Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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How to Fight Greed

Luke 12:13-34

For us humans, there are three great needs we all focus our lives on fulfilling, whether we’re aware of it or not. These are: security, intimacy, and purpose. Nearly everything you do seeks to address one of these three. The needs are real and God-given. What gets us into trouble is not having needs, but how we fulfill them. We seek to answer our need for intimacy by having inappropriate sexual relationships with others, we seek to fulfill purpose by creating lofty philosophies or religions that focus on our achievements. And we try to answer our need for security by surrounding ourselves with possessions in this age.

It is my belief that the enemy wants more than anything else to keep you out of a relationship with God or at least ineffective if you already belong to Him. He uses human-based efforts as a distraction to keep us from a true godly way of bringing fulfillment to our lives. It is a bait and switch around security. Here in Luke 12, verses 13 – 34, Jesus deals with the issue of security—how this age seeks to grant it, the distraction it creates, the consequences, and then the real answer to our need of to feel secure.

13 – 15

So Jesus has just been talking about the most central issue facing all of mankind: whether to acknowledge or deny Jesus the Messiah. That’s what all of our individual destinies rest upon. I’m not totally sure why what happens next takes place – but a guy in the crowd calls out and asks Jesus to intervene in a family inheritance matter. Perhaps because Jesus was lambasting the Pharisees and Scribes as hypocrites, and because He said that all the bad things they said and done will be publically revealed one day – perhaps he thought it was his chance to call out an unfairness that he saw in his own family.

A bit of Jewish tradition here first. It was common for the oldest son to receive a double portion of the family inheritance. Deuteronomy 21:17 says that a man is to give two shares of his inheritance to the eldest son. If there is no son, then it transfers to the daughter (Numbers 27:8) and was known as mishpat ha-bekhorah, "the rule of the birthright". The math gets a little complicated but basically however the inheritance is split up, the first born gets a double portion. So apparently this guy was angry that his older brother got more than him and wanted Jesus to intervene. Jews often turned to rabbis to settle family matters so Jesus would qualify.

But notice what Jesus does. First, the guy isn’t really wanting a fair and impartial judge; he wants someone to advocate for his side in what is a pretty clear matter Scripturally. Jesus tells the man 1) He isn’t the one appointed to render a decision in this matter (judge) nor the one to divide up the estate (arbiter). But in fact, Jesus, as He often does, cuts to the core of the issue – and that’s that the man was not suffering from injustice, the human malady of greed.

Greed is one of the chief strategies that this age-thinking employs to try to become secure. The reason greed exists is because amassing things (money, possessions, power) is only a temporary measure. Like an addiction, to continue the feeling of security, you have to always want more stuff.

Jesus says about greed: “watch out and be on guard.” The idea there is to have perception and self-awareness about what is running the show in your life, and to actively sound the alarm and put up defenses when you see greed rear its ugly head.

Then He makes one of the most astounding statements ever recorded: “because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.” In abundance we find security, but what is abundance anyway? That’s what we find out in the balance of this section.

But first, an object lesson—a parable of when the mind-set of the younger brother is taken to it’s logical conclusion.

16 – 21

The main issue here is not wealth. Jesus is not anti-wealth. The problem is the attitude you have about the wealth. What we notice in here is that there are at least 10 self references in verses 17 through 19. The man had had a good year. He hadn’t stolen anything. His two big mistakes were that 1) he thought he actually owned all that stuff and 2) he relied on his things to bring fulfillment and security to his life instead of God.

The main fallacies of possessions bringing security are that

  1. They are only temporary. 1 Timothy 6:7 says: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” The only thing you leave this world with is your soul—the part that makes you—you.
  1. We are just stewards of stuff, not owners. God is the true owner and controller of all possessions. Psalm 24:1 says: “The earth is the Lords and everything in it.” The man thought he could just check out—he’d arrived and needed nothing more.
  1. That’s the third fallacy of possessions: they give you a false sense of security that inoculates you against your real need—and that is for security from God.

I’m reminded of Jeremiah 9:23: The wise man must not boast in his wisdom;

      the strong man must not boast in his strength;

      the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth.

24 But the one who boasts should boast in this,

      that he understands and knows Me—

      that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love,

      justice, and righteousness on the earth,

      for I delight in these things.

                  This is the LORD’s declaration.

So next we come to the nut of it. Without physical possessions or power to make us feel secure, how do we fight against the pull of anxiety when we perceive a lack? That’s the subject of the rest of the passage.

22 – 30

Paul hints at the two great needs with regards to possessions and security: food and clothing in 1 Timothy. God isn’t unfeeling, wanting us to suffer. He just wants us to have our priorities straight. Food keeps our bodies going, and clothing represents the environment we place ourselves in. So anything to do with the body like sustenance, athletic ability, etc – could fall into that idea of anxiety over a lack of food. Houses, possessions, money, property – all could conceivably come under the category of a lack of clothing.

The word “worry” in verse 22 is the same word used in Chapter 12 verse 11 when Jesus said not to worry about what to say when dragged before rulers because of your faith. The idea is not to get distracted. Having food and clothing—security—can be very distracting to both those who have lots and those who don’t have enough. Those that have a lot focus on what they have to bring them security and their hold on it tightens, creating anxiety over possible loss. Those that have nothing are anxious not knowing if they’ll be able to survive. Both of these extremes are really the same thing: wresting control from God and keeping it ourselves.

Jesus first reassures them that just as He takes care of the needs of birds to eat and flowers to be clothed, He will provide for those that belong to Him. In fact, He says, God knows your needs BEFORE you ask for them (Matthew 6:8).

Second He says that even if you get totally consumed by anxiety—what are you really going to change? What you might do, though, is seek to fulfill a human need apart from how God wants to fulfill it. What we want is contentment. That’s another word for security. There’s a great line in 1 Timothy 6:6 where Paul says there are some who think that they can turn a fast buck by appearing godly. Paul counters with: “godliness with contentment is great gain.” So our focus should be 1) godliness (having a relationship with God) and 2) contentment (which is being satisfied with whatever God supplies) – that’s where the real gain happens.

So Jesus tells us what not to pursue, as the Gentiles so “eagerly” do – possessions for security. Instead He says the way to be rich is to be rich in God and His kingdom.

31 – 34

So what we learn from this section is:

  1. A relationship with God is paramount. (Matthew adds: “and His righteousness” so the assumption is that we first belong to God and then are transformed into His character).
  2. Once that priority is set, we can trust that God wants to and will provide for our needs (though not necessarily our wants). That doesn’t by the way, obviate our need to pray.
  3. You can tell a person who has light fingers on the things of this age because they are freer to give away their stuff, instead of hanging on to it for dear life.
  4. The final lesson is that there is a way to become very rich – and that’s to emulate the values of God through the power of the Holy Spirit in a redeemed heart.

I love the ending statement here: “where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So where are our hearts? What do we value most? What informs and shapes our values?

Let me close with a few thoughts about the power of possessions vs. the power of the Kingdom of God in our lives.

First I want to point out that in Chapter 4 we saw the mission statement of Jesus – Anointed by the Spirit to preach the gospel to the poor, set free those in bondage, give sight to the blind, and proclaim God’s favor among men. In the following chapters He lived out that mission statement.

Then in Chapter 11 we have the Lord’s Prayer. In reality this could be called the mission statement of the disciple of Jesus. It involves a heart and mind that wants things to be done the way God does them in His kingdom and for God to be glorified in everything we do, providing for us along the way the provision we need to do the job He’s called us to do, and protection and help in the process of being transformed from the image of this age into His image.

This portion of Chapter 12 falls right in line with that mission, just with more detail as to what faces us and how to approach life in a culture that is more in love with the creation and things, than with the God who made it and owns it all.

The bottom line comes down to who you worship. Greed is really just a form idolatry—worshiping stuff and looking at yourself as the ultimate owner instead of worshiping God and seeing yourself as a steward, not an owner.

What I thought might be helpful is a little table you can use to judge whether you are starting to edge toward greed, and help you move towards God being in control.

Attitude I’m in control God is in control
Getting stuff Got to get it and keep it – I’m the owner Though not wrong to get stuff, I look at myself as a steward, someone responsible for using it wisely for God’s purposes.
Having stuff An end that is never satisfied A means for God’s glory
Losing of stuff The end of life as we know it – catastrophic It’s a loss but not that big of a deal. I have light fingers towards the things of this age.
  • We possess things, rather than things possessing us
  • Things are okay to have as long as they don’t have us

Really greed and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. When I am greedy I don’t care about God – I can supply everything I need for contentment. When I am overly anxious I believe God doesn’t care about me and I have nothing that makes me content.

It all resolves around control and trust. Greed happens when you worship things instead of God and anxiety occurs when you worry more about your situation than God’s love for you in that situation.

If we’re in charge, when things don’t go well we panic, get mad, and become anxious. If God is in charge we pray, and look for ways that we can glorify God and further His kingdom in our lack, knowing that He will provide what we need to accomplish His purposes.

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