town situated between the hills. At the very base and between the hills was a coal mine.
The tunnel was in the side of one of the hills and running into the tunnel was one set of steel rails on which an electric motor car ran. The electric wires ran along the roof of the tunnel and provided power to the electric motor car by an arm leading from the car to the wires in the ceiling of the tunnel. This was similar to the old trolley car or street car.
The miners and their families living in the small town did not own their own house because they were making less than a dollar an hour. My dad worked an eight-hour swing shift or rotating shift. The mine operated 24 hours a day, five days a week. He was making less than $7.00 per shift. The only people who owned a house were the people who owned the coal mine. These people also owned the company store which was like a general store. They stocked everything from food to clothing to shoes.
The miners had little choice as to where they could shop. Prices were higher in the company store and the miners were forced to purchase their food and necessary items there. The purchases were taken out of their paycheck so that the miners ended up with little or no pay. The practice was very unfair, but the miners had little choice.
The miners did not have to be concerned about an abundance of material possessions because they owned nothing. There is a song called “Sixteen Ton” that tells the coal miners story. Here are some of the words as recorded by Tennessee Ernie Ford:
I was born one morning’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store
Times have changed, but coal mines are still in existence. My dad paid the ultimate price for his years in the mine. Safety and protective breathing devices were not a major concern in those days; consequently his lungs filled with coal dust and he couldn’t breath. He didn’t have any earthly treasures or possessions, but he had the love of God in his heart and the love of his family.
Today, many people have the idea that the more earthly possessions they can accumulate, the happier they will be. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
When Jesus walked the face of the earth, he had no material possessions. He was not concerned about owning a house, a herd of animals or any other earthly item. Jesus was concerned about heavenly things and not earthly things.
Jesus had a way with people. As we know, great multitudes of people followed Him and listened to what He had to say. Some of these people were not His friends, but were people trying to find something to accuse Him of saying or doing. When Jesus drove the demon out of the person who was mute, He was accused of being empowered by Beelzebub or the prince of demons which is Satan himself.
Since Jesus knew the heart of these people, He continued to teach the multitude of people who followed Him. He taught them heavenly virtues or qualities. He taught them about how to respond and how to treat people who criticized and accused them.
He taught them to live in the presence of the Light and not in the presence of darkness. He spoke to people about repentance, worry, discipleship, treatment of others, judgment, persistence, praying, money, and the Kingdom of God. He told people who they belonged to and how important they are.
God has been with each one of us each and every day of our life. He has given us seventy, eighty, ninety years of life. Each one of us has had some struggles through life. God has led us down the path He wanted us to take. Yes, there were probably times when we looked out and saw what other people possessed and wished we had the same or something similar.
God provided each of us with some worldly items. During our life, He has provided for us a place to live, food to eat, a means by which we could provide for our families and a wonderful group of people with whom we could be friends.
In our Scripture reading, a young fellow came to Jesus with a request. Perhaps this individual was the younger brother in the family; Scripture really does not tell us. In Jesus’ day, the rabbis played a very important part in the every day life of people.
When an issue came about that could not be settled by the immediate family or the people at hand, the issue was presented to the rabbi. Issues of inheritance were very common, but the inheritance usually did not happen until the father in the family became deceased.
For some reason or another, the brother in our Scripture reading wanted to have his share of the inheritance now. The other brother did not want to divide the inheritance, so the younger brother went to Jesus and said to Him: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).
You and I have done something similar in our life-time. There have been times when we wanted people to side with us and we would go to someone, mom or dad, or someone else and tell them our story and try to convince them to side with us. People do this everyday. Those working together often face change which they do not like or do not agree with, so in turn they talk to other friends and employees and try to get those people to side with them.
Sometimes people think they deserve a raise in salary because someone else received one, so they complain to their friends and tell them how unfair it is and try to get their views and opinions.
Those of you who have been on church boards know how it feels when something is decided and acted upon, but you do not agree. You feel that it is not necessary or that it is wrong, so you begin telling other people how you feel.
Perhaps you go into the dining room to eat and discover that everything they are serving is not to your taste. What do you do? I would venture to say that you begin telling other people how terrible the food is and you try to get others to agree with you. Guess what? Nothing ever gets settled and the only one affected is you. You feel miserable.
You and I know that we do not always get things our way. Should this affect us? Should we try to make a big scene? Should we draw up a petition and get 100 signatures of people who are siding with us? The brother in our Scripture reading wanted Jesus to step in, side with him, and satisfy his request.
Jesus did not do this because He deemed this was not an issue of importance. Obviously, the brother thought it was a very important issue; however, it was a selfish issue. Jesus said, “Man who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” (Luke 12:14).
Jesus was not trying to avoid the issue, but He knew that the real issue was one of attitude. The young brother thought that the inheritance was the most important issue at this time. Perhaps, the younger brother wanted to leave the family, and go out on his own living life the way he saw fit, but the only way he could do it was to have a financial means.
You and I have taken our requests to God and have had many of them go unanswered or unfulfilled. Why? One reason is that our request might involve material requests even to the point of greed or selfishness. God knows what is good for us and He also knows when we request something with the wrong attitude.
Jesus knew the young brother was acting in a selfish and greedy manner. He was thinking of himself and no one else. Jesus wanted this brother to know what was important in life. He knew the heart of this brother was centered on earthly possessions and not heavenly possessions.
Jesus said to the young brother, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). None of us will be happy in life if our life is centered around money or possessions.
In this day, businesses would like us to have everything they make or sell. Turn on your television and watch a 30 minute show of Andy Griffith, or Beaver, or MASH and count the commercials that appear within those 30-minute segments. When you eliminate the commercials, you will find that the real show is about 20 minutes.
Advertisers flash on 10 to 20 second commercials one after the other telling what you need to live a happy life. You will see everything from exercise equipment, to diet programs, to diabetes medications, to jewelry, to automobiles, to credit cards, to education programs, to get rich schemes, etc. The list goes on and on.
Advertisers want you to know that what they have to offer is essential for you to live a full, happy, joyful and satisfied life. This is simple not true! Jesus is saying that these are not the important things in life. You can have all these and still be miserable.
You can read in the daily paper about people who sell their soul to the devil by working to cheat people out of money. Well-to-do people are not usually happy people. They strive to reach a point in their life when all the material items they think they need are finally acquired or they have the money to acquire them. Once they reach that point, their heart is still empty, so they end up committing suicide. They have sold their soul to the devil.
Jesus wants the young brother to understand the same thing he wants us to understand. He wants us to concentrate on our relationship with God instead of concentrating on acquiring material possessions. He wants us to store up treasures in heaven and not here on earth. People should know that material possessions stay in this world when their time comes to exit the stage of earthly life.
Jesus told the parable about the rich man who had been blessed with a bumper crop. The man could have shared what he produced with those who had nothing. He could have given away, free of charge, to those too poor to pay. Instead, the man said to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops” (Luke 12:16)?
The man chose to build bigger barns and save all the crops for himself. He was greedy and he was selfish. He was not a caring and sharing individual. He was doing just as people do today. They are accumulating wealth for their retirement. There is nothing wrong with saving for retirement if this saving does not come between you and God.
We are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We are to look out for people who are in need. When people were hungry, Jesus fed them. When people were hurting, Jesus cared for them and healed them. When people were being mistreated, Jesus stepped in and protected them. When people were lonesome and without a friend, He let them know He would never leave them for forsake them.
We call ourselves Christ’s disciples. If we are truly His disciples, we need to follow in his footsteps. A person can accumulate large amounts of wealth, but if that wealth is not used to further the kingdom of God that is useless. The richest person in the world will enter eternity empty-handed. No one has ever taken anything out of this world.
Each one of us came into this world with nothing and we will leave with nothing. Our stored-up heavenly treasures will be our faith in God, our service to God and to all His people and our obedience in doing the things written in His Word. We need to become rich according to God’s standards and not according to the standards of the world.
The rich man built new and bigger barns and stored large quantities of crops. He planned to “Take life easy; eat, drink and merry” (Luke 12 19). His plan was good in the eyes of world standards, but he died. How much did he leave? He left it all and entered eternity empty-handed.
Everything we have belongs to God. Everything we have is meant to be used for the good of others. If you take a few kernels of corn and place them in a closed can and put them on a shelf nothing will happen to them. If you take those same kernels and place them in the rich fertile soil of God’s ministry, there will be a great harvest.
Distribution of these kernels is not loss but is in reality another form of gain. Scripture says, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (I Corinthians 9:6).
Being rich is not measured by the material possessions, but instead by what you have in your heart. The treasures in your heart will be carried with you into eternity.