1.INTRODUCTION - OUTREACH DEFINED
2. THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS – OVERVIEW
3. APPLICATION – LESSONS REGARDING USING OUR “TALENTS”
A) God owns everything so everything we have is on loan from Him
B) God gives talents according to our ability
C) God expects you to use them creatively
D) God rewards the faithful use of those talents
4. CONCLUSION – WHICH CHARACTER ARE WE IN THE PARABLE?
A) One of the two faithful servants who used their talents wisely
B) Or the one-talent person who buried it in the ground?
Good Morning. If you have your Bibles with you and you want to follow along, we will be looking at the Matthew 25:14-30. As a reminder, we are going through our four core values of worship, discipleship, outreach, and community. Today, we are going to swing back around and focus on the value of outreach. Outreach, in a simple definition, is simply reaching out to a lost and dying world with the good news of Jesus Christ in very practical and very real ways. Reaching out actually begins inside the church and then expands out into the church, into the community, into Pittsburgh, and ultimately to the world through the various world missions that we support. In order for it to be sustainable, in order for it to be effective, each of us is required to give of ourselves. Specifically, we are each required to give of our time. In other words, we are to make room in our calendar or our day planner or whatever. We are supposed to give of our treasures, which means our money. We are supposed to support the church in its various ministries. We are also supposed to give of our talents. As we see today, we are supposed to give of those unique God-given traits that God has given us to be able to partner with him as he extends his reach throughout the world.
Today, we are going to look at the parable of the talents. As you may recall, a parable is nothing more than an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. An earthly story in that it usually involves some earthly people, but it has some sort of a heavenly application. The parable of the talents follows a few other parables; parables that speak of the need for people, for disciples to be ready and alert and waiting so that they are not caught off guard when the bridegroom comes back for the bride. In other words, when Jesus Christ comes back for his church. But as I have said before, the church itself is not some sort of a waiting room for heaven. In other words, we don’t come in to church and just wait to be taken off someday into heaven. We are all going to go there, but in the meantime, the church is supposed to be a productive place, a very productive place, where we are supposed to use our talents, our God-given talents, to partner with God as he continues to build his kingdom here on earth. That is what we are going to look at today in this parable. I am going to read starting at chapter 25, verse 14 all the way down to 30 and then I am going to come back and highlight a few key passages. (READ MATTHREW 25:14-30)
There are a lot of verses there, but the story is really quite simple. It starts off with a very simple introduction. It says (what we are talking about here is the kingdom of God) “Again it will be like a man going on a journey who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money and to another two talents and to another one talent, each according to his ability, and then he went on his journey.” We have a brief introduction that kind of sets up the characters. We have a master and his three servants. Another name for the servants is slaves. As I have said before, back then in the first century, it was very common for people to have slaves. In fact, it was almost an economic necessity. Even though we abhor it, back then some of them were treated very well. Some of them lived obviously in the estates of their masters and ate the same food and drank the same wine.
To me, it kind of reminded me of the show Downton Abbey. Anybody watch that show? As a side note, we made it through season 3. We are ready for season 4, so all is well in the Gohn household. We are all caught up. Anyway, if you watch that show, I don’t really get caught up in the drama, but there is something neat about it because you’ve got these servants living in this massive estate with these aristocrats, and they just kind of comingle with them. It is kind of neat because the servants maintain this element of respect, but they are always kind of mixing together and comingling with each other, eating the same food, and enjoying a lot of the same type of activities. Really, I think it is a picture of what the first century was like. There were some slaves that had it pretty good, and they were treated pretty good. Because they were responsible people, they were given authority and responsibility to take care of the property of the master. That is what is going on here.
As the story goes, the master decides to go on a trip and he has this property to distribute or at least put in the care of somebody, so he picks three slaves and hands out what we would call talents. He gives five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to the third slave. As a side note, when we think of a talent we think of a natural ability. We watch the show American Idol or America’s Got Talent and you think of a talent as some sort of a musical gift, possibly an acting gift, and a singing gift, whatever it is. In fact, our word talent actually comes from the Greek word talanton. The meanings aren’t that much different, but back then the word talanton had to do with value. The value specifically was a unit of measure that could be worth a little bit of money or a lot of money depending on what they were trying to measure. You could be measuring copper. You could be measuring silver. You could be measuring gold. Depending on what you are measuring would determine the value of that particular talent. Some of you that are using an NIV bible it talks about maybe in the notation that a talent was approximately equal to $1,000 today. There are other translations that basically say it could be worth up to $100,000. We really don’t know. It really depends on again what they were measuring. What we do know is that a talent had a lot of value. In fact, some suspect that it had the equivalent of 20 years’ wages of the common laborer back then. We know it had value and we know, as we see in this initial opening verse, that the master gave to each according to his ability. I think that is important to realize that, just like today, there are people that can handle possessions better than others. There are people that can handle responsibility better than others. The master knew which one of his slaves was more responsible, so he would dish out these talents according to their ability to handle responsibility. He wasn’t about to give the man to whom he gave one talent, he wasn’t about to give that person five because that person probably couldn’t handle the weight of the responsibility.
Anyways, as the story goes on, he gives out these talents, the five, two, and one. The first two servants, the ones who received the five talents and the two talents, at once went out and put the talent to work. Now we don’t know what that work was, but we do know they put it to work. They got busy with it. Back then, it could have been a number of things. It could have been they put the money into some sort of investment. It could have been that they started their own business, maybe a fruit or vegetable stand or whatever at the market place. It could have been that they loaned out that money to another person, possibly even another slave or somebody else. That was quite common there.
As a side note, I remember in the Navy, as some of you know, some sailors can be kind of irresponsible with their money. I was one of those guys unfortunately. Other sailors knew how to take advantage of this situation. Oftentimes what would happen is that the sailor would get paid and two or three days later, they would come off leave and they would be broke, and they would want to go back on liberty, and they didn’t have any money left. So there other sailors, the smart ones, that were more than willing to give a little short-term loan at a very substantial interest rate. They would say do you need $50 to go off on liberty? I’ll give you $50. The only problem is you have to pay me back $100. There were guys that would do that. They would shell out the money for that. Sometimes I was on the lending end and sometimes I was on the receiving end depending on what the port was anyway. That’s a joke!
My point is that the master doesn’t tell the slaves what to do with the money, but they put it to work. On the other hand, you have this other slave, the one talent slave, who did this very strange thing. He takes the money and he doesn’t go out and invest it, he doesn’t put it into a business. What he does is he digs a hole and he buries it. It goes on to say “but the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” Now the first century reader who would be reading this would say big deal. That is a common thing to do because people were afraid of losing their money. They were afraid of losing it to thieves or a bad investment or whatever, so they would dig a hole and bury the money. We see the same thing today. I suspect there are some people in here that are nervous about the banking situation, the stock market, so they keep a certain amount of money at home or on their property hidden away for safe keeping. In fact, I read an article yesterday about a situation in Erie where this contractor was doing some work, broke down a wall, and found a metal box and the metal box contained $162,000 that somebody had hidden away in a wall. Again, that was fairly common but what was common for the first century people and common for people today, was not common for the master. In other words, the master was pretty upset about the situation. The one talent slave didn’t do anything productive with that money.
As the story goes, the master was returning from his long journey, and he greets the five talent slave on the road and the slave says, hey master, welcome back. Here are the five talents you gave me, and by the way, here are five more. I doubled your money. What does the master say? The master goes on and kind of pats his back and says “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.” Then the two-talent slave shows up and he says the same thing. He says, master, here are your two talents and here are two more. I doubled your money. His master says the exact same thing. His master replied “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.” Basically, they got a promotion. One translation says that they came in partnership with the master. That is a pretty cool thing. The one-talent slave is probably sitting on the sideline or had heard about it through the grapevine about how pleased the master was with the five-talent guy and the two-talent guy, and he was nervous because he knows he didn’t get any sort of return on the master’s money. He goes into rationalization mode. In fact, he goes shifting the blame to the character of the master. He says “Master, I knew that you are a hard man harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed, so I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.” The slave’s logic was really sound if he was indeed a hard man. If he was some sort of a money-grabbing capitalist or whatever, then it makes perfect sense. What a reader would recognize very quickly is his view of the master is not consistent with the master’s treatment of the first two slaves. He treated those first two slaves really well because of their faithfulness. He was willing to reward their faithfulness by giving them a promotion and allowing the other two to share in his wealth and in his power. So again, this guy basically had a wrong perception of the master.
As a side note, that happens doesn’t it in real life? I know you have all worked in jobs, maybe big corporations where you are the low person on the totem pole. At the low place on the totem pole, what do you do? You often talk about the people upstairs. They all drive nice cars and fly in jets and live a life of luxury. In some cases, that is true, but I suspect more often than not that it is not. There are people that made it to the top through their own work, through working hard, through their own money, and they are concerned not only about the company, but they are concerned about the employees. In fact, I suspect there are a lot of presidents of companies that lose sleep overnight because they are worried about whether or not they are going to make the next payroll and if someone is going to be out of a job. There are people that feel that way. Again, it is easy when you are the low person on the totem pole to have a mistaken perception of the person above you.
So he is making this excuse and what happens is the master really reveals the character of the slave. He goes on to say “You wicked, lazy servant. You knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed. Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.” Today, that interest would have been about 1% but at least it would not have lost as much value. He is not agreeing with him that he is a wicked person. He is saying so you really think that this is the way I am. If it was, then why didn’t you just do the very minimum and at least allow me to get a minimum rate of return on my investment. As the story goes, the last few lines are very sad. He says “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more and he will have abundance.” He goes on to say “Throw that worthless servant outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of the teeth.” That is very strong language by Jesus.
Although the use of the word talent here really applies to money, I think that it can apply to our modern understanding of talent as a natural ability. What I would like to do is draw a few kingdom lessons from this parable that can be applied to us today. The first lesson that we can learn is that God owns everything. God owns and loans the talents. Everything we have in front of us, our time, our treasures, and our talents, belong to God. He created everything. We have to understand that. As kingdom people, we really have to understand that we are just stewards of everything that has been given to us. It is easy to look at someone like a Tiger Woods and just be amazed at his swing. It is easy to look at someone like a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs and say man they are so gifted to be able to produce wealth, to produce technology. Look at someone like an Adele and say she has an amazing voice. She is so talented. And it is true but thing to remember is they may have developed those talents but those talents started inside of them at their birth. They were wired to be able to use those talents. They just were able to maximize the God-given strength that was in them to be able to do those great things.
Really, I don’t know if you call it anatomy or biology or whatever you want, but that can be supported by cell structure. I was doing some reading on this, and by no means do I have any real qualifications to talk about human anatomy, but the thing I was reading about, and I suspect this is true, is that a baby 40 days after conception starts producing these brain cells. Apparently, at four months, the baby is producing about 9500 brain cells per second. By the time that baby is birthed, the baby has 100 billion brain cells. Not only that, apparently these brain cells begin to in some way reach out for each other. They try to connect to the other brain cells. That is an amazing thing that people need to understand. It has to be a God-created thing. These brain cells start reaching out towards each other and at some point they make this connection through this thing called a synapsis that basically then allows the transmission of neurotransmitters between the cells. Whatever the case, these things keep producing so you have 15,000 supposedly of these synapses per brain cell so it is 15,000 x 100 billion. That is how many of these connections you have going on inside the brain. You think why does a child need that many? The reality is a child doesn’t need that many, but the child is absorbing information like a sponge. Taking all sorts of information. So all these transmitters are there that connect these brain cells so they can process effectively. Like anything else, over time, if those transmitters or those synapses aren’t used, they begin to deteriorate and they really don’t function that well anymore. I don’t know if they die off or what, but your brain actually begins to shrink because you find you don’t need all those connections anymore. What happens is that the ones that you have taken the time to develop through training, through nurturing, through the environment, those actually become very strong and those become the basis for your personality traits and your talents, particularly your strengths that you have. The things that are developed as a child tend to grow as an adult and you become good at those things.
As a side note, obviously, hopefully you know, Debbie is a very talented musician. She is wired in many ways for music. But she also grew up in a home where every person at home either sang or played a musical instrument. So the synapses in her brain or the talent that produced the gift of music was developed, and she was able to use that and that became one of her strengths. God gives us these things. This is a God-given thing that he places in us so that we might be able to go out and be effective in the world but not just in the world, ultimately in his kingdom. Some of these talents we don’t even know we have until later in life or we develop them early in life and we pick them up later in life. Anybody familiar with the name Anna Mary Moses? Grandma Moses. Grandma Moses you might not know was a painter, a phenomenal painter. She lived on a farm. As a child she found she had the gift of painting beautiful landscapes, agricultural landscapes, farming landscapes. She did this up until about the age of 18 and then because of the responsibilities of farming, she had to put down the paintbrush and pretty much pick up the plow and go to work. She did that for 60 years and never painted again until she retired from farming at about the age of 78. She put down the plow and picked up the paintbrush and just continued to paint. In fact, she produced 1,000 paintings between the age of 78 and 101. She was wired again to do that. She had developed it as a child and it never left her. My first point again is that God owns and loans the talents for our use in the world and particularly in the kingdom.
But the second point is that God gives them according to ability. We saw in that story that one servant got five talents, one got two, and another got one. Why? Because some were better than others to handle large amounts. Likewise, in the world, some people are not responsible enough to handle certain talents. Some people could be given the talent to produce wealth or to be a leader or whatever. But maybe they don’t have the personality trait or they just don’t have the responsibility to be able to use that talent in an effective way especially for the kingdom. Some people get frustrated. Why do I only get one talent and that person has five talents? We have all seen people that just seem like they are so gifted and so talented and really it kind of goes back to this. God gives according to his ability. Especially when we are talking about kingdom. We get some people that think they have more talents than they do. They actually think they were given a talent and find out later they really don’t. I am sure some of you have seen the show American Idol and we know that some of those people just aren’t talented. The sad thing is nobody seems to tell them. Their family, their friends, they show up and you feel for them because they really think they are talented and the poor judges have to tell them, listen, you need to just stick to waiting tables or whatever you are doing because you can’t sing a lick. They need to hear that. You laugh but very similar to this is the idea of kingdom talents. Gifts that you are given for the kingdom. We get people that come in the church all the time and they all think they are gifted. They all think they are talented. They come in and they want to tell us about their talents. I’ve got this, this, and this talent so I expect you to put me into the place that I can use my talent. We nicely say that’s nice but how about if you start with something small, something simple, kind of an easy entry point to demonstrate your faithfulness with the little and some people want nothing to do with it. No, I want to be on the stage or I want to be up front or I want to be leading. We can’t do that because what we are doing is setting some people up for failure, especially the people that don’t have the talent. We don’t want to do that. What we do is we write them easy points of entry. How about you start with greeting at the front door? How about you be an usher? How about you help with the lawn outside? How about you help in property or something like that or help with fellowship? Those are easy points of entry that very seldom can you do anything that is going to cause the whole church to crumble down, right? What we try to do is promote those opportunities as really testing grounds where we can test your faithfulness and help you determine your real strengths.
In fact, today, after the service, we have what we call a ministry fair. There are about ten of our ministries set up over there in Café Connect where you can go over and ask all the questions you want and find out about a particular ministry and sign up for it and just give it a shot. You are not going to be locked in it for life. It is just an opportunity to try one of these ministries, what I call easy entry points. The idea is once you get into one of those ministries you begin to realize I am gifted for this. I have a talent for this. You might say, Chuck, how do I know if I am really talented? The first indication is that you are not getting pushed out of the ministry by the leader. You are starting to get affirmed or they are starting to pat you on the back and say good job. You did a good job outside on that property or you did a good job bringing the food for fellowship. You did a great job greeting the people. I have heard nothing but complements. Or it could be something that you just seem to pick up very quickly. Rapid learning. You really get into it. You actually go out and try to find out more information to get better at that particular ministry. The other thing is that you find a deep level of satisfaction. You find that happiness or that deep joy that you just say I just love this. I know I am made to do this. I know I am really made to do this. Then is you realize you are operating within your ability because when you are operating outside of your ability, what happens is you get frustrated. You get mad. You get people around you upset because you are trying to do something that you are not wired to do. What you want to do is you want to focus on your strength. Those one or two things that God really wired you for because time is too short and you can’t do everything. I know a lot of people here that are doers that like to do everything, but if you would just focus on one or two things and do the best at that, you would be more productive than doing 20 things. Again, God owns and loans the talent. God gives them according to the ability.
The third thing is that God expects us to use them creatively. Again, if you remember the passage, the slaves were not told what to do with the talents. They weren’t. I think the master purposely left that open. God purposely leaves it open for us. He wants us to use our gifts, our talents in very creative ways. He doesn’t want to restrict us to a few things. Really, the more mature you become in your faith, the less you have to be told what to do. You know what you are wired for. You don’t sit around waiting for somebody to say you need to go and serve as an usher or greet or you need to serve on the grounds. You just know that is how you are wired. It becomes natural. What you do is you quit blaming the ministry leaders or the pastors or whatever for not plugging you in to the ministry. You determine yourself where you are going to plug in inside or outside the church. You are persistent in trying to really pursue your strength and persistent in trying to really go after your talents. God expects us to use them creatively and there are some people that are really just good at it.
I think I have shared about my friend Jose. He lives in Boston. He is a full-time engineer. He probably works 50-60 hours a week and travels a lot but that guy gets so much done in ministry it almost puts me to shame because I am just amazed at what he does. He is very creative. He is one of those five or ten talent people. He is a gifted engineer. He is a gifted evangelist. He is a gifted speaker. He is a gifted organizer. He is able to take all those talents and not go around and ask people what should I do with these talents. He goes out and he finds creative ways to use those talents that would multiply the effects even worldwide. He is from the Dominican Republic so he travels to the Dominican Republic about two or three times a year because he has a heart for the Dominican Republic people. He goes there and is actually involved in several ministries. He was down there a couple months ago and he got to notice all these motorcycles driving around. He began to ask people about how many motorcycles are in the city and I guess there are like a million motorcycles in the city of Santo Domingo. But he also learned that motorcycle accidents were the leading cause of death in the Dominican Republic. It wasn’t only because a lot of the motorcycle drivers are bad drivers; it was because they were missing their headlamps. They were missing the lamps on the front of their bike because people would steal them. They would put them in their homes. They would put them in work places so people could not keep a headlight on their bike. It was causing all these accidents because the motorcycles through the city in the day and they are driving all over the place at night so people were getting killed by other drivers, by other motorcycles, by trucks and that sort of thing. In his engineering mind, this is easy. The answer is reflector tape. He said all I need to do is get somebody to donate or raise some money to buy reflector tape at 50 cents a roll and then go to the Dominican Republic and give it out to all the motorcycle riders free and let them put it on their motorcycle so when a truck is coming at night it will reflect off their bike. A very simple solution that has probably already saved dozens of lives. Here is a picture of one of the guys putting the reflector tape on the bike. He has raised about half of $6,000 to get all this reflector tape shipped over there. The thing about this too is this is a bit of a worldly thing. You say where does this fit into the kingdom? Not only does he, by doing this, save physical lives, he saves souls. What he does when he brings that tape over, he has some sort of an event, some sort of a gathering in the park, and invites everybody with a motorcycle to come in to give them a roll of tape and he also hands them the New Testament and stands up there and shares the gospel. He is utilizing all of his worldly gifts and his kingdom gifts to make a substantial impact in another part of the world all while he is working full time. And you know what? I know this is his gift because it doesn’t cause him to blink. Something like this to a project engineer, this is a piece of cake. You do this in your sleep. You do this at night. Saving lives like this. That is what I mean about taking those gifts and begin to bundle those gifts together. Finding out your strengths and using them in an effective way that not only is effective in the world but effective in the kingdom. What goes for the five-talent people goes for the one-talent people. Some of you people are gifted teachers. You have done a great job teaching your kids. Now the kids are out of the house, now why don’t you teach another 30 or 40 kids in Sunday school or out in the community like tutoring them. Why don’t you multiply those talents and those gifts? Some of you love to cook. You love cooking for large families. You love cooking for six or a dozen people. Take that gift and why don’t you cook for first Wednesday and cook for 100 people. You know it’s not that much work because you already know how to do it. It comes natural to you. Some of you are gifted at making money. It is just very easy. You just know how to make money. Well why don’t you make enough money to support some sort of a ministry or fund a new startup. Some of you people are gifted in landscape or whatever. Use your landscaping gifts to go out and help outside in the landscape or somewhere else in the town. Again, what is good for the five-talent people is good for the one-talent people.
Again, what we are talking about here is God owns everything. He gives them to us according to our ability and we are supposed to use them in a creative manner. The fourth thing is that God rewards our faithful use of them. Not just in the world to basically accumulate more stuff and more wealth and more status. Faithful in God’s kingdom for expanding God’s kingdom. When we do that, again, we hear that well done good and faithful servant. You have done a great job. You have been faithful at a few things. I am now going to put you in charge of many things. In others words, I am going to give you a promotion, but I am going to allow you to really expand your level of influence. Again, thinking about my friend Jose, by doing these little things, he catches peoples’ attention. Now he has inroads into the university. He has inroads into the government. Who knows? He could be involved in impacting an entire country by his faithfulness with the little things. As the passage goes on to say, we are able to share in the master’s happiness. We are able to share in a partnership with the master, with God, with the joy that he feels because he is like a parent. Parents spend money on lessons for kids, music lessons and sports. When the kid finally uses those gifts and uses those talents in a very productive way that you see, you begin to feel this sense of joy just watching them don’t you? That is how the Father in heaven feels. When we begin to use the talents that he has given us, he sits back and feels this deep sense of satisfaction and joy.
The last part of this passage is a little bit difficult. I actually was going to skip it. I didn’t even like this parable because of it because the last part of the passage really talks about what happens if we don’t. He basically goes on to say “Throw that worthless servant outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of the teeth.” If we place that into context into other parables, it is really a picture of hell is what some suspect. I am not going to stand here and say that if you do not use your talents that you are going to go burn in hell. I won’t do that. But I tell you what, this passage scares the hell out of me. It does because I am a paid minister. Sometimes I know that I am not using my gifts and my talents up to the way I should be using it. In fact I know I am not sometimes and that scares me. Even though it may not mean you are going to burn in hell, what it means is God is serious about this stuff. He loves this stuff. He values everything he created. He does not create junk. He wants you to use those talents for his kingdom. At a minimum when we don’t use it, we are excluded from the kingdom blessings right here and now. At a maximum, we may be excluded from the blessings of all eternity.
In closing, we have to decide where are we in this situation? Are we one of the two faithful servants? Are we the unfaithful one? The one-talent servant. Are we the one-talent person who squandered their talent? Who dug a hole in the ground and shoved those gifts down there never to be used again, never to be productive. Are we one of those faithful servants that received two talents or five talents or ten talents or more and will receive the great welcoming when we go off to heaven? The great words that all of us long to hear “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 in your master’s happiness.” Let us pray.