“Life is not measured by how much you own” (Luke 12:15 nlt). These are Jesus’ words in response to a man who was almost certainly expecting to hear something else. Jesus had been preaching a message that was full of life-changing, eternity-altering truth to a large crowd that day. Of course, that could be said of everything Jesus preached, but His words were particularly weighty this time. It’s in this message, the crowd (and later the entire world) find out that even though sparrows are bought and sold cheap, God does not forget a single one of them: “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Luke 12:6,7 nlt). People stood there hearing for the first time that there was no need to be afraid of God because He loved and valued them so intensely that He had each hair on their heads counted and numbered. This is love on an uncommon level—one that the apostle John would later describe as “exotic and foreign to the human heart” (1 John 3:1 wuest). It’s as though the Father were speaking through Jesus saying, “My love for you is beyond your ability to naturally comprehend, so quit trying to grasp it with your head, and start believing it with your heart.”
That message would go on from there but not for much longer because there was a man in the crowd that day that had come with something on his mind. Evidently he had tolerated Jesus’ talk about sparrows and hair counting as long as he could because it was there in the middle of this message that this man blurts out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (v. 13). Without so much as raising his hand, this guy interrupts Jesus’ message, clearly indicating that whatever was on his mind was far weightier to him than what Jesus was saying at that moment. And what was it that was so important? In a word: money.
Money problems were as real in that society as they are in today’s. Perhaps more than any other issue, money problems tend to magnify themselves to the point where the person with the problem can’t seem to think about or talk about anything else. It’s safe to assume this guy (who God chose to keep nameless in a loving effort to protect his eternal dignity) had obsessed over this financial trouble until he was convinced that Jesus would surely see things his way and would settle this family dispute in his favor. This is why he was most likely stunned to hear Jesus’ reply, “Life is not measured by how much you own” (v. 15 nlt).
Imagine for a moment that you’ve made plans with a close friend to venture out together on a cross-country road trip. On the day of your departure, you’re looking eagerly out the front window waiting to be picked up when suddenly your friend pulls up in a gorgeous, brand-new, luxury car. In near disbelief, you lunge out the door and shout down the driveway, “When did you get this?” (When really you were thinking, How did you get this?) Before settling into your shotgun position, you take a tour around this very expensive car all the while thinking to yourself that your friend must be doing pretty well to have a ride this nice.
See how naturally we tend to measure our lives and even others by material possessions? After a few minutes, you both climb in and off you go. A couple hours into the trip, you hear a subtle dinging sound, and you look over to the dashboard and see that the “check oil” light is illuminated. Brand-new, luxury cars don’t often have oil leaks, but what’s even stranger is your friend’s total lack of response.
“Do you think we should stop and have that checked?” you ask.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he replies. “Do you know how expensive this car is? We’ll be fine.”
After traveling another hundred miles or so, your driver runs over something on the highway that causes a loud thud underneath the car. Just then two more warning sounds go off, and you look to the gauges and see the flat-tire light, the check-engine light, and some other ominous looking symbol are all illuminated; yet your friend does nothing in response.
“Maybe we need to pull over and call someone,” you suggest.
“Good thinking,” he replies as he pulls out his phone and begins to dial. Much to your surprise, you hear him give his name and bank account number to the person on the other end of the phone. A moment later, he hangs up and says, “We’re good to go. I just spoke to the bank, and I still have ten thousand dollars in my savings account.”
And with that, he pulls back onto the road and proceeds with the trip. By now you are confused and a little concerned for your own safety. An hour later, you hear yet another warning sound. This time it’s the low-fuel sound that comes with another light on the dashboard trying to alert the driver that he needs gas.
“Are you going to stop for gas?” It seems like a question that you shouldn’t even have to ask, but with how things have gone so far, you’re afraid to hear the answer.
“Gas?” he asks in a tone that suggests he may be offended you would even mention it. “Why would I stop for gas? I paid three hundred bucks for these jeans I’m wearing. We don’t need gas.”
This trip is not going to end well because your driver is stupidly ignoring the gauges that were put in the car by the manufacturer, and instead he is foolishly using his material possessions to measure the life of the vehicle. It’s ludicrous to think that the well-being of a car could be measured simply by the emblem on the hood or by how much was paid for it. If all the warning lights and sounds are going off, then what difference does it make how much money is in the bank or what brand of jeans someone is wearing? How foolish it would be to measure the life of a car this way. It is equally foolish to measure your own life by the emblem on the hood of the car you do or don’t drive; by the money you have or don’t have in the bank; or by the stylish clothes you wear or don’t wear. Hear these words from Jesus again: “Life is not measured by how much you own.”
Sadly, most of the world measures life just this way, “after all these things the Gentiles seek” (Matthew 6:32). But according to Jesus, life can’t be measured in dollars or in square footage. In God’s eyes, these things in themselves carry no weight. They don’t even begin to tip the scales. The Christian’s earthly aim ought to be finding out what is weighty to God. There are things that are big to Him that have been small to us, and things that are big to us that are small to Him. That is what the Bible calls an “unjust scale,” and we must go to work fixing it by allowing the Word to reveal to us what gauges should be on the dashboard of our lives.
One night I lay down in the bed and grabbed my Bible to read a while. I was prompted to read 1 Corinthians 13: “Read it over and over until I tell you to stop.” This chapter is known the world over as the “love chapter” and is famous for verses four through eight that give definition to what love is, what it’s not, what it does, and what it doesn’t do. But around my sixth or seventh time through the chapter, I was arrested not by verses 4-8 but by verses 1-3. In these verses, Paul talks about the worthlessness of eloquent words when they are spoken without love. He talks about a person with great spiritual giftings who has no grasp of love, and he simply defines those people as “nothing.” As I read those words again and again, I could see a new gauge appearing on the dashboard of my life—the love gauge. In an instant, I felt the weightiness of the love of God, and I realized that without it, all my preaching, teaching, and prophesying would make as much impact on the world as a handful of air thrown with all my might at a brick wall.
Lovelessness is nothingness. Now let’s use basic math to consider for a moment the dangers of lovelessness. When nothing is added to 1, what happens to 1? Nothing. It remains unchanged. Our words, our faith, our preaching, and our giving are all tools that God has given us to bring change to the world. But no matter the force and the gusto they are delivered with, if there is no love in them, then they are equal to zero and have no eternal impact. They are empty and weightless containers. An empty lunch box given to a starving child amounts only to cruelty, and it has no ability to save his life. The startling truth is that “No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (1 Corinthians 13:3 msg).
But even worse than the result of adding zero is what happens when you multiply by zero. I am a father that has been given two priceless treasures—a boy with the kindest heart I’ve ever known and a girl who looks like she’s destined to be every bit as beautiful as her mother, inside and out. Maybe you are now or will someday be a parent; whether we realize it or not, we multiply ourselves in our children. Now stop to think what would happen to little “1s” if their parents raise them in an environment that is void of God’s love. When multiplied by zero, 1 is brought to nothing.
But now consider the glories of the alternative. Think about the limitless potential of a husband, wife, father, mother, leader, preacher, or any other who will add something of value to the people around and who will multiply exponentially the gifts in others by giving the love that has been freely given to them. There is potential for global impact when love is added to financial prosperity. Our generation must prosper, and we will when we realize that there are weightier matters than money.
What if the interrupter had actually been listening to Jesus that day? He would’ve heard how much his Father God loved him. All his money woes would have disappeared the instant he realized how highly valued to God he was already. Without saying a word to Jesus, he could have left that place and gone straight to his brother with whom he had been fighting over this money and said to him, “I love you, bro. There is no amount of money that can ever come between us.” Love could have left a mark and made an impact on an entire family if one man would have changed the stick he was using to measure his life. When I get to heaven, I hope to find out this guy’s name and hear that this is, in fact, exactly what happened when he left there that day.
But whether or not this is how it happened for his family, it most certainly can be how it happens for yours and mine. It will happen when we realize that life isn’t measured with stuff and things. The thing about things is they’re just things. But love is the only thing that can make you anything. When God poured out His love on us through Jesus, He saved us from being worthless nothings and made us valuable somethings. Next time you run your fingers through your hair, let that be a reminder that you are deeply, madly, almost-inexplicably loved. And what a rich privilege we now have to give what we’ve been given. True, we may be nothing without love, but thank God
we are not without love.
“May the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you” (1 Thessalonians