Matthew 25.14-30: Using our talents for God

Matthew 25.14-30

Three reflections on the parable of the talents


1. Treat what you have as a gift from God entrusted to you

The Master entrusts each of the slaves with the talents.



A talent was a sum of money, equivalent to about 15 years of a labourer’s salary. So it was not insignificant 

Remember that these were slaves: they had no property. All that they had was gift from their Master.

And all that we have is gift – gift from God.

We forget that! We think that the life that we have, the gifts and abilities we exercise, the money and possession that we hold are ours.

If they are ours, we can do with them what we want.

But if they are not ours, and we know that one day we will need to give an account for them, then it changes dramatically what we do with them.

We now don’t have a car back in the UK. So when we were last back in the UK some friends lent us their car. It did not belong to us. It was a gift from them to us, and we knew we had to return it to them. And I was much more careful about driving that car than I would have been if I had been driving my own car. If I had got a dent on my own car, that would have been OK – just one dent among many! But I did not want to get a dent on their car.

All that we have is a gift, on-loan from God, and if it is gift, it is an expression of his love and of his trust in his. And because it is on-loan, one day we will need to give an account for what we have done with the gift, the talents, that he has given us.

I was reading Metropolitan Anthony Sourozh, his book Living Prayer a month or two ago. And he writes about how – when we say that something is mine – we cease to receive it as a gift.

He writes, and this is radical stuff, “We should never attempt to appropriate things to ourselves because to call something ‘ours’, and not a constant gift of God, means less and not more. If it is mine, it is alien to the relationship of mutual love; if it is his and I possess it from day to day, from split second to split second, it is a continuously renewed act of divine love.”

The Devil loves making people rich. People sometimes pray. ‘God make me rich’, and they become rich. And they think that it is an answer to prayer. But it may not be a sign of God’s turning towards us, but a sign that we have turned away from seeking what God wants us to seek.

Riches make us proud; they make us look down on others; they blind us to our need for God; they make us forget God.

On one occasion a young influential rich young man asked Jesus what he had to do? He claimed to have obeyed all the commandments. And Jesus says to him, ‘One thing you lack. Give what you have to the poor, and come follow me’. 
Live daily in dependence on me, on my love.

And when we realise that all that we have is a gift of love then we don’t need to fantasize about having the perfect marriage, perfect children, perfect image, perfect circle of friends, perfect church. I remember hearing Dick Lucas, a preacher in London saying that when he started his ministry in St Helens, Bishopsgate, London he dreamt about converting people who would be – in his sight - significant and influential. And the first person who God sent to him was someone with serious learning difficulties.

And if what we have is a gift of love, we can be set free from being resentful of other people who seem to have greater talents than us.

We talk about our eyes being bigger than our stomachs. And often our ambitions are far bigger than our abilities.

And if what we have is a gift of love, exactly right for us, then we cannot look down on those we consider have fewer talents than us (who are we to judge what are the real talents that heaven treasures?), and we dot need to envy those who we consider to have more talents than us.

The point about this parable is that it is not what you have that matters; it is how we handle what you have.

The reward for the person with 5 talents is exactly the same as the reward for the person with the 2 talents, and the reward is astonishingly personal: ‘enter into the joy of your master’.

Your master, your God delights in you, you give him great joy; and he will share his joy with you, so that you can delight in what he delights; and you can delight in his delight in you.

God has entrusted us with exactly what he has given us, at exactly the right time, so that we might grow to know his love and to be filled with his love.


2. We use what we have been given in his service.

Proverbs 24 says, “I passed by the field of one who was lazy, by the vineyard of a stupid person; and see it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down”

John Ortberg writes, 
“Everybody gets a vineyard. When you were born, you got a vineyard. You got your body, your mind, your will, and some relationships. You got financial resources and the chance to do some good work. You got a soul. Everybody gets a vineyard, and that vineyard is your one and only shot on this planet. It's the opportunity of a lifetime, and you don't even have to care for it on your own. God will partner with you.”
We have been given 5 talents, 2 talents, 1 talent – it doesn’t matter – to be used in the service of our God.

How?

One of the key principles that threads itself through scripture is the idea of deliberately choosing to set aside a portion of what we have for God, of offering God a sacrifice. We give back to him a portion of what he has given to us.

We have the gift of time: set aside some time daily to pray and seek God.

I was speaking with someone this week who told me that when he had done that, on just one occasion, he had got up early to be with God, and God had suddenly spoken to him very clearly and very specifically. That is not usual.

Others tell me that they get up and pray daily and they long to hear God speak to them.

But we are slaves, servants; we do not spend time with God for what we will get out of it. We spend time with God because we recognize that he is God and we are his servants and we are giving a bit of our time to him.

We have material possessions. Again, set aside a portion of your income to give. To give specifically to the Church for worship and the task of preaching Christ. To give to those in need. If you want to know how much, a biblical principle is 10% of your income. Some of you here though will not be able to afford that. You are struggling, and maybe we should be giving to you. Others here can afford to give far more.

And we have the body that God has given us. Look after your body. Don’t make it your god. But do those exercises, eat healthily (not all the time!), keep fit. So that you are ready to use your body in his service.

And we have the relationships God has given us. Cherish them. Remember that someone else could do the job that you are doing – and probably better. But nobody can be the friend or the partner or the parent that you can be, and in the end it is our relationships that matter.

And we have our gifts and abilities and callings. Use them to serve God.

There is a story that is doing the rounds on preaching websites, and I can’t find the source. But it is very helpful in this.

“Martin Luther was approached by a working man who wanted to know how he could serve God. Luther asked him, "What is your work now?" The man said, "I'm a shoemaker."
Much to the cobbler's surprise, Luther replied, "Then make good shoes and sell them at a fair price."
Luther didn't tell the man to make "Christian shoes." He didn't tell the man to leave his shoe business and become a monk.
As Christians, we can faithfully serve God in a variety of vocations and jobs. And we don't need to justify that work in terms of its "spiritual" value or evangelistic usefulness. We simply pursue our calling with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards.”

Or as John Ortberg writes, 
“Work the land that is your land—your body, your life, your relationships, your work—because that vineyard is all you have. If it's ever going to be different, it won't be because the vineyard fairy comes and sprinkles fairy dust on it. It will be because you asked God to help you. It will be because you've asked him, "What's the next step that you want me to take?"” 

3. Guard against spiritual laziness


The man said that he buried the one talent because he was scared of the master. That is clearly not the case. If he was genuinely afraid of the master then he would, as the master have said, done something with the money – even if it was getting interest from the bank for it.

The real reason he did not do anything with the talent is because what the master says is true. He is wicked – by his refusal to do anything with the money, he is, in effect, denying that he has any obligation to the master; and he is lazy. He could not be bothered to do anything.

It is easy to be spiritually lazy, to become spiritually lazy.

Don’t stop praying just because your prayer time has become boring. Yes, try and find fresh ways of praying, read about prayer, talk with someone about exploring new ways of prayer. There are a whole load of suggestions on our website.

But don’t stop praying. Don’t stop reading the Bible. Don’t stop meeting with other Christians. Continue. Push through the pain barrier.

Think of an artist like Emma Marie. She doesn’t say, ‘This practice is so boring’, and I suspect that it feels like that much of the time, ‘so I’m not going to do it’.

And don’t stop using your gifts to do good, to serve the people of God (remember that Jesus here is speaking to his disciples) or to preach Christ, because it gets hard, there seems to be no reward or fruit from your work, and people take you for granted. Remember that we are slaves entrusted with a precious gift of love by our Father in heaven.

The tragedy is that if we do not use the little that we do have, it will be taken from us.

And the glory is that if we do use the little that we have in a little way for God, then we will not lose our reward.

The story is told of the brilliant cellist who was terrified of playing in public. She finally agreed and was due to perform in one of the largest concert halls in London.
The day came, the hall was full, she came onto the stage, sat down, looked around anxiously for a bit, and then began to play. It was beautiful. The critics put down their pens after 10 minutes and, like everyone else, listened. And at the end the crowd rose as one and there was rapturous applause.
But the cellist seemed unmoved, and instead of receiving the applause, was anxiously peering out into the audience, until she finally saw something and relaxed. Then she enjoyed the applause of the crowd.
Later, when the critics asked her what she was looking for, she explained. ‘I was terrified of performing, but my master teacher said that he would be there’. When I came onto the stage I looked to see where he was, but could not see him. I wanted to run away, but instead I stayed and I played as if he was my only audience. Again, at the end I tried to look to see him, and this time I finally did. He was on the balcony, on his feet, with a smile on his face and he was applauding. And only then was I happy to receive the applause of the crowd.

My friends, during your life you will have many audiences. But there is only one audience that matters. We live, in faith that he is in the room, and we use our gifts for him. And then, on that final day, as we stand before him, he will look at us and say, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant’.

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