Friday, 13 October 2006

Using our gifts

MATTHEW 25:14-30

We're looking at the three parables in Matthew 25

Last week: parable of the 10 bridesmaids: 5 were wise and 5 were foolish. We need to be vigilant: as the people of God we are called to watch.

Today, we are looking at the parable of the talents. It is quite well known, but it is worth revisiting.

Three headlines

1. We need to use what we have been given

The talents that we have been given are from God and to be used in God's service

A 'talent' today has become something special. In education speak we talk about 'gifted and talented'.

But it is not how Jesus understands it here. Our talents are all the things that God has given us that can be used for service to others and to him. JC Ryle writes, "Anything whereby we may glorify God is a 'talent'. Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ's Church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible - all, all are talents". (Commentary on Matthew 25:14-30)

And yes, the master gives different talents according to ability. He knows what we can take and bear. But notice there is nobody here with no talents, and there is no limit on how much any talent can be developed and grown.

And the master gave the different talents to the servants to be used. "He entrusted his property to them" (v14). And clearly he expected them to be grown and developed.

A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about stewardship campaigns in churches. At its best, stewardship was about this parable. It was about recognising that everything that I have is gift - gift from God. And it is about recognising that I hold it on trust, and that one day I will be asked to give account of how I have used it. If the world asks, "What does a person have?", Christ asks, "How does a person use what they have?" We will be accountable for what we have, not for what we do not have.

2. One day our excuses will be stripped away.

The servant who has been given one talent and who has not done anything with it, excuses himself by saying that he was afraid of the master (v24-25). He seems to be saying: "The master has so much. Whatever he does flourishes. So whatever I do will be so pitiful in contrast. I'll be shamed. Therefore I will do nothing."

It is an argument that, I suspect, many of use with God. We say: "Look at my pitiful talent. I can do so little". And we look at the great needs, and we look at others who we think seem so talented, and we say, "I'll leave it to them. They're much better at it. And God is big enough to look after his world, and he doesn't need me. He doesn't need my prayer, my giving, my service."

But notice the answer of the master. He says, in verses 26 and 27: "You know whatever I put my hand to, whatever I give, I desire to see it grow and flourish. And that is true of the talent that I gave you. And yet you did nothing."

"You think that your excuse is fear, is inadequacy. But that is not the reason you did nothing. The reason you did nothing was laziness and wickedness.

Laziness: you just couldn't be bothered. You stayed in your comfort zone. You weren't prepared to take any risks. (Notice that we are talking here about a significant period of time: the master was gone for 'a long time')
Wickedness: you had the gift I gave you, and you chose to do nothing with them. You chose to live for yourself and not to live for me. You could not care less about my things, and it really was a question of 'out of sight, out of mind'.

So many of us are like that servant with the one talent. We use the excuse of inadequacy. 'I couldn't possibly play an instrument in church, join the choir, set up a women and girls choir, lead the prayers, go on the tea/coffee rota, join the church cleaners, flower arrangers or pew shifters. I couldn't possibly think of church commitment or leadership.' But it is not just about using our gifts within the church community. We might say, 'I don't read the bible because I don't understand it. I don't talk with others about God because I don't know the answers. I'm not going to offer for service because others can do it so much better. I'm not going to think this issue through, because I am no good at thinking. I'm not going to bother about how I invest my money because it is too big for me.
Remember Moses. God calls him to use his many talents to do a terrifying job. Moses comes up with all sorts of excuses: 'How do I know it is you speaking? How will I know that you will go with me? The people will never listen to me". And God answers him very graciously and patiently. It is only when Moses says, "God, I'm no good. Send someone else", that God gets very angry. We're told, "His anger burned against Moses".
Basically when we claim inadequacy we are saying to God: "Let me live my life my way. Don't bother me. The last thing I'm going to do is to take a risk, to step out of line for you".

I don't know what your talents are. But I do know this. Whatever God has given us, he has given us to be used - and to be used in his service. And yes we can choose to pretend that all that matters on this planet is me and my life here and now - but in the end, we are going to come face to face with reality. And the question will be: "What did you do with all that gift that I gave you? Did you use it just for yourself? Did you bury it? Why have you retreated into your castle and shut your doors? You could have done so much? Why have you horded up so much money? - to give to your children when you die. But they are not going to need it then. But there are people now who do need it, and it can be used for my glory"

And on that day, for all of us, the excuses will be stripped away.


3. There is a great reward

The master says to both the one who has made five and the one who has made two talents: "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"

There is a universal truth. Those who are faithful with small things will be entrusted with greater things. And the reward for faithful service is not rest, but further and greater responsibility. Heaven is a place of great peace; it is not a place of inactivity.

And notice that whereas the third servant couldn't care less about his master, or the things of his master, the first two really did care about him. They did want him to think well of them. They did wish to receive his praise - his "well done, good and faithful servant". And for many Christians, I know that really is the motivation that drives them. We may not have been particularly significant or effective or talented, but we have tried to be faithful to God with what he has given us.

And one last thing: The master says to them, "Come and Share your master's happiness".

Our God delights when we use our gifts and talents in his service. And he does not just say 'Well done'. He shares his joy with us. In the film chariots of fire, Eric Liddell is talking about his running. He says - with great joy - "God made me to run, and he made me to run fast"
And so the master praises his servants; he rewards them and he shares his very heart with them: so that they delight when he delights.

So what about it? You may be a 5 talented person; a 2 talented person or a 1 talented person. It really doesn't matter. What matters is how you are going to use what God has given you.

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