The Lord's Day Morning
August 29, 2010
“Life Isn't Stuff (so don't worship Stuff)”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things which are above, not on things which are on the earth, for you have died and your life is hid with Christ in God.
Let us worship Him.
Lord our God, we come into Your presence. We come in the name of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We come clothed in the Gospel. We come as Your adopted children. We come to worship You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to give You praise and glory. We ask for the help of Your Spirit to endue us with an ability this morning to praise You as we ought to praise You. Minister to us through this service. May Your Word dwell richly within our hearts by faith. Grant that Christ might be exalted. Grant that the Gospel might cover all of our sins. And Grant, O Lord, that our spirits might ascend to where Christ sits at the right hand of God the Father, that we might seek those things which are above rather than those things which are on earth. Grant us Your blessing. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 12 as we continue our way through Luke's gospel. We’ll be looking at verses 13 to 21 this morning, a passage in which Jesus speaks one of His most famous parables, a parable that only Luke records, and it has to do with covetousness. You may be wondering why would Jesus address the issue of covetousness and especially with His disciples — His disciples, that immediate circle of men who were following Him were men of rather modest means, certainly comparatively. These were not wealthy men. Why in the world would Jesus need to address covetousness with them? In fact, you may be wondering, “Why in the world, Jesus, would You use a story about a man who was fabulously wealthy in order to instruct Your disciples who are not fabulously wealthy to not be covetous? Why would You do this?” Well, we’ll try and give some answers to that as we study the passage today.
But let me say at the outset as you begin to think now about why Jesus would address covetousness, there are several things that I would like you to bear in mind. And the first is simply this — covetousness is a very subtle sin and it is often very difficult to detect in ourselves. There are not many people who will walk up to you and say, “You know, I'm a covetous person.” I don't think I've ever had someone walk up to me and say, “You know, I constantly struggle with coveting.” But covetousness is more common than we think. In fact, I don't know of a sin more pervasive than covetousness, but it's still very subtle and very difficult to detect.
Secondly, covetousness is a dangerous sin. It's dangerous because it tempts us to hypocrisy. You know we say that our hearts are set on things above, when in fact our desires are set on things below. And we try and hold those two things together and over time we become good at disguising our real hearts and pretending to be something or someone that we're not. Covetousness is a dangerous sin because it's an enemy to grace. When our hearts are set on what we don't have but what we want, it diminishes our joy in that which really matters. No believer is bereft of what he or she really needs. No believer in the Lord Jesus Christ does not have what he or she really needs. But when our hearts are set on something that we don't have but we want, we begin to diminish our pleasure and joy in that which really counts and we become preoccupied, fixated, obsessed on that which is of less value and not eternally as important as what the Lord has given us in Christ.
Covetousness is important for us to think about, and it was important for Jesus to address His disciples about, because it's a root sin. Covetousness is one of those sins that leads to other kinds of sins. At some point people get to the place where they believe that what they don't have but that they want is so important that it doesn't matter how they get it. And so the very desire for something that they don't have but that they want leads them to do things in order to get it which involve other sins. Covetousness is a root sin and it leads to other kinds of sin.
And finally, covetousness precipitates ruin of the soul because it installs in our hearts an idolatry. You remember Paul will say, in reflecting on the tenth commandment, “Covetousness is idolatry.” Why? Because you’re worshipping stuff and stuff isn't God. And when you’re worshipping anything that isn't the one true God you’re committing idolatry, so covetousness becomes a way that even believers are tempted to commit idolatry. And if it is not dislodged from the heart and from the desires and from the souls, it ruins us. So for all these reasons it's important that Jesus would address the issue of covetousness.
Now, let me say, I've been thinking about this sermon for two weeks because we're a congregation of people that have much. The least of us is wealthy in comparison to people around the rest of the world. And it would be very easy to go into a sermon like this and have, as my goal, simply the object of creating a vague sense of guilt. Derek Thomas leaned over to Rosemary after the early service and he says, “There goes the new laptop.” (laughter) I'd like to assure you, my goal is not to simply create a vague sense of guilt and for us to feel guilty a little while and then go right back out and be the same way that we are. I want to be concretely, practically helpful to you. And we're actually going to look at this this Sunday and the next because Jesus’ remarks in Luke 12 are very extended about this. There's a sense in which the message that we're going to look at today is more diagnostic. It asks us to look at our hearts and to discern where our temptations are in this area. And then Jesus begins to give the solution in the next section that we're going to pick up in chapter 12 verse 22, but we’ll do a little bit of both today.
But I want to be concretely and practically helpful to you in this area. As part of that, let me outline the passage for you before we read it. If you look at verses 13 to 15 you will see Jesus give a very direct, very clear warning against covetousness. It comes in answer to a question that a man asks Him. So that's in verses 13 to 15. Then, He gives an example of covetousness in verses 16 to 20. And then in verse 21, He gives an admonition about true riches. That's the passage that we're going to read today. Let's pray and ask the Lord's help before we read it.
Lord, this is Your Word and we do ask that You would search us and see if there is any unclean thing in us. Show us where our own covetousness lies. What is it that we worship ahead of You, instead of You, as much as You? What are the things that we don't have that we want that are drawing our hearts away from You? What are the things in which we find our security rather than finding our security in You? Lord, You know the secrets of our heart, You know the tendencies of our personalities, You know the sins of our character. Apply this passage to them Lord and then show us our Savior and what He's done for us and how He's given Himself for us. And enable us to revel and glory and get our pleasure and joy and satisfaction in Gospel riches. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“Someone in the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 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.’ And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 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. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Jesus addresses His relatively unwealthy disciples about covetousness because covetousness is a pervasive sin and Jesus cares for our souls. The poor are not immune to covetousness. In fact, they have their own distinctive kinds of covetousness to guard against. There is a tendency isn't there, in those who have less, to look at those who have more and be envious, and to think that, “If I had what he has, my life would be better.” The rich are not immune to covetousness. You can't have so much that you cease to covet more. That's part of the point of the story. The disciples might have thought, “Well the wealthy man, he's got it made. He's not going to be tripped up by wealth.” And Jesus shows just how a wealthy man can be tripped up by things, not because he envies what someone else has that he doesn't have, but because he finds his security and his treasure in what he has. And so covetousness trips up different people in different ways. And so Jesus addresses it in this passage and He has three things to say to us.
The first thing I want you to see in verses 13 to 15. It's this warning against covetousness and these are Jesus’ words – “Be on guard against covetousness.” Every one of us needs to be on guard against covetousness in our hearts. Look at what Jesus says. In response to this man's question to Him about the inheritance, He turns to His disciples in verse 15 and He says, “Take care and be on your guard against covetousness for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” It's a very interesting exchange. This man says to Jesus, “Look, we're having an inheritance dispute in our family and I would like You, Jesus, to settle it.” And that was not uncommon. It was not uncommon for Jewish people to go to rabbis and to ask them to settle family disputes of this nature. And it made sense — the rabbis knew God's Word; the rabbis were men of integrity; the rabbis were concerned for the spiritual wellbeing of those who are a part of their synagogue; they were people who could be trusted to arbitrate. And so it made perfect sense that people would go to them and ask for them to arbitrate. But think about it — this man is in the presence of Jesus. He could have asked Jesus anything and the one thing he wants Jesus to do is settle a family dispute over the inheritance. What does that say about that man's soul?
Now, before you cast the first stone at him, let me put you in this situation. Let's say your family had been torn apart, torn apart by disagreements over an inheritance. If we brought Brister Ware up here today and he could share the stories of heartbreak that he's seen over a half-century in the lives of Christian families over inheritances, well my friends, we’d be here for a long time. So let's say Jesus is here and your family's been torn apart by a dispute over an inheritance. Wouldn't you want to ask Jesus to settle that? I mean Jesus surely could come in there and fix that situation that's torn your family apart. That's what this man was doing. But the very question shows what the man really thought was important. And this is Jesus standing in front of you and you’re asking about the settlement of a family dispute over an inheritance. The very question shows that the man had upside down what was really important. Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, Jesus our Mediator, Jesus our Savior is in his presence and he wants a family dispute over money to get sorted out. Looks kind of trifling, doesn't it, in the light of the weight and enormity of who Jesus is. And that is exactly the point that Jesus is making to His disciples. After the man asks this question, He turns to His disciples and He says to them, “Take care and be on your guard against all covetousness.”
Now covetousness is an insatiable desire of getting the world. It is an inordinate love of the world. And what are some of the signs that we are caught up with coveting? Well one sign is when your thoughts are preoccupied with the world. And here's a classic example. You know what Jesus had been preaching about in this passage. We've been studying it together. Jesus has been talking about the providence of God and He's been talking about confessing Him before men. And in the middle of this amazing address, this guy raises his hand and he says, “Right, I've got a question about my family inheritance.” This guy has not been listening to a word Jesus says. Preachers of the world, be encouraged! (laughter) Okay, preachers of the world be encouraged! Jesus has been preaching this profound sermon and this guy has not been listening. The whole time he has been thinking about this family inheritance dispute. What your thoughts are preoccupied with may well reveal something about what your heart treasures. Don't you love it when Derek asks us, and he asks us this a lot — What do you think about when you’re not thinking about anything else? How does it go – When you’re not thinking about anything in particular? What's your mind on? What's your mind focused on? Your thoughts can reveal your preoccupations.
Your efforts can reveal your preoccupations in this life. When you put more effort into obtaining the blessings of this life than you show interest in laying hold of things eternal it reveals an inordinate desire for the things of this world. Your conversation can reveal your heart. When all our conversation is always wrapped up in things of this world — what we've just bought, what we want to buy, what we're going to buy, what someone else has — it reveals something about the desires of our hearts. When we are willing to part with heavenly blessings in order to obtain earthly ones it shows us something about the desires of our hearts. You remember Derek telling us the story of a dear friend of his who was a Christian in university whose father gave her a house upon her graduation. And he said, “I’ll give you a house if you’ll put aside all this fanatic religious stuff.” She took the house. When you’re willing to part with heavenly blessings in order to obtain earthly ones it shows you the evaluation of your heart. When you overload yourself with earthly business, you’re preoccupied with the cares of this life, when you so love earthly pleasures that you cease to care about the means by which you get them – all of these are signs that we're struggling with covetousness.
So what are some questions you can ask yourself just to do an account of your own heart in this area? Let me suggest just a few. Ask yourself, “Am I content with my condition? Am I content with my condition?” Now that question in and of itself is still a little bit vague isn't it, because we know what we're supposed to say. We’re supposed to say we're just fine, just fine, totally content. But let me put it another way. Do you think the condition you are in right now is the best condition that you could be in? Are you so content with the condition that God has you in in this life that you say, “Lord, this is the best condition that I could be in”? Or, deep down in your heart, are you thinking, “Lord, if I were in charge things would be better for me. If I were in charge I wouldn't have me where You have me.” Are you content in the condition you find yourself in?
Second, do you rejoice in the prosperity of your neighbor or do you resent it or envy it? When you see others who have things that you don't have, are you able to rejoice that they have what they have? “Lord, I'm so glad that my brother in Christ has something that I don't have. I just love it that he's being able to enjoy that.” Or do you resent it? Do you envy it?
Third, let me ask the contentment question — let me flip it around and ask it another way. Third, are you discontent with what you have? You know, the Lord's given you things but you’re not content with those. As that great theologian of our age, Sheryl Crow, has said (laughter), “It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got.” Do you want what you have or are you discontent with what you have? Do you envy or grieve over what others have? And by the way, in these questions you recognize that this is far more than just material things that are involved here in coveting. Are you generous? Are you generous with what you have? Does it show in how you give to the community? Does it show in how you give to the kingdom of God? Are you generous with what you have? And is there any possession, any possession of yours, that has an inordinate, excessive hold on you? And those questions can reveal our own heart struggles with covetousness. Jesus says to His disciples, “Be on guard against covetousness.”
And then He gives them an illustration and the illustration is the parable of the rich fool and His point is this — do not think that joy and satisfaction come from an abundance of things. They do not. Joy and satisfaction do not come from an abundance of things. Now you may say, “Lord, why would You have told these relatively poor disciples a story about a fabulously wealthy man who was hoarding his wealth?” Well, because what would one of their temptations have been? One of their temptations might have been to think, “You know Lord, if I could only have what he had I'd be very content.” One of their temptations might be to think, “Well a person like that wouldn't have any trouble with covetousness.” But the point is, whether you’re rich or poor, you can still struggle with covetousness. And Jesus shows this man who has a lot, but he takes his joy from the stuff that he has and not from the riches of God. In fact, when it comes to the riches of God he's a pauper. He has a lot of stuff but that stuff cannot give him joy and that stuff is going to go away and he's going to be called into account by God. And so Jesus brings that strong warning to the disciples.
I've been following the story of Huguette Clark. Have some of you been reading this in the newspapers and the media for this month? Huguette Clark is the 104 year old heiress to the William A. Clark fortune. William A. Clark was a mining magnate who was eventually elected a U.S. senator from, I think, Montana, and then settled down in New York in the early 1900's. He built a mansion in the 1920's on Madison Avenue that cost $7 million to build, more than it cost to build Yankee Stadium. Huguette, his daughter, owns an estate off the coast of California called Bellosguardo and it's valued at over $100 million. She has not been there in over sixty years. The caretaker and his children have grown up there over the last sixty years and no member of the Clark family has ever been there. She wrote him handwritten letters for many years to instruct him on how to take care of the estate but she's never been there. She bought a beautiful estate in Connecticut called Le Beau Château, “the beautiful country house.” She's never been there, never been there. She owns a forty-two room apartment overlooking Central Park, eight floors, forty-two rooms. She hasn't been there, we think, in the last twenty years. The servants there have never seen her.
Now I don't know anything about Mrs. Clark. She may be a very, very nice person. The people who've met her say that she is. But I do know that she hasn't deployed her wealth very well. But you don't have to have an estate like that to find yourself trying to find your security in the stuff that you have. And Jesus says, “Don't think that joy and satisfaction come from an abundance of things.” It's interesting. The Today Show did a special on Mrs. Clark and at the end of the special, one of the women who was hosting the show said, “That just makes me sad.” Right answer, right answer. To hear the story of her life and the deployment of her possessions, it just makes you sad. Why? Because joy and satisfaction don't come from those things.
The punch line's in verse 21, isn't it? It's right there in verse 21. “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Jesus is saying, “Be rich towards God. That's the kind of wealth I want all My disciples to have. Value the riches of God above all other riches. Value what you have in Christ. Value what you have in the Gospel. Value what you have in the lavish grace of God poured out on you. Value it more than earthly stuff. Long for God, long for grace, long for the glories of heaven more than the things of this earth.” With Beverly Shea you sing, “I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” Or with Anna Waring you say, “Content to fill a little space if Thou be glorified,” because you care more about the riches of God, you care more about what you have in the Gospel.
We’ll talk next week about specific ways in which we can cultivate contentment, but the first step is this — to recognize that the gifts that God gives all His children, without variation, are richer than anything that can be afforded by this world or enjoyed by anyone in this world no matter how wealthy. Do we care about those gifts more than these other things? Until we do, we will be permanently vulnerable to covetousness. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we don't want our souls to shrivel up clinging to things that moth and rust will corrupt and that robbers can come in and steal, so help us to become a people so in love with You, so captivated by Christ, so thankful for the grace of the Gospel – that though He was rich, He became poor for our sakes – that we ourselves would become generous; that we would enjoy whatever You have given us, but that we would not be owned by it; that we would enjoy whatever You have given us but that we would not value it more than You, and that we ourselves would become generous people because You've been so generous; that we would be giving people because You've been so giving. Lord, we want our neighbors to see this. We are caught up in a culture that is in love with stuff and we're not uninfected by it either, but we want our neighbors to see that we're different, that we care about You more than we care about things, that we care about Your kingdom and the Gospel spreading to the ends of the earth than we do about dollars and cents — we’ll use our dollars and cents in such a way that we show we're stewards who recognize that nothing that we have has come to us from anywhere else but from Your hand and that it all belongs to You anyway, and that we would live in such a way to send the message to the world — God and grace and Christ and the Gospel, that's all I need. Help us be that counter-cultural, Lord. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now let's sing the battle hymn of the reformation, number 92, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” but when you get to the fourth stanza pay close attention to the stanza, “Let goods and kindred go.”
Receive now the riches of God. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.