ON TREASURES Luke 12
“Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33–34).Our attitude toward material possessions is a good indicator of our spiritual depth.
Jesus warned against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (12:1–12), and called on His hearers to be “rich toward God” (vv. 13–21). Knowing God as Father frees us from anxiety even over necessities (vv. 22–34), and enables us to concentrate on serving the Lord (vv. 35–48). People will be bitterly divided over Christ (vv. 49–53), yet every sign points to the fact that the day of decision has come (vv. 54–59).
Understanding the Text
“The yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” Luke 12:1–3.
Luke 16:14 explains the connection between the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and the “treasures” theme of this chapter. There he identified this sanctimonious well-to-do group as men “who loved money.” Pious outwardly, the majority were not motivated by a love of God. Jesus’ next words serve as a healthy reminder for you and me. Whatever our true motives are, they cannot be hidden. No mask can survive the scrutiny of God. One day what we whisper when we think no one can overhear will be “shouted from the housetops.” How blessed we are when what we think, what we say in secret, and what we say in public, all reflect our deep love for the Lord. “The Son of man will also acknowledge . . . before the angels of God” Luke 12:4–9. These words also serve to introduce the theme of treasures—in two ways. As Jesus continued to minister, it became increasingly clear that the religious establishment was hostile to Him. John 9:22 tells us that they agreed to “put out of the synagogue” (excommunicate) anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Christ. This was a terrible threat, implying first of all isolation from one’s family and the whole community, and second implying the threat of death. To “acknowledge [Jesus] before men,” then, might mean the loss of all worldly possessions and even of life itself. Yet Christ reminds us that the greatest of treasures is not life in this world, but life in the next! We must decide which world is most important to us—and commit. The wonderful thing is that choosing Jesus and the world to come does not mean that we lose out now! On the contrary, Jesus reminds us that those who treasure Him are treasured by God! The very hairs of our head are “all” numbered (v. 7). God will guard us in this world, even though all this world’s authorities be ranged against us. What a joy. To surrender what we cannot keep, to gain what we cannot lose. And to live the rest of our lives here on earth cherished and protected by God! “The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” Luke 12:10–12. There’s a neat contrast here. The Pharisees, who had just accused Jesus of performing His miracles by Satan’s power, in so doing had spoken against and blasphemed the Holy Spirit (11:14–28). But Jesus’ followers are assured that in times of need they will speak by the Holy Spirit. In persecution, we have the direct support and guidance of the very Person who enabled Jesus to perform His miracles here on earth! “You fool! . . . Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12:13–21 Jewish rabbis were often called on to serve as judges and settle disputes. So the person in the crowd who asked Jesus to “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” was not acting out of line. Jesus refused. He had not come to sit in judgment on such disputes, but to call us to judge our basic attitude toward earthly and heavenly treasures. The story of the rich farmer has been grist for many a sermon, but remains a pointed challenge to each of us. Why pile up wealth here on earth? Why work to gather more than you will ever need? Christ’s question, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” recalls the words of Ecclesiastes 2:18–19: I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. The rich farmer had ignored these words of the ancient wisdom writer, and he was a fool: an aphron, one who rejects the precepts of God as a basis for life. The familiar story still challenges us to reexamine our values. A recent survey of top business executives showed that over 70 percent would, if they had it to do over, abandon the “fast track” in favor of spending more time with their families. But no one has life to “do over.” Each of us makes value decisions that necessarily shape our lives. What Jesus invites us to remember is that those decisions shape life here—and in eternity. Only the fool rejects the precepts of God and bases his life on the pursuit of earthly treasure. “A treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted” Luke 12:22–34. The rich fool’s treasures contrast with the treasures of Jesus’ followers. The one is on earth. The other in heaven. The one can be exhausted as expenses drain what we save. The other keeps on growing as we add to it. The one brings anxiety, as security systems are installed against thieves, and accountants are hired to avoid taxes. The other frees from anxiety, for God Himself guarantees its safety. The one can’t be taken with us. The other can never be left behind, for like ourselves, it is eternal. But there’s one respect in which earthly and heavenly treasures are similar. If we pile up treasures on earth, our hearts will bond with the earthly. If we pile up treasures in heaven, our hearts will be drawn toward God. If your heart were a compass today, which way would it point? “Be dressed ready for service” Luke 12:35–48. Jesus continued to explore the impact of treasure on our way of life. If we are committed to Him, and have psychologically abandoned material goals, we will actively serve others—and be looking expectantly for Christ’s return. The return of Christ is a frequent theme in each of the Gospels. Jesus is not gone; He has temporarily withdrawn. The wise believer expects His return, and lives accordingly. “Fire on the earth” Luke 12:49–53. Jesus would soon suffer death (v. 50), and His resurrection would precipitate a personal crisis for each who heard Him. Each would be confronted with the utter necessity of a decision about who Jesus is—and that decision would divide families. Again the contrast is drawn between commitments on earth and in heaven. However painful it may be, whatever the cost, the wisest choice one can make is for Jesus. “How to interpret this present time” Luke 12:54–59. A person glances at the sky, and decides it’s a good time to plant, or a good time to set out in his boat for fishing. Every one of His listeners could recognize the signs that predicted weather in Galilee and Judea. Jesus called the crowd “hypocrites,” implying that those who heard Him were insincere in claiming not to be able to interpret the signs that indicated who Jesus is. They knew. And now, in God’s window of opportunity, each must make the critical decision and decide for “what is right”—before it is too late, and he or she must face God the Judge (vv. 58–59).
Radical Christianity (Luke 12:22–34)
Today those two words hardly seem comfortable, rubbing up against each other as they do here. “Radical” belongs with some weird group of students on a college campus. “Christianity” belongs with church bells, well-filled parking lots on Sunday morning, well-dressed women and respectable men sitting attentively in a pew. For most of us, Christianity isn’t radical at all. The trouble is, it’s supposed to be. And that’s what Jesus was pointing out here. Oh, He didn’t mean that each of us should sell everything and go live out of a backpack or in a commune. He did mean that Christians are to adopt a radical perspective on life—and to live by it. In this passage Jesus identified three aspects of the radical viewpoint that are to shape our lives. First, we’re not to live anxiously. Jesus pictured pagans as “running after” the necessities of life, panting in exhaustion as they wear themselves out trying to guarantee themselves food, clothing, and shelter. We, on the other hand, have a Heavenly Father, who knows our needs, and will supply them. This doesn’t mean we stop working. But it does mean we stop worrying. We don’t focus our energies on piling up possessions. And, in this world, that’s radical. Second, we’re to live with abandon. “Sell your possessions” can be taken literally, and some have made just this response to Jesus’ words. Even those who have not are still to abandon their possessions psychologically. We are not to care about mere things. They are not to get in the way of our readiness to respond to God or to others. And that’s radical. Third, we’re to live with compassion. We’re not just to “sell your possessions,” but also to “give to the poor.” Possessions aren’t to be burned, as though they had no worth. They are to be used to minister to people. In essence, we are to value others more than we value things. And that’s radical. As I write this, the most recent San Francisco earthquake has just taken place. And in Los Angeles, a twenty-year-old who won a red sports car in a radio station’s contest told the station, “Sell the car. And send the money to the folks who need it in San Francisco.” I don’t know if the young man is a Christian or not. But his act was certainly radical. And it sums up beautifully what Jesus says to you and me. Don’t become anxious about things, or spend your life accruing them. Abandon your possessions, breaking any hold they have on your life. And live with a deep concern for others. That’s radical. “Radical” and “Christianity.” Right where they belong. Together.
Only a fool is unwilling to live a radical Christian life.
“In the year 1627, there was a wonderful outpouring of the Spirit in several parts of England as well as in Scotland and the north of Ireland. But riches and honor poured in upon them as well, and their hearts began to be estranged from God and started to cleave to this present world. As soon as persecution ceased, the Christians who were once poor and despised became invested with power, ease, and affluence. Riches and honor quickly produced the usual effects. Receiving the world, they quickly loved the world. They no longer panted after heaven, and lost all the life and power of religion.”—Charles Wesley