Doctor Luke records a provocative story about a rich business man (farmer) who was called away to eternity in the midst of business prosperity and expansion. The storyteller calls him a fool, thus the title for this article, The Rich Fool. As a business person myself, the story bothered me, so I set out to investigate. This article is the result of that investigation. The story is short and best understood in context. Here is text of it:
The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crop…. This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and all my goods. And I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Luke 12:16-20)
Note that it is God who calls this business man a fool. But where does his folly lies? Certainly, he is labeled a fool, but not because he was rich. God is not against people being rich. Many godly people like Job, Abraham, David, and Solomon were very rich people. In the 21st century, there are many godly people who are very wealthy. God is more concerned as to how you get your wealth and what you do with it. Wealth gotten by fraud and used for evil purposes is abominable to God, but not wealth itself. It is the love of money that is the root of all evil, not money in itself. The person that loves money to the point of lying, robbing, and defrauding others to amass it for themselves is on a collision course with Almighty himself. But beyond that, there is no prohibition against righteous, godly people being rich.
So, I ask the question again, where does his folly lies? It is because of his business expansion? God is not anti-business success! The man was industrious and hardworking, a strategic planner and visionary. He had good business acumen, and was rewarded for it. The God of the Bible does not condone laziness. In fact, the Bible opens with God at work, creating and ordering things. The charge given to humankind was “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen.1:28). In fact, the man was given a job before he was given a wife. This I loaded with implications. Everything was created to produce after its kind. The story tells us the man’s farm “produced a good crop.” That is what moved him to expand his business. It is not practical to call him a fool because he runs a successful business. His folly has to lie elsewhere.
His folly is explained in verse 21, not included in the preceding quote. Here it is, ‘This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself, but is not rich toward God.” The problem does not lie in the storage of things because that would be speaking against savings, banking, planning and investment. The problem is in the last clause, “but is not rich toward God.” His wealth became his god.
This last clause is contrasting material things with spiritual. The man invested all his life, time and energy in amassing material things which he cannot keep to the neglect of things spiritual with eternal values. We came into this world naked and we can take nothing from this world at the time of our departure. The wise person takes care of his or her spiritual life and do some banking in heaven.
Whether we are rich, middle class or poor, the story is reminding us of the uncertainty of life and how to live life in balance. His folly lies in the neglect of the spiritual aspect of his life that pays eternal dividends, but he has none to collect upon his entrance into eternity. It is a sobering reminder to us all to live life in balance with eternity in view.
Author: Michael Dewar, Sr.
Executive Director, Dwelling Place Cleansing