Remember that Luke records substantial portions of Jesus’ teaching moments. Breaking Luke down into chapters does not isolate specific teaching concepts or even moments, so any given chapter will cover a variety of topics. Luke 12 is no different.
First, Jesus warns his disciples of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In doing so, he highlights that hidden deeds and whispered words will not remain secret. Combining these two makes sense, as the Pharisees were experts at public righteousness. Many times it is easy to be righteous when observed, but we hide our wickedness. That is to be avoided: be the same person on display and in public.
Second, Jesus stresses the right one to fear. NASB capitalizes “One” because it refers to God. We often allow fear of everything else—I’ve seen Luke 12:5 misapplied as suggesting we fear Satan. Satan has no authority to cast into hell. That’s judgment based on God’s Word, not on anyone else.
Third, Jesus teaches that our trust is to be in him, not in our skills or wealth or friendships. All of these will push back against our obedience and public acknowledgment of Christ as Lord, but we cannot allow it. Our choice really is simple: Jesus or anything else.
Let us turn our focus to the parable of the rich man with the barns. First, consider the precipitating question for the parable: Why does Jesus teach with this parable? That question is often overlooked, but it matters. Jesus is asked by a man to settle a probate question. The man wants his share of an inheritance, of the family wealth. Jesus refuses to be involved and instead warns all of his hearers about greed.
The warning takes the form of a parable. Sometimes called the “Parable of the Rich Fool,” it’s the story of a man who has a great farm year. He wonders what he should do, and decides to tear down his existing storage units and build bigger ones. His expectation is that he will now be able to take many years off from working.
Instead, God calls the man a fool, a rarity in itself, and points out that death has come for him. Now. This very night, the man’s soul is demanded and he leaves everything behind. What good does it do him to have everything stored up?
I do find it noteworthy that the man never even gets the barns built: he just plans to do so. His intentions are judged here, not his actions. Again we see God knowing the heart of man and acting on wickedness before it comes to fruition.
What was so wicked about the man’s plan? Should we take this to mean we ought not save or prepare for the future?
Let us nip that in the bud: Scripture speaks plainly of relying on God for our futures. It also speaks, in the book of Proverbs, of the wisdom of savings and planning. There is nothing inherently evil about recognizing that God provides, at times, for both today and tomorrow.
The issue here is slightly different. First, the man has a great year and his first thought is for himself. He gives no consideration to the needs of others or even of his worship of God! How do we respond to unexpected material blessing? Do we look for good to do for others? Or for the spread of the Gospel? The selfishness inherent in seeing growth as only for himself is condemned. We should be wary of that attitude.
I recommend, highly, the book The Generosity Factor by Ken Blanchard and S. Truett Cathy. If you are a believer and a business manager or owner, you need to consider the amplification of Biblical principles found in that book.
Second, the man considers that his great storehouse will enable a life of luxury. He has provided for himself, and has no need to do anything else. We cannot, as Christians, think this way. If we have a great storehouse, it was provided by God. Through our hard work, perhaps, but provided by God and not ourselves. Additionally, God does not provide so that we can be lazy. He provides in one area so that we may serve more actively in another.
Take, for example, retirement from going to work every day. Many people want to reach “retirement,” but to what end? The question should be “How can I serve God now that I do not have to punch the clock everyday?” rather than “How much fun can I have?” The fun comes with the service.
One of the big questions regarding the parables of Jesus is this: does he create the stories or is he telling something that happened? I have known quite a few that think he must always tell the truth and that requires no use of fiction. Besides, Jesus would know everything, so he’s bound to know a true story.
I do not think the honesty of God requires no use of illustrative fiction. In fact, typically a parable was just that: illustrative, instructional fiction. Only of Jesus would we demand that they not be fictional. Whether this is the case falls to you to study and discern.
This leads to the question: is it possible that the man of the parable in view is the father of the man who wants Jesus to intervene in his inheritance issue? After all, that would be very personal: your own father didn’t think of you in his wealth, and now you and your brother are fighting. That might be the case, but it may just be that Jesus told a story that made the point perfectly.