Where Do You Store Your Stuff?

June 2012

We all have treasure.  It might be a million dollars or only a pair of shoes.  We treasure what we possess, because it’s our stuff.  And if we treasure our stuff, we have to guard it.  That’s why we have locks, vaults, and passwords.  Therefore, quite often, our stuff preoccupies our lives, whether we want it to or not.  Storing our stuff and protecting our possessions takes a lot of work.

Not surprisingly, Jesus spoke about the treasure of “stuff”.  He once was approached by an audacious individual who insisted that Jesus get involved in his family feud over their inheritance.  Jesus rebuked him and instead warned him to beware of greed, telling him that one’s quality of life is not derived from an abundance of “stuff”[1].  To make his point, Jesus told this parable.

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy man whose land grew a bountiful crop.  He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”  Then he said, “This is what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.”

Almost everyone who was listening to Jesus’ story up to this point, would probably have thought that this wealthy man was a God-fearing, pious person, since many places in scripture speak about God blessing one’s crops if they obey His commandments.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands… The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land…The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to (Deut 28:1,4,8).

Jesus’ listeners also probably would have considered this man to be an astute administrator like Joseph who prudently saved up grain from prosperous times to alleviate future famine in Egypt.

During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully.  Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities.  In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it.  Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure (Gen 41:47-49).

And maybe, up to this point, Jesus wanted his listeners to think of this wealthy man as righteous and sensible, the ideal example for all to model.  But then the story turns.

The wealthy man said, “I will say to myself, ‘Self, you have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy—eat, drink and have a good time.’”  But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  

 This is how it will be with whoever stores up (treasure) for themselves but is not rich toward God. (Lk 12:13-21)

What makes this wealthy man a fool, rather than wise and practical?  Is it wrong to “save for a rainy day” or to prepare a pension for retirement?  Is Jesus saying that we should not enjoy life and the fruit of our labor?  In order to decipher Jesus’ parable, we must understand that last verse—this is how it will be with whoever stores up (treasure) for themselves but is not rich toward God.

 The admonition to not store up treasure for ourselves is easily enough understood, especially in relation to Jesus’ remark to the greedy brother—“life does not consist in the abundance of stuff (Lk 12:15).”  But what does it mean to be “rich toward God”?  In the ancient times, would that entail burning expensive sacrifices to God?  Many, like John Piper, have often spiritualized its application, so they might interpret it to mean “moving toward God as our riches” and “using earthly riches to show how much you value God.”  In practice, John Piper and others might then apply this principle as generously tithing to a church or giving toward a ministry.  While giving towards ministry is an important work today, what was the original context that Jesus was speaking from?  To answer that question we need to continue reading Luke 12.

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it.  For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.”  (Lk 12:22-30)

Notice, the wealthy man focused on what he would eat and drink, even building bigger barns to guarantee his future prosperity, yet his prudent worry could not increase the length of his life.  In fact, he died sooner than would be expected considering his protective wall of wealth.  Jesus, on the other hand, teaches that life is fragile; there is only so much one can do to save, protect, and preserve one’s stuff.  Ultimately, our daily provision is a gift from God.  Jesus continues in Luke 12,

“But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your stuff [2] and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Lk 12:31-34)

With regard to the wealthy man, we can now understand Jesus’ statement, “this is how it will be with whoever stores up (treasure) for themselves but is not rich toward God (Lk 12:21).”  The fatal flaw of the wealthy man is what he did with his stuff, his treasure.  Instead of seeking and receiving God’s kingdom by selling his stuff and giving to the poor, the wealthy man tried to use God’s blessing of prosperity to enhance his own life.  Being “rich toward God” is using the stuff that God has given us to help others who are in need.

Jesus’ command here in Luke 12:33 is the same as his request of the pious rich young man in Matthew 19:21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your stuff[3] and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”  "Storing up treasures in heaven” is an ancient Jewish idiom for giving to the poor, helping those in need.[4]  When we invest our treasure in people, we invest in eternity.  Therefore, let us follow the words of Jesus and store our stuff not in barns but in the broken and forgotten.

[1] My translation for “τῶν ὑπαρχόντων”(Lk 12:15).

[2] My translation for “τὰ ὑπάρχοντα”(Lk 12:33).

[3] My translation for “τὰ ὑπάρχοντα” (Mt 19:21).

[4] Ben Sira 29:9-12; Tobit 4:7-10