“And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
The words of Christ as they were recorded by Luke were spoken at a time when a large multitude and his disciples were gathered about our Lord. Christ warns his disciples with respect to the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. While Christ was discoursing on this subject one of the crowd came to him saying, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” This, of course, had nothing to do with what Christ was saying. The man was tired of the spiritual and wanted attention turned to himself. Christ replied by asking the man a question: “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” This then was the immediate occasion for an exhortation against covetousness. “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” To explain what he means, Christ gives his disciples instruction in the form of a parable which is known to most of us as “The Parable of the Rich Fool.”
This rich man was a fool. In other words he was deprived of practical wisdom. He evaluated things in a wrong way since he did not know reality practically. To make matters worse he acts according to his wrong judgment. As a result he comes out wrong in the end. Here the rich fool has a wrong estimate of things natural and spiritual, not being able to see the correct relation between the two. The end result is that he has neither riches nor life, for earthly goods cannot satisfy one’s soul.
With respect to his treasures the man is a fool because he considers them his own. Notice how many times he uses the words “I” and “my.” Eleven times! The significance of these words is that they denote him as the sovereign owner and dispenser of those possessions. However, this is a fundamental mistake on his part. He is a farmer. There is no vocation where it is so plain that one’s goods are not his own, as that of a farmer. The ground brings forth. The rain and the sunshine are Gods. And the earth brings forth the Lord’s grain and fruit. But this rich fool did not see the relationship between himself and those goods correctly. It was God’s farm. It was God’s fruit and grain. But what does he say but I, I, I. No, he did not give God a thought, for he did not care for life itself, of whom it came, and how it must be dedicated to the Lord. A materialist he was, not seeing that he was God’s steward.
That he did not mention God is the element of his folly. We must remember that the Lord is giving instruction with respect to covetousness, the breaking of the tenth commandment. By coveting the wrong things, by seeking and striving for things out of a motive of self-love rather than of a love for God, he in reality says that there is no God. “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,” Ps. 53:1. Because life is of God, he who singles God out of his life is a fool, even a rich fool in the possession of the many gifts of the earth.
However, if this man had been wise he would have spoken much differently. He would have said, “I am but a steward of the Lord.” He would have recognized that as a man he was created as such, that is, a friend-servant of God. As a servant of the Lord he is bound to give an account. Thus, the practical question of life is not, “What shall I do?” but rather, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
Moreover, not only is he a fool because he considers these treasures his own, but also because he considers them lasting. For many years he has laid up much goods, so that in order to hold them all he had to pull down his barns and build greater. Something is wrong here; but what? Is it wrong to build bigger barns when the harvest is large? Certainly not. The fault of the man is rather his spiritual outlook with respect to those barns and all that they contain. Earthly, things meant life to him. He has piled them up to suit himself, for him to enjoy. They have become the object of his trust as if his house were to stand for aye.
But the revelation of his folly comes in verse 20 when God comes to him and says, “Thou fool.” You see, this man’s folly is revealed in that he has come out wrong in the end. That very night his soul is taken, and then to whom shall they be? From the earthly point of view these goods did not serve for many years; no, somebody else got them. God came for the soul of this rich man, thus placing him face to face with his Creator. And he certainly had to give an account of all the goods that the Lord had given him. When placed face to face with God, one sees that nothing really belongs to him. In this light we can see that one who is truly wise takes the attitude that he does not know when his stewardship shall end. The child of God, he who has been given this wisdom, takes the attitude, “I shall be faithful as though I give account this very night.” Take, for example, what the Word of God has to say in James 4:13-17:
“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
In the second place, this man is not only a fool with regard to his treasures, but also with regard to his soul. The man in his folly says within himself, “And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou has much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.” What awful folly, revealed already in the fact that he dare not say this aloud. He is still reasoning within himself. By his actions the man who came to Jesus showed the same reasoning, as if these things are the source of life.
We can see why this man was a fool with respect to his soul if we bear in mind just what that soul is. Man was created a living soul with a heart, mind, and will, capable of desiring, thinking, and willing. The soul of man is spiritual, not earthly like an animal whose soul is in his blood. In this respect man is a rational, moral creature in which he stands related to God. An animal is not a person and can will neither good nor evil. Now we must look at the characteristics of man’s soul in relation to God as they have bearing in the parable. Man was made in the image of God, in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. As such he is adapted to God, for life with God is more than meat and drink, but is fellowship with God. This fellowship is a covenant fellowship in which man is friend servant of God. This fellowship we seek with all our being. In this relationship we have the love of God, and, thus, peace with God.
The rich man’s folly was that he did not see this; he had a wrong estimate of reality. What he believed was the lie. What lie did this manhold with respect to his, soul in relation to his goods? He believed that his goods could feed his soul. Imagine that: corn for his soul! Reality is that there is no food in goods for one’s soul. What he believed was also a lie in that he thought that his goods would serve his soul for many years. But that very night his soul was required of him. One never knows when his time will be up. He left God entirely out of his thinking. But even if he could say that, it would still be a lie, for the soul needs eternal life, not many years. Nevertheless, he took his soul to these things for satisfaction and acted accordingly. But the soul does not find rest in goods; this is covetousness. The soul does not eat and drink food and wine. What the soul needs is righteousness, for the soul cannot rid itself of misery by swallowing earthly joy.
One who sees this has true wisdom in contrast to this fool’s folly. The soul adapted to God sees as its fundamental need God’s righteousness, favor, and fellowship. Thus, it is only by grace that the soul hungers after God. The implied admonition, then, is, take your soul to God for satisfaction; be not covetous after earthly treasures. We must turn to God and Christ as empty in ourselves, to be filled with the riches of grace. By faith we receive all the spiritual blessings of God through Christ.
Does this description fit us? If we seek self, if we lay up treasure for it, then both it and the treasure will be destroyed. If we seek God, we will have treasures in heaven, and the greatest treasure of them all, is eternal life, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent. Having this treasure we are rich toward God, knowing him, walking with him, and growing like unto him. Our calling is to lay up treasures in heaven. Then we can leave the earthly things when our soul is required of us, for the heavenly and spiritual treasures go with the soul to everlasting joy.
How shall we live so wisely and well? We must fight the good fight of faith. We must do so with respect to ourselves. Righteousness and holiness, that is, Jesus Christ our Lord, must be the food for our souls. With respect to our neighbors we must use them as we use our barns, to the honor and glory of God, for any action against them is action against Christ. With respect to God we must draw closer to Him in sweet communion, become rich in Him. Then when He calls us away, His coming and our going will not be terrible. We will rejoice in that we can become partakers with all the saints in Christ Jesus, of that heavenly joy, together being rich toward God.