Are You Growing?
Two weeks ago I started digging into chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 25 is broken up into three sections:
- The Parable of the Ten Virgins (v.1-13)
- The Parable of the Talents (v.14-30)
- The Final Judgement (v.31-46)
Each one of these is a description of what it will ostensibly be like when Christ returns, especially in regard to those who claim to love and follow him. They also supply the reader with some direct application, i.e. what loving and following Jesus should look like every day. In my opinion, these messages interleave and build on one another, and together they paint a pretty clear picture of how, as a Christian, we should approach and handle our resources.
Last time I covered the Parable of the Ten Virgins. This time I want to go over the Parable of the Talents.
The Parable of the Talents is pretty well known. I think I first heard it in Sunday School classes when I was growing up, when teachers would use it as a way to encourage us to use our God-given skills and abilities (talents) rather than hiding them. While that’s a useful reading, my interpretation of what was meant has broadened with age and experience, and I tend to spend more time thinking about the two who did rather than the one who didn’t.
Before we get too far, though, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for. A quick paraphrase of the parable.
A man, preparing for a long trip, got three of his servants together and gave each of them a portion of his fortune to watch over, depending on what he thought they could manage. Then he left.
The one with the largest share immediately went to trade and invest what he had been given, eventually doubling its value. The one given a medium share did the same, but the one with the smallest share hid what he had been given.
After a long time, the man returned and each servant settled up with him. The one given the largest share showed him how his fortune had grown, and the man commended him, and increased his responsibility. The one given the medium share did the same, and received similar praise.
The one given the smallest share returned to the man exactly what had been given to him in good condition (albeit a bit dusty from the time hidden away). The servant let the man know that he had feared the man and only wanted to safely return what he had been given. However, the man was disappointed with the servant’s laziness, and pointed out that by putting his share in the bank, the servant could have returned his share with at least a little interest.
The man gave the small share to the first servant to manage, and had the last servant thrown out.
Matthew 25:14-30 BPV (Bodey Paraphrased Version)
As you can see, while my Sunday School teachers tried to make this about our skills and abilities, the actual text of the parable is all about money. What does that mean for each of us? Should we be growing our wealth, or should we be improving our skills?
The answer, of course, is both. Plus so much more.
For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.
Matthew 25:14-15 ESV
Here’s the deal: Everything we have was given to us by God. Everything. Not just our skills and talents, but our money, time, homes, cars, relationships, etcetera and ad nauseam. If it’s in our circle of influence, it was placed there by God for us to manage.
The religious sounding word for that is stewardship.
Sometimes we choose to forget that. We want to treat everything like it’s all ours, and forget who the actual owner is. We let it things sit and stagnate (or worse) and forget that the owner will come to settle the accounts someday. We forget that we’re just managers.
We do it with our money. We don’t live on less than we make. We go into debt because we think that God isn’t providing us with enough to have what we need. We’re not generous.
We do it with our homes. We hide in them. We use their walls to block out the world around us. We’re not open or gracious.
We do it with our families. Is your spouse a better person for having you in their life? What about your children? How quickly do you shut them out when it gets too stressful or painful? We’re not kind, or gentle, or patient.
In each area that we reject our responsibility to manage and grow what we’ve been given, we’re robbing God. We’re enjoying the fruits of what we have without considering the purpose for which those things have been given to us. And the more we reject that responsibility, the less ready we are to serve him. (See, they really do build together.)
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
Matthew 25:21 ESV
This parable is not advocating a prosperity gospel. I do not believe, for example, that if you are faithful and manage your money well, that you will automatically grow incredibly wealthy. It won’t hurt, mind you, but that’s not necessarily God’s plan for your life. Plus, being faithful doesn’t mean more stuff. It means more responsibility, and that’s not always easy.
Yet, that’s the whole point. Being faithful with our resources, managing and growing what we are given, isn’t easy, but doing so makes us able to be faithful with more. It prepares us to readily serve. It means we’re growing more and more into the follower of Christ that we should be. Otherwise, we’re just hiding.
When I look at this parable and the one like it in Luke 19:11-27, it seems pretty clear that Jesus repeated the same sermons, or at least covered the same themes, over and over in his three year ministry. What do you think?
[image from the public domain]
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