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What Is the Meaning and Warning in the Parable of the Rich Fool?

When Jesus taught, the Bible says He always told a story to illustrate the point. When addressing the danger of greed, Jesus uses the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12).

Contributing Writer
Aug 26, 2021
What Is the Meaning and Warning in the Parable of the Rich Fool?

When Jesus taught, the Bible says He always told a story to illustrate the point. When addressing the danger of greed, Jesus uses the Parable of the Rich Fool - found in Luke 12:16-21. It reads: 

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."' "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 things for themselves but is not rich toward God."

What Happens in the Parable of the Rich Fool?

Jesus was in the middle of teaching when a man shouted, “Teacher! Tell my brother to divide our father’s inheritance with me” (v.13).

The first response from Jesus was to explain that wasn’t His job. “Who made me judge in this case?” He then proceeded to give a warning: “Beware. Guard against every kind of greed. Life isn’t measured by how much you own.”

Then He told the Parable of the Rich Fool.

A wealthy man had a fertile field and an abundance of crops. But he didn’t have room to store the harvest. His solution? He would build bigger barns to keep it all, so much that he would be able to live in ease and comfort his whole life.

Then God entered the story and told him, “You fool! Your life is required of you tonight. Who will get to enjoy what you have?”

The story is a tragedy, where the man died and didn’t get to enjoy his wealth. Others did.

What Is the Meaning and Big Lesson of the Parable of the Rich Fool?

The tragedy of the story is that he could have enjoyed his wealth, even in death. Because death isn’t the end.

Jesus plainly states the initial lesson of the parable, that “life isn’t measured by how much you own.”

In context, the man who spoke out wanted what was due him. His brother should have divided the inheritance. However, as usual, Jesus saw past the issue and into the heart. He recognized the greed.

Jesus used the term “all kinds of greed.” Greed doesn’t have to look like stealing or cheating others (like the brother did). Greed can be expressed even in what appears good, right, or legal ways.

The big lesson for the Parable of the Rich Fool came in the next section of Luke 12. Jesus expounded upon true value, what really matters. The passage that follows is extremely similar to Matthew 6:19-34 where Jesus taught that we shouldn’t worry about our basic provisions, what we will eat and wear because life is more than food and clothing.

Our lives were compared to lilies and birds. If he takes care of them and loves us even more, then won’t he take care of us? This brought us to the famous statement in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

In Luke 12, Jesus gave us the ultimate truth from the story, the one not immediately apparent. He said, “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Then you will have treasure in Heaven! Nothing can destroy that treasure. No one can steal it. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be (v. 33-34).

What a gift. Through Christ, He literally told us how to have wealth that we can never lose. Even death can’t keep us from enjoying that treasure.

Why Was the Rich Fool in the Wrong?

For the wealthy farmer, there was nothing wrong with a massive harvest. The problem came when he made a decision to keep it all for himself. He had other opportunities for investment. Better opportunities.

Since he didn’t take advantage of those opportunities, his wealth profited him nothing.

There’s no guarantee on our stuff in this life. Yes, we can get insurance and that lessens the blow of loss and tragedy, and there’s wisdom in that. But just like the farmer in the story, we can lose it all in a moment. Houses burn down. Money gets stolen. We spend years building great things that can be destroyed in seconds.

There is this scientific principle called entropy. All things tend to death and destruction. This is the scientific version of the Fall and the resulting Curse of Death.

There’s so much loss in this life, and we feel it intensely. Time seems wasted. We consume and are hungry again. People with great potential die young.

Many years ago, my mentor and I were invited to the house of a wealthy man. My mentor and I were both musicians, songwriters, and not only was the house massive and overlooked a lake and a golf course, but it also had a state-of-the-art recording studio in a sprawling basement.

Maybe my mentor saw my eyes bulging. I don’t know. But he turned to me at one point and whispered, “It’s all going to burn.”

I knew what he meant. Don’t set your heart on it. It’s all temporary. It’s nice, but it’s still going to be nothing one day.

Centuries ago, there was this discipline called alchemy, the precursor to modern-day chemistry. Alchemists believed that they could take common materials like lead and make them precious metals like gold. They never did it, but that was the idea.

The Kingdom actually does this. With God, we can take common and temporary things, things that will be destroyed one day, and convert them to the immortal. Eternal reward. Precious treasure we can never lose.

How? Seek the Kingdom over all else. Be generous. Give to those in need, expecting nothing in return. Help the widows and orphans. Preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. Lose our lives for God and the Gospel and find our true life.

The man was a fool because his vision was too small. He placed trust in earthly possessions that have no security or lasting value. The farmer could have given it all away to the poor and had treasure in Heaven. That would have taken a trust that God would provide for his Earthly needs. With that trust, he could have traded the temporary for the eternal.

He could have traded his one marshmallow for two.

But he didn’t; he lost it all. He gained nothing. His life was marked not by reward but by tragedy and loss because he didn’t take advantage of the eternal alchemy of the Kingdom of God.

He was a fool.

4 Warnings Christians Should Heed from the Parable of the Rich Fool

The Parable of the Rich Fool is a tragedy, and tragedies show us what is good by warning us not to make bad choices. There are consequences for making foolish decisions.

What are the warnings from this parable?

1. Don’t equate our personal value with wealth. Oftentimes, we feel that if we have things that cost a great deal of money, then we have value. But that is a lie. We are far more valuable than those things. Infinitely more. We actually insult the created image of God when we attach our value to temporary things. For humanity, we are eternal beings and have eternal worth. That gives every life an inherent value that nothing can add to or take away. That’s true of everyone. You included.

The first step is realizing the immense and abundant love of God for us. God loved the world and sent His Son to save people because of our eternal worth to Him. Not the stuff in the world. When we live as if wealth gives us value, that lie will destroy us. By contrast, living from the Father’s love will bring us to life.

2. Don’t place our security or happiness in the temporary. The wealthy farmer looked at his harvest and thought, “I’m secure now!” He could live happy, eat, drink, be merry.

He never got to do that.

Temporary things are amazing, and God has given us so much in this life to enjoy. But they were never meant to be our security or the place we find our happiness. As I said above, there’s no security in them. Just as we do with our value, Jesus teaches us to find our security in something that’s real, something that lasts. Or to be clearer, a Person. God and His Kingdom, Heaven.

As eternal beings, we were meant to set our security on eternal things, hence why Jesus loves us enough to point us to that truth. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and God’s provision will follow.” God and His Kingdom are the only things worthy of our trust.

3. Don’t worry about how your basic needs will be met. Fear and pride are at the root of all sin. It’s no different with the Parable of the Rich Fool. We seek to find our security in what we can provide or attain (pride), or we are anxious and worry about whether our needs will be met at all (fear). God resists the proud. And He has not given us a spirit of fear. Pride and fear lead us away from God, not to Him.

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught that worrying about our provision is an act of disbelief or unbelief. It’s what unbelievers do. Anxiety about our basic needs is the opposite of faith.

Faith rejects fear and lays hold of the Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind, the knowledge that the Father will always take care of us.

4. Don’t miss the opportunities to have wealth in Heaven. We have a Father who loves us and wants our eternal best. But we have an enemy, too. Our spiritual enemy seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. He lies to us and leads us to pride or fear to place our trust or value in temporary things and worry about the future. The Devil knows that if he can get our minds and hearts bound up in fear and lies, then we will miss God’s eternal best.

There are opportunities all around us, all the time, to invest in Heaven. When we first understand our inherent value to God, our security in His Kingdom that no one can take away, and that the Almighty promises to meet all our needs, then we are free to be generous. We often begin with money, and that is part of it, but generosity takes a myriad of different forms.

We can be generous with our time, hearts, words, hospitality, prayers, forgiveness, love, relationships, careers, and more. That generosity transforms the common and temporary into eternal treasure.

The Devil roams about seeking whom he can devour. God is different. He is seeking to reward even the simplest and smallest act of faith. Even a cup of cold water given to a prophet—in recognition that the person has an eternal gift in the Kingdom as a prophet—matters to God, and that person will never lose their reward.

Don’t miss those opportunities. Let’s renew our minds to remove our blinders of fear and pride and see clearly the investments we can make in the lives of people every day. Then we will be rich in Christ. We can never lose that. And we will enjoy those riches forever.


Photo credit: ©GettyImages/todaydesign

Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible parables. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of parables within Scripture. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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