Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Jesus wants you to share His happiness (Matthew 25:14-30)

I got a strange look from a friend when I told her that I believed that God is emotionally complex.  I didn’t mean it as an insult to God.  What I mean is that God’s emotions are beyond our understanding.  If I look inside a digital radio I can’t understand how it works, it is too complex for me, yet it works perfectly.  In the same way God’s perfect emotions are beyond my current comprehension.

In particular I can’t understand how God can hold together differing emotions at the same time.  He is both righteously angry and yet perfectly at peace.  He is infinite in love and yet expresses a holy hatred.  He grieves over the lost and yet it does not take away from His delight in those He has saved.

One emotion that we must not forget is God’s happiness.  He does all things well and that thrills His heart.  In His infinite kindness He wants us to share that happiness.  Look at what the master says in this parable: ‘Come and share your master’s happiness!’  Jesus will come back at the end of time and say, ‘Come and share my happiness!’  In fact, I think He wants us to experience some of that happiness now.

I am going to make four observations on what is often called the Parable of the Talents.

1.     Jesus wants us to love working for Him

The parable just before this one is the parable of the ten virgins.  There we were warned to be prepared for Jesus’ return.  But how can we be prepared to meet Jesus?  This Parable tells us.  We are prepared to meet the Lord as we produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).  We wait for the Lord’s return not like we wait for a plane in an airport—bored and frustrated, but like an obedient child whose mother has said, ‘please, have the sitting room hovered by the time I get back.’

The only problem with saying that it is like the child with the sitting-room to hover is that I don’t know any children who would thing that hovering was much fun.  Yet the tasks that Jesus has commissioned us to should delight us.  Jesus isn’t trying to rob you of the pleasures of life, He has promised to give us life in all its fullness (John 10:10).  David Jeremiah says that ‘Christian joy is letting Christ live His life out through you so that what He is, you become.’

God wants you to take pleasure in Him.  There are few things less natural to our sinful nature than giving away money.  But He calls us to be cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Think of why giving might delight your heart.  In the next parable we will see Jesus teach that anything we give to the neediest of His people is treated as if it was given directly to Him.  Isn’t that an amazing privilege!  Don’t you know that He will more than repay you on the last day?  Think of giving to missionary work.  Those missionaries are now your partners.  You work with them in their ministry.  He will reward you for what He does through them.  That is a good investment!

I am thankful for your giving to this church, because it enables me to minister in preaching and teaching.  If I teach anything that helps those who listen remember that I did not work alone, I worked with your help God will reward you for that!

 

2.     Jesus doesn’t ask for more than we can deliver

When we think of talents, we tend to think of gifts and abilities.  But the talent that is used in this parable refers to a certain amount of wealth.  That is why the NIV uses the term ‘bags of gold’.  This talent was worth about twenty years wages.  The master has left the servants with great responsibility.

This picture of talents or ‘bags of gold’ can represent anything that can be invested in the kingdom.  It includes your money, but it also includes you time and opportunities.  Each of us have unique opportunities.  There are people you can love that I don’t even know.  God has placed us in our families, workplaces, schools and neighbourhoods for a reason.

Notice that He gives each according to their abilities.  He does not load us with responsibilities too great for us.  Myself and Caroline looked at going to Africa before we came to Limerick, but the mission agency we were talking with were more excited at the idea of keeping us at home.  I think that they may have realised that I have problems with my mental health and thought I could not take it.  I think they may have been right.  The strain might have been too much for me.  That responsibility was beyond my ability.  Jesus will not ask you to give more than you can handle.

However, I think we tend to underestimate our abilities.  Not because we think too little of ourselves, but because we don’t realise what God can do through imperfect and broken people.  Our problem is not that we are too humble, but that we lack faith.  We may not be very brave, but when the frightened Christians prayed in the book of Acts they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the Word of God with courage (Acts 4:31).

Why not pray at the beginning of each day that God would open up doors for you to speak about Him.  Ask Him to direct your conversations and see what happens.  Be available and give Him the responsibility to lead you.

Also, remember that our lack of self-control, our impatience and our shallowness of love are nothing to do with our lack of abilities.  They simply remind us of a lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit to produce this fruit in us!

3.     Jesus loves to say ‘well done’

It is all of grace.  Anything we do is done in His strength.  He gives us our abilities.  He gives us the desire to serve Him (Phil. 2:13).  If there is any fruit to our labours it is produced by Him (1 Cor. 2:13).  But the fact that it is His work in us, rather than work alone, does not stop Him saying ‘well done’.  If I give one of my children twenty Euro to buy me a birthday present I am still delighted when they give me that gift.

The two faithful servants have different abilities and are given different talents, but they receive the same commendation: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will now put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’  Both produced a increase in proportion to the talents they had been given, both were rewarded with more responsibility.  It looks like the reward for hard work is more work.  But who can imagine what the joyous and satisfying work in the new creation might be.

It is not unhealthy to want to hear your master say ‘well done!’  Godly parents will say well done often, even though they can see the child’s efforts are far from perfect.  I don’t believe we need to wait until he returns to hear Jesus say ‘well done.’  I think He whispers ‘well done’ over all our imperfect efforts to please him.

4.     Jesus looks for current fruit rather than past experience.

Who is this unfaithful servant who ends up in hell?  They are not a real Christian, that’s for sure.  They are someone who took what was given to them and did nothing with it.  Remember that John the Baptist told us to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).  No amount of good works can get you into God’s kingdom, but we show that we belong to Him as His love transforms us.

Also, notice that He has a terrible idea of who the master is.  Is our master really a hard man?  Jesus tells us that he is humble and lowly of heart.  There is no love in this man for his master.  ‘It can be said about us, as humans, that we try to be like our God.  If He is conceived to be stern and exacting and harsh, so will we be!’  If you find yourself to be critical and bitter it may be that this is because you think of God as being that way.   

If this person lived among our evangelical churches, she would someone who once prayed a prayer of commitment to Jesus at a meeting, but little has changed in her life since.  Jesus looks for current fruit rather than past experience.

I do have one last application for our church.  Through the generous giving of this congregation and good financial management we have a very healthy bank account.  But that places a great responsibility on our shoulders.  That is money to be invested in the kingdom.  We need God to show us where and how.  Similarly, we have our own building, and many churches don’t, we want this building to be used by lots of fellowship through whom Jesus can build His church.

Conclusion—stake on the plate while you wait

‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few thongs; I will put you in change of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’  This is the Christian’s pursuit of happiness, the promise of future joy!  In fact, Jesus lived for future joy.   Jesus went to the cross for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2).  It pleased Him to rescue us from our guilt.

People will tell us that future reward is all pie in the sky when you die.  But the next life will be infinitely longer than this one.  But this isn’t just about future joy, this is also about the daily privilege of living for Jesus.  This is stake on the plate while you wait.

See the talents/bags of gold that Jesus has given you.  We live in a rich part of the world with many opportunities to invest in the kingdom.  We live in a free land where we can speak of Jesus without fear.  We have been taught God’s Word so we should know what to say.  We have great privilege and huge responsibility!

Monday, 7 June 2021

Characters in the Medieval Church

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)



Anselm was the son of a landowner in Italy.  Went to France to study when he was twenty-three.  He then goes to a monastic school in Normandy.  He was a brilliant scholar.  He rises to become becomes Abbot at the monetary.  As head of this monastery he enjoys to certain diplomatic career.  He becomes someone who has the respect of William the Conqueror.  At the age of sixty, he becomes the archbishop of Canterbury.

Anselm is famous for his writings.  The work that we are going to briefly consider is called Cur Deus Homo (‘Why God became Man’).

Cur Deus Homo is cast as a dialogue between Anslem and a monk named Boso.  Boso comes to him and says, ‘I believe the incarnation, and I want you to explain why it had to be so.’  There had been an idea that a ransom had to be paid to the devil in order to redeem humanity.  Anselm reacts against this ‘devil ransom’ theory of the atonement.  He feels that it gives the devil too much right over humanity.  The devil has no such rights.  Instead, Anselm constructs an understanding of the atonement that is much more God-centred.  Anselm looks at how the incarnation relates to other doctrines.

Why can’t God just forgive sin?  Why does he need to have justice satisfied on the cross?  Anselm answers that God is both honourable and merciful.  Whatever way that God deals with our sins, it must in a way that God’s honour would be restored.  His thinking here is very much shaped by the feudal system of his time and the honour that is due to a feudal lord.  He could restore his honour by simply condemning the sinner, but it is more fitting to restore his honour in a means that also demonstrates his mercy.  The thing is that we have dishonoured an infinite God.  It would be one thing to spit on the wife of your feudal lord, but we have done something far worse, we have dishonoured the infinite Lord of all creation.  Anslem points out that we have not yet considered the weight of sin.

Anselm points out that in order to forgive sin, Jesus must be both God and man.  A mere human can’t make the payment for sin because the sin against God is of infinite value.  It would take a payment of infinite worth to restore God’s honour.  For Jesus to pay the debt on behalf of humanity he must become truly man.

Later reformers like Calvin would preach a similar idea of the cross being satisfaction for sin, but they replace the idea of God restoring honour with the idea of God satisfying justice.  The reformers were more influenced by the thinking of the law courts rather than the feudal landlord. 

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)



Bernard was born in Burgundy, France.  He was the son of a minor noble.  He became a monk and was the most successful monastery planter the Cistercians produced.  He set up sixty-eight monastic houses.  In 1115 he founds the monastery in Clairvaux. 

The Knights Templar was a military order of monks who were established by Bernard’s cousin in order to protect pilgrims in Jerusalem.  But how do you justify an armed group of monks?  Bernard justified this by suggesting that any violence they committed would be motivated by the best of reasons.  But aren’t monks supposed to be spending their time searching for God?  Bernard pointed out that these monks were based in the Holy Land, and so when they were not defending the pilgrims, they would be contemplating in that surrounding.

In 1130 Pope Honorius II dies.  The problem was that there was a split decision as to who Honorius’s successor should be.  Should it be Innocent II or Anacletus II.  Bernard spends the next eight years travelling around and using his considerable influence to rally support for Innocent II.  Innocent II becomes pope and Bernard’s reputation has become massively enhanced.

The most notorious event of Bernard’s life is his support for the second crusade (1146-48).  The crusade started with an alliance between the king of France and the pope.  Bernard preached that it should be a great pan-European action involving both the eastern and western churches invading the holy land.

Bernard was an expert on the nature of sin.  He was also an expert on the nature of love.  He taught we are to love for God’s sake.  ‘God is not loved without reward, but he should be loved without thought of God’s love.’  He sees the human ability to love as a reflection of the image of God is us.  God is to be loved because he is God.  He sees the essence of sin not as the destruction of love but the misdirection of love.  For example, you cannot love God and be motivated in life by the love of money.  God is infinite so he is to be loved in an infinite way.  Bernard sees God’s love as being permanently revealed on the cross, and that we should spend time contemplating the work of Jesus on the cross.  ‘God is the cause of loving God … He himself creates the longing.  He himself fulfils the desire.’

He spoke of the process of the Christian life in four stages of love.  The first stage is that man loves himself for man’s sake.  Sometimes this may prompt us to love others for our own sake (we might help someone with the hope that in the future they will help us).  The second stage is that man loves God for man’s sake (we cry out to God when we are in a crisis).  The third stage is that man loves God for God’s sake—you come to see God in his own being and see his beauty.  The final love is that man loves man for God’s sake.  You simply love people because they too are made in the image of God.  You love men and women because they are God’s men and women.  This final love is very much seen as an aspiration we are to aim at.  He thought of it only attained in heaven although some of the martyrs attained it on earth.

The Knights Templar

No decent conspiracy theory is complete without reference to the Knights Templar.  They even feature in Indiana Jones’s movies.

The Knights Templar (also called The Poor Soldiers of Christ and of The Temple of Solomon) were armed monks who protected the pilgrims visiting Jerusalem after Jerusalem was taken by the Christians in the first crusade in 1099.  At this time many pilgrims traveled across Europe to Jerusalem.

One interesting thing about the Knights Templar was their role in banking. 

The pilgrims needed to fund months of food and supplies, and they could not simply carry huge sums of cash with them.  So, the Knights Templar came up with a solution.  A pilgrim could leave cash at the Temple Church in London and withdraw the same amount of money in Jerusalem.  Now they simply needed to carry a letter of credit.  

This was not the first time such a system had been used, a similar system had been used in China several centuries earlier, but the Chinese system was operated by the government, whereas the Templars were operating more like a private bank—albeit owned by the Pope, king and princess across Europe, and run by monks who were sworn to poverty.

The also provided banking services to Henry III, facilitating the sale of an island to him.  In the 1200s, the crown jewels were kept at the Temple church in London as security on a loan.

The Templars lost their reason to exist after Jerusalem was lost to the Muslims in 1244.  They were disbanded in 1312. 

Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)



There are plenty of myths surrounding Francis of Assisi.  For example, he is pictured as preaching to the birds and making friends with wolves.  However, Francis must have been a formidable figure given the impact he made in the thirteenth century.  His contemporaries claimed that he lived out the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone else they knew of, other than Jesus himself.

Francis was born in Assisi in Italy.  His full name was Giovanni Francesco Bernardone.   He was the son of a wealthy merchant.  As a young man, he lived a worldly, carefree life.  He marched to war in the fifth crusade in 1202 and was taken prisoner in battle.  A year passed before his father could arrange a ransom for him.  Now in his twenties, he needed a year to recover.  During this time, he experienced dreams and visions.  While he prayed in a dilapidated church, he says he heard Christ saying, ‘Francis, go repair my house, which, as you can see, is falling completely in ruin.’  He proceeded to sell off family goods to repair that building.  His followers believed, however, that Christ’s world to repair the church referred also to the whole of the institution.

His father was furious with him for selling family good and dragged him before the local bishop to change his behaviour and pay the money back.  He left that meeting to become a hermit.  He wanted to be alone in solitude and silence.

One day in church he heard Jesus’ words to the disciples to, ‘take no gold or silver or copper in your wallet, no bag for the journey, nor two sandals or a staff.’  He took this for himself and began the life as an itinerant preacher.  He aimed at living simply and preaching the gospel.

Not all his habits would seem healthy to us.  In winter, he sometimes threw himself in a ditch full of ice and stayed there until every vestige of temptation departed.  To avoid lust, he fixed his gaze on the sky or the ground whenever he spoke with a woman.  While joyful, he disapproved of laughing. 

He wandered all over Europe and even visited crusaders in Italy.  He crossed enemy lines and tried to convert the Muslim sultan.

In 1209 he gathered around him twelve men who wanted to share his life and ministry.  He wrote a Rule, and so set up the Franciscan Order.  A rich woman of Assisi called Clare was fascinated by his message and set up a female Franciscan order known as Poor Clares.

Soon his followers were making trips all over Europe.  They preached a message of repentance, simple living and radical obedience to Jesus’ teaching

Francis was the first person it was claimed to have stigmata—his bloody receiving the bleeding wounds of Christ.  As he entered his forties, his body was racked with illness and his eyesight eventually faded completely. 

After his death, the Franciscans continued to grow.  He was made a saint just two years after his death.  A stunning basilica was built in his honour in Assisi in 1228, his relics were moved there in 1230. 

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)



Thomas happened to be massively fat, he suffered from dropsy (a swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your tissues) and had one eye that was hugely bigger than the other.  He was introspective in mood and was mostly silent.  When he did speak it was often completely unrelated to the conversation.  His classmates in college called him the dumb ox.  Yet today he is recognised as the greatest theologian of the middle ages.

He was born in an Italian castle.  At five this pudgy boy was sent to school at a nearby monastery.  At fourteen he went to University in Naples.  His Dominican teacher so impressed him, that Thomas decided that he would join the Dominicans.

His family fiercely opposed his decision to become a Dominican.  They wanted him to become something rich and influential, like an abbot or archbishop, rather than a friar who took a vow of poverty.  His brothers kidnapped him and held him in confinement for fifteen months to try and stop him being a friar.  His family tempted him with a prostitute and offered to buy him the post of archbishop of Naples.  Nevertheless, Thomas resisted their efforts and moved to Paris, which was the centre of theological learning.

Thomas wrestled with the question, ‘if knowledge could only come through God’s revelation, then how come many non-Christian teachers like Aristotle were so good at explaining things?  He decided to extract from Aristotle everything that was helpful.

His greatest work is called Summa Theologica. There he sought to distinguish between philosophy and theology, between reason and revelation (although he said that these did not contradict each other, and that both are from God).  He pointed out that reason can lead us to believe in God, only revelation can show us God as he really is.  Only the Bible can show us the triune God.

His works were attacked even before his death.  In 1277, the archbishop of Rome tried to have him formally condemned.  Over time the genius of his writings has been recognised.  However, Thomas may not have approved of this.  Towards the end of his life he had a vision that caused him to stop writing.  He had experienced many visions before, but this was different.  His secretary pleaded with him to start writing again, but Aquinas replied, ‘I cannot.  Such things have been revealed to me that what I have written seems but straw.  His Summa Theologica was left unfinished when he died three months later. 

Julian of Norwich (1343-1416ish)



Julian of Norwich was an anchorite.  Anchorites were people who had withdrawn from society to live a prayer centred life living in cells, that were often associated with a church.  She is particularly famous for her book called, ‘Revelations of Divine Love.’

For much of her life she lived in permanent seclusion in her cell.  Nothing is known of her life before she became an anchoress.  As an anchoress living in an urban area, she would have not lived an entirely secluded life.  She would have been allowed make clothes for the poor.  She was a respected religious authority at her time and would have given some people counsel. 

According to ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ she fell seriously ill when she was thirty.  A curate even served her the last rites on the assumption that she was dying.  As she did this she gazed upon his crucifix and began to see Christ bleed.  Over the next hours she had a series of visions.  She writes about these.

The main issue in the ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ is the problem of sin but she speaks of the certainty of being loved by God.  She likened God’s love to that of a mother.  She believed that God sees us as perfect and waits for the day when human souls mature so that evil and sin will no longer trouble us.  ‘God is nearer to us than our soul’, she repeated wrote.  Of her visions she recounted Jesus saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  ‘This was said so tenderly, without blame of any kind towards me or anybody else.’  

Three questions that emerge from the patristic and medieval church

1.     When did veneration of Mary and the saints begin?

2.     When did the bishop of Rome become the dominant pope?

3.     When did the church start using church building?

Mary and the saints

It is important to realise that our Catholic friends refer to venerating Mary and the saints, not worshipping Mary and the saints.  Worship is something that is due to God alone.  It also has to be understood that the answer to this question is open to debate.  Our Catholic friends would say that Mary was venerated from the time of the New Testament.

The respect that Christians have for Mary can be seem in paintings found in the catacombs of Rome from the second century.  There she is seen as holding the baby Jesus.  Ambrose writes in praise of Mary.  Veneration of Mary was sanctioned at the Council of Ephesus (431).  Bernard of Clairvaux believed that Mary never sinned in her life and that we should call on Mary in times of temptation.

The spread of monasticism in the fourth century promoted the idea of celibacy as being the ideal.  The first notable Christian leader to have defended the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary seems to have been Ambrose, who presided over the Synod of Milan (389), after which Mary’s perpetual virginity became the established view.  While the New Testament mentions Jesus having brothers and sisters, the Catholic response is that Joseph had been married before, and widowed, and that these were his children.  They would have been Jesus’ stepbrothers and stepsisters.

While the taught of Mary committing no personal sin was commonly taught, what about her original sin?  Augustine had said that original sin is transmitted from generation to generation through the sex involved in our conception.  Bernard and Anselm argued against the idea that Mary was born without original sin because the, given the belief that she lived a sinless life, she would not have needed Jesus as her saviour.

The Council of Basel (1431) declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be a ‘pious opinion’.  In 1854, Pope Pius X issued Papal Bull in favour of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Veneration of saints began with a belief that martyrs went directly to heaven, rather than having to go through purgatory, after their death.  Remember that Tertullian had designated saints as a special category of Christian rather than simply being all Christians.  Such a belief will affect how you read passages like Revelation chapter five verse eight, which speaks of the prayers of the saints in heaven being like bowls full of incense being presented before God.

The pope of Rome

From the third century the term pope was used of all bishops.  Bishop Stephen, around 250, seems to have been the first bishop of Rome to quote Jesus’ words to peter, ‘You are Peter, and it is upon this Rock that I will build my church.’  It was believed that Peter had established the church in Rome and then claimed that this meant that the bishop of Rome was to have to be the head of the bishops.  Cyprian argued that these words to Peter was not a charter for papacy but applied to all bishops.  The third Council of Carthage (256) asserted that the Roman bishop should not attempt to be ‘bishop of bishops’.  In the Council of Nicaea (325) three churches being given special place—Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.  Pope Gregory (590) claimed that the care of the whole church had been placed in the hands of Peter and his successors of Rome.  This claim did not go unchallenged.  Those in the east, whose centre was Constantinople, resented this claim of universal rule.  The doctrine of Papal Infallibility was declared in 1870, when Pope Pius XII defined the assumption of Mary as an article of faith.

Church buildings

In the New Testament the believers did not meet in a designated church building, but in homes (Acts 17:5, 20:20 and 1 Corinthians 16:19) or in Jewish places of worship (Acts 2:46 and Acts 19:8).  It is not until the second half of the third century that the first purpose-built halls for Christian worship were built.  Many of these were destroyed in the persecutions under Diocletian.  Large church buildings began to emerge from the time of Constantine’s conversion.

Jesus wants you to share His happiness (Matthew 25:14-30)

I got a strange look from a friend when I told her that I believed that God is emotionally complex.  I  didn’t mean it as an insult to God.  What I mean is that God’s emotions are beyond our understanding.  If I look inside a digital radio I can’t understand how it works, it is too complex for me, yet it works perfectly.  In the same way God’s perfect emotions are beyond my current comprehension.

In particular I can’t understand how God can hold together differing emotions at the same time.  He is both righteously angry and yet perfectly at peace.  He is infinite in love and yet expresses a holy hatred.  He grieves over the lost and yet it does not take away from His delight in those He has saved.

One emotion that we must not forget is God’s happiness.  He does all things well and that thrills His heart.  In His infinite kindness He wants us to share that happiness.  Look at what the master says in this parable: ‘Come and share your master’s happiness!’  Jesus will come back at the end of time and say, ‘Come and share my happiness!’  In fact, I think He wants us to experience some of that happiness now.

I am going to make four observations on what is often called the Parable of the Talents.

1.     Jesus wants us to love working for Him

The parable just before this one is the parable of the ten virgins.  There we were warned to be prepared for Jesus’ return.  But how can we be prepared to meet Jesus?  This Parable tells us.  We are prepared to meet the Lord as we produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).  We wait for the Lord’s return not like we wait for a plane in an airport—bored and frustrated, but like an obedient child whose mother has said, ‘please, have the sitting room hovered by the time I get back.’

The only problem with saying that it is like the child with the sitting-room to hover is that I don’t know any children who would thing that hovering was much fun.  Yet the tasks that Jesus has commissioned us to should delight us.  Jesus isn’t trying to rob you of the pleasures of life, He has promised to give us life in all its fullness (John 10:10).  David Jeremiah says that ‘Christian joy is letting Christ live His life out through you so that what He is, you become.’

God wants you to take pleasure in Him.  There are few things less natural to our sinful nature than giving away money.  But He calls us to be cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Think of why giving might delight your heart.  In the next parable we will see Jesus teach that anything we give to the neediest of His people is treated as if it was given directly to Him.  Isn’t that an amazing privilege!  Don’t you know that He will more than repay you on the last day?  Think of giving to missionary work.  Those missionaries are now your partners.  You work with them in their ministry.  He will reward you for what He does through them.  That is a good investment!

I am thankful for your giving to this church, because it enables me to minister in preaching and teaching.  If I teach anything that helps those who listen remember that I did not work alone, I worked with your help God will reward you for that! 

2.     Jesus doesn’t ask for more than we can deliver

I need to be clear about this point.  I am not saying that Jesus won’t stretch us.  I am not even saying that Jesus won’t give you more than you can handle, if that refers to handling things in our own strength.  He will bring us to many places where we become aware of our utter need of Him.  But He also gives people according to their ability.  He won’t give you more or less than that.

When we think of talents, we tend to think of gifts and abilities.  But the talent that is used in this parable refers to a certain amount of wealth.  That is why the NIV uses the term ‘bags of gold’.  This talent was worth about twenty years wages.  The master has left the servants with great responsibility.

This picture of talents or ‘bags of gold’ can represent anything that can be invested in the kingdom.  It includes your money, but it also includes you time and opportunities.  Each of us have unique opportunities.  There are people you can love that I don’t even know.  God has placed us in our families, workplaces, schools and neighbourhoods for a reason.

Notice that He gives each according to their abilities.  He does not load us with responsibilities too great for us.  Myself and Caroline looked at going to Africa before we came to Limerick, but the mission agency we were talking with were more excited at the idea of keeping us at home.  I think that they may have realised that I have problems with my mental health and thought I could not take it.  I think they may have been right.  The strain might have been too much for me.  That responsibility was beyond my ability. 

However, I think we tend to underestimate our abilities.  Not because we think too little of ourselves, but because we don’t realise what God can do through imperfect and broken people.  Our problem is not that we are too humble, but that we lack faith.  We may not be very brave, but when the frightened Christians prayed in the book of Acts they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they spoke the Word of God with courage (Acts 4:31).

Why not pray at the beginning of each day that God would open up doors for you to speak about Him.  Ask Him to direct your conversations and see what happens.  Be available and give Him the responsibility to lead you.

Also, remember that our lack of self-control, our impatience and our shallowness of love are nothing to do with our lack of abilities.  They simply remind us of a lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit to produce this fruit in us!

3.     Jesus loves to say ‘well done’

It is all of grace.  Anything we do is done in His strength.  He gives us our abilities.  He gives us the desire to serve Him (Phil. 2:13).  If there is any fruit to our labours it is produced by Him (1 Cor. 2:13).  But the fact that it is His work in us, rather than work alone, does not stop Him saying ‘well done’.  If I give one of my children twenty Euro to buy me a birthday present I am still delighted when they give me that gift.

The two faithful servants have different abilities and are given different talents, but they receive the same commendation: ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will now put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’  Both produced a increase in proportion to the talents they had been given, both were rewarded with more responsibility.  It looks like the reward for hard work is more work.  But who can imagine what the joyous and satisfying work in the new creation might be.

It is not unhealthy to want to hear your master say ‘well done!’  Godly parents will say well done often, even though they can see the child’s efforts are far from perfect.  I don’t believe we need to wait until he returns to hear Jesus say ‘well done.’  I think He whispers ‘well done’ over all our imperfect efforts to please him.

4.     Jesus looks for current fruit rather than past experience.

Who is this unfaithful servant who ends up in hell?  They are not a real Christian, that’s for sure.  They are someone who took what was given to them and did nothing with it.  Remember that John the Baptist told us to produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).  No amount of good works can get you into God’s kingdom, but we show that we belong to Him as His love transforms us.

Also, notice that He has a terrible idea of who the master is.  Is our master really a hard man?  Jesus tells us that he is humble and lowly of heart.  There is no love in this man for his master.  It has been said that you become like the God you worship.  If you are becoming harsh and critical, could it be that you have forgotten that Jesus is gentle and gracious?

If this person lived among our evangelical churches, she would someone who once prayed a prayer of commitment to Jesus at a meeting, but little has changed in her life since.  Jesus looks for current fruit rather than past experience.

I do have one last application for our church.  Through the generous giving of this congregation and good financial management we have a very healthy bank account.  But that places a great responsibility on our shoulders.  That is money to be invested in the kingdom.  We need God to show us where and how.  Similarly, we have our own building, and many churches don’t, we want this building to be used by lots of fellowship through whom Jesus can build His church.

Conclusion—stake on the plate while you wait

‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few thongs; I will put you in change of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’  This is the Christian’s pursuit of happiness, the promise of future joy!  In fact, Jesus lived for future joy.   Jesus went to the cross for the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2).  It pleased Him to rescue us from our guilt.

People will tell us that future reward is all pie in the sky when you die.  But the next life will be infinitely longer than this one.  But this isn’t just about future joy, this is also about the daily privilege of living for Jesus.  This is stake on the plate while you wait.

See the talents/bags of gold that Jesus has given you.  We live in a rich part of the world with many opportunities to invest in the kingdom.  We live in a free land where we can speak of Jesus without fear.  We have been taught God’s Word so we should know what to say.  We have great privilege and huge responsibility!

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Feelings and assurance

Tozer writes:

A young man talked to me about his spiritual life.  He had been a Christians for several years, but he was concerned that he might not be fulfilling the will of God in his life.  He spoke of coldness of heart and a lack of spiritual power.  I could tell that he was discouraged - and afraid of hardness of heart.

I gave him a helpful expression which has come from the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux: 'My brother, only the heart is hard that does not know it is hard.  Only he is hardened who does not know he is hardened.  When we are concerned for our coldness, it is because of the yearning God has put there.  God has not rejected us'.

Tozer, Whatever happened to worship (Buckinghamshire: Authentic Media, 2009), p. 65.  

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

The Super-spiritual Christian (Part 3): 'The Cage Stage'

I was observing a discussion online between different Christians.  One Christian asked the other, ‘what issues do you think you are wrong on?’  Of course, the other person said that they were not aware of being wrong about anything.  None of us would hold a position that we know to be wrong.  Soon that conversation was coming to an end.

I think that the person who asked the question meant to say, ‘what might you be wrong about?’  Perhaps they were pointing out that there are primary issues and secondary issues.  There are things that we must hold on to and defend at all costs, and there are issues that are less important.  There are issues that all Christians need to believe in order to be a real Christian (1 John 4:1-3).  There are also issues that Christians who are equally committed to the truth of the Bible disagree on.

The question is about what are primary issues and what are secondary issues.  If you could show me what I believe in twenty-year’s time, I would be devastated if I had changed my mind on certain things.  But if it turned out that my opinion had changed on certain other issues, I would not be bothered.  If I was to change my view on the divinity of Christ, that would be devastating.  If I had a different view the governing structure for the church, that would not bother me much.  Not all doctrines are of equal importance.

The fact that Bible-believing Christians have differing views on some issues and that some doctrines are less important than others affects how I view church.  Our church has a basic statement of faith.  Most of the doctrines that we expect for membership should be accepted all who are evangelicals.  Yet it grieves me that those who have a different view on baptism than that held by our church are not permitted to become members.  I believe that Bible-believing Christians disagree on this issue.  I believe that all who love the Lord and are in a living relationship with him are my brothers and sisters.  I believe that those who committed to the fellowship of our church and are in a living relationship with Jesus are spiritual members of this local body (1 Corinthians 12:12).  I don’t like the fact that our church membership doesn’t reflect the reality of the spiritual membership of our church.  This doesn’t mean that churches shouldn’t have a position on secondary issues.  It would be impossible to run a church without an agreed position as something as unimportant as form of church government.  Neither do I want the preachers in our church to hold contradicting positions on secondary issues.  But I don’t want our church to be an autocracy where everyone must agree with me.

This is not to say that those who hold to strong and particular theological positions are simply super-spiritual Christians.  I hold some very strong opinions on issues that are secondary to the gospel.  I will even debate some of these issues with people and try to turn them to my position.  However, what I am getting at is when you think that you are a more mature and more spiritual Christian because of your opinion on a secondary issue.  There is a temptation to think that if someone does not agree with you on everything they must be a lesser Christian.  This is at its worst when the person looking down on another simply does know the arguments presented for someone else’s case.

It is similar to what the great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, was getting at when he talked about ‘The Cage stage.’  The Cage Stage was a reference to his observance that when young men start to learn about the doctrines of Calvinism they begin to think that Calvinism is the gospel.  Now he said this as someone who was strongly Calvinistic in his thinking.  He said that when a young man goes through this argumentative stage it is best to place him in a cage until he grows up a little and so won’t do so much harm.  Again, the issues surrounding Calvinism and Armenianism are big issues.  I have thought a lot about them over the last twenty years or so.  But they are not the sole determinant of the maturity of your faith.    

In the eighteenth-century the preachers George Whitefield and John Wesley strongly disagreed with each other on the issue of Calvinism and Armenianism.  Because of their disagreement, someone wondered if Whitefield thought that Wesley was a Christian.  They asked Whitefield if he expected to see Wesley in heaven.  He replied, ‘I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him.’[1] He knew that there were more important issues that exacting theology.  I am not entirely sure what Tozer’s opinion on Calvinism and Armenianism was, but he gave some interesting advice to a young student.  He said ‘when you go to college you will hear people debating Calvinism and Armenianism.  What you do when that debate starts, go to your room and spend time with God.  When you join them again, they will still be debating Calvinism and Arminianism, but you will know God.’  I wouldn’t go so far as discouraging people earnestly seeking to have convictions on these issues, but I do think that it would be better to spend time getting to know God better!

The truth is that when the fullness of Christ's kingdom come we will know everything perfectly.  Now we know in part (1 Cor. 13:9).  When we know fully we will see that all of us had imperfect theology.  and we will see that many of those God considers greater than us may not have been quite as 'sound' as us.     



[1] Quoted on Whitfield and Wesley | Bible.org accessed 31st May 2021.