The Distinction Between Temporal and Eternal Gifts
and the Proper Approach to Both Ė Luke 12.12-21

Take heed and beware of all covetousness, for oneís life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.

Grace, mercy and peaceóour treasures in Christóto all. Amen.

I need to begin by noting that my sermon title is a little different today. It sounds a little like a dissertation title. Actually this is the kind of title you would have heard from most pastors during the 1800s. It may sound a little overwhelming. But I just couldnít think of a better way to say it. The message is based on the parable of the Rich Fool, and it does zero in on two kinds of gifts that God provides for us. Some of these gifts are temporary. Others are eternal. Noticing the difference and using them in the right way is very important.

Jesus states the problem when He says: "Take heed and beware of all covetousness (or greed), for oneís life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." The word for "greed" in the Greek language contains the word "more." Thatís the beginning of the problem. As human beings with a sinful nature we always have a desire for "more" Ė and the hope that "more" will make us happy. The solution is found later in the chapter where Jesus says, "Provide for yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail." 1

About the Parable

I like to use this parable when I meet with couples for pre-marital counseling. The need for "more" can become a form of love that interferes with our relationships with others and above all with God. Notice that this parable was triggered by a problem between two brothers. One of them said to Jesus, "Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me."2 This parable is really about the danger of loving money or the things money can buyóall temporary thingsórather than loving God and the people God brings into our livesónone of which are temporary!

Listen to the way the Rich Fool talks, "What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops."3 Everything has to do with himself. "And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry."4 That last part was a famous proverb. However, Jesus leaves out the last part of the proverb: for tomorrow we die. Death finally determines the reality of all things. In this case it will show this man to be a fool because he devoted himself to the accumulation of temporary things. I have presided over many funerals in my time. Some of the deceased had been prosperous in temporary things. Others had been prosperous in the eternal things. Some have been prosperous in both. It is amazing how death suddenly turns things right side up. People who were thought to be something in this world because of their temporal wealth quickly become rather pathetic objects of sympathy even in their solid oak caskets. Their legacy is a divided family concerned only about their share of the things he or she worked so hard to obtain. There are others who thanked God for everything He gave them, who generously used the temporary blessings to serve the purposes of Godís kingdom, and who loved and cared for the people around them. Their funeral, of course, is quite a different story. We thank God for their life and for the eternal treasures they possessed and pass on to us: an example of faith and love, labor and service in Godís eternal kingdom, and a generosity driven by a thankful and joyful life.

Making the Distinction

Iíve already spoken about the distinction between the temporary and the eternal gifts of God. But allow me to focus on this a little more. The Rich Fool did not even recognize that the temporary crops were actually gifts from God. Jesus carefully points this out when He says, "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully."5 So often we are quick to claim ownership of the things that God has given us. We go to work and earn a paycheck. But who provided the muscles and the mind to accomplish those valuable tasks for which you were compensated? Who made it possible for people to work together in harmony so that we can exchange our labors and products and improve the quality of life? Who ultimately provides the soil, the iron, the wood, the rain, the plants and the animals? Who has designed our universe so that we can have heat, light, and electricity? Everything comes from God, both the temporary and the eternal gifts.

The eternal gifts especially defy ownership. God gives us His love, forgiveness, the gift of faith, peace, joy, and thankfulness. Who can say, "I own these"? The core of the Christian faith is that these things come from God. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth."6 Understanding that God is the source of all that we have and are is the beginning of change.

Because God gives us both earthly and spiritual blessings, it is important to distinguish between them but not to separate them. In the past people of many religions have looked down upon earthly things. This is called "asceticism." I was in the barber shop a few weeks ago looking at a National Geographic magazine. In it was a story about Marco Poloís journey to China. Along the way Marco Polo discovered many odd religious practices. As National Geographic retraced Marco Poloís footsteps they ran across the same thing today. One was a man in India who expressed his devotion to his religion by denying worldly things. He had not worn a stitch of clothes for the last 46 years. He sat on a table at a shrine with his two earthly possessions: a bowl and a feather duster. With the feather duster he brushed off his table and gave blessings to people who in turn gave him food to put in his bowl. Some people have enjoined this practiceógetting rid of earthly things thinking that this is the way to avoid greed. But it is hard to raise a family with a feather duster!

We cannot separate ourselves from earthly things. What we can do is recognize the difference between the earthly, temporary things, and the spiritual, eternal things. We are not sinning when we use and enjoy Godís earthly gifts. We are sinning when we forget that they are gifts, and that there are much more important gifts from God such as His word, His Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, salvation of souls, the Christian Church, and eternal life.

The Proper Use of Both Kinds of Gifts

We all must repent. Indeed it is quite an effective trap that Satan lays for us. From childhood on we start grasping and working for more and more and more. But God is incredibly patient even with the most ungrateful of us fools. He gives, even though we misuse. He saves, even though we donít deserve it. We agree most heartily with psalmist who wrote: "Yes, our God is merciful."7 In next weekís Gospel we will hear the beautiful words, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Fatherís good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys."8 God wants us to have both kinds of gifts. But He wants the temporal, earthly gifts to serve the higher purpose of the eternal spiritual gifts.

A good example of this was a fellow who came to my office a few weeks ago. His name was Eddie Yarmac. Eddie talked about his "BC Life," that is Before Christ. Like most people he was bent on achieving all that he could for his own sake. But he began to see that there really wasnít anything lasting or significant about it. Some years ago he made a drastic change when he came to faith in Jesus. He had always been singleó So with his flexibility he decided to begin a truck stop ministry. Every year he works hard for about six months to save up his money. Then he packs up his van and heads out to truck stops all over the country. There he offers counseling and Christian literature to truckers. You wouldnít find a more content man. Eddie works in the temporal world just like you and me, but he devotes his life ultimately to the eternal and lasting things of God.

What about you? You can also have divine rather than an earthly focus to life. When you go to work Monday, donít think of yourself as an employee of Anderson Hospital or of the Boeing Corp., think of yourself as an employee of the Lord. He created you and gave that job opportunity. When you receive a paycheck, give God the thanks and the glory. When you exercise, donít do it just to have a better appearance. Thatís just another temporary pleasure. Exercise because your body is the Holy Spiritís temple, and you want to keep the body in good shape so that it will serve the Lord and His purposes. One of the greatest gifts God has given you is time. Right now you are using that time for Godís purpose by refreshing your soul with His grace. As you go on through the day, the weekend, and the week, dedicate all that time to the Lord whether your resting or toiling. Do you have domestic duties to complete? Fix the house and take care of the yard not because you need to impress your neighbors but because thatís really Godís house and His yard. Take care of it for Him.

Do you have a lot of things "stored up" like the man in the parable? Donít just sit back and think about how you need more storage. Ask rather, "how can all these things be used to serve God?" You can worry about never having enough. We all know what that feels like. Or, you can trust in the God who you know will never fail to provide. As you give your tithe or offering to the Lord, you can think of it as something to give up, something to do without. Or, you can think of it as a part of a much bigger blessing.

To some people who were totally bound to their material things, Jesus gave the command, "Sell all, and give. . ." Sometimes a drastic command is needed to awaken us from a sleep of materialism. Could we do this if called upon by the Lord? The answer to that depends on your response to His grace now. Do you trust Him enough to be a good steward of the material and eternal blessings He has given you? The opportunity to titheóto give a sensible proportion of our blessings to God and to the work of His kingdom is an exercise of faith. It is an important exercise that shows we are not bound to our possessions. We are not possessed by our possessions. Rather we are devoted to God, trusting always in His mercy and strength for everything . . . Not foolish, like the man in this parable, but faithful as servants of the greatest of all masters. Amen.


(1) Luke 12.33 (2) Luke 12.13 (3) Luke 12.17 (4) Luke 12.19 (5) Luke 12.16 (6) James 1.17-18 (7) Psalm 116.5 (8) Luke 12.32-33

Pastor Michael Walther
The Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost, August 19, 2001
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois

Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2001