Luke 12:13-34, Our Material Anxieties in the Light of God as Our Father

[August 2, 2009] A man in the crowd is concerned about getting his share of the family inheritance. This seems like a legitimate concern and a matter of justice. Yet Jesus refuses to get involved. His first response is that that is not His role, to act as a judge in a family dispute. But then He tells the crowd that they should guard against all covetousness, for one cannot find or obtain one’s true life (zoē) in the abundance of possessions. In other words, what the man is concerned about is irrelevant, not worth fighting for. This is surprising, since we certainly fight when it comes to our property.

Jesus gives a parable to put this into perspective. A man prepares for himself a comfortable retirement by collecting an abundance of possessions, but then he dies before he gets to retire. What a waste, Jesus says. Because now that he is dead, he has nothing at all. What one should be spending their energy on is becoming rich toward God (verse 21) and storing up an unfailing treasure in heaven (verse 33). So the message to the crowd is that their concerns are all in the wrong place. You want to be rich or at least to have some security on earth, but that is irrelevant. You ought to be concerned with becoming rich toward God and having security in heaven. That is the only wealth that matters.

Jesus in verse 22 then turns to His disciples (us) and tells us not to worry about food or clothing, important matters when it comes to survival and also indicators of wealth or status. For His disciples—those who believe into Him and give Him their fidelity—God becomes their Father just as He is the Father of Jesus, because they become His children by a new birth. No longer is God something generic or impersonal, but God becomes very personal to them; He is revealed through Christ and thus “names” Himself as our Father. As His children we live before Him, like children who are dependent on their father’s care and provision. The earth then becomes for us His house wherein He cares for us as He cares for the birds and the lilies and grass of the field. We are to live in His presence, with this marvelous sense of security and well-being. To worry about our sustenance is to expose our little faith; it shows that we really think that our Father cannot provide for us and we must rely on the resources of the world. It is, in other words, to live like an unbeliever (verse 30). This is a joyful message, but it is also alarming because we do not live with such faith in our Father. Nevertheless, this is the privilege into which Jesus invites His disciples.

If we thus live in the sight of the Father, knowing that He will care for our needs, then we are free to concern ourselves with what He wants, which is to establish His kingdom. Seek His kingdom, (1) by sharing the Gospel with others, (2) by building up the church through the Word and the work of prayer and faithful living both privately and with one another, and (3) by serving the needs of others with love so that they can be liberated by God. If we thus occupy ourselves with the kingdom, we need not fear other people or material lack, nor do we need to fear that we might not eventually enjoy the kingdom. Even though we are but a “little flock,” it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.

But, as the next segment reveals (11:35-48), we can also lose the enjoyment of the kingdom because of our unfaithfulness, even if we do not lose our election and final salvation.

In view of that, we need to take care of our heart. To what is our heart attached? Are we attached to our possessions, because we fear for our security and well-being? (We worry, “What if the Father does not come through for us? What will we have to fall back on?” This is a lack of faith.) The solution, Jesus tells us, is to give away our possessions! Sell them and give the money to the poor. By letting go of that which holds us captive, we become free for God and our treasure immediately goes to heaven. That is to say, rather than being weighed down by our attachment to the things of earth, our hearts long for God, a longing that liberates us and makes us buoyant and lifts us up. This kind of treasure is real and unfailing, and we do not have to worry about moneybags with holes, bank accounts that leak or depreciate, interest rates and all that, or thieves and insurance policies. This is treasure we can depend on.

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