The story of a man who made three serious mistakes is found in Luke 12:16-21. Jesus had been preaching to the multitudes of people. He was speaking about deep and holy things, when suddenly someone from the crowd interrupted Him and said, “Master, speak to my brother that he divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus rejected his appeal because it was outside the realm of His mission. He had not come as a judge concerning earthly inheritances; He came as a Redeemer from sin. Jesus responded, “Who made me to be a judge and divider over you?” Then, after warning these brothers about the dangers of covetousness (for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of things which he possesses), Jesus gave an illustration. He told a parable about a rich farmer.
Jesus described a man who became richer and richer, year after year, until one year, at harvest-time, he found himself confronted with a great problem. His harvest was so abundant that his granaries couldn’t hold it all. He thought the situation over, and finally made up his mind. He said, “This will I do: I will pull down my barns and build greater . . . and I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.”
Jesus does not represent this farmer as a wicked man. There’s no suggestion that he had gathered his wealth unrighteously. The primary charge against him is that he was so taken up with earthly affairs, that he had neglected eternal things. Here was a man who was prospering; his barns were bursting with the fruits of the ground. This year, his crops were especially good. I can see the farmhouse standing in the countryside, and a wealthy man leaning on his gate, gazing out over his crops. It was obvious that his barns would be unable to store them. What could he do? As he stood there thinking, he decided to tear down his old barns, and to build greater. While he was in the midst of his plans for the future, a Breath out of eternity spoke to him, and told him that he was a foolish man. The Greek word means “one with no sense.” Yet in many ways this farmer was a commendable person.
The farmer was not a fool because he was rich. God does not frown on wealth—not if it’s used in a proper manner, earned in an honest way, and allocated its proper place in our thinking. A number of rich men in the Bible were greatly used of God. This man was wealthy (and there are dangers that go with wealth), but that’s not why God called this man a fool.
The farmer was not a fool because he was industrious. His land produced well. Land doesn’t produce a large crop unless someone toils to plow it, cultivate it, weed it, and work it. Jesus wasn’t talking about some lazy, careless, slothful individual who refused to work, but rather about a very industrious, hard-working man. He was a good farmer; he used good farming methods; he tilled the soil well; he took proper care of his crops. Every man ought to be diligent about his work. The Bible says we should not be slothful in business. This man was industrious, but that’s not why God called him a fool.
The farmer was not a fool simply because he made plans for the future. There’s nothing in this lesson that would condemn the housewife, for example, for canning fruit in the summer to be used in the winter. God expects parents to provide for their families, and to take their future welfare into consideration. God says in Proverbs 6 that we should observe the ants, and notice how they store up food in the summer, so they can live during the winter. This man made plans for the future, but that’s not why God called him a fool.
Notice now that this man made three tragic mistakes:
1. He Mistook Himself to be God
The man said, “This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater;” and “I will say to my soul” (Luke 12:18-19). This man thought he had the final say. He left God out of his planning. He didn’t say, “If God permits, I’m going to do this.” He said simply, “This will I do.” He was scheming and planning about his property as if he were the master of his own future; as if all he had to do was to say, “I’ll do a thing,” and it would be done. It’s easy for us to get the opinion that we’ve got the final say.
This man had a big harvest, and his wealth made him arrogant and selfish. He leaned on his bank account, and felt he didn’t need help from God. His abundance blinded him into thinking that he could do just as he wanted. He felt completely sufficient in his own strength. He left God out of the picture, and spoke of the future as if he himself had complete control of it. Notice how this rich man talks of “my barns,” “my fruits,” and “my goods.” He forgot that the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, and that man is not the owner; he’s only a steward of what really belongs to God. His words remind us of another man in the Bible named Nabal. The account is given in 1 Samuel 25. David and his men had protected Nabal’s flocks and herds during the winter. When David’s men came to Nabal, expecting a reward for the service they had given, Nabal said, “Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men, whom I know not whence they be?” (1 Samuel 25:11) This wicked farmer knew that David’s men had made his prosperity greater that year. But he thought he was the master of his own life, and that these were his things. But verse 38 of the same chapter says, “And it came to pass about ten days after, that the Lord smote Nabal, that he died.” My friends, we’re never more than one breath away from judgment and eternity. It’s foolish to play God, and to act as if material things belonged to us.
George W. Truett was being entertained one time in the home of a wealthy oil-man in Texas. After dinner, the man took him to the roof of his house. Pointing to the huge oil-fields which were in constant operation, he said: “Dr. Truett, everything that you see there is mine. When I came to this country twenty-five years ago, I came without a cent. Now these oil wells are mine. I own every one of them.”
He turned in the opposite direction, and pointed to the waving fields of grain, and said, “These are mine too.” He pointed out that he owned everything (north, east, south, and west) as far as the eye could see. Dr. Truett laid a friendly hand on his shoulder, and pointed upward toward Heaven, and said, “My friend, how much do you own in that direction?” The man was somewhat embarrassed, and dropped his head, and said, “I never thought of that.” Yet God tells us to think of that before anything else. He says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
The man in our parable spoke of “my goods and my crops and my barns.” He thought he had the final say, when in reality the final say belongs to God. This was his first mistake—he assumed certain rights that belong only to God.
2. He Mistook His Body for His Soul
The farmer spoke to his soul and said, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” Now eating and drinking and foolish mirth will satisfy the body, but these things will never reach the soul.
The Bible teaches very clearly that man is both body and soul. Jesus speaks of man as composed of two parts. The outward and visible part is the body. The inward and unseen part is the soul. The body will eventually perish. The soul lives on. Paul likens the body to a house (a tabernacle), and he likens the soul to the real person who occupies that house. It is only the body that can enjoy and find satisfaction in material things. The soul of man finds satisfaction only in spiritual values.
The man in the parable thought that material things could bring complete happiness and satisfaction to his soul. He thought that bigger and fuller barns would really make him happy. He was living purely on the material level. He was concerned about food and clothes and barns and material increase. He was busy building a temple out of roast beef and chocolate bars and luxury and pleasures and material things—and he never considered for one moment that there might be something within him that couldn’t be satisfied even with all these material things. Many of us are the same way. We go through life accumulating things. Many of them are worthless, but still we hoard them. We strive to get a beautiful house, more land, and more expensive furniture—and in countless other ways, we go on our way, hoarding and accumulating things—until at last death comes, and what a time the heirs have dividing up all the rubbish!
This world measures a man’s achievement by material possessions. His success is determined by the prestige of the car that he drives, the spaciousness of the house in which he lives, and the size of the check that he can write. But these things don’t bring happiness within. Some years ago, a man by the name of J. Paul Getty was reputed to be the richest man in the world. He lived in a magnificent mansion in Surrey, England. He owned oil wells, oil refineries, life insurance companies, and hotels. But he appeared to be lonely, gloomy, and afraid. He was afraid of disease, old age, helplessness, and death! He lived on a seven-hundred-acre estate, and the entire property was surrounded with bodyguards and vicious dogs and steel bars and searchlights. He had everything he wanted that could be bought with money, yet he admitted that material things do not bring happiness.
To think of life only in terms of material things is absolutely foolish, because life is not held together by material possessions, but by spiritual and eternal things. The soul of man was made for eternity; thus, man can never find satisfaction in material, temporal things. Man is essentially a spiritual being. He is not a physical body that has a spirit. Man is essentially a spirit that has a physical body. 1 Corinthians 15:45 says, “The first man Adam was made a living soul.” For this reason, man’s problems are basically spiritual, and the true answer to his problems is found only in God’s Word. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Food and drink, and material possessions, will never bring lasting satisfaction to the soul. A month at the beach, dancing into the wee hours of the morning—these things will never satisfy the soul’s inner cry for peace. Satisfaction will only come when you unload your sins on Jesus, and let Him become King in your life, and live according to the Word of God.
I know that many scientists deny the existence of the soul merely because they can’t find it when they dissect the human body. They assume that everything that has real existence can be found and touched and weighed. Can you dissect the rose and find its beauty? Can you take the laugh of a child as he plays on the sidewalk, and put it into a test tube, and analyze it, and extract the happiness? Would you say the rose’s beauty and the child’s happiness are not real? Many things that are intangible, and that can’t be dissected, and that can’t be found—nevertheless are very real and very valuable.
There are thousands of people who think of themselves as the man in this parable did. They forget that when God created man, He breathed into man’s body the breath of life, and man became a living soul—and in forgetting this, they prepare only for the needs of the body. The man in this parable thought he was talking to his soul, when in reality he was talking to the body. He said, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” As though a soul were interested in a barn full of grain and a bag full of money! This was the second mistake of the rich farmer. He mistook his body for his soul.
3. He Mistook Time for Eternity
The farmer said, “Thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” God said, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.” This man had been so busy with temporal and fleeting things that he had no time for abiding and eternal things. Here was a man who was concerned about the future—but his future was measured only in terms of time. He said, “Thou hast much goods laid up for many years.” All his energy had been concentrated on preparing for these years (that is, preparing for time), and eternity had been entirely neglected. Then one night, God suddenly reminded him that he didn’t even have as many hours left, as he thought he had years. In a single moment all his hopes were blasted, and shortly his soul was summoned to the bar of God. His clock said “many years”—but God’s clock said “this night.”
The rich farmer went to bed thinking about a new project, and woke up in eternity. A voice whispered to him in the stillness of the night and said, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.” The bony hand of death knocked on the door, and soon his friends were mourning his passing. Before long, the lawyers were squabbling over his estate. That was the end for this covetous man (as far as this earth was concerned), but it was not the end of his existence. He went out into eternity to meet the God he had ignored.
This man was ready to stay, but he wasn’t ready to go. He had planned for time, but he had nothing for eternity. He planned as far as the grave, but not beyond the grave. He planned for the future, but he didn’t look far enough ahead. Are you one who is so concerned about building up a surplus of earthly goods, that it’s hard for you to think that death will ever strike you? Are you one who eats and drinks and sleeps and works, and earns money and spends money year after year—absorbed in business and pleasure—living as if you were never going to die? Jesus says that a man is a fool, if he thinks only about milking cows, and feeding hogs, and building new barns—and takes no thought for his poor starving soul, but goes on without God, without forgiveness, and without salvation.
Friends, this matter of living and dying is a serious business. Life is not a joke on this side of the grave, and it’s not a joke on the other side either. The Bible constantly reminds us to pass the time of our sojourning here in fear (1 Peter 1:17). The man in our parable acted as though he would live on this earth forever. The forty-ninth Psalm describes this kind of person: “Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue forever.” Yet they must have known that someday they would die. The rich farmer certainly knew that he wasn’t going to live forever in this world. But like most of us, he thought it wouldn’t end quite so soon. Friends, your final hour may come at any moment; and it may come swiftly and unannounced. You must never think when you start out a new day, that it is certain that you are going to finish it. Every day, more than one hundred fifty thousand human beings (who came into this world just as you and I did) are leaving this world just like you and I are going to leave it (barring the return of Christ). Some of those people will die without a moment’s notice. The time-factor is in God’s hands. It could be “this night” for some of us. The Bible says, “Behold, all souls are mine” (Ezekiel 18:4), and since the lives of men are God’s property, He has the right to require them at any time.
The man in this parable was commendable for many reasons. He was a prosperous, ambitious farmer. He was a good provider for his family. But he made three serious mistakes: (1) he mistook himself to be God, (2) he mistook his body for his soul, and (3) he mistook time for eternity. Just so, you might be a prosperous, industrious person, and a good provider for your family—but if you’re neglecting your soul, and if you’ve never openly confessed Jesus Christ as your Savior—you’re a foolish person.
The story is told of some men seeking gold in Alaska. They went far into the interior part of the country, until one day they came upon an old miner’s hut. It seemed to be as quiet as a grave. They went inside the hut and there they found the skeletons of two men. On a rough table in that old shack, they found a letter. The two men had written the letter before they died. It told about their successful hunt for gold, and how they were so eager to get it, that they forgot about the early coming of winter in that cold North Country. Each day (the letter said) they found more gold. The fall passed by. Winter approached. One morning the men awoke to find a great snow storm upon them. For days the snow fell. It became deeper and deeper, and soon there was no hope of escape. Their food was shortly used up. These two men wrote the letter (lying on the table), and then they lay down to die. Now, many years later, their skeletons were discovered.
These two miners had coveted gold. Their only thought was to get more gold. They forgot to provide for the coming of winter. Perhaps you are doing the same thing. You’re working and laboring for houses and lands, and at the same time, you’re neglecting to prepare for Heaven. Certainly it’s foolish to covet these things which perish and pass away, and forget to prepare for the world to come. The hymn writer says, “Just now, your doubtings give o’er; Just now, reject Him no more; Just now, throw open the door; Let Jesus come into your heart.” (Mrs. C. H. Morris)
Jesus says, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”