The Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)

The Rich Fool - Luke 12:13-21


The man in this story would be considered a success by almost any measure the world uses to determine success.  But that’s not how God viewed this man.  God’s analysis of this man’s life was direct, to the point, and brutally honest.  His entire life is summed up in the simple statement in verse 20, “You fool!”   That doesn’t mean the man was not intelligent or talented or motivated.  There a plenty of intelligent, talented, motivated fools in the world.  The word “fool” is not a description of this man’s mental capacity or natural abilities.  Instead, it is a commentary on his spiritual discernment.  He did not have the spiritual discernment to value those things in life that are really valuable.  I want to list five foolish things that we are constantly tempted to do in the culture in which we live.


I.    We are foolish to trade our health for possessions.

1.   It seems to me that the rich man in this story was a typical “Type A” personality.  He was hard-driving, hard-working, never satisfied with the status quo.  There is an interesting statement about him in verse 17.  The first part of that verse says, “And he began reasoning to himself...”  The word from which the word “reasoning” is translated is the Greek word from which our word dialogue comes.  In other words, he began to have a dialogue, a conversation with himself.  The blessing of the bumper crop made him start talking to himself!  What was he going to do with all that abundance?  The only solution this “Type A” person could see was to keep expanding—tear down the old barns and build bigger barns.

2.   Could it be that his hard driving personality, his insatiable desire for more is what caused him to die?  Was he so caught up in stuff that he worried and worked himself to death?  We can’t really say if that was the case for him or not.  But we certainly can say that it happens to many people in our culture.  They live under such stress and are so bent making a dollar, that the time comes when the stress catches up with them and their health begins to fail.

3.   There is a classic story about two men.  One was very wealthy but in poor health.  The other was very poor but in excellent health.  The wealthy man would give anything for a healthy body and the poor man would give anything to be wealthy.  In this story there was a world famous surgeon who was able to give them both what they wanted.  He had perfected a technique to do brain transplants.  The wealthy man gave the poor man all his wealth and the poor man gave the wealthy man his healthy body just by allowing this surgeon to switch their brains.  But that’s not the end of the story. 

·         The formerly poor man suddenly found himself surrounded by incredible wealth.  He didn’t know how to use it and quickly squandered to away.  However, the sickly body he had inherited became healthy again when he was not burden with the stress and anxiety of managing a large amount of possession. 

·         On the other hand, the formerly wealthy man who was given the healthy body of a poor man began to use his expertise to accumulate more money.  But the more the money piled up, the more his new found health began to deteriorate as dealt with the stress and anxiety of managing his new found wealth. 

The story ends with both men back where they started—one wealthy in a sick body and the other poor in a healthy body. [Eric Butterworth, Unity of Life, New York: Harper & Row, 1969]

4.   I don’t share that to imply our only options in life are to be wealthy and sick or poor and well.  But I share it to remind you it is foolish to be so driven with accumulating things that we destroy our health in the process.


II.  We are foolish to live only for ourselves.

1.   The man in this story was obviously a very self-centered person.  When he had that conversation with himself about what to do with the extra crops he had harvested, he focused on only one option—how to keep it for himself.  The thought of giving the extra away to other people never even crossed his mind.

2.   It is interesting that in three verses—verses 17, 18, & 19—this man uses the personal pronouns “I” or “my” not less than eleven (11) times.  In his eyes, life was all about him.  He did not care about anyone else.  One person described him as having “...full barns, but an empty heart.” [Brett Blair, “Building Barns, Postponing Life”]  He was just the opposite of the woman described by St. Jerome in around 400 A.D. who, according to him, “...preferred to store her money in the stomachs of the needy than in her purse.” [Ibid]

3.   One of the very best things you can do for yourself is simply learn to be a giver rather than a hoarder.  You are missing one of the great blessings of life if you horde everything you have for yourself.  That’s why the God says so much to us in Scripture about giving.  We are to give, not because God needs our money, but because we need the experience.


III. We are foolish to measure our self-worth in terms of our net-worth.

1.   It is fairly obvious that the man in this story was feeling pretty good about himself.  After all, everything seemed to be going his way.  As his assets increased, his value in his own eyes increased as well.  No doubt there was a certain sense of pride in his financial success.  In his mind, who he was was all tied up in what he possessed.

2.   That is one of the most subtle and insidious temptations we face as we live in the affluence of 21st century America.  We live under constant pressure to place excessive value on the accumulation of certain things.  It has been estimated that by the time a person in our culture graduates from high school, that person has been bombarded with more than 350,000 commercials designed to convince him or her that the way to be successful is to have certain material things.  And some people run themselves ragged to be able to wear the right clothes, drive the right car, live in the right house that says to others, “See, I am a successful, worthwhile, valuable person.”

3.   Philosopher Sidney J. Harris wrote:  “Men may be divided almost any way we please, but I have found the most useful distinction to be made is between those who devote their lives to conjugating the verb ‘to be’ and those who spend their lives conjugating the verb ‘to have.’”  In other words, some people devote their lives to being something and others devote their lives to having something.

4.   As Christians, we need to remember our self-worth does not come from—

·         What we have but from who we are!

·         What we have but from Who has us!

We belong to God.  We are His special possessions.  He made us and redeemed us.  We have dignity and value and worth not because of how many material possessions we may have but because of who we are in Jesus.


IV. We are foolish to confuse what we want with what we need.

  1. The man in this story had some incredible wants.  He wanted to be able just to sit back and enjoy life.  As he put it, he wanted to take his “...ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” (verse 19)  That’s not necessarily what he needed, but it is what he wanted.
  2. Probably none of us needs all that we think we do.  When you get right down to it, our needs are rather simple.

·         Physically, we need food for the day, clothes for our bodies, and shelter from the elements.

·         Emotionally, we need people to love us and a purpose for our lives.

·         Spiritually, we need to live in relationship with the God who created us.

Beyond those basic things, just about everything else falls into the category of wants.  And when we confuse what we really need with what we merely want, we tend to get our values all confused.

3.   Do you remember Leo Tolstoy’s, the Russian novelist, famous story?  The story is about a farmer who was not satisfied with his lot in life.  One day a farmer received a novel offer. For 1000 rubles, he could buy all the land he could walk around in a day. The only catch in the deal was that he had to be back at his starting point by sundown. Early the next morning he started out walking at a fast pace. By midday he was very tired, but he kept going, covering more and more ground. Well into the afternoon he realized that his greed had taken him far from the starting point. He quickened his pace and as the sun began to sink low in the sky, he began to run, knowing that if he did not make it back by sundown the opportunity to become an even bigger landholder would be lost. As the sun began to sink below the horizon he came within sight of the finish line. Gasping for breath, his heart pounding, he called upon every bit of strength left in his body and staggered across the line just before the sun disappeared. He immediately collapsed, blood streaming from his mouth. In a few minutes he was dead. Afterwards, his servants dug a grave. It was not much over six feet long and three feet wide. The title of Tolstoy's story was: How Much Land Does a Man Need? (Adapted from Bits & Pieces, November, 1991.)   

4.   Confusing our wants with or needs is foolish because it can be deadly.


V.  We are foolish to look to possessions for security.

1.   That, of course, is the main point of this story.  The rich man thought his abundance of possessions guaranteed him security.  He made the erroneous assumption that because his crop was big, his problems were over.  But, of course, that was not the case.  His possessions did him no good when death came knocking on his door.

2.   And his life is a graphic reminder of the foolishness of depending on material possessions for security.  The only real security in life is found in relationship with God.  Everything else is temporary, it is passing away.  Verse 21 makes it clear that anyone who looks to temporary material things for eternal security is a fool.  In that verse Jesus said that just as the rich man in this story was a fool, “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

3.   The only lasting security is found in the God.  Hebrews 13:5 says it so well:  “Make sure your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’”  If it is security you want, you will never find it in things, only in God.


1.   If someone were to write the obituary for this man in the first century world, I am certain his death would have been described as a tragedy.  After all, he seemed to have been in the very prime of his life.  Everything was going so well for him.  It had all come together.  And suddenly he dies.  But the truth is, it is not his death that was a tragedy; it was his life.  His life was a tragedy because he--

·         Traded his health for possessions

·         Lived only for himself

·         Measured his self-worth in terms of his net-worth

·         Confused what he wanted with what he needed

·         Looked to possession for security

May we have the wisdom to avoid making those mistakes in our lives!