13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 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.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 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. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. – Luke 12:13-34 ESV
The temporal versus the eternal. That seems to be the primary focus of Jesus’ teaching in this passage. He has just warned His audience about the leaven of the Pharisees. These were men who placed a high priority on the here-and-now. They live for the immediate reward of men’s praise. Jesus compared them to hypokrisis – actors in a play whose sole job is to convince their audience that they are someone other than who they truly are. Jesus addressed this kind of lifestyle in His sermon on the mount.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1 NLT
Jesus went on to describe how these kinds of people were more obsessed with the praise of men than they were with pleasing God, and He warned His audience to avoid emulating their ways.
“When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:2 NLT
The Pharisees had perfected their outward behavior to such a degree that they guaranteed themselves a heavy dose of reverence and respect from the common people. They were viewed as spiritual rock stars who displayed an unprecedented degree of religious zeal and discipline. But Jesus saw through their all their pretense and warned that their obsessive-compulsive desire for the temporal praise of men would eventually prevent them from experiencing the eternal reward of God. And Jesus continued to drive home the seriousness of this message.
“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:5 NLT
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.” – Matthew 6:16 NLT
Temporal recognition in place of eternal rewards. That doesn’t sound like a particularly equitable exchange and yet, that is the danger we all face if we are not careful. That’s why Jesus repeatedly exhorted His listeners to seek the eternal reward that only God can give. Jesus stressed the fact that men can thrill us with their words of praise or frighten us with their threats of death. But their power over us is limited.
“…don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that.” – Luke 12:4 NLT
They are temporal creatures with a temporary capacity to either praise our life or take it from us. But Jesus warned, “Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5 NLT). God not only has the power to reward, but He also possessed the authority to condemn – for eternity.
But all of Jesus’ words seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. Luke indicates that someone in the crowd called out, saying, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me” (Luke 12:13 NLT). It is immediately clear that this individual’s focus was on the here-and-now, not the hereafter. This person was thinking about the immediate gratification that an earthy inheritance would bring: The land, money, and temporal treasures that had once belonged to his earthly father.
But Jesus responded in frustration, revealing that this man had brought his selfish request to the wrong judge. Jesus had not come to earth to settle disputes over earthly inheritances. He had come to provide sinful men and women with the eternal reward of justification before God Almighty. And He has just finished telling the crowd about a much greater reward that awaited them in eternity.
“…everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.” – Luke 12:8 NLT
This man wanted Jesus to acknowledge the validity of his claim on the family inheritance. But Jesus was asking him to acknowledge His claim to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Yet this individual had his eyes focused on the wrong things. He saw Jesus as some kind of arbitrator who could help settle his petty dispute with his brother but failed to recognize Jesus as the mediator between God and man. And Jesus pointed out the flawed focus of this man’s thinking.
“Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” – Luke 12:15 NLT
This man was demanding that Jesus help him get what he believed to be rightfully his to have. But Jesus wanted him to know that nothing on this earth was worth having if it took precedence over Him. And this was not the first time that Jesus had warned about avoiding a fixation on present comforts over future rewards.
“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:35-38 NLT
And this man’s request led Jesus to tell a short, but powerful parable about a rich man who allowed greed and an obsession with earthly rewards to blind him to the temporal nature of life and the reality of eternity. And Jesus summarized the sad state of the character in His parable by stating, “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God” (Luke 12:21 NLT).
And Luke indicates that Jesus used this entire exchange as an opportunity to instruct His 12 disciples on the necessity of proper priorities. Unlike the man who wanted Jesus to help him get his hands on his inheritance, the disciples were to avoid wasting their time worrying about food and clothing. They had more important things to do. And they needed to understand that “life is more than food, and your body more than clothing” (Luke 12:23 NLT). In a world where success was measured by the outward trappings of materialism, the disciples were being instructed to focus on those things that matter for eternity.
“…don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.” – Luke 12:30-31 NLT
The eternal was to take precedence over the temporal. Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that their focus needed to be on the kingdom to come, not the kingdom they were hoping He was going to establish on the earth. God was going to meet their greatest need. He was going to provide them with eternal life which would feature unending fellowship with Him, all to be made possible through His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. And if God was ready, willing, and able to secure their greatest need, why in the world would they waste time worrying about food and clothing? This is why Jesus told them, “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NLT).
The Kingdom was the goal. And if the disciples learned to live with their eyes on the prize, the things of this world would play a far less significant role in their lives. And Jesus repeated the admonition He had delivered all the way back in His sermon on the mount. “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Luke 12:34 NLT).
This was the central focus of His gospel message. He was the King who had come to inaugurate the coming Kingdom. Jesus was the eternal one who had entered into time and space, taking on human flesh and living among men so that He might offer Himself as the atonement for the sins of humanity. He didn’t come to offer men their best life now in the here-and-now, but abundant life in the hereafter. And that’s why He strongly encouraged His followers to set their sights on things to come. They were to make the future reward of the Father their highest priority.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson