The Aim of the Game
lass=MsoPlainText style='line-height:150%'> One of the most important things you need to know when you play a game is to know what it takes to win. What’s the aim of the game? Take a game like checkers, for instance. The aim of the game is to annihilate your opponent. The winner is whoever makes that last jump and clears the board. The aim of the game is to get it all.
On the other hand, you have a game like Uno, where you start off holding 8 cards, and through strategy, luck, and remembering to say “UNO” when you hold one card, you try to get rid of all the cards in your hand. The aim of the game is to give it all away.
You’d never win a game of checkers if you’re constantly trying to give up all your pieces. You’d never win a game of Uno if you try to collect as many cards as possible. If you want to win, you have to keep in mind the aim of the game.
This is true about the game we call life. Understanding the aim of the game is essential if you want to be a winner. Misunderstanding or ignoring the aim of the game will make you a loser.
It’s especially important to know the aim of the game of life. Some people say winning the game of life is all about getting as much as you can. They have stickers on their nice expensive vehicles that say something like, HE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST TOYS WINS.
A lot of us buy into this philosophy. Even some of us who don’t have much still gaze enviously at those with more and say “I wish I had what he had. I wish I could afford the things she can.” Our culture pushes this as the aim of the game of life: the more you have, the happier you will be. The aim of the game is to get all you can.
But what if life is not like checkers? What if life is like Uno? What if the aim of the game is not to get it all, but to give it all away?
This morning I want us to take a look at what Jesus says about the aim of the game of life in Luke 12:13-34. Let’s begin in vs. 13-15.
Some smart-aleck described preaching as "the fine art of talking in someone else's sleep." I'm not sure that's true, but I do know that one of the problems a preacher deals with is the danger of losing your audience’s attention. Even the Lord Jesus struggled with this problem.
Jesus is preaching to a huge crowd, talking to them about life and death, about hypocrisy and hell, about the love and fear of God. He says if you fear God, you don't have to fear anything else.
But as Jesus is moving through the middle of his message in vs. 13-14 , a man elbows his way to the edge of the crowd and interrupts Jesus and says to him, "Teacher, divide the inheritance between my brother and me."
I don't know this man's specific problem. Evidently he and his brother are squabbling over the estate that his father left. There's no bitterness greater than bitterness between brothers. One thing is sure: this young man has this quarrel at the center of his life. The birds will never sing again for him, the flowers will never bloom again, the sun will never shine again as brightly until somehow he get what he thinks is his fair share.
This petty obsession keeps him from hearing what Jesus says. Here he is, standing in the presence of the God and his mind is fixed on gold. Jesus turns to him and says, Man, who made me a judge over you? What Jesus says is, You have stood here and missed it. You somehow think that I have come only to settle your petty family dispute.
Jesus is not saying judging and dividing are wrong. He knows such disputes have to be settled. He is simply saying that isn't the reason He came. He didn’t come just to be a Judge, or a Good Teacher, or a Good Example; Jesus Christ came to bring God to man and man to God. He did not come to make bad men good or good men better. Jesus Christ came to make men and women who are spiritually dead alive. That’s what He’s been trying to tell this hardheaded man, but he hasn’t been listening. He is so obsessed with these worldly priorities He hasn’t heard what Jesus is saying.
I wonder what kinds of obsessions that keep you from hearing Jesus? You and I often come to Jesus with an agenda, something we’re looking for Him to do or be, and we miss what He wants to say to us. Our prayers are structured around getting what we want from God, coming to the Lord not to ask what you can do for Him but what He can do for you. That’s what this guy does and he misses the point.
What exactly makes him miss the point? Jesus zeroes in on his problem in v.15 “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
I would like to see these words from the lips of Jesus plastered across the 21st century. Covetousness is one of those overstuffed religious words that’s lost its cutting edge. We don't take covetousness very seriously. We somehow think God had nine good, solid commandments, but he wanted to round out the list and make it ten, so he threw covetousness in at the end. We don't really think it's a first-class sin. But Jesus tells us we have to understand what covetousness is if we want to understand what the aim of the game is. First of all, let’s define what we’re talking about: covetousness is simply craving more of what you have enough of already. Jesus says that's not life. Life does not consist of the things you possess. The aim of the game is not to get as much as you can anyway you can. Yet if there is one message that comes to us in 10,000 seductive voices, it's the message of our country and our century that life does consist of things. You can see it on a hundred billboards as you drive down the highway. It is the message from the sponsor on TV. It is sung to you in jingles on radio. It is blared at you in four-color ads in the newspapers. We're like the donkey that has the carrot extended before it on a stick. The donkey sees the carrot and wants it, so the donkey moves toward it, but the carrot moves, too. America, because it is after that carrot made up of things, gives itself to the largest junk business the centuries have ever known. Yesterday's new car becomes today's trade-in and lands on tomorrow's junk heap. Yesterday's mansion becomes today's boarding house and tomorrow's slum. When we acquire things believing they will satisfy, we discover we're still empty. But on we go, worried about things.
Jesus says, "Beware of covetousness. Beware of craving more and more of what you have enough of already." And then to drive home that lesson, Jesus tells a story.
It’s a story about a man who made his money in agriculture. He's a wealthy farmer. We don't even know his name. But in that community in the long ago, as well as in our community today, most folks would feel he understood the aim of the game. We constantly measure people by what they have rather than by what they are.
Don't misunderstand. Riches in and of themselves are not evil. Some of God's great men and women were people of means. Abraham, measured by the standards of his day, was a very wealthy man. Job came through his suffering, and as a result God rewarded him with great wealth. David and Solomon were wealthy kings. We are indebted to a man of wealth, Joseph of Arimathea, for providing the tomb in which they put the body of our Lord.
But for every verse in the Bible that tells us the benefits of wealth, there are ten that tell us the danger of wealth, for money has a way of binding us to what is physical and temporary, and blinding us to what is spiritual and eternal. It's a bit like the fly and the flypaper. The fly lands on the flypaper and says, "My flypaper." When the flypaper says, "My fly," the fly is dead. It is one thing to have money, another for money to have you.
Something else we know about this wealthy farmer is that he is a hard worker. I know very little about farming. But one thing I do know is that most people make their money from working the land usually do it with the sweat of their brow. Lands do not plant themselves, and harvests do not gather themselves.
Certainly the Bible commends diligence or hard work. If you decide you're going to take life easy and be a sluggard, the Bible will not give you much consolation. But there is a danger in diligence: you can work hard and never ask what you're working for. It's possible to be diligent about the wrong things.
Not only was this farmer rich and diligent, but he was also progressive. His problem is no longer growth and production, but storage. He’s going to pull down the old barns and put up new ones. We admire progress in our society. The only trouble is that most of our progress is not made in people; it's made in things. It's not really progress if you’re traveling down the wrong road, is it? To be better off is not always to be better. The point of life is not just to get ahead, but to be sure we’re going down the right road. We ought to work hard, and do what we can to provide for ourselves and our families, but that is not the main goal of life. That’s not the aim of the game. You can make a good living, have a nice house, and lots of things to put in it and still miss the whole reason for living. Which brings us to the point of Jesus’ parable:
If you live to collect riches and as though God does not exist, he says you are a fool.
Here is this man in Jesus' story: rich, industrious, diligent, has everything going for him — until one night everything changed.
You can imagine the rich man sitting at his desk one evening, and across the desk is the town architect. Sprawled out in front of them are the blueprints, and the rich man says to, "Now listen. There's a time when I had the best farm in this whole community. Then I had the best farm in the entire Jordan Valley. Now I want to have a model farm that they'll know throughout all of Israel." The two men work and plan into the night, and eventually the rich man's wife comes in and urges him to come to bed but the two men go on until the clock strikes eleven. Finally the architect says, “I've just got to get home. I'll take these plans and work them over." He rolls the plans up and the rich man sees him out.
He bolts the door, but he can't sleep, so he goes back to his desk, takes out his pen, and continues his plans. He's suddenly startled by a knock at the door. He's about to open it when he discovers there's a presence already in the room. The rich man says, "Who’s there/ Who are you?" The presence says, "I'm Death." The rich man says, "Death? What do you want?" Death says, "I've come for you." The rich man says, "No! I mean, there's been some mistake. You did not tell me you were coming." Death says, "Oh, yes, I've told you. You just weren’t listening. I told you when I took that young man down the street a few months ago. I told you when I took your partner a year ago. I told you every time you opened the newspaper and saw an obituary column. I told you every time you saw a cemetery. I've told you. But whether you heard or not — ten, nine, eight, seven, . . ."
The rich man says, "Wait! Look, we can make a bargain. You can have half of everything I have collected. You can have half of my barns, half of my money, half of my farm. Just let me live." Death says, "What is all that to me? Six, five, four,. . ." The rich man says, "Wait! You can have it all. It's yours, take it. Let me start again. I'm just not ready for you." Death with a grin waves his hand, and the rich man is counted out of the picture.
This man prepares for all life’s possibilities but ignores life's only inevitability.
Next morning his wife comes down and finds her husband slumped across the desk. She tries to waken him and discovers he's dead. A day later all the people in the community gather, and they talk about his success and his contributions — after all, he built the biggest barns in the community. Then they take his body out to the cemetery. Over his grave they put a large stone. On that stone is a word from the Bible, something from the poets, and a statement that he was noble, successful, visionary, and progressive. Then the crowd goes home.
That night the angel of God walks through that cemetery, and over all they had engraved in the stone, he writes one solitary word: FOOL. Too late this man discovers the obvious: there are no safe-deposit boxes in a casket. He builds barns and feeds donkeys but never gives much thought to God. I'm sure he was a religious man, but even if you believe that God exists, if you live as though he does not exist, God says you are a fool. That is practical atheism.
Then the haunting question of v. 20: (read) The picture is of two brothers quarreling over the inheritance of this man lived his life like a fool. Jesus says in v. 21 (read). What Jesus is saying is this: When you measure what you'll give your life to, don't measure it in the flesh of youth, the anticipation of your teens or twenties. Stand by the side of your grave, then look back and ask, "Is it worth your life to get what you are after? You accumulate things and you leave them all behind when you die. Is that worth living for?" No. There is more. There is a way to be rich toward God.
How then are you rich toward God? The answer is that some point in your life, you decide that God will have all of you; that whatever else you do, your life will be centered in him. Jesus drives that home in vs. 22-23, (read) Don’t make these things the focus of your life. He says, "Consider the ravens. They don't build barns, yet God feeds them. If God takes care of his creatures, don't you think he'd take care of his children?" He goes on: "Consider how lilies grow. They're just flowers in the field. They don't do much work, yet God clothes them with splendor! If God clothes the grass, how much more will he clothe His children who trust Him?
God's a realist. God knows you've got to pay the rent. God knows you have to buy groceries. He is not saying, "Don't think about those things." He's saying, "Don't worry about them. If you're going to worry, worry about something important."
Then he says in v. 31 (read) Jesus says it just makes good sense to live for what is eternal. When He says to make His kingdom 1st, he doesn't mean it's at the top of a list. He means 1st in the sense that you make it central. Life is like a wheel. At the center of the wheel is a hub, and out from that hub come spokes. What you put at the hub determines its strength.
Some people live for possessions. All the spokes of their life grow out of a desire to acquire. To them, getting it all is the aim of the game. Then one day there's a turn in the market, their possessions are wiped out, and their lives crumble.
Some folks live for passion. A fire burns at the center of their life like a fire on an altar, and everything else is sacrificed to it. Their families, their homes, — everything revolves around feeding the fire. Then they discover that fire is never satisfied until it destroys it all.
Some live for power. All of life, every spoke of the wheel, is directed to that. Then they lose the election. They fail to get the promotion. Suddenly life crumbles, and the thing to which they gave their lives mocks them.
Jesus is saying, "Is God the center?" What you put at the center of your life determines the spokes of your life. The rest of life will take care of itself. To put Jesus Christ at the center of your life is to link your life with that what is eternal and to give yourself to what will never fade.
There's a legend of a man who one day said to his servant, "You've got to be the most foolish man I've ever met. Take this staff and leave. If you ever meet a man more foolish than you, give him the staff." So the servant carries the staff out in the market where he meets some foolish people. But he was never sure they were worse than he. One day he came back to the castle into the bedroom of his sick master. As the servant knelt by the bedside, he asked his master, “What is happening, my master?” The master looks up with sad eyes and said, "I'm going on a long journey." The servant says, "When do you plan to be back?" The master says, "This is a journey from which I'll not return." The servant says, "Sir, have you made all the necessary preparations?" The master says, "No, I've not." The servant says, "Could you have made preparations?" The master says, "Yes, I guess I've had my life to make them, but I've been busy about other things." The servant says, "Master, you're going on a journey from which you'll never return and you’ve done nothing to get ready?" The master nods. The servant hands the staff to the dying man and says, "Master, take this. At last I've met a man more foolish than myself."
If you live to collect riches and as though God does not exist, He says you are a fool.
You can pretend the aim of the game is to get everything you want in life. You can choose a career because you want to make lots of money, work 50-60 hours to make enough money to buy all you want, work hard and plan carefully and still end up a loser.
Or you can recognize the real aim of the game of life is to put Christ at the center of your life, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and end up a winner.
Which will you choose?