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!