In the last essay we studied 11:37-54 in which Luke concluded a section on Jesus’ controversies with the Pharisees. In this essay we are studying Luke 12:1-21. In verses 1-3, after Jesus’ visit with the Pharisees, we see him once again with his disciples and the crowds, which apparently are larger than ever. But at first Jesus ignores the crowds while teaching his disciples some important things. The first subject is hypocrisy. He didn’t want the disciples to fall into the kind of hypocrisy that he had seen among the Pharisees.
The main message in regard to hypocrisy is that it cannot be covered up. Eventually, in the judgment if not before, all hypocrisy will be revealed. Secrets covered up by evil and whispers uttered behind closed doors all will be made known. Indeed dark things will be brought to the light and whispered things shouted from the housetops.
In verse four Jesus calls his disciples “friends.” This is the only place in the Synoptic Gospels we see that. We see it again in John 15:13-15, where Jesus tells the disciples that his friends were those who do his will and to whom he revealed everything he had received from the Father. Obviously in order for us to be Jesus’ friends, like the earthly disciples, we must do his will.
After addressing the disciples as friends, Jesus tells them not to fear those who kill the body only. Rather they should fear him who not only can kill the body, but also has authority to send one’s soul (Mt. 10:28) to hell. Of course those who kill the body only are the religious and secular governmental powers. And the one with authority to cast one’s soul into hell is God. Jesus’ purpose here is clear. He is preparing his disciples for that future persecution and killing that he had predicted in 11:49.
In verses 6-7 Jesus makes it clear to the disciples that they might personally suffer. But if they do, God will be with them. Jesus draws an analogy between the disciples and sparrows. He reminds the disciples that five sparrows could be purchased for two pennies. And yet God takes note of every sparrow that falls. The disciples might fall to the persecution, but God knows the number of hairs on their heads. And they must not be afraid, because they are much more valuable than sparrows.
In verses 8-12 Jesus goes on to explain the importance of faithfulness in the face of persecution. Let’s work through this systematically. In verses 8-9 Jesus returns to the theme of faithfulness in the face of persecution, which he had set forth in verses 4-5. One’s fate at the end-time judgment depends on one’s loyalty to Jesus. This means that in times of persecution, persons who fail to acknowledge Jesus out of fear of men will not be acknowledged by Jesus in the end-time judgment. In other words, it is our commitment to Jesus in the here and now that determines his commitment to us in the end-time.
In verse 10 we find a statement on forgiveness that is a bit difficult. Jesus says that he will forgive any word spoken against him. That’s simple enough. He gladly and generously forgives sins against himself. But he also says, “blasphemies against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” This statement has caused consternation among Christians, who wonder what he meant by “blasphemies against the Holy Spirit.”
In the parallels of Matthew and Mark, the saying appears in a context of attributing the Holy Spirit’s work to Satan (Mk. 3:20-29; Mt. 12:24-32). Of course that fact suggests that to attribute the Holy Spirit’s works to the devil is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The context here in Luke is different. It suggests that public denial of Christ by a Spirit-filled person is blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The implication is that such a person knows exactly what such denial means, and knows the consequences of it, but doesn’t care. Of course some traditions teach that such an action by a Spirit-filled person is not possible. But I never have seen them give an adequate explanation for Heb. 6:4-6, or Heb. 10:26-29, which clearly teach that one can experience all there is to experience in Christ and still become an apostate. I suggest you read those two passages in your Bible before you go on.
Immediately after his teaching about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, Jesus comforts the disciples in regard to coming persecution. They do not have to worry about what to say when persecuted. The Holy Spirit will provide the words.
In verse 13 Jesus is interrupted by a question from the crowd, and Jesus responds with a saying about greed. It was fairly common in Jesus’ day that brothers, following the death of their father, would live together and keep their inherited property intact. Apparently, in this situation one brother wanted to divide the inheritance and live independently of the other brother.
You may remember that the law gave the eldest brother two portions of the inheritance. The second portion brought with it the responsibility of caring for the mother and unmarried sisters. The other brothers received one portion. A common way of dealing with younger brothers who wanted to be independent was to pay the younger brother, or brothers, an amount of money that represented the value of one potion of the property. Rabbis frequently arbitrated such disputes. But Jesus would have nothing to do with this one. He sensed an underlying greed on the part of the unhappy brother. And so he offered a saying, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. “One’s life” is a rather vague expression. We might be more inclined to say one’s happiness does not consist of an abundance of possessions.
After the saying about possessions not bringing “life” or happiness, in verses 16-21 Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool to illustrate his point. As you see, the rich man’s land produced such abundance that he didn’t have enough storage space for all the grain and produce. So he decided to tear down his existing barns and build larger ones. I suspect that Jesus was not condemning that decision itself. Rather it was his basic selfish, greedy attitude. He made the decision with no thought for his poor neighbors, or God for that matter. He simply thought to enjoy the bounty himself. He determined to relax, to eat, drink and be merry. Moreover, he spoke to his soul as if it were his own property, ignoring the fact that his soul was a gift from God.
In verse 20 Jesus clarifies the truth in regard to our souls and possessions. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” The word translated “life” by both the NRSV and NIV literally is “soul.” Thus Jesus more clearly tied verse 20 into verse 19 than it seems in English translation. God used the same word, “soul, ”which the rich man used. Of course it did mean “life” in that he was going to die and lose his life that very night, but we could figure that out without changing the word from “soul” to “life.”
In verse 21 Jesus makes his application, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” All right, there are several things to talk about in relation to this parable. First, there is the rich man’s decision to tear down his old barns and build new, bigger barns. One fairly could argue that it was a good business decision, especially if he didn’t have space on which to build a single large barn. I don’t think anyone wants to argue that we should not use good business principles in our business dealings. As I mentioned when we were discussing verse 19, Jesus likely was not concerned about the decision itself. He was concerned about the man’s selfish, covetous attitude.
The second thing I want to mention is the farmer’s desire. His desire was to “feather his own nest,” as the saying goes. I suppose some Christians would say that it is wrong for any Christian to save for the future, and they might even use this Scripture to support their argument. But that would be a fairly radical position to take. Most Christians believe it is proper to save for a rainy day, or for retirement. Again the issue is one’s heart attitude. Are we saving just an adequate amount, or are we greedily hoarding what we have for ourselves, as this rich man was doing? How much is enough? That is a difficult question, and I believe too many Christians do not ponder it seriously enough.
The issue here for me is security. Where is our security? Is it in the amount of goods, or money, we have laid up for the future, as was the case with the rich man? Or is our security in Christ? I believe my security is in Christ. I gave my life and my all to him many years ago. If my Social Security and retirement were wiped out tomorrow, it would be very scary and painful; but I would trust Christ to get me through.
The third thing I see in this passage is the death of the rich man. It wasn’t the death itself. We all die. But the rich man died “not rich toward God.” To be rich toward God means to be spiritually rich. The rich man gave all his energies to being materially rich and neglected his spiritual health. Thus he was spiritually impoverished. He wanted to enjoy his material wealth for many years, but instead he faced an eternity without God. A major point to be learned from this passage is that money can be employed as well as enjoyed. If our purpose in life is to honor God, we will use the money we have, however much or little it is, to help the church and others.