This week’s lesson opens a new unit of study that focuses on examples that run counter to a generous spirit. The problem for some of God’s people, or more precisely, among those that blindly regard themselves as God’s people, is that superficiality can stop true Christlike generosity cold. The two strong passages joined together for this lesson uncover two un-Christlike traits that can result from an unhealthy reaction to God’s abundant physical blessing in one’s life.
One problem with material wealth is frequently people regard themselves as solely responsible for their gain in life. They worked for it. Therefore, they can decide how to use it. Following this logic, a generous spirit yields to greed and insensitivity. The lesson title reflects these worldly sentiments. The appropriate Christlike values are gratitude to God and compassion to others. Perhaps an alternative title that promotes these Christian values could be offered, for example: “Safeguarding Generosity through a Grateful and Compassionate Spirit.”
The Luke passage speaks to the threat of greed. By means of a parable, Jesus warns about this deadly trait. In verse 13, Jesus was asked to arbitrate a disagreement regarding the division of an inheritance. Jesus had no interest in such a role (v. 14). He saw the matter as a futile exercise generated by greed (v. 15). Jesus wasn’t impressed by competition over material gain. As Creator, he provides abundantly for all people.
The grand example of this sentiment is seen in the provision of manna. It was a truly unique substance in that it could not be manipulated for personal profit. Those who gathered little had plenty, and those who gathered much had just enough (Exodus 16:18).
Though Jesus dismissed the request, he didn’t dismiss the topic. In a parable, Jesus illustrated why greed disgusts God. When interpreting parables, look for the main characters and how they interact.
This parable has two characters, yet the interpersonal interaction is one-sided. It is God who gives and later takes away, following the pattern observed in Job 1:21. The human character is oblivious to God’s attention to his life. He sees his life controlled by his own wisdom which has served him well and has put him in position to realize great fortune.
The man’s land provided an abundant crop. Instead of providing great fortune as the man read the situation, the abundant crop produced a spiritual crisis unrecognized by the man. Unaware, the man chose a self-gratifying way to use his windfall. Verse 18 delivers his conclusion: bigger barns for greater surplus. The man was counting on regular abundant harvests. He was, however, ignoring intangibles. No thought was given to the reason for the windfall. Good business practice examines shortfalls and windfalls for patterns that can be manipulated. This man simply assumed continuous bumper crops in a land notorious for famine.
The words “eat, drink and be merry,” made famous by Dairy Queen years ago, actually are morbid words in the biblical text. These are the words of the fatalistic nonbeliever who thinks today must be lived for extreme pleasure because death may come tomorrow.
This phrase first appears in Isaiah 22:13, mocking the national distress of Israel whom God allowed to encounter Assyrian aggression because of their sinfulness. Faced with certain demise, the Israelites slaughtered their cattle and enjoined revelry. “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” was the sarcastic mimicry of God’s prophet. The Apostle Paul quoted this passage as the appropriate mantra should the resurrection hope of Christians be revealed as fraudulent.
Here Jesus makes the foolish, worldly man speak the unwittingly prophetic words of his own demise. He will aim for merriment, but the unstated reason, “for tomorrow I die,” will be invoked. Verse 20 states God’s judgment: the man’s life will end. The man should have acknowledged God’s provision of life and living. He should have sensed the blessing of abundance also brought a moment of spiritual reckoning. Had he acknowledged God’s provision, he would not have been judged as greedy. He would have kept his life and his great fortune would not have been divided among others.
Verse 21 speaks of being rich toward God. Indirectly, this means the man should have acknowledged all he had came from the richness of knowing God. He should have honestly assessed his life and pursued a relationship with the God who so deeply loved him and provided for him.
James 5:1-6 shows rich people in even harsher light. The rich are responsible for much misery as withholding wages (v. 4), hoarding wealth (v. 5) and oppressing the innocent (v. 6). These accusations parallel the Old Testament prophets’ condemnation of Israel’s moral errors. Such errors derived from abandoning the Lord. Because the rich do not serve the Lord or fear him, they have been inflicted with a double misery. They experience the same deprivation as they people they oppress. They also witness the deterioration of the possessions they strove so hard to accumulate. The insensitive, selfish materialistic lifestyle of the rich has been rewarded with rot.
Greediness and insensitivity are the risks of viewing God’s generosity as the products of shrewd worldly living. Instead of acknowledging God’s generosity, abundance is viewed as the entitlement of a godless materialism that has maneuvered itself toward self-gratification and ignored the higher responsibilities of living before the Lord by the dictates of holy fear (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).