Stewardship: It’s NOT what you think it is, Part 3

chocolate money, good as gold!

Don’t Be the One Left Holding the Bag!

In our study of stewardship, we have considered the following marvelous concepts:

  • At our deaths, we will be united with the treasure we have accumulated here on earth but waiting for us in heaven.  We might well consider this “deferred gratification,” that is, while we are living in the flesh, part of our service to God involves denying ourselves earthly treasures.  For each earthly treasure we deny, we add to our heavenly treasure.
  • When we enter heaven, we will also receive our share of Jesus’ inheritance.  This inheritance is being reserved for us in heaven by God, and in order to receive it, we must be faithfully serving God while we are in the flesh.

This time, we will consider Jesus’ “Parable of the Talents,” as recorded for us in Matthew 25:14—30.  Before we begin, we need to understand that Jesus is NOT talking about talents as we understand the word.   The tNIV has finally translated this parable is a manner that makes it understandable; instead of using the outdated word “talents,” it uses the phrase “bags of gold” in its place.   For the purposes of this teaching, we will be using the tNIV.

1.  Setting the context

In the original manuscripts, there are no verses or chapter divisions, so chapters 24 and chapters 25 are actually one unit of teaching that began in answer to his question—

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”  (Matthew 24:3)

Chapter 25, then, continues and expands upon our Lord’s answer to that inquiry.  The parable of the virgins concerns the faithfulness of Israel upon the Lord’s return, the Second Coming.  The parable of the bags of gold is a parable about the faithfulness of the Lord’s servants when He returns at His Second Coming, and the story of the sheep and goats speaks of the judgments of the nations when Christ returns.  This whole chapter, then, illustrates the significance of the Second Coming of Christ as it relates to these groups of human beings that will be in the world at that time:  Jews, Christians, and Gentile nations.

Many preachers and teachers teach that the parable of the bags of gold refers only to how we use our “talents” for God.  However, the context demands that this parable refers to our eschatological future.   As we study God’s Word, we need to be ever mindful of context, for Scripture is so much more powerful when we read it as God intended us to.  Having established this, there are applications of this parable that we, as believers living in anticipation of Christ’s return, can apply to our lives today.

2.  Distribution of the gold, 25:14, 15

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags of gold, and to another one bag, each according to his ability.  Then he went on his journey. (tNIV)

This parable goes a step beyond the first three in that Jesus adds to the notion of “watchfulness” during the master’s journey.  In the previous teachings, Jesus taught about being prepared for His coming and remaining faithful in service, even if His coming seems delayed.  Now, with this teaching, Jesus teaches not so much using what He has given His servants, but actually improving what He has given.

In the ancient world, slaves were given considerable responsibility and authority.  A wealthy man would indeed have entrusted his best slaves with the management of his estate.  These slaves were considered almost as “partners” in his business affairs and likely would share in his profits.  Many teachers like to allegorize this part of the story, suggesting that the master, who is undeniably Jesus, is referring to His Ascension and the “talents” are either the gifts of the Spirit or literally talents bestowed upon Christians.   It is best to remember that this is just a parable; a story that was given in answer to what things would be like just prior to the Christ’s coming as Messiah.

In the distribution of the gold, three servants are each given a set amount, but the important thing is not the amount that is given, for in reality each servant is given an equal share.  Even though one servant got 5 bags of gold, another 2 and another only 1, they were each given as much as the master believed they could handle.  In other words, each servant was given his fill of gold; none of the three servants would be able to carry more than they were given.

3.  Taking the risk, 25:16—18

The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  (tNIV)

The traditional interpretation goes like this:  The man who had received five talents doubled them, as did the man who had only two.  But the man who had one hid his talent in the ground.  It is too often true in church circles that a person who feels he has only one talent buries it instead of using it in the work of the Kingdom.  (Ralph Earle)

However, there is much, much more to consider.  Notice the phrase “at once.”  This shows the eagerness with which the first two servants put their master’s investment to work.  This shows how seriously the good servants took their responsibility.  “Putting their master’s money to work” is sometimes interpreted to mean they invested the money, but it probably means something else.  D.A. Carson has put forth the idea that the good servants actually used the master’s money as “seed money” to start up a business, thus causing the capital investment to grow as their business grew.  This would entail a risk, and herein we find our first application.   God gives all of us certain “gifts” to use in His kingdom.  Remember, the Kingdom of God is here now, in a spiritual sense, and our gifts are to be used to build the Kingdom spiritually.  Those gifts vary from person to person, but just as each servant received bags of gold based on their ability, so our gifts are based on our ability.  We are not to look with envious eyes at the gifts of others but rather we are to look at our gifts and find ways to, not just to use them, but find imaginative ways to cause them grow.

The problem in the Church of the 21st century is two-fold as it relates to this one issue.  First, far too many Christians don’t know what their gifts are in the first place because they don’t take their relationship with God seriously enough.  Far too many believers are under the impression that all they have to do is show up for church once in a while and be a little better than their neighbors and that in itself is somehow “serving God.”  In fact, serving God means serving Him: it means doing something; it means putting forth an effort.  All Christians are called to do that, not just a select few.

Second, once a believer sees that they actually have a gift (or gifts), they either start comparing themselves to other Christians, which is always a mistake and, sadly, they look at their gift and rather than risk the embarrassment of failure or some equally lame reason, they refuse to use their gift.  This was the sin of the third servant.

The third servant was not punished because he only had one bag of gold.  He had just as much as the other two servants; he had all he could handle.  We might say that even though he had fewer bags than the others, his responsibility was exactly the same.  The master expected the same effort from the third servant as he got from the first two.  But the third servant, instead of setting about, planning and working that plan to make the master’s gold increase, simply buried it.

4.  Enjoying the reward, 25:19—23

After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received five bags of gold brought out the other five.  “Master,” be said, “You entrusted me with five bags of gold.  See, I have gained five more.”  His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.”

The man with two bags of gold also came.  “Master,” he said, “you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.”  His maser replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness.”

When the master finally returned, a reckoning took place.   The first two men reported that they had doubled the gold their master had given them.  In reply, the master said the same thing to both men.  In the case of the first man he is praised, not for what he did, but for his faithfulness, and his reward involved two things:  an increased responsibility and a share in his master’s happiness.   The second man had also been faithful and is rewarded for that faithfulness with the same things as the first man.  It must be noted, however, that each man was rewarded for being “good and faithful,” not for being capable and clever.  Being “good and faithful” are two qualities each and every believer is capable of achieving.  Not all of us can be considered shrewd or brilliant; but we should all be “good and faithful!”  These are the two things God requires of His servants.

On the rewards, I would make this observation.  The ultimate meaning of this parable is eschatological; it relates to the Second Coming of Christ and His judging of the faithful at that time.  Does He mean to indicate that all believers will be given the same reward:  increased responsibilities and a share of His joy?  I think this is unlikely.  Each believer is given gifts based on his ability, and it seems reasonable that each believer will be rewarded in the Kingdom the same way:  each according to his ability.

5.  The whining one bagger, 25:24, 25

Then the man who had received on bag of gold came.  “Master,” he said, “I knew you that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.  See, here is what belongs to you.

The one-bag servant comes whining with his complaint and lame excuse for having done nothing for his master;  and he accuses his master of being a “hard man.”  The word “hard” in the Greek is skleros, and it can mean a variety of things, but in essence, this third man is not complimenting his master.  On the contrary, he is saying that his master exploits the work of others:  he harvests where he has not sown.  For this servant, working hard and taking a risk with just one bag of gold with no guarantee that he would get any of the profit seemed a waste.  In his mind, if he took the risk and worked hard and doubled the one bag of gold into two but got nothing for his work, he wasted his time.  But if he took the risk and lost his master’s bag of gold, he assumed he would punished by this “hard” master.  Besides, he was probably already annoyed that he was only given one bag to begin with.

Sometimes we, who are risk-adverse or timid in personality, might find ourselves better relating to the one-bag man.  But we need to understand is this:  God rewards only the successful servants.  God is not politically correct.  The apostle Paul understood this—

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  (1 Corinthians 9:24—27)

The one-bag servant did not do what he did out of love for his master.  He wasn’t being overly protective of the bag of gold.  We know exactly why this man did what he did:  he was lazy.  He misjudged his master, suggesting he didn’t really know his master, and he was just plain lazy.

Those kinds of people fill our churches.  They’re lazy and they don’t really know God at all.   They run aimlessly because they don’t have clue about what is expected of them.  In the Kindgom of God there are no do-overs.  We all have one chance to get it right.  The old saying is ever true:

Only one life will soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.

6.  The one-bag reward, 25:26—30

There is an old French proverb:

He who excuses himself accuses himself.

The master was not buying anything this lazy servant was selling, in fact he saw this man for what he was:

‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. (verses 26, 27, NIV)

This man wasn’t just lazy, though, he was also pretty stupid.  If he just wanted to avoid work, then simply depositing the money would have earned some interest and he would have not worked.   In fact, had this man invested the money with others, he would have not only provided his master with at least a limited return on the investment, he would have provided employment for others.  We call this “capitalism” today, but helping others better themselves was not something this man was concerned about.  He was wicked and he was lazy.   While the other two servants were busy working, risking, and creating wealth, this man dug a hole, not realizing he was digging his own grave.

What the master did then is noteworthy—

Take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. (verse 28, tNIV)

Some might be tempted to misunderstand what Jesus is getting at here.  Jesus is NOT suggesting taking from the poor to give to the rich.  In fact, this is a “kingdom principle” that we have seen before.  The nation of Israel, for example, was taken away from King Saul because of his continued disobedience and given to David.  The principle, first seen in the Old Testament, is clearly understood from verse 29—

For those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance.  As for those who not have, even what they have will be taken from them.  (tNIV)

The one who uses opportunities to enhance their God-given gifts have, by God’s grace given themselves in service to others by serving the Lord.  In this, they shall most definitely reap what they have sown:  as they have enriched others, so they themselves will be enriched.   The one who has become poor has become so because he did not give himself to the Lord, and so what little he has will be taken away because he never took advantage of the opportunities as the presented themselves.

Furthermore, the master calls this lazy, wicked servant “worthless,” a rare Greek word, meaning this man was a complete failure. He failed to do good and he failed to use what God had given to him to achieve that end.  This is a most grievous sin because it is, at its root, a sin of willful neglect.  When we act like this lazy, wicked, and worthless servant, we neglect the gifts God has given to us and we neglect our responsibility to God, essentially, neglecting God Himself.

In response to such selfishness, the master passes a severe judgment—

Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (verse 30, tNIV)

Of course, we remember that this will take place in the eschatological future, but the present-day application is blazingly clear:  negligence is punished but diligence is rewarded.  (Hendriksen)

We who are servants of God need to pay heed to the teaching of Jesus here.  We must be aware of our “bags of gold” and be ready to take advantage of every opportunity to serve the Lord.   We must use our God-given abilities, not enrich ourselves, but to enrich others, and ultimately, we have God’s promise that we will be rewarded.

It’s all part of stewardship.  Don’t you be the one left holding the bag!

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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