A SHREWD FOOL — THE RICH FARMER
Adapted from a Sermon by Clovis G. Chappell
“And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”” Luke 12:16-21
I am confident you will be interested in this sermon. You will be interested, in the first place, because the picture that our Lord has given us in this wonderful story is the picture of a real man. This farmer is no wax figure. He is no imaginary person. He is altogether human. And we are naturally interested in real people.
Then we are interested in this man, in the second place, because he is successful. We are naturally interested in the people who do well. If you go out on the street tomorrow and start to tell your friends how you failed, the chances are that they will turn their backs on you to listen to the man, with triumph in his face and victory in his voice, who is telling how he succeeded. We are great success worshippers. And the man who wins the prizes of life interests us very much.
But there is a shock for us in the story. The Master calls our shrewd hero a fool. "Fool." That is a harsh and jarring word. It insults us. It shakes its fist in our faces. It cuts us like a knife. It offends us. We don’t like the ugly name at all.
"Fool." Our Master frowns on our using such language at all. He will not trust us with such a sharp sword. He will not allow us to hurl such a thunderbolt. He forbids us, under a terrible penalty, to call our brother a fool. And yet He calls this keen and successful farmer, a fool. And He doesn't do so lightly and flippantly, but there seems to ring through it scorn and indignation--positive anger, anger that is all the more terrible because it is the anger of love.
Why did the Master call this man a fool? He didn’t get the idea from the man himself. This well-to-do farmer would never have spoken of himself in that way. He thought of himself as altogether fit and mentally able. Nor did the Master get His idea from the man's neighbors. They looked at this man with admiration. There may have been a bit of envy mingled with their admiration, but they certainly did not consider him to be a fool. They no more did so than we consider the man that is like him to be a fool today.
Why then did the Master label him with this ugly name? It wasn’t because he had a prejudice against him. From the lips of fallen man it might be viewed as coming from a soured pessimist or a snarling cynic. But not from the lips of our blessed Lord. He didn’t resent a man just because he was successful. No, the reason that Jesus called him a fool is because no other name would exactly fit him.
It is well, however, that the Master labeled this picture. Had He not done so you and I might have been tempted to put the wrong label on it. We might have labeled it "The Wise Man," or some such fine name. But had we done so, it would have been a colossal blunder. For when we see this man as he really is, when we see him through the eyes of Him who sees things clearly, then we realize that there is only one name that will exactly fit him. Then we know that that one name is the short ugly one by which he is called--"Fool."
But why is he a fool? In what does his foolishness consist? Certainly, it does not consist in the fact that he has been successful. He is not a fool simply because he is rich. The Bible is a tremendously reasonable book. It is the very climax of sanity. It is the summit of good common sense. It never rails against rich men simply because they are rich. It no more does that than it praises poor men because they are poor. It frankly recognizes the danger that comes with the possession of riches. It makes plain the fact that the rich man is a greatly tempted man. But never is he condemned simply because he is rich.
The truth of the matter is that riches in themselves are counted neither good nor bad, neither moral nor immoral. They are neutral but because of our sinful nature they are indeed a great temptation and a snare to us. The Word of God repeatedly warns against putting our trust in them. “Keep your life free from love of money,” says the inspired writer of Hebrews, “and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”” (Heb 13:5) Paul instructs Timothy that “as for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy,” (1Ti 6:1) and that “those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1Ti 6:9) And in Jesus’s own words “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luk 18:25)
And so, Christians are to loosely hold on to whatever pertains to this world, and use it for the benefit of the next, where their focus ought to be. Why? Because “the appointed time has grown very short,” Paul says to the Corinthians, “from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1Co 7:29-31)
And so, it is not because of his success that this man was considered to be a fool.
Nor was this man a fool because he had accumulated his money dishonestly. The man who does accumulate money dishonestly is indeed a fool. So, says the prophet Jeremiah and every clear-thinking man must agree with him. “Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by justice; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end he will be a fool.” (Jer 17:11)
But this man had not made his money in this way. It is not said that he ever swindled or cheated or robbed or deceived anyone. There is no hint that he had failed to pay an adequate wage to his workers. James calls upon the rich men of his day to weep and howl because they were guilty in this respect. But no such charge as this is laid against this man. Nor had he robbed the widow or the fatherless.
How had he made his money? He had made it in a way that is considered the most honest and upright that is possible. He had made his money farming. Listen: "The land of a rich man produced plentifully." The land. It speaks of cleanliness, honesty, uprightness.
"The land of a rich man produced plentifully." We can imagine the farm scene. An old white house under a hill. Sturdy apple trees in front of it and a forest of beech, oak and chestnut stretching away in the distance back of it. We can imagine hearing the lowing of the cattle and the neighing of the horses. And tired farmers coming home for a night of restful sleep having come from a clean day's work. No, this man was not a fool because he had gotten his money dishonestly. He had made it honestly; every dollar of it.
Nor was he a fool because he set himself to saving what he had earned. The Bible does not praise wastefulness. God lets us know that to waste anything of value is not only foolish but sinful. What was the sin of the Prodigal Son? It was this, that "he squandered his property in reckless living." He spent his treasure unwisely getting nothing of value in return.
That is the tragedy of a great number of us. I do not charge you with outrageous and disgraceful wickedness. But are you investing your life in the highest possible way. Or are you wasting yourself on things of secondary value. And to you God is speaking as he spoke centuries ago: "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" (Is 55:2) You have no right to waste yourself and you have just as little right to waste your resources which express a part of yourself.
No, the foolishness of this man was not in the fact that he sought to save what he had made. That is right. That is sensible. To do otherwise is clearly unwise. And even Jesus Christ himself, the Lord of the universe, commanded His disciples after He had fed the multitude, to gather up the fragments so that nothing would be lost.
Why then, I repeat, does Christ call this man a fool? His foolishness was in essence the fact that he was a practical atheist. He had absolutely no sense of God. He lived as if the fact of God were an absolute lie. And I don’t think for a moment that he claimed to be an atheist. I have no doubt that he was altogether orthodox. I have no doubt that he went to the synagogue or to the temple every Sabbath day. But practically he was an utter atheist. And what is true of him is equally true of many church-going people today.
How do we know that he is an atheist? We know it by hearing him think. Listen: "he thought to himself." Now then we are going to get to see this man as he really is. You can't always tell what a man is by the way he looks. He may look like a lamb on the outside, but be a serpent inside. He may smile and smile and yet be a villain. You can't always tell what he is by what he says. He may speak of high things while his heart is cold to them. Nor can you tell him by what he does. He may do all his deeds simply to be seen by others. (Mat 23:5) But if you can get in behind the scene and see him think, then you will know him. Tell me, what a man thinks within himself, and I will tell you what he is. For, "as he thinks within himself, so he is." (Prov 23:7)
Now, what did this man think? "He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods." Now we see him. When he thought, he had not one single thought of God. God was as completely ignored as if He did not exist at all. This was the very source of his foolishness. He reasoned without God, and the man who reasons without God is a fool.
Look now how this fatal foolishness mars his entire character. Reasoning without God, of course, he has no sense of Divine ownership. Quite naturally, therefore, he thinks because he possesses a farm, he owns a farm. Possession and ownership mean exactly the same thing to a man who begins by ignoring God. When you hear this man talk you find that the only pronouns he has in his vocabulary are "I," "My" and "Mine." He knows only the grammar of atheism. He is acquainted only with the vocabulary of the fool. "His" and "Ours" and "Yours" are not found in the fool's vocabulary.
Faith, on the other hand, makes large use of the word "His." It recognizes the fact that "The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains." (Ps 24:1) It believes in the big truth: "You are not your own … For you have been bought with a price." (1 Co 6:19) Faith, taking God into consideration, wisely reasons that you are His and that all that you possess is His. It does not grant to you the ownership of anything. And for any man anywhere today to claim that because he possesses a farm or a bank or even his own body, that, therefore, he owns it, is to talk not the language of a wise man but the language of a fool.
This farmer's reasoning without God not only led him to confuse possession and ownership. It also robbed him of his gratitude. Crops were abundant. The farmer has prospered wonderfully. But leaving God out of his thinking there is no one for this farmer to thank for his success but himself. He never thought of taking hold of his sluggish soul and shaking it into wakefulness with this wise word, "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." (Ps 103:2) He did not grant the Lord any part in it.
And there are many men just like him today. Now, the man who has no gratitude is a fool. He is a fool because the right sort of thinking always leads to thanking. The only kind of thinking that does not do so is the thinking of the practical atheist, and the practical atheist is a fool.
Then this farmer had no sense of obligation. This, too, is a natural outcome of his reasoning without God. Here is a man who is looking out on this same world upon which the farmer is looking, and he says, "I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish." (Rom 1:14) The reason Paul says that, is because he believes in God. God has blessed him and saved him with a wonderful salvation. Because of that fact, he feels himself under infinite obligation to preach the Gospel that has saved him. But this man, this fool, has only himself to thank for his prosperity. Therefore, he has a right to use his wealth as he pleases. The man who has no sense of obligation, the man who tells you that he has a right to do as he pleases with his possessions is proclaiming to you not a new rule of ethics. He is simply telling you in unmistakable language that he is a fool.
This man showed himself a fool, last of all, by the confidence that he placed in things. Ignoring God, he sought to find a substitute for God in abundant crops. He undertook to treat his soul as he would treat his sheep and his goats. Here he was, an immortal man. Here he was, destined to live when this old world has ceased to be for billions of years. And what provision does he make for himself? The same that he makes for his horses and his oxen and his donkeys. Of course, as one has pointed out, it was not foolish for him to make some provision for the few years he might live here. He was a fool for refusing to make provision for the eternity that he must live.
" Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry." Have you ever heard words that were more stamped with moral senselessness? You can see from them that his soul has not done well up to this time. You can easily tell from these words that his moral nature has been starved and stunted. We can easily tell that all his acquisitions have not satisfied him in the past. And yet he is vainly expecting to be satisfied in the future. Now it is obvious that the man who forgets God, who turns aside to the worship of things, plays the fool.
So, you see why the Master calls this shrewd farmer a fool. He began by reasoning without God. He virtually said in his heart, "There is no God." He went wrong in the very center of his nature. This put the stain of moral senselessness on his whole life. He turned to his possessions and sought to satisfy his soul with them. He received them without gratitude and held them without any sense of obligation, for he thought that to possess was to own.
Now the Master, lest we should be wise in our own sight and thank God that we are not like this man, forces the truth home upon our own hearts. "So," He says, "is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." That is, just the same kind of fool and just as big a fool is that man today who reasons without God and lives only for himself. If you are living your life in selfishness, however respectable that selfishness may be, you are just the same kind of fool and just as great a fool as is this rich man of the story.
Now the tragedy of this story, I take it, is that the foolishness of this farmer was self-chosen. His riches might have been a blessing to him here and a blessing through all eternity. In spite of the fact that he was rich in this world's goods he might also have been, in the truest sense, rich toward God. In fact, he might have been richer toward God with his wealth than without it. With it, he might have exercised a far larger usefulness than he could have done without it. But he chose to ignore God and to rob himself and thus brand himself a fool now and forevermore.
Don't forget that you and I may make the same tragic wreck of our lives. The only way to avoid doing so is to go right where this man went wrong. There is a sure road to spiritual enrichment. "Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (2 Co 8:9) This wealth is no imaginary bag of gold at the end of a rainbow. I can direct you to this treasure in a way that you will be sure to find it.
This is the road: "Yield yourselves to the LORD." (1 Ch 30:8) That is your first duty. That is your highest wisdom. Recognize God as owner of yourself. Recognize God as the owner of all that you have. Give all to Him and He will give all to you. For “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things." To have that treasure is to be rich indeed forever more.
And to be rich in this way, whatever the world may say, is truly to be eternally wise.