Scriptures: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30
What do we do ‘til then?
Today's passage in Matthew follows the previous passage which we covered last week. We want to look at them, as always, in context with one another. I say this to remind you of the fact that Jesus is talking about the Day of the Lord, when the Kingdom comes. The last passage was about the ten virgins, five wise ones and five foolish ones, and the bridegroom coming in the middle of the night
This time he gives it a different spin. For the Kingdom “is like a man about to go on a journey.” So we have a transition here, and Jesus is referring to himself again, that day of the Lord when he comes back. He says the man was about to go on a journey and called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
This is important for us on a number of different levels. First of all, we have to understand that Jesus is the man, the Master. Secondly, we need to note that he left his possessions to them, that is, his servants. And apparently he left a significant amount.
He notes that the man gave five talents. A talent is essentially a gold ingot. Think of the ones in Fort Knox – they weigh about 70 or 75 pounds of gold. The master left one servant with five of them, one servant with two of them, and one servant with one. Now that would buy a whole lot of stuff.
If you consider that a Troy ounce is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1600, with 16 ounces to a pound, 75 pounds to an ingot. You're talking about a lot of money there. And that wasn't the totality of it, because he also left the rest of his possessions. He basically left these people to steward his property while he was gone.
This passages uses a particular word for servants, that I wanted to make note of. The servants in the story are called doulous, which means bondservants or bondslaves. This is the same word Mary used in
in Luke 1:38, when she refers to herself, when accepting what God has ordained about Jesus being her son.
When we get to that story during Advent, we should note the lack of complaints about what might happen to her because of this. Her only question is how can it happen at all? That was the job of a doulos (for men) or a doule (for women).
We belong, body, and soul to our Master. We not only owe them more than can be repaid, but we have taken a vow to make them our Lord. This isn't a case of indentured servitude, so much as a grateful zeal in serving.
So even though the literal translation says “slave,” a lot of more modern translations say “servant,” and it's not just to soften it for political correctness, but because we have an understanding of this particular word as something that is somewhat voluntary. Paul uses this word to call himself a bond servant or slave to Christ.
There are two key word here: “his wealth.” The gold is the Lord's property. That means that this is not something that man can give, but something which God controls. The gold is not given, like natural gifts, to all people freely, but is given only to those who in some fashion have the relationship of a servant to the lord. To them, he is willing to distribute his property, what belongs to him.
Thus we don't own what we are using, and we don't get to keep a cut of the profits as it were. It all belongs to the Master. This is important for us to understand in our perspective, when we put ourselves in the shoes of the servants.
I would also note that, being the kind of servants they were, in all transactions, it is known by all parties who the servants belong to. What we are working with is not our own. Instead, we are representing and working on behalf of our Master, so what we do and say reflects on Him while He's gone.
Again, this is important to understand in how we work things out in life. You see, in each passage today, 1 Thessalonians and Matthew, we're given tasks to do until Christ comes again. In the Thessalonians passage, we're told what to do within the church that is the Body of Christ. In the Matthew passage, we're given a clue directly by Jesus about what to be doing with the world.
We're going to touch on both, but let's continue with the Matthew passage first. Note what we're doing while the Master is gone – business with the world, using the resources the Master gave us. Not withdrawal. In fact, the one who protects the resources given to him and hides it away in fear is chastised when the master comes back.
Let's face it, leaving out the name-calling and obvious bad attitude of the servant towards his master, what we notice is that he is chastised mostly for his improper use of the resources. He buried them because he was afraid. All investment takes has risk. All business ventures, all work has the possibility of failure.
I suspect that in the long time that the master is gone (the summary makes it seem short but it was probably quite a long time), those servants that did well had their down times. They had their stumbles. They had their failures. But apparently they were persistent in continuing to work for their lord, and thus were able to give him results.
You're the one called servant, as I noted before. Our God not only gives us grace, but He also gives us gifts to serve Him in His Kingdom and to expand it. This serving is not done for salvation, but is done in response to salvation.
Our God has given us all his gifts of grace, salvation, faith, and love. However, he gives us different gifts from there to serve Him in His Kingdom and to expand it. I have noted many times, and will continue to note throughout my ministry, that there is no one who received no gifts.
There's also no one who received every gift. Because if that was the case, then you wouldn't need anybody else, and the Scriptures make it very clear that we need each other ,and everybody has a role to play.
Some of us might have a servant's heart, others might be a good leader. Some are blessed with financial sense. Some of us have the gift of music, and others have the gift of wanting that gift to be music. There are some who have the gift of teaching, others who have the talent of being compassionate, listening or being good with kids.
The examples and lists could go on and on, and in fact do. I can't tell you how many spiritual gifts inventories are out there, or how much argument has occurred as to what are the correct “list” of gifts. There are upwards, I know, at least in one perspective, of 39 spiritual gifts.
What talents or abilities has God blessed you with? That's part of what you need to determine. God will always give you the resources to fulfill His calling. Those resources include your gifts, so you need to know what talents or abilities He has given you, and how can you joyfully use those things to serve Him in His Kingdom as you wait for His coming?
Remember, whatever those gifts might be, He has given them to you according to your ability. I think that's important for us to understand, so we don't get jealous, so we don't get envious of somebody else. “Well, they have a gift I don't have, and that's the one I want.” Or even more, “Well, they have the same gift I have, but they seem to be better at it. So why should I even try?”
You try because that's what God has called you to do. And the thing about God is He rewards you both the same. The same response was given to the servant with five talents as a servant with two talents. Because they had both done their best, he said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Quite a few weeks ago, I preached on the workers in the vineyard. If you remember, the landowner gave the same amount to those that came at the last minute as to those that had worked all day. God's grace is the same for each and every one of us, as long as we are going about and doing His business, His work in the world.
Now let's take a moment to look at the faithless servant. I'm going to quote from John Calvin here, a famous Reformed theologian. I'm sure most of you know of him by now. Calvin says, regarding the reply of the faithless servant:
“I knew thee, that thou art a harsh man.” This harshness has nothing to do with the substance of the parable; and it is an idle speculation in which those indulge, who reason from this passage, how severely and rigorously God deals with his own people. For Christ did not intend to describe such rigor, any more than to applaud usury, when he represents the master of the house as saying, that the money ought to have been deposited with a banker, that it might, at least, gain interest. Christ only means, that there will be no excuse for the indolence of those who both conceal the gifts of God, and waste their time in idleness. Hence also we infer that no manner of life is more praiseworthy in the sight of God, than that which yields some advantage to human society.
So what he's saying, in that slightly archaic language, is that even though the third servant called the master names, even if those names had some basis in truth, the truth of the passage deals with his testing of the servants.
God is rigorous in His expectations of what you do. Well, He's God. One of the great mistakes of the Church, it seems, is that it has sometimes reversed the program of God. It preoccupies itself with training people to leave earth, when in fact the instruction was to “occupy until He comes,” to be busy.
We do have to be ready to leave it any time. But the nice thing is, if we are occupying ourselves, if we are involved with what we're supposed to be involved with, then we'll be ready, because we will be focusing on God, in order to do God's work and follow God's will. And we're to be alert for that, for when He comes.
Jesus doesn't want us to take the safe route, something which I think is endemic here in America. I think that some pastors, and maybe even some people outside of the churches, have called it “affluenza.” We're affluent. We are in an environment that is relatively free of religious persecution.
For many, many decades we were a Christian nation, and we got used to being comfortable. You didn't have to take risks, because it was already there. But the fact of the matter is, it is a risk to share the Gospel. People may hate us, abandon us, or believe and be saved. But Jesus is not meant to be buried, but shared. He wants us to take risks and grow heaven's investment in us. That is, the resources that God has given us.
Now, the second part of that work that we have been given is within the church. In the 1 Thessalonians passage, Paul notes that we are to encourage one another and build one another up, that we are to be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.
Those are kind of harsh terms to some. Those are kind of warlike, are they not? That means there is going to be a battle out there, and you need to be prepared. Even caring for the members of the congregation is not going to be a smooth ride. Yet that's what we're called to do, to take care of one another, and encourage one another, and build one another up.
I would note that that takes grace. I'm not talking about the grace to do it. I'm talking about the grace to get it. Pride gets in the way so often. But if we are going to be able to do what God has called us to do with each other, then we need to do the same kind of risking on the other side.
We need to risk showing our vulnerability. We need to risk opening ourselves up. We need to risk, perhaps, even feeling lesser (though we're not) by asking for or getting help that we may need in that moment.
I think that it's a lot like charity. Jesus was a Jew, and charity is extremely important to the Jews. I want to talk about this more in Bible study on Thursday, before we get into the new book, because I got so fascinated by it during my studies this week. But I want to talk about it a little now.
Each Jew was not only expected to give to the temple, but in charity to the poor and needy, and it was called tzedakah. The word is used interchangeably with charity by the Jews, and it has a number of different implications.
A Rabbi from one of the articles that I was reading notes that
Giving when I feel like it stems from the mindset that the money I earn is the product of my own efforts. And when I choose to give charity, I'm going beyond my duty. I'm being generous with what is rightfully mine, but the Torah teaches otherwise. We believe that everything we have is a direct blessing from God. Those who have been granted the means to give were chosen by God to be the givers, as opposed to others who, due to reasons known to the Creator Himself, were chosen to be the receivers.
You might be chosen to be a receiver. Banking has always been a Jewish profession and in truth, every Jew is a banker. I may have money in my pocket, but it is merely deposited with me, with the trust that I will manage it wisely.
What a wonderful attitude to have about all of your resources. I never thought about it. I'm a banker. I don't keep bankers hours. But we are bankers, in that they handle money that's not theirs. They handle money that belongs to someone else. And they try to serve that person in a way that enables that person to do more with that money.
Tzedakah is seen as a form of social justice provided by the donor, as well as those who utilize the support to do their work and those who allow the support into their lives. As is the case with justice, this critical social responsibility cannot be done to someone. Rather, it must be done with someone.
Another author notes that in Hebrew, the word meaning to give is natan. In Hebrew word and in English, the word can be read forward and backward, so when we think about philanthropy and the idea then of “to give” is also about “to receive.” This is part of the work which we are called to, particularly within the church. Justice for our members. caring for each other. Encouraging one another.
So we have two aspects of what we're to be doing, while the Master is gone. One is our work in the world, that is called upon by Christ, acting as a representative of Christ, using the resources Christ has given us, and making no bones about it as we move into the world, to trying to get a return on that investment, in terms of people knowing who Christ is and wanting to be discipled by Him.
Then we have the aspect within the church, as we encourage and uplift one another and care for one another, and we are charitable to each other. Not just doing the work to keep the church going, keeping the doors open, but rather to take care of the people within, and to nurture the relationships that we have.
I don't know about you, but that's seems like that's a pretty full plate to me. And God won't tolerate us being idle. I've often said that some people seem to think of salvation as being a sort of life insurance policy or a bus ticket to Heaven, a get-out-of-jail-free card. It's not. Salvation is the beginning of a process, that God has called each and every one of us to, so that He might get greater glory by what we do.
So I want to encourage you to be about God's business, till he comes again. What do we do? We do what God tells us to. We love Him, we serve Him, we worship Him, and we carry His Word into the world, and His love to all His people.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.