Fearfulness is an overarching theme of Luke 12:1-34. Although the words of Jesus range from encouraging His disciples to remain strong in the face of persecution, a story about a foolish farmer, to teaching His disciples to be kingdom seekers above all else—the common thread is fearfulness. “Fear,” “afraid,” and “worry” occur 11 times in this section and bring unity to the seeming diversity of topics.
The tone for this panel is set in v. 4-7 where Jesus cuts through the cloudiness that fear and anxiety can bring into our lives by reminding us that it is God who we need to fear. Of course the term “fear” is an elastic one. It can mean a fight-or-flight type of mentality (as in fearing those who have the capability of killing the body-v. 4). When it is used in reference to God, it broadens out, for though we are to fear God with the greatest of reverence (v. 5), we are told in the same breath “don’t be afraid” (v. 7)—for we are valued and important in the eyes of our Father. Thus, fearing God is having an assured reverence for Him.
What you fear (in a primary sense) is significant because it factors into what you trust. If a driving fear is people not liking you, then you tend to put your trust in situations and circumstances where you are receiving the approval of others. According to Jesus, this is not the best metric to live by (Luke 6:46; John 12:42-23). Similarly, if a primary fear might is that of financial failure we will in all likelihood be tempted to put too much emphasis on material success. This is the lens through which we are to look at the foolish farmer (v. 13-21).
The farmer is greedy and self-absorbed; he never takes into consideration who else might benefit from his abundance (there are ten personal pronouns in his speech v. 17-19). Rather he builds a bigger barn for his surplus and puts his trust in what’s in those barns rather than the God who blessed him with his abundance. What triggers such behavior? I think the context of this section suggests we should see it as fear-based—when your’re driven by the fear of not having enough, you tend to put your trust in circumstances of material wealth.
What follows in v. 22-34 is the follow-up to the story. With the parable Christ illustrates that life does not consist of the abundance of possessions (v. 15). What then does it involve? Life is meant to be composed of a rich, deep faith in God as seen through pursuit of His kingdom (v. 31) and compassion for others (v. 33). In terms of the fear/trust motif, our fear is not pleasing the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9-10), so correspondingly our trust is in pursuing His goodness and being “rich toward God” (v. 21).
None of this is to suggest we shouldn’t be concerned about providing for our loved ones, taking care of ourselves, or avoiding pain or problems whenever possible. It is to say that we shouldn’t live fear-driven lives in regard to these things. I think it can be quite helpful for us to spend a little time reflecting of what fears drive us, why we have these, and how they play out in our life. That’s exactly the kind of thing Jesus is addressing in this section of Luke.
You can’t fear wrong and trust right!