Putting Possessions into Perspective (Stewardship Bible Study)

The Pharisees set great store by material possessions. In Deuteronomy 28 God promised material blessings for obedience. Material possessions, then, were viewed as a sign of God’s good pleasure in the person who possessed them. The pursuit of material possessions became the highest goal in life in order that, by having many possessions, one could give public evidence of being approved by God. The prevailing Jewish attitude toward possessions was expressed in the statement “Whom the lord loveth, He maketh rich.” If God’s blessing was to be sought, then riches—the sign of that blessing—should eagerly be pursued. The following questions then arose: What is wrong with the pursuit of material possessions? Why is covetousness or greed to be shunned?


In order to answer this problem, Christ told the parable of the rich fool. It is to be noted that at the start of the parable the farmer was already rich (Luke 12:16). The man had not become rich by the new harvest. Instead, the harvest only added to his riches. Before the new harvest, this rich man already had barns filled to capacity. He did not need the added wealth to sustain himself or his household.

When the new harvest came and the rich farmer realized that he had no place to store the crop, his solution was “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods” (Luke 12:18). This solution to the problem of the man’s increased wealth shows that he had no concern for his neighbor. There were many poor people. The man had a great opportunity to show his righteousness by fulfilling the second requirement of the law by distributing his excess wealth to those in need. However, this never seems to have entered his mind. Thus the man demonstrated that he was not righteous when tested by the requirements of the law.

The man in addition showed that he did not fulfill the first requirement of the law, that is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). He said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (12:19). He was showing that his first love was for himself and his own comfort and enjoyment. Thus he was not righteous before the first great commandment of the law. He was showing that his primary goal in life was to satisfy himself and to use for his own selfish purposes the wealth that he had accumulated. This leads to the observation that in Scripture a person is not considered rich merely because he has material possessions. The rich are those who trust in riches, use them for selfish ends, and are thus ungrateful to God who provided salvation through faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The rich person, then, is not determined by the amount of possessions, but rather by his or her attitude toward those possessions. It was not the possessions or acquisition of possessions that Christ was here condemning but rather the attitude toward those possessions that characterized the rich man in the parable. The man was covetous because he sought to acquire goods for his own selfish ends, and he was greedy because he misused the possessions that he had acquired. Christ now proceeded in the parable to answer the question and to show that the folly of covetousness and greed leads to the selfish accumulation of material goods. While the man considered himself to be sovereign over his possessions, the parable moves on to show that God was sovereign over the man’s life. The man was pronounced by God to be a fool (Luke 12:20). According to Scripture, a fool is a man who leaves God out of any consideration. Thus, Psalm 141:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” This man was a fool in that he did not recognize his material blessings as coming from God, nor did he recognize any obligation to God in the use of his possessions. As a judgment for his helplessness, God said, “This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:20a). The Creator is sovereign over the creature, and the creature is answerable to the Creator. Christ was emphasizing that any individual is responsible to God for the use of all that he possesses. God asked, “Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20b). Christ was thus emphasizing that possessions are temporal, not eternal. It was impossible for the man to use material possessions in the place where he was going. Material things are designed for this life, not for the life to come. Therefore, the man was investing his whole life in what was temporary, not in what is eternal. Christ drew an application from this principle, stating, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). Christ was showing that although material possessions are considered temporary, they may be used to acquire eternal riches. The man had had abundant opportunity to use his material possessions unselfishly and thus demonstrate that he was righteous and consequently assured of eternal reward. However, by his greed, covetousness, and selfishness, he demonstrated that he was unrighteous and hence would not acquire eternal reward.

J. Dwight Pentecost, The Parables of Jesus: Lessons in Life from the Master Teacher (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 75–78.

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