Lessons from the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
What is your attitude toward wealth and possessions? Through one of His parables, Jesus Christ showed that our attitudes toward such things can have eternal consequences.
What happens to a rich person who loves his money more than his neighbor and laughs at those less well off? What happens to a nation that glorifies such attitudes? Plenty; we live in times when this is happening all around the world. A day is coming when all such abuses will be judged.
Almost daily we hear stories of how the rich and powerful get ever richer and more powerful. We’re awash in global wealth, yet the wealth will be concentrated in fewer hands as we near the end of this age. Meanwhile, the poor will get poorer by comparison. The abuses will get to the point where economic slavery will sap the life from many (Revelation 18:13).
Jesus had no qualms in confronting such attitudes. He spoke a parable to warn us not to love money more than people. He confronted religious leaders who were lovers of money, telling them that “what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:14-15).
The parable begins by telling us, “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). This man dressed in the finest clothes and ate well every day of the year. Nothing is wrong with these pursuits in and of themselves. But this man was not willing to share his wealth. He lived by the “zero-sum” rule—he wanted the whole pie for himself. None of it could be shared with others because, in his twisted way of thinking, that would leave less for him.
Decisions and attitudes have lasting consequences
Both beggar and rich man died. Here is where the story takes an imaginative turn to provide a larger lesson about judgment and eventual accounting for one’s actions. Lazarus is judged faithful, and in being carried to “Abrahams’s bosom” he receives an inheritance along with faithful Abraham and others who follow Abraham’s example of faith. That inheritance is here on earth as the Kingdom of God-established when Christ returns and begins His rule.
The rich man, we are told, dies and is buried. However, seeing Abraham and Lazarus, he cries out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:22-24)
Christ is telling us there will be a day of judgment for the wicked, and it will include a fiery, if brief, torment. Peter describes this event in 2 Peter 3:10 when “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”
All will ultimately face judgment
This is brought home in the next statement Abraham makes in the parable: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:25-26).
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Judgment is a concept polite people don’t want to talk about. It’s uncomfortable to be told you may one day have to account for your actions and deeds. Modern philosophies tend toward tolerant, nonjudgmental approaches to people and lifestyles. Relativism is a foundation of the religion of modernity. The idea of a judgment, or an accounting for personal actions, is ironically not tolerated. Yet the Bible shows us there will be a day of judgment and that for God’s elect, judgment is on them even now.
How can you put the lessons of this parable to use? Here are three things you can apply today:
- Don’t hoard your stuff:- Give away what you don’t really need or use. Do you have clothes hanging in your closet that you didn’t wear at all this past season? Think about donating them to someone who needs them or a charity that serves the poor.
- Get in the habit of sharing what you can spare:- For example, the change you get back each time you go through your local fast food drive-through—maybe dump it in the bin below the window and let it help someone going through a crisis. Look at it as a way of leaving the corners of your field for someone in need (Leviticus 23:22).
- Use all your wealth to honor God:- Use it for you and your family and to help others as you are able. This approach reminds us that, as James 1:17 tells us, God is the source of every good and perfect gift.