The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

The Rich Man and Lazarus

(Luke 16:19-31)


1.      If you were asked to make a list of single words that describe Jesus as you understand Him, what are some of the words you would choose?  Here are a few on my list:

            LOVING                       COMMITTED                     STRONG

            POWERFUL                 GENTLE                             GRACIOUS

            FOCUSED                    FORGIVING                      CARING

            GENEROUS                 PRESENT                            WISE                                    

             TEACHER                    GOD                                       SAVIOR        

             LORD                            SERVANT                          KING                         

JOY                                PEACE                                PATIENT                              

FORTRESS                   SACRIFICE                                    LIFE

            ROCK                            LIGHT                                 HOPE

            FAITHFUL                   TRUE                                   KIND 

            HONEST                       CALM                                 FRIEND

            ETERNAL                     HOPE                                  MERCIFUL

            WONDERFUL             COUNSELOR                    POWERFUL 

            DISCERNING              OBEDIENT                         WELCOMING

            COMPASSIONATE     HOLY                                  HEALER

      And, of course, you can no doubt think of many other words that would be appropriate to use to describe Jesus.

2.      However, there is one word—not matter how little or how much a person may know about Jesus—one word that would never be used to describe Him.  And that is the word SELFISH.No matter what else one may think of Jesus, no-one can make the claim that He was selfish, that He lived primarily for Himself.  His life was the very antithesis of selfishness.

·         The Scripture says in Philippians 2 that when He came to our world He “...emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of man.” [Philippians 2:7]

·         During His earthly ministry He constantly talked about the importance of denying self and putting others before self, and He demonstrated that kind of life for His followers to see.

·         And, of course, the great climax of His earthly ministry was the voluntary laying down of His life for the sins of the world, the One with no guilt dying in place of the guilty, the righteous dying for the unrighteous, the just dying for the unjust so that we could be pronounced not guilty, righteous, and just in the eyes of God.

3.      And Jesus, who lived a life of perfect unselfishness, calls those who follow Him to that kind of life as well.  You cannot read God’s Word without hearing the call to a life of unselfishness.

·         Philippians 2:3 tells us to “Do nothing from selfishness...”

·         Romans 2:8 warns us that those who are “...selfishly ambitious...” face the “...wrath and indignation...” of God.

·         2 Timothy 3:2 lists “...lovers of self...” which basically means those who are selfish, among the very worst of people.

·         James 3:16 reminds us that “...selfish ambition...” leads to “...every evil thing.”

·         Proverbs 23:6 says that we are not to “ the bread (which means to fellowship with or associate with) a selfish man...”

4.      Today, as we continue looking at some of those stories in Luke’s Gospel that are found nowhere else in the Scripture, we have come to a story that has much to teach us about the danger of selfishness.  Look at the last part of Luke 16. (Text – Luke 16:19-31)


T.S. – The temptation we face in trying to understand this story is to focus on what it teaches about life after death.  And there certainly are some important lessons in this story about that, but those lessons are secondary to the main point of this story.  In the larger context of Luke 16, it is clear Jesus told this story in response to the obvious selfish, self-centered attitude of the Pharisees, who by this time in His ministry were questioning everything that Jesus did.  This story must be read in light of Luke 16:14 which says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him.”  And in response to that, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “God knows your hearts.  He knows you are selfish and self-centered people.”  Then He told the story of the rich man and Lazarus to warn them of the danger of that kind of spirit.  From this story I want to point out to you why a life of selfishness is dangerous and why God instructs us to avoid that kind of life.


I.    Selfishness is dangerous because it diminishes our lives.

1.   One of the great lies of Satan is that the more I focus on me and the more I look out for myself, the better my life becomes. Actually, just the opposite is true.  The more we focus on self, the less fulfilling our lives are.  People who are preoccupied with self are generally the unhappiest people you will ever meet.

2.   Everything that Jesus says about the rich man in this story indicates he was preoccupied with himself.  Verse 19 indicates that nothing but the best was good enough for him.  He dressed in the finest of clothes.  Everyday was a feast day for him.  He lived a classic life of hedonism, pursuing pleasure as the way to meaning and fulfillment.  But there is no evidence that he found any meaning or fulfillment, either in this world or the next world.

·         It is interesting that absolutely nothing is said about the rich man’s life in this world except that “...he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day.”  Nothing about his vocation.  Nothing about his family.  Nothing about his spiritual commitments.  Nothing about anything he did to make the world a better place.  His life in this world was an empty life that made no positive impact on anyone or anything.

·         And certainly his experience in the afterlife was not positive.  He found himself separated from God and in torment.

      And one thing we can learn from all that is when we live only for ourselves, our lives are not enhanced; they are diminished.

3.   In his book on Leadership, Bill Hybels writes about Howard Hughes.  He says that Howard Hughes was one of the most self-willed, self-centered people who ever lived. He lived to satisfy his personal desires.

·         He wanted more money, so he parlayed inherited wealth into a billion-dollar pile of assets.

·         He wanted more fame, so he broke into the Hollywood scene and soon became a film-maker and star.

·         He wanted more sensual pleasures, so he paid handsome sums to indulge his every sexual urge.

·         He wanted more thrills, so he designed, built, and piloted the fastest aircraft in the world.

·         He wanted more power, so he secretly dealt political favors so skillfully that two U.S. presidents became his pawns.

      He was absolutely convinced that a self-centered, hedonistic life-style would bring him true satisfaction. Did it work?  You be the judge.  At the end of his life he was emaciated and colorless; with a sunken chest; fingernails in grotesque, inches-long corkscrews; rotting, black teeth; tumors; and innumerable needle marks from his drug addiction. Howard Hughes died, a billionaire junkie and insane by any normal standards, clinging to the illusion that a self-willed life is the way to fulfillment.

4.   Selfishness is dangerous precisely because it does not lead to fulfillment.  It diminishes our lives.


II.  Selfishness is dangerous because it blinds us to the needs of others

1.   The use of the name “Lazarus” in this parable is interesting.  Normally, Jesus did not use names for the characters in His parables.  The name literally means “he whom God helps” and perhaps Jesus used that name to let His hearers know in advance that even though the rich man did not help Lazarus, God would.

2.   Lazarus was a pathetic figure.  Notice how Jesus described Him in verses 20 and 21:

·         “poor man” – That is rather obvious, given where he was and what he was doing.

·         “laid at his gate” – The implication is that someone placed him there, meaning that he was unable to walk.

·         “covered with sores” – His body was a mass of ulcers

·         “longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the man’s table” – The insertion of the word “crumbs” is a little misleading.  The reference is probably to the pieces of bread that were used as napkins to wipe one’s hands after dipping meat in sauce or gravy.  The bread was thrown on the floor to be swept out.

·         “even the dogs were coming and licking his sores” – In other words, Lazarus waited with the dogs for the scraps to be swept from the banquet hall.

Jesus could not have painted a more pathetic picture.  One writer describes Lazarus as “...a filthy, festering beggar.” [The Gospels in Study and Preaching, p.34]

5.      The rich man in this story is not condemned because of what he did to Lazarus.  Actually, there is no evidence that he did anything to him.  Lazarus was not forced to leave the gate.  He was not forbidden from eating the scraps from the table.  He was not hit or kicked or abused in anyway.  Instead, the rich man was condemned for what he did not do.  And basically, what he did not do was even notice that Lazarus was there.  He was so wrapped up in himself, so selfish and self-centered, that apparently he felt nothing toward Lazarus.  No grief.  No sorrow.  No pity.  No sadness.  And he felt nothing because he saw nothing.  As Barclay says, “His was the punishment of the man who never noticed.” [Barclay, p.222]

6.      I wonder if that is a description of my life.  I wonder if there are people I come across everyday who are hurting, lonely, afraid, and overwhelmed, but because I am so wrapped up in myself I never even see their need.  That is one thing selfishness does to us.  It can cause us to be so focused on ourselves that we fail to recognize the needs of others.  That’s why the Bible tells us in Philippians 2:4, “ not merely look out for your own personal interest, but also for the interest of others.”   


III. Selfishness is dangerous because it distorts our thinking about God.

1.      When the rich man died and found himself in the place of torment, he was able to look, presumably into heaven, and see Abraham who was cradling Lazarus in his arms.  Notice what the rich man did.  He made two requests, both of which are basically selfish requests.  Death had not changed the selfish nature of this man.

·         He asked for water to quench his thirst.  There is no indication that he cared about or even recognized the thirst of others in that place.

·         He asked for his brothers to be warned of the place of torment.  There is no indication that he was concerned that others be warned as well.

      What I want you to see in that is that his selfishness carried over into the spiritual realm.

  1. And that is the most dangerous things selfishness does to us.  It distorts our thinking about God and our understanding of how we are to relate to God.  If we are characterized by selfishness and self-centeredness, instead of viewing ourselves as servants of God, we begin to view God as our own personal butler.
  2. Do not misunderstand what I am saying.  God wants to do good things for us. The Bible is filled with promise after promise of God’s protection of and provision for His people.  But the deepest longing of God for us is that we know Him and live in daily communion with Him.  God’s greatest gift to us is the gift of Himself.
  3. When Roy DeLamotte was chaplain at Paine College in Georgia, he preached the shortest sermon in the college's history. However, he had a rather long topic: "What does Christ Answer When We Ask, "Lord, What's in Religion for Me?" The complete content of his sermon was in one word: "Nothing." He later explained that the one-word sermon was meant for people brought up on the 'gimme-gimme' gospel. [Resources, 1990]. 
  4. I understand what that chaplain was saying.  He was trying to discourage the view of God as our personal servant, bringing us what we want when we want it.  But I think I would have answered the question, “What does Christ answer when we ask, ‘Lord, What’s in religion for me?’” with a different word.  Instead of the word “nothing” I would answer with “everything.”  Because when we lay aside our selfishness and self-centeredness and truly seek God, we get everything.  That’s what the Bible says in Colossians 3:10 where we find this wonderful phrase:  “For in Him [Jesus] you have been made complete...” or as the Living Bible so beautifully paraphrases it, “You have everything you need when you have Christ...”
  5. The great tragedy of a selfish, self-centered life is that it distorts our view of God causing us to miss the daily life of communion He wants us to have with Him.


1.      Every day we live we must choose between living a self-centered life or a God-centered life.

A self-centered life

A God-centered life

Diminishes us

Fulfills us

Makes us blind to people

Makes us sensitive to people

Distorts our relationship God

Enhances our relationship with God

      May we choose wisely!