Over the past month, we’ve heard a few sermons about how we might look into serving God and our church. Well, you lucky people, here’s another one. What else can I say, when our Gospel Reading is what is referred to in other translations (e.g. KJV) as the “Parable of the Talents”? There the servants were given “talents” of money, which was a large sum. In today’s value it would be around £100K (Gold.co.uk). P
You’ve probably heard me say this before but every time I read this Gospel passage, I get the awful feeling that I’m not doing enough – don’t you? In our Gospel Reading, the use of the word talents instead of coins, points more meaningfully to the talents Jesus was talking about. They had nothing to do with money. It was about the other things God gives us to use for His purposes. The man going on a trip, referred to in the parable, is God and He gives talents to three servants “according to his ability” (v.15). Using the meaning of talents as God-given gifts, to one He gave several talents and I’m sure we all know of multi-talented people. To another he just gave a couple. Both of these servants treated their talents as special and precious, which they are. They used them to expand God’s kingdom on earth, which is what they should be used for - and they succeeded. What did God say to each of them, when they came before Him in His heavenly kingdom? “Come on in and share my happiness!” (vv. 21, 23). But one servant hid his precious talent and didn’t put it to use in any way at all. What did God say to him? “You bad and lazy servant - throw him outside in the darkness; there he will cry and gnash his teeth” (vv.26, 30). If we think that’s harsh, we have to bear in mind that God only gave the gifts to those He’d given the ability to use them.
But what did Jesus mean were the talents in the parable? I think everything we have and everything we are comprise the talents entrusted to us by God. We don’t have, or achieve anything good without Him having a hand in it. This includes our abilities; our material and financial resources; our relationships with loved ones and friends; the gift of God’s salvation and redemption in Jesus Christ; in short — our very lives. All of this is entrusted to us by God, and we are called to be God’s stewards!
Ignoring all the wonderful things God does for us in our daily lives, just His single act of giving us the opportunity of eternal life with Him gives us a debt we can never repay. We have to get used to that. In worldly life, there seems to be a stigma in being beholden to anyone. Someone does something nice for us and we feel we have to do something for them. We never stop and think that, in a way, our act diminishes the feel-good factor for the person who helped us in the first place. So, let’s savour our being eternally beholden to our God. The best reason for being happy in that relationship is that, almost unbelievably, He doesn’t want to collect on the debt. For Him, that gift is a gift.
That gift of salvation is the most important gift we’ll ever receive. But, as if that wasn’t enough, God’s word to us tells us that we’ve been given other gifts. So, perhaps we should have a few thoughts about those and what we should do with them. Just like the servants in the parable, God has made an investment in each of us, by giving us the means to work for the expansion of His kingdom on earth and on that investment He does expect a return. How often do we stop and think what gift we might have? We can’t just sit back and say, “Well, so-and-so has a gift for this and what’s-his-name is obviously gifted in such-and-such a way, but I don’t have any spiritual gifting.”
Well, the Bible tells us differently. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “… I would prefer that all of you were as I am; but each one has a special gift from God, one person this gift, another one that gift.” (1 Corinthians 7:7 GNB) Did we get that? Each one of us has a special gift. Paul wrote to the Romans, “we are to use our different gifts in accordance with the grace that God has given us.” (Romans 12:6 GNB)
We’ve heard all the reasons people give for not upholding the church by their prayers, their presence, and their gifts by appealing to what they don’t have … “I’m too old; I’m too young; I’m not educated; I’m too busy; I’m not good enough; I could never do that, I have other responsibilities etc., etc..
The Bible is full of people who tried their hardest to persuade God that they didn’t have the ability to do what He wanted of them – Moses (Exodus 3:11-4:14); Gideon - twice (Judges 11-16 &36-80); Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6) and even Peter (Luke 5:8) to name but a few. But what did Isaiah say, when God asked, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV). Let’s be honest with ourselves, which of these are we like?
As far as talents go, fortunately each one of us is unique. Remember “Just Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)” by Pink Floyd in 1969? It inferred that all people were turning out the same. And “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds in 1962, gave the impression that all the houses and the people in them were the same. But they weren’t! And neither are we. P
Each person is different and has a purpose. Each house on a row may look the same on the outside but inside they’re all different. And it’s the same with us. To the people in Stannington, we “Church-goers” might all seem the same from the outside but we know we’re not. More importantly, God knows we’re not. God is still building a church here in Stannington. P
The plan of building a house is set out by the Architect. Now that’s obviously God. Then you have a Surveyor who usually keeps his eye on things as the house grows from its foundations, right up to the roof being put on and all the insides in place. Now most houses need a lot of bricks or stones. It’s not all that long ago that we all had our pictures taken and superimposed on a stone to represent us being the stones, or building blocks of the church. The thing is, no two stones are exactly the same and each one fits precisely into the place it was designed for. If any are missing, the house won’t be complete and it won’t stand up to the storms, which hit houses (and churches) from time to time. So every member has a part to play.
Speaking of parts to play, not every part of a house is built by a bricklayer or stonemason. It needs electricians, plumbers, gas fitters, joiners, roofers, tilers, painters, labourers, van and truck drivers and skip-lorry drivers. I may have missed some but you get the idea ? many talents. As I’ve said the surveyor, or Church Leader, usually sees to it that all these people do their job and do it at the right time and place. The Architect (God) brings these people in and things should run smoothly if everyone does what they’ve been put there for.
But what if the joiner chosen for the job thinks it’s too hard for him? Or the electrician says he’s never done anything like this house before? Well, they could be offered more money or benefits but what can be a greater reward than eternal life? They can’t be told they must do the job — we’re not that kind of country. So, the house building is put on hold until another craftsman comes along and joins the team, which is sad, both for the church and the person who will miss out on the joy of working for God.
If we don’t take any steps, to finding out about our gifts, we don’t know what we might be missing out on and the church has no idea what important service it might be losing. Not everyone can be the Archbishop of Canterbury – we probably have to set our sights a bit lower than that. The answer is to take it just one step at a time and see how far you can go.
But before we look at how we find the gift given to us by God, we have to ask, “Do we really want to know?” Many people don’t want their lives to change, even if it’s not a very good one. Although not happy with their lot, it’s what they’re used to. Like the disabled man at the pool in Bethesda. Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well. Did he say “Oh, yes please”? No, he told Jesus about all his troubles instead (John 5:1? 9). And people can be like that but once they discover their gift and decide to put it to the use God intended, their lives will change, or at least they should. What’s needed is commitment. P
Next of course comes the question — “What is my gift?” Well, just like those servants in the Parable, we may have been given more than one, in accordance with what God knows we can handle — but how to find out? When we finally arrive at this point, there’s plenty of help for us.
The most direct thing we can do is to just pray to God that He’ll reveal to us in some way exactly what our gifting is. We might not get an answer immediately, but we must stick at it.
We can ask experienced Christian friends, who know us well, how they think God might use us.
And we can read our Bibles. We might just find a character in there that we can really identify with. When we see the weaknesses in that person — and they almost all had many — we realise that we don’t have to be someone outstanding to be used by God. We should pray, before we read, that the Holy Spirit will speak to us through God’s word about what it is He wants us to do.
Have a closer look at those who are doing God’s work in any way at all and think if you might be able to do that. That can be done without any commitment
Above all, we mustn’t limit ourselves to thinking what we can do in our own strength. If everyone had always done that, the Bible would be a very much shorter book.We are all part of the body. None of us is a hat, a pair of gloves, a pretty dress or some adornment to make the church look lived in.
The work of expanding God’s kingdom on earth is a mighty and awe-inspiring task. So why on earth did God leave it to us? Well one reason could be that there are currently about 1.7 billion of us. When I started at Grammar School in 1950, the population of the world was about 2½ billion. Now there are just over 7 billion (U.S. Census Buteau, International Data Base, August 2017 update) - scary isn’t it?. Even so, that only leaves about 5.3 billion that don’t accept Jesus as their Saviour. So, if each Christian could lead 3 people to Jesus, the world would be converted and we could all go to heaven early. In the previous chapter of Matthew’s Gospel we read, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
Yes, you’re right! The whole world isn’t going to be converted. There are too many prophesies that have yet to come true that describe a very different end of the world. Never mind! It won’t hurt to try. Every person who believes will be one less goat being led away to the wrong side of the judgement seat.
Yet how often are we like the one-talent man? Our faith, instead of being a stimulating voyage, becomes a heavy weight of obligations around our neck. We cling to the status quo, hoping we can get by without too many crises or challenges. We’re content with the usual routine. The one-talent Christian fails to see how much he or she is needed and the result is deadly. There are people who do this and use their hidden talent purely for their own pleasure. I once spoke to a lady who could play the piano beautifully but wouldn’t do it in church in case people didn’t appreciate it. So she played at home with only the cat to listen.
This parable makes it very clear that, as stewards, we’re accountable to God. And with accountability come responsibilities and consequences. Talents are entrusted to us to be used! If an opportunity isn’t taken, it’s lost. A muscle not used will wither and become useless. The man who went away in this parable is God and we’re those to whom He’s entrusted these talents. Everyone who’s been born again has been fashioned by God into a new creation…in order to accomplish His works. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
So, to sum up, we need to search our hearts and the Holy Spirit within us and ask, what are our talents? The challenge is how can we use our resources of time and talent for God? At the very least we should be loyal to our church, and uphold it, as was mentioned, by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service!
But we can go even further than this! What is that special thing we can do that nobody else in the world can do in quite the same way? All the things that make us a unique individual can be brought into play. A smile, giving encouragement, offering a helping hand, earnest prayer, a loving tone of voice, a talent for music, teaching, managing — the list must be endless. Whatever it is, this parable teaches us that we should respond positively, not keep it to ourselves. To quote the SAS motto, “Who Dares Wins”. What it leaves unsaid is that “Who dares not ? loses”, like the servant with one talent. Amen.
Do you believe what Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that … “each one (born again Christian – these were the people he was addressing) has a special gift from God, one person this gift, another one that gift.”?
Has anyone here had the experience of being led to a spiritual gift by any of the methods outlined in the talk?
a By prayer to God?
b Asking others for their views?
c Reading their Bible and identifying themselves with a Bible character
d Observing others?
Did you resist the urge?
Does anyone feel a nudge about doing more in or for the church, when they read or hear this Parable?
Does anyone think that their particular “stone” is yet to fit in where it ought to be?