In every sphere of life there are two types of people. There are those who do what they are told, those who don’t (except when the supervisor is around). Throughout my academic life I have held various summer jobs. And it never fails that I saw these two categories of people in whatever work place I found myself. Usually there is one guy who is always skittering here and there. He is diligent and persistent in his work. Sometimes he is even ridiculed by his co-workers because he makes them look bad by his work ethic. Then, on the opposite extreme, there is the guy who never seems to get out of first gear. The only thing that keeps him from being productive is his attitude. But when their supervisor comes around, there is a Jeckle and Hyde like transformation. Almost instantaneously he becomes the most diligent employer in the factory.
You young people are probably familiar with this too. As soon as the teacher steps out of the room to run an errand, what happens? The class’s true colors begin to show, don’t they? There are those who diligently work on the assignment they have been given, but there are also others whose pencils go down immediately. They begin to talk with their friends, tease, or even do their best impersonations of the teacher. But as soon as the teacher comes back, suddenly everyone is the model student.
Within the church we also find this phenomena. Among God’s people there are different levels of commitment. Some are productive, while others are idle. We all know that this is true from experience. We know that some are about the Lord’s work while others are coasting along. Jesus also knew this. Jesus was in no wise naïve to this fact. That’s why he tells us this parable. He shows us that preparing for his return means productivity.
In other words, waiting for our Lord means working for our Lord.
In our parable Jesus identifies us as his servants. And as servants, our duty is to promote the interests of our master. But may we be all the more encouraged to do so because ofthe trust the master bestows, the reward the faithful obtain, and the punishment the negligent receive.
I. The Master’s bestows a special trust
In verses 14-15 we see that Jesus has given us a trust. It was common in those days for a wealthy businessman to entrust his possessions to his servants. When his business would take him away for a period of time he would call upon his servants to tend to his property. Jesus likens himself to just such a man. His business as Mediator has taken him into heaven. There he sits at his Father’s right hand interceding for us. And when he ascended on high he gave gifts to men. Each of us has been entrusted with his property.
We see in our parable that the trust comes in the form of Talents. A talent was the largest unit of money. In our day one talent would come out to approximately $600,000. So you see that the Lord has given you no small trust!
Now the word talent has made its way into English, and today we understand it as one’s giftedness. We even associate it with people who excel in certain activities. We say that they are talented people. But we should not limit our parable so narrowly. What is in view here is much more comprehensive. We should think of a talent here as representing anything that God has given to us. A talent is anything that has come from God’s hand which we can use for his glory.
That means all that we have is the Lord’s property: our gifts, our money, our position (by that I mean our status in the church, community, or employment) all of these things have been bestowed upon us by God’s hand. The same could be said of our health, our strength, our intelligence and the list could go on and on. All of these things belong to in the truest sense to God. We are merely stewards.
Why is it important that we recognize this? Because understanding who owns these things governs how we use them.
We must never say that we own anything in any ultimate sense. And we must recognize that we haven’t really earned anything either. That can be a bit harder for us to admit. For we think that we have what we have because we worked hard to get it. I would suspect that many of us have grown up with the mentality that if we work hard, we will get what we want. And because of this we have fallen into the illusion that we have built for ourselves a little kingdom. So we believe that we have the right to do anything we please with whatever we have.
But this is not so. We are not sovereigns. We are stewards. We are people who are indebted to God. Everything we have is on loan from God, and we must use it for what it is: an instrument for His greater glory. He has in a sense drafted us into his service, and given us the raw materials with which to work for Him. Therefore everything must be subject to him. Of course I don’t want anyone to think I am disregarding a hard work ethic. We are to work hard. But the purpose is not to horde, it is not simply get, but primarily to give.
How might this look? I don’t know. Perhaps it will be using your free time differently. Not that necessarily means you have to be reading your Bible all the time. Certainly that is not excluded, but it is not exclusive either. I merely suggest that this too is from the Lord, and there is a right way to use your recreation time for His glory.
Maybe that will mean that you forego certain luxuries. Perhaps you already have too much and the money would be better put to a different cause. Then again it might be that you don’t do anything really different at all. Maybe it is just the attitude with which you do it. Perhaps it is simply that you now do it as a service to God rather than yourself. Whatever your situation and whatever you have the question ought to be, “How can I use this best for God’s glory?” For we must always possess something for what it really is: a grant from God for his glory.
As servants we must labor because of the trust our master bestows. But we must also labor because…
II. The faithful receive a fitting reward
In our parable we see three servants, two of which are faithful. Each of them wasted no time, but set about their tasks diligently. Their diligence is seen in that they accumulated a 100% profit for their work. (Read verses 16-17)
Their faithfulness is not only seen in how studious they were, and the profit they made, but even in their presentation of their gifts to their master. When the Master came back they were excited to present their work to the Lord. (Verses 20, 22)
You see, working for the Lord is the faithful servant’s joy. He who loves the Lord takes delight in his work because he longs to bring the Lord glory. It is no drudgery or chore for him. The true servant loves his master and loves to serve him. He loves his Master, and therefore his energies are focused, not on how he may please himself, but on how he might please his Lord. It is in the truest sense a labor of love.
That’s why his reward is so satisfying. (Read verse 23)
When we first read this you might have thought it was tough break for the faithful servants. The payoff of all their hard work was only more work! That’s because we have a wrong understanding of work and responsibility. We live in a culture that abhors work. We are told to avoid responsibility at all costs. Most of the time it is like going to the dentist, only do it if you have to.
Work has come to be something we are always trying to get finished. Our goal is simply to get done with this project. When the day starts, we want it done. And we think about it, all of our working lives are spent looking forward to retirement. We can’t wait to be done with our occupations so that we can finally do what we want to do. This has affected our understanding of heaven, has it not? We tend to think of heaven as some sort of 4 star resort. To us it’s a place where we sip colored drinks by the poolside while being fanned by a palm branch.
But work is a blessing. As a matter of fact we were fashioned for service. When God created Adam he created him as an employee, so to speak. God set Adam in a garden to work it and keep it. So when we work to promote God’s glory we are fulfilling our true calling. And, as a result, we find fulfillment.
This might sound a bit profane when I say this, but I hope you understand what I mean. We ought to be motivated to serve God because it is what brings us true happiness. Our hearts’ greatest desire ought to be the longing to see our master’s glory multiplied. And when we seek to bring honor to our master we ought to only be fulfilling our deepest yearning.
How could this not be so? If you certainly believe that God has created you, even more has redeemed you, and in so doing recruited you, the unworthy sinner, into his service, how could you not long to serve him? Your delight ought to be in what the Lord gives you to do, and your heart should rejoice in knowing you shall have even greater responsibility in the age to come.
He bestows a special trust; the faithful receive a fitting reward. And as we wait for our Lord, we must work for our Lord because the negligent receive a severe punishment.
III. The negligent receive a severe punishment
You heard what happened to the third servant in our parable. He was stripped of all that he had been given and then cast hell. All this happened, not because he did anything terribly wrong, but because he did not do anything. When he had received his talent he stuck it in the ground (verse 18). You could say that the servant took care of the talent. Certainly he wasn’t doing anything perverse. He did not squander it in any way. He brought back exactly what he had been given. You could do a lot of things with $600,000. But no, he kept it in a secure place. In that day it was common to burry valuables. It was the safety deposit box of their day.
But this just goes to show that many will be condemned, not for what they did wrong, but what they failed to do. You see, negligence is just as abominable to God as outright transgression. Inactivity reveals our hearts. It shows that we really do not love Him.
Failing to increase the glory of God is not excusable. That’s why it can be said that we will be judged on the basis of our works. If we think that we can just sit back and coast along because we have made a profession of faith we are seriously wrong. A lot of people think the Christian life is like a recliner. They have made their profession of faith, and now they can jut put their feet up. Others treat the church like a safety net. They put in their time each Sunday but that’s as far as they go. They do not seek to advance God’s glory beyond that.
But when the day of reckoning comes God is not going to check the attendance chart. He will look for how zealous you have been for Him. That is why those who profess faith in the Lord cannot neglect their God given gifts. If your heart does not manifest a passion for God’s glory—if there is no evidence of your love that you may point to in the Day of Judgment—you will have no share in the kingdom. You will be punished.
Perhaps you are one whose hands have been in your pockets. Perhaps you know that though you haven’t been a great sinner, but you realize you have not been very active on the Lord’s behalf either. It is my hope that you be shaken from your lethargy. It is my hope that you are awakened to see that your sloth testifies against your love for him. We do not know when he will return, but we do know that he has been gone for a very long time already. You must spurn him no longer by your neglect. May it be that you truly embrace the Lord. Turn from your wickedness and begin to serve him. Submit your life to him and his work. And may it be that the Lord does not call you wicked and lazy, but rather good and faithful.
During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy often closed his speeches with the story of Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives.
One day in 1789, the sky of Hartford darkened ominously and some of the representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand. Quelling a clamor for immediate adjournment, Davenport rose and said, “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. Therefore I wish that candles be brought.”
This is the attitude that we ought to have concerning the Lord’s work. As we await our Lord’s return we too must be found faithful. The Lord has called each of us into his service, and given us the necessary materials for our work. So may it be that we take what the Lord has given us and put it to use for his benefit, maximizing your potential in order to benefit the kingdom.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
to the preaching and teaching ministry of
Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.