Avoiding the Idolatry of Life
Do you know why Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Peace Prize? I’m sure many of you have heard about it, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded about this fascinating story. Alfred Nobel grew up in a poor family, but he became extremely rich after inventing the powerful dynamites and sold them to the military.
In 1888, his brother Ludvig Nobel passed away in France, but a French reporter mistaken him as Alfred Nobel and wrote in the newspaper with the title “The Merchant of Death” is dead.
Even though the paper corrected the error immediately, Alfred Nobel was extremely disturbed by the announcement because he realized that, if he did die, it would have been his own obituary. He would have gone down in history as “The Merchant of Death.”
It was an awakening moment for him. In order to save his reputation for the future, Nobel decided to rewrite his will and established the foundation for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sometimes a piece of fake news can wake a person from their asleep.
Just imaging how many people sleep through life without the opportunity to be awaken? Even though it’s unlikely for any of us to read our own death in the news, it’s a good exercise to imaging reading our own obituary, and improve our way of life to leave a better legacy.
We tend to fall asleep when we are well fed. That’s why Jesus warned against wealth, which is like a feast of fattening food that can make us fall asleep into self-absorption.
In the scripture lesson from Luke 12:13–21, Jesus warned us against the sleepy life, or a life lack of consciousness.
It begins with someone in the crowd saying, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” (Lk 12:13). Jesus was teaching an important lesson about the Holy Spirit, which is equivalent to the heavenly inheritance, but this man cared only about his earthly inheritance.
So, Jesus answered him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Lk 12:14–15).
The word “Take care!” in here literally means “Watch out!” It’s a warning. Then, “Be on your guard” is also a stern warning against the danger of greed.
The word “greed” is translated from the Greek “πλεονεξία (pleonexía)” that means “desiring more” and it also means “self-absorbed.”
He is obviously self-absorbed since he asked a question that is totally opposite to what Jesus was teaching. Jesus was teaching about the Holy Spirit which leads to a harmonious relationship with the Creator and the creatures. But he cares only about himself.
The fact that he wants his “brother to divide the family inheritance with” him also tells something about him. A family inheritance is for the family to stay together.
In the ancient time, parents would leave an inheritance to each individual child as well as a family inheritance to keep them united. For example, giving them a family farm or a business that requires them to work together.
So, this man must have received his own individual inheritance, and now he wanted more by asking his brother to divide the family inheritance. Thus, the word greed is used because greed (πλεονεξία) means “desiring more.”
Secondly, the purpose of the family inheritance is so that the brothers will stay together in unity. That means, he didn’t want to fulfill the wish of his parents to work in unity with his brother to take care of the heritage. He wanted separation. He was self-absorbed.
In short, his request revealed that he fits both definitions of greed—desiring more and self-absorption.
So, Jesus said, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (v. 15)
“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” means possessions are detached from life. You didn’t bring it with you when you were born, and you can’t take it with you when you die. Have you ever seen a hearse towing a U-Haul?
Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull 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.’” (Lk 12:16–19).
On the surface, this man was very blessed because his land produced abundantly. Most people would say that he had made good. What a great blessing!
However, it had rather turned out to be a curse because of the way he handled it. Instead of thinking about others, he just thought about himself and became self-absorbed. He decided to build a fortress around his life so that he could ignore the world around him and just “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”
There is a similar parable called “The Rich Man and Lazarus” told by Jesus at another time. The Rich Man was totally self-absorbed in his fine linen dresses and luxurious living, but he was totally oblivious about the beggar named Lazarus in front of his gate waiting to eat his leftovers.
This rich man is building a life like it—to be intoxicated in his own abundance, to be consumed by his own consumables, and to be possessed by his own possessions.
The Bible is not against wealth, but against the danger of the intoxication of wealth. Maybe that’s why Jesus talked more about money than any other subjects.
Now, this is how God responded to the rich man’s self-absorption, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”
The word “fool” here is translated from the Greek word “ἄφρων (áphrōn)” which not only means “being foolish” but also “being self-absorbed” and “arrogance.”
The foolishness here is his failing to recognize that life is short and beyond his control, and there is more to life than “relax, eat, drink, and be merry.”
A wise person is aware of the life beyond the current life, known as the eternal life.
One of the famous prayers in the wisdom literature is the prayer of Agur recorded in the Proverbs. It says, “Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, “Who is the LORD?” or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.” (Pr 30:7–9).
The wise man Agur is aware of the danger of wealth that can make us deny God, “who is the Lord?” Of course, he also recognized that the other way around is dangerous. Being poor can make us commit crime and profane the name of God.
Jesus concluded this conversation by saying, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:31). Being rich toward God is more important than being rich toward self.
How to be rich toward God? In the following passage, Jesus gave a detailed explanation of what it means to be rich toward God. Here’s the ending passage:
“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Lk 12:29–34).
This passage provides two requirements to be rich toward God.
First, we must seek God’s kingdom. Seeking God’s kingdom basically means to love God. Attending a worship service is to express our love to God. God knows your needs and it will be provided to you.
Second, we must give to the needy. Giving to the needy is to love people. Loving God and loving people make us whole. Jesus said, giving to the needy is equivalent to storing treasure in heaven. That’s how you become rich toward God.
Both requirements are about being in harmony with God and with people instead of being self-absorbed, thinking about “me, me, me,” which is the idolatry of life that we must avoid.
Jesus said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Mt 16:25–26).
Life can become an idol when be become too absorbed in life. The way to prevent the idolatry of life is to worship with fellow believers regularly in the house of worship.
I know that sacrificing your Sunday morning (or any other time) for worship is like giving your life away because time is life and it’s precious to this busy generation.
However, wasting time with God will end up saving time because he is the God of time. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Let us be wise and not to let our life become and idol. Let us find life by giving life to him. Let us find time but giving time to him.
May God bless all of you. Amen!