On Barn Building: Keeping Perspective on Our Possessions

Luke 12:13-21

The occasion for Jesus’ story in Luke 12 about the man building the bigger barns is actually a conflict. A man comes and says to Jesus, “Jesus. Rabbi. Tell my brother to divide my inheritance.” That’s a pretty common scene actually, especially in church life. I have seen it played out over and over and over again, not only in the lives of parishioners, but I’ve also seen it happen in my own family, where brothers and sisters fight over inheritance and the dollars that represents.

What Causes Conflict?

There’s a passage in James which I have used in parenting a lot, and I also think it applies to this situation. James says in James 4, “What causes fights and conflicts among you?” That’s a good question isn’t it? “What causes fights and conflicts among you?” These two brothers have a conflict over the inheritance. James answers it this way: You want something but you can’t have it. In other words, conflict comes from our desires. We want something but we don’t have it. We can’t get it. I want you to give me my inheritance. That’s a desire. I want my half or my share — whatever that share is — according to my desires. But you can’t have it so you kill, you covet, you fight, you quarrel. James would go on to say, “You do not have because you do not ask. And when you do ask, you ask with wrong motivations intending to spend it on your own pleasure” (v.2-3). He encourages us to grieve our idolatry.

Oftentimes in conflicts like the ones between these two brothers, there are material things that are at stake, the substantive issues. How much money should I get from this estate? But then there are also personal things that get wrapped up in those material, substantive matters, and oftentimes in peace-making, those personal issues and material issues are all intertwined so closely together that they cause a reciprocal negative thing to happen among them. But here are these two brothers, and obviously the one brother is not getting what he wants. He wants a portion of the estate — I’m not sure what exactly percentage he expects but he clearly thinks that he’s not getting what he deserves.

I would imagine that this is the younger brother because typically the older brother is the executor of the estate, especially back then. If he’s not getting what he deserves, he somehow thinks that the older brother is not being fair or faithful or something. Maybe they had a personal grievance with one another. So instead of asking Jesus to intervene, he demands. That’s typical of a conflict.

Wisely, Jesus does what Moses failed to do actually. There’s a story in Exodus 2 where Moses came up on an Egyptian who was beating the tar out of a Hebrew, and afterwards he went and killed the Egyptian. And then later he came across two Hebrews fighting with one another. Two brothers in a sense. And Moses began to intervene in that conflict and the Hebrews said to him, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” A lot of times when we come across a conflict we want to get sucked into it. Wisely, Jesus does the opposite of Moses, says, “Who made me judge and arbiter over you? I’m not getting involved in your conflict. I’m not going to take sides in this fight. But rather I want to get to the heart of the matter and the heart of the issue with your conflict, and that is your idolatry of money.”

Jesus would speak a principle and use the occasion of this conflict to teach a very important principle about our relationship to material possessions. He says to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all kinds of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Be on your guard against all kinds covetousness for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Fundamentally this has to do with where we find our sense of worth and value.

Apparently there’s more than one type of covetousness. I think there’s a covetousness that can come from a desire to just love money and to have a lot of money. There are certain people that are just characterized by a covetousness which is more aptly described as greed where they’re just greedy for a lot of money. But sometimes covetousness can be caused by insecurities that we have where we feel like our material position and posture is not good, so we look at what other people have, and we covet what they have. Or we might have some sense of entitlement. All kinds of covetousness — and you could probably think of a lot of different ways that we fall into the trap of covetousness — but fundamentally what it has at its root is the equation of the significance of our lives with the abundance of our possessions.

Possessions as things “Under Rule”.

I want to zero in on that word “possession” with you for a moment. There’s a Greek word behind our English word “possession” in the New Testament here. It is at its root hyparcho. And it comes from two root words: hypo which means “under,” and archo which means “rule.” Rule under. Now think about this. Our possessions are the things that are under our rule. And what we want is more things under our rule. Right? I’d like to have a lot of things under my rule, and it’s not just money. I’d like to have more people to supervise, more things to be in charge of, more material things to take care of. Inside of us is an inherent desire to rule over things. In fact, that’s part of what it means to be an image-bearer of God.

When God created human beings — male and female — he put us over material things. He told us we need to steward the garden. We need to rule over the beasts of the field and the cows and the domestic animals. That we are in charge of creation. It is our possession. Something that we need to rule over and would be ruled under us. But the problem is not the possession itself but it’s when we equate what we have under us with the significance and the meaning of our life. Right? It’s when that which is under us becomes what defines us.

What should define us? Well, there we go. Jesus. It’s like a Sunday school question. I mean, this is what Paul is getting at in Colossians when he says, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). Up there. This is where our life is. Above us.

Now, here’s the subtle thing that happens, because not only are we made in the image of God, designed to have things that we possess and other things that we subdue that are under us, but we also are designed to be under something. We are designed to be possessed, not by demonic forces, but we are designed to be under the rule of God and under the rule of the lordship of Jesus Christ. And so, when we equate the very thing that is supposed to give us life with the things that are under us, we actually are flipping the order of things. We’re taking the things that are under us and literally putting them over us. We are making the things that we are to possess the things that possess us. Do you see it? It’s a very subtle shift that happens, but it’s an important one because at its root, it’s idolatry.

Idolatry.

What is idolatry? The taking of the work of our hands — the things that are under our possession — and making them our overlords: the things that we follow, the things that we rule, the things that define us, that give us our identity, our worth, our value, our significance. I mean, think about how stupid that is. I mean, the Israelites worshiped a cow in the wilderness. A golden cow. Now what was that cow? That’s the thing that they were supposed to have under them. They were supposed to rule over cows and make sure the cows got their grass and supplied their food and so on. But instead of having what they possessed remain under them, they put it over them, and they served and worshiped the work of their hands. A golden calf.

Jesus just has one story to tell how foolish this is. And He does a great job of just disconnecting it. Basically, He calls the man who builds the bigger barns a fool. Proverb 14:1 says, “A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” The man who builds the bigger barns is a man who is living as a practical atheist, who takes the work of his hands and places them in the position of God and defines his soul and his life in terms of the abundance of his material possessions. He equates these two things, and by doing that, he is a fool.

I’m reminded of the woman — her husband had just died, and she’s talking to the minister of the church. He says to her, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and she replies, “It’s horrible, yes.” And then she says, “You know what’s interesting though? I went up into the attic, and he had left a suitcase full of money up there. That crazy man thought that he was going to go to Heaven and grab the suitcase on his way up.” The minister says, “Just goes to show you. You can’t take it with you.” She says, “Yeah. You know what else? He really should have put it in the basement.”

It’s silly the things that we do. And yet we all do it. I want to end by asking some practical questions. What should we do if we have begun to define our lives in terms of the things that are under us and not over us? If we’ve equated our lives with having an abundance of possessions? Well, first of all, the antidote to that is actually getting our mindset correct. It’s about a change of thinking and a change in orientation where, like Paul says, we set our minds… It’s a mindset. We set our minds on the things that are above, not the things that are below.

It’s not wrong to have possessions. What’s wrong is to equate possessions with the things that are above. Our life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. Our marching orders and the definition of who we are — our identity, our significance — it comes from God and from our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we have that right mindset, then we begin to put into proper perspective the things that are under us and our stewardship of the material things. Our lives are on loan from God. We are his possession, and the things that we have ultimately belong to him. I love in the Crown Ministry financial stewardship course where people are asked to sign a quitclaim deed of all their things to God. Now, you don’t actually have to sign the quitclaim deed for all the things to belong to God — they already do — but it’s a nice gesture from a heart standpoint and a mindset standpoint to go, “You know what? I don’t really, truly own all of these things. These things fundamentally belong to the Lord, and I’m going to acknowledge His ownership.”

All things belong to the Lord. That mindset changes everything.

Divest.

But then let me give you two more things here: What do we do if we are a person that has built the bigger barns? In other words, we have been blessed by material abundance, and we’ve had to tear down some barns and find some bigger bank accounts or bigger investments in order to accumulate an abundance of wealth. First of all, we wrestle with the question, “Is there more to life than this? Is this enough? And what is enough?” But then the challenge — and you have to be the one that sorts this out — but what am I going to do as a stewardship of this abundance? I can continue to build bigger barns only to one day die and have it become insignificant and meaningless or give it to my kids to fight over. Or I might do something for the Kingdom with that abundance. And how will I steward that abundance for God’s will? This is something that you have to pray about; you have to be thoughtful and discerning. Invest in things that are worth investing in. Look for ways in which to multiply the Kingdom of God. This is what Jesus is getting at when He says, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God.” The one who has abundance should ask himself, “What does it mean to be rich towards God? And how can I be rich towards God?”

Get out of Debt.

But then we also have those who don’t have abundance who have the opposite problem of looking at those that do have abundance and saying, “Boy, they have the life. And I wish I had that life.” Because that’s the same trap of thinking that life consists in the abundance of possession. And so what happens with that mentality sometimes for those that don’t have it is that they over-leverage and get themselves into incredible burdens of debt. Instead of building barns, they raise mountains of debt. And this comes to the same heartache and has the same insignificance and meaning. Break the bondage of covetousness by living within your means, getting out of debt, determining how you’re going to steward your dollars.

Tithe.

Now I think God’s plan from the beginning of tithing is such a good thing to help us break this. Ten percent is not so much that it breaks us and prevents us from living a life and from having material things and from taking care of ourselves and our children and so on. But ten percent is painful enough that if we give away ten percent, we actually are saying, “You know what? This is not my god. Money is not what leads me and owns me. I am a steward over it, and I’m giving back to God a portion of what He has given to me in recognition that He, not my money, is the one who is over me.” I encourage you to contemplate the practice of tithing, to think about divestiture if you have abundance, and getting out of debt if you don’t, but fundamentally changing your mindset and putting the Lord, and not your possessions, above your heart.

Jesus’ Missionary Methods

Sermon from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 10

In reading this Gospel passage, I’m struck by how different the missionary methods of Jesus were from how we in the modern day Church engage in the mission of the Gospel. So I’d like to highlight the missionary strategies of Jesus we see in this passage, and compare them to how we often engage in mission.

1. Jesus grounds the work in prayer.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Luke 10:2

Although we do pray today, we don’t allow it to give us the eyes to see the harvest field the way Jesus did. What Jesus says highlights a missionary problem, and compares it to a relatable problem for the missionaries He was sending out. Imagine a farmer seeing a beautiful field full of ripe grain ready to harvest, and that sinking feeling of knowing you don’t have enough workers to bring in the harvest before it goes to waste. All that value and potential gone to waste! It’s even more dire when we realize that the harvest the Lord says is ready is not grain, but it’s souls. When we earnestly pray the way the Lord did, our eyes are opened to the urgency of this missionary problem. Mission begins with prayer. A prayerless Christianity is a powerless Christianity, but Jesus gives us new eyes to see.

2. Jesus eliminates dependence on the flesh.

Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.

Luke 10:3-4

Modern mission has become more about distribution of resources than it has about distribution of the Gospel. Jesus sent out His missionaries with ONLY the Gospel, in what seemed like weakness and unpreparedness. But that meant what they were giving was only the MOST important thing. Anything else is just a distraction.

3. Jesus’ mission is based on hospitality.

Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages.

Luke 10:5-7

Jesus’ mission and ministry was always based in homes. Every place He went, He started a home group! Modern Christians think that the work of God is done in church, but Jesus took the mission of God out of the church building and took it to where real life was happening every day. Consider opening up your home to become a missionary outpost of the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter where you live or what your home looks like. What matters is the heart you use to reach out to those around you, and the message of the Gospel that you offer there.

When the seventy-two that Jesus sent out in this passage used Jesus methods, they had thrilling results!

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”

Luke 10:17-18

God is turning this world upside-down through His people when they step out in faith and engage in the mission He is calling them to with the methods He calls them to use.

Keeping Freedom

As we approach Independence Day in the United States, I like to think about the Declaration of Independence and the inalienable rights that it acknowledges God has endowed for all people. The founding fathers of the United States placed their emphasis on freedom. Even continuing to today, it’s still somewhat of an experiment: Just how free can a people be? The concern is, of course, that when people have too much freedom, it results in anarchy. Just look at a room full of uncontrolled children to see how freedom can go wrong!

Our Scripture passage from Galatians also speaks to this tension. The body of Christ at Galatia had Gentiles coming into the fellowship, which is good, but they were bringing their unregulated lifestyles with them, which was introducing chaos into the body. In a case like this, humanity’s first instinct is to start making rules, setting laws, trying to bring the unruly members under control. But Paul says, this isn’t necessarily the answer. He challenges the Galatian church that it’s not about rules and laws, but rather about freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1

There’s a one-two punch to the Gospel, the coming of Jesus Christ. The first punch is the Cross of Jesus Christ, which deals with sin and judgment and wipes our slates clean. Through this, we are set free from the fear of judgment and condemnation (Romans 8:1). And this is wonderful, but it can’t stop there. We don’t just leave it at freedom. “Woohoo! Eat, drink, and be merry! Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!” No, unmitigated freedom results in licentiousness, which is a problem. We may try to combat the licentiousness with law, but that is trying to introduce an external force to solve an internal problem. The problem of licentiousness is in the heart, and that can’t be solved through regulation or governance. It never has worked, and it never will.

This is where the second punch comes in. God deals with the internal problems of the heart through the infusing of the heart of every Christian with his own Holy Spirit. The fundamental solution to all of the problems in our society and world is not a legal or political one, but rather an internal transformation that comes by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit inside each believer. This is how a people and a nation can be transformed and live in a state of harmony.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:16-18

The law and the flesh feed off of each other. If you really want to go to war against the flesh, you don’t do it with law, you do it with Spirit.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:24

This is the urgency of the mission of the Church in our day. We don’t need more political solutions. We need the Gospel to spread throughout our nation and world. We need the Spirit of God directing people to live together in righteousness and peace.

Each of us are individually called to apply to our own lives the one-two punch of the Gospel — to live in the freedom that comes from being forgiven, and to walk in the Spirit of God and bear his holy fruit. If we can get that into our own hearts and the hearts of our children, the strong hands of rules, laws, and government become unnecessary. Instead, we will have a taste of heaven on earth. This is what the Lord is offering his Church, both now and forever. Accept it today.

The Spirit of Truth

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday

On this Trinity Sunday, when we consider the unfathomable truth that our God is three persons in one, I’d like to spend some time thinking about the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. The wonderful promise of the Holy Spirit came when Jesus went to go be with the Father. Jesus was on earth for a little while, but then when he ascended back to be with the Father, he sent the Holy Spirit to be his representation on earth.

Jesus is at the right hand of God advocating for us in the heavenly realms, but that’s not a close enough relationship for God. He wants the Holy Spirit here on earth to not only dwell WITH us, but to dwell IN us. How amazing!

In John 16, Jesus told his disciples that they wouldn’t be able to bear all the things he needed to tell them at once. So he would send the Holy Spirit to guide his people into all truth, and teach us all that he wants us to know.

I love the name Jesus gave to the Holy Spirit in this passage: The Spirit of Truth. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the author of our written record of God’s truth – the Bible. (See 2 Peter 1:21.) The Scriptures teach that there is a direct connection between the Spirit of God and the Word of God.

When Christ came to earth, the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), but then after Christ departed the earth, now in these last days, God wants to pour out his Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17). That means WE, the carriers of God’s Spirit, are now the Word made flesh. What a privilege!

Compare the words of Paul in his letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians:

…Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always.

Ephesians 5:18-20

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Colossians 3:16

Do you see the similarities in terminology there? Paul seems to be saying that being “filled with the Spirit” and letting the “word of Christ dwell in you richly” is the exact same thing! We are the embodiment of the Word of God when the Spirit of God fills us. We manifest the glorious nature of God.

The glorious Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries. God is one, but God is three. Our Godhead is a glorious fellowship of worship and love. No person of the Trinity is focused on himself, but they are continually loving and lifting up each other. And into this marvelous and mysterious communion, God has invited us. It’s breathtaking!

This is not merely a future reality. God has brought us into that fellowship today. The overflow of the love that the Father has for the Son and the Son has for the Spirit and the Spirit has for the Father, has also been poured into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Set your hearts to dwell on this gift that has been given to us not just for a season, but for all eternity!

All These Things

At the end of the Gospel of Luke, the phrase “the things” is used several times to refer to all of the events surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Luke 24:18-19, Jesus is speaking to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, and the events of the week are referred to as “the things.” Later in the chapter, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and says to them, “You are witnesses of these things” (verse 48).

“These thing” are wonderful things, and a lot is contained in them! It can be overwhelming and too much for us to take in, but like the disciples, Jesus can “open [our] minds to understand” (verse 45).

When we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, let’s consider two things. First, the departure of Christ from this earth, which took place at the Ascension, means that his power is distributed to all those who believe in him (verse 49). This occurs through the sending of the Holy Spirit, which took place at Pentecost. Through his departure, Jesus gives both the responsibility for his mission and his power to complete it to all those who believe in him. This means it’s not just pastors or priests who are the ones doing the work of Christ – it’s all believers!

Second, when Jesus ascended into the heavenly realms, he brought humanity into heaven to dwell beside God forever. Through the fully divine and fully human person of Christ, God and man were brought together FOREVER. Both the prophet Daniel (chapter 7) and the apostle John (Revelation, chapters 7 and 19) were given visions of a multitude of humanity worshiping God forever in heaven, with a human – Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man – sitting on the throne at the right hand of God!

The practical implication of this for us is phenomenal. We can bring all of our hopes, concerns, challenges, and difficulties to Christ, where we find grace and mercy to help us in our time of need. As the Son of Man, he can understand and sympathize with us. But as the Son of God, he grants us the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and enable us to overcome all difficulty and accomplish his work in this world.