Robert Jeffress - Loosening Your Grip On Greed
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. We like to think that how we spend or save our money should be up to us and us alone. But in reality, Jesus had more to say about our finances than nearly any other topic in the Bible. Today, we're turning to the parable of the rich fool for a severe warning from Jesus about the dangers of greed. My message is titled, "Loosening Your Grip on Greed" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Some of you may remember the name of Ivan Boesky. Remember that figure from the 1980s? He was the Wall Street Tycoon who was arrested and went to prison for insider trading. He was also the man who was the model for the Michael Douglas character in the movie Wall Street. When Ivan Boesky was at the height of his career, he was asked to give an address at a business school commencement, and during that address he said, "Greed is alright. I want you to know that greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself". Newsweek Magazine later wrote, "The strangest thing, when we look back, will not be just that Ivan Boesky could say that at a business school graduation, but that it was greeted with laughter and applause".
Greed is nothing to joke about. Today's message doesn't have three points to it. It only has a single point to it, and the point is this, the problem with greed is not what it gets you, but what it costs you. The price tag for greed can be quite high. For Ivan Boesky the price tag of greed was imprisonment. For you it might be bankruptcy, termination from a job, the dissolution of your marriage. I read this week that the business executive who works from 7 a.M. To 7 P.M., seven days a week, will be both very successful and also well-remembered by his wife's second husband. Greed can cost you your marriage, but it can also cost you your eternal soul, and that's the point of the parable we're going to look at today. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Luke 12 as we talk about how to loosen the grip of greed on your life.
Now, in Luke 12, the first 12 verses of this chapter, Jesus is speaking out against the pharisees. You know, Jesus' most scathing attacks were not against adulterers or murderers or drunkards or thieves, but against the religious hypocrites of his day, the pharisees. And in the first 12 verses, he points out the difference between religion and true Christianity. Religion is focused on religious rituals, while true Christianity is about a relationship with Christ. Religion is about conforming to some external code of conduct, while Christianity is about the inner transformation of your heart. But in the middle of that discourse, in verse 13, somebody interrupts Jesus' teaching with what he felt like was a much more urgent issue. Look at verse 13, this request that is made of Jesus, "And somebody in the crowd said to him, 'teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me'".
Now, according to Jewish tradition, if a father were to die, his older son would be the executor of the state, he would receive two-thirds of the estate, but his responsibility was also to keep the family business, or in this case, the farm, intact into a single piece of land. But here was a younger brother who came to Jesus and said, "Jesus, my father has died, and I want my inheritance, and I want it now". By the way, as a pastor can I just say to you, in my experience, there is nothing that divides a family any more quickly than money problems, money issues, and especially when it comes to inheritances. Well, that's what was going on here. There was a family squabble over the inheritance, and so they said, "Jesus, we want you to settle this".
Now, why would they ask Jesus to do that? Well, Jesus was a rabbi, and rabbis many times in Jesus' day got involved in serving as a judge over issues like this. But, verse 14, Jesus said he's not interested in being the judge in small claims court. He said, "Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you"? But then in verse 15, Jesus addresses the crowd he was talking to, his disciples, and he said that he notices a very disturbing attitude in this young man that he wanted to warn his audience about. And here's the warning, verse 15, "And Jesus said to them, 'beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed'". Jesus saw in this young man the dangerous attitude of greed.
What is greed? The word greed comes from two Greek words. One word means more, and the other means to have. Greed is that insatiable desire to have more, to want more and more and more. It's that inner craving for more. And of course, the problem with greed is twofold. First of all, it can never really be satisfied. It doesn't matter how much money you have, how much success, how many accomplishments you've racked up, there's always that desire for more and more and more. Think of a sailor, out on a life raft in the middle of the ocean. The sun beats down on him, and he has this unquenchable thirst. He's surrounded by water, the only problem is it's saltwater. And if he begins to drink that water, does that quench his thirst? The saltwater only increases his thirst for more and more and more, until he becomes dehydrated by the saltwater and ultimately dies. And that's the problem with greed. The problem with greed is, it's not what it gets you, but what it costs you. It can cost you your life.
In verse 15, he adds this warning, Jesus says, "For not when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions". What a startling statement. Doesn't matter how much you have, your life is not defined by how much you have. See, your life is more than just what you own. One day, you are going to be separated from your possessions in an instance, an event, that's called death. That word death is the word thanatos in Greek and it literally means a separation. Death is a separation. Not only of the spirit from the physical body, it is a separation of your being from all of your possessions. One day, you're going to leave everything behind and it is only your spirit that is going to stand before God in judgment. Your life consists of more than your possessions. Ladies and gentlemen, the most foolish choice you will ever make in life is to spend your life accumulating things that you will one day leave behind at the expense of gaining the only thing that will matter one second after you die.
And to illustrate the tragedy of that choice, Jesus tells this parable beginning in verse 16. Here's the story, "And he told them a parable, saying, 'the land of a certain rich man was very productive". Now in Jesus' day, if you wanted to accumulate wealth, you didn't do it in the oil business. You didn't do it in the stock market. You didn't do it in technology. The way you gained wealth was by agriculture. And there was a man, Jesus said, who was very rich because his land was extremely productive. "And so this man," verse 17, "Began reasoning to himself, saying, 'what shall I do since I have no place to store my crops'"? Apparently, he had had a banner harvest that year, he had more crops than he knew what to do with, so he began to ask himself, "What am I going to do with all of this that I have"? This man had a problem that most of us could only dream to have. He knew he had more then he knew what to do with.
I heard Haddon Robinson say one time, you know, there a lot of things this man could have done. He could have called his family together and had a prayer meeting of thanksgiving to God. He didn't make that land, God made it. He's the one who made it productive. He could have said, "Family, let's praise God for what he's done for us". Or, he could have used some of that excess and given it to those who were less fortunate than he. Or he could have invested some of that money in God's work. But he never thought about doing any of those things. At night, he would lie awake and he would think over, "What am I going to do with all of this excess"? Verse 20 indicates he had insomnia because he had so much and he didn't know what to do with, and then he came upon this plan. Look at what he says in verse 18, "And he said, 'this is what I will do. I will tear down my barns, and I'll build larger ones. And there I will store all of my grain and my goods, and I will say to my soul, 'soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come. Take your ease. Eat, drink, and be merry'".
This guy had an I problem. I, I, I, I. Somebody's pointed out that in the Greek text the word I or my, those words are used 12 times in these few short verses. "This is what I will do, I will do, I will do". And notice his plan, verse 19, was actually a twofold financial plan. First of all, he said, I'm going to take this excess and I'm going to store up so much that I don't have to worry about anything in the future. In other words, I'm going to get a pile of money so big that I never have to worry about anyone or anything. You think about that, how foolish that is. To think that there's an amount of money you could have where you wouldn't have to worry about anyone or anything. Now I ask you a question this morning, what amount of money is going to protect you from being hit by a drunk driver? Is there any amount of money? What amount of money is going to protect you against a maverick cancer cell in your body? The idea that money can protect us is only an illusion, but he was under that illusion. He said, I'm going to store up, I'm going to build a fortress that's going to protect me. And then he said, secondly, I'm going to be able to take my ease, eat, drink, and be merry. That is, what I want to do is store up so much money that I never have to work again, and instead I can retire. Retire.
Now, hold on to your pews here for a moment. I'm going to say something to you. This idea of retirement, this idea that I can spend the last 20 or 30 years of my life doing nothing but entertaining myself, that is a very American idea, and it is a very unbiblical idea. God's plan for your life was never that you spend the last 20 or 30 years of your life waking up every morning saying, "What am I going to do today to entertain myself? I'll go putter around the golf course every day for hours at a time. Or I'll get in a Winnebago and travel around the country, terrorizing my children and grandchildren". Folks, that was never God's plan. Now, I'm not saying that you have to stay at the job you have forever, but God wants your life to be productive and count for something, not just focused on yourself. And by the way, it's this unbiblical idea of retirement that is about to bankrupt our country right now. The social security system wasn't developed to be able to support people for 20 or 30 years! It was designed to support people maybe one year after their life expectancy back in the 1940s. It was never planned to take care of people forever and ever.
And you know what's happened, because we've come up with this unbiblical idea of retirement is, first of all, it produces all kind of stress on people while they're working. They think, "Oh, I've got to get this big pile of money", you know, "Millions of dollars so I can live off of it the last 20 or 30 years of my life". So they get all stressed out, and not only that, they postpone enjoying the life God's given them right now. Sure, we ought to set aside a little bit to save, but you, very few people can ever save enough money to spend 20 or 30 years and not work. And then people end up becoming stingy, they don't tithe, they don't give to God what they ought to give because they're trying to accumulate this nest egg, this pile of money, so that one day they can wake up and say, "I've arrived. I can eat and drink and be merry and take my ease". That's what this guy's plan was.
Now there's only one problem in his planning. He planned for every contingency except one, his death. Look what happened in verse 20, "But God," I want you to underline in your Bible, underline that. "But God". Here's the man said, "I will do this, I will do this, I will do this"! Verse 20, "But God". God has the final word in all of our plans. Man proposes, God disposes. Man plans, God laughs but God said to him, "You fool! This very night your soul is required of you. And now who will own what you have prepared"? You fool. That word, required, I want you to underline it in your Bible. It is a banking term that literally means to call in a loan. When a bank calls in a loan, that's the word that God used here, and what a descriptive word. You see, your life is not your own, my life is not mine. Our lives are on loan to us from God, and God can call in the loan any time he chooses. And on this night, when this man had come up with this great plan, God said, "Tonight, the loan is called. Your life is required, and who is going to own what you prepared"?
Can you imagine the profound sense of disappointment this man must of felt in that instance? When he realized that everything he had spent his life building, everything he had spent his life accumulating, suddenly it was going to be all left behind. Look at what the Bible says, the world called this man a success. God called this man a fool. Why? Because he had spent his life accumulating that which he would leave behind at the expense of gaining the only thing that would matter one second after he died, and that was his relationship with God. You see, the problem with greed is not what it gets you, but what it costs you. Jesus adds this application in verse 21 "So is the man who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God".
Listen to me. There are some of you here today who are making a very foolish choice. You are spending your life accumulating more and more and more. It may not just be more money. Maybe it's more success at your work, more recognition, more pleasure. You're accumulating more and more and more at the expense of gaining the only thing that will matter one second after you die, and that's your relationship with Christ. Instead of investing in his kingdom, you're investing in this world's kingdom, and one day you're going to leave it all behind. If greed has you in its grip, you know the most defiant thing you can do to combat greed, the most defiant act you can take is to open your hands and say, "I'm not going to be a prisoner to greed. Greed, I'm going to have the last word. I'm going to give more, not less".
There's something about giving, that in and of itself, reminds us that our life consists of more than our possessions. The problem with greed is not what it gets you, but what it costs you. The wise person is the one who is willing to let go of that which is temporal so that he might grab hold of that which is eternal. Paul said to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6, "Instruct those who are rich in this present life not to focus their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be generous, ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation, so that they make take hold of that which is life indeed".