In the last couple articles, we looked at the amazing things that occur when we start with what we have and then give it to God. What we haven’t looked at yet is how, in this cycle of receiving and giving, God also expects us to do something with what He gives us.
I never understood the parable of the tenants (Matthew 25:14-30). A man goes on a journey and gives three servants varying amounts of money: five talents, two talents, or one talent. The servants who receive five and two talents put the money to work, and when their master returns they are able to give him not only the small amount he had given them initially, but also what they had earned. The first servant returns ten talents and the second servant returns four talents; both receive the reply, “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!” The third servant, however, does not fare so well. Fearing his master’s anger if he were to lose the single talent he had been given, he buries it in a hole, and when his master comes home, he returns the single talent to him.
I never understood why this was such a bad thing. It’s not like this third servant squandered away the talent on wild living. He had merely kept it safe and returned what he had been given. Seems reasonable to me. But the servant’s master was furious. “You wicked, lazy servant…you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”
Okay, so maybe putting the money in a savings account would have been wiser than burying it in a hole. But then again, in this age of crashing banking systems, there are days I think burying your money in a hole isn’t such a bad idea. It certainly doesn’t seem wicked or lazy to me. And it certainly doesn’t seem to deserve what happens next.
“Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents,” the master said. “And, throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Wow. What is that all about? Does God really care that strongly that we all put the money he gives us into savings accounts?
After years of struggling with the seemingly conflicting messages in this parable – why is it wrong to keep safe what God gives you?? – I once heard this parable summarized like this: The talents in the parable represent all the gifts God gives us. Money, education, friendship, talents, abilities… These gifts are not meant to be hidden away. These gifts are meant to be put to use.
In other words, God wants us to do something with what He has given us. As the body of Christ, we are the servants who have been equipped and sent forth to do the good work God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). But this work will not get done if we choose instead to bury in the sand all the money, the education, the friendships, the talents, the abilities God has given us. We have that choice. And the devil is alluring in his call. It is safer, the devil whispers, to hide what God has given us. It is better, the devil whispers, if we keep this for ourselves, if we don’t share it, if we keep it safe. But the parable tells us what happens if we choose to bury it. It may seem safe to hold on tightly to the gifts God has given us, but the gifts God gives us are meant to be used. If we choose not to use a gift, He will take it away and give it to someone else. Someone who will do something with it.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)