Burying his talent.
What is a talent? As we use the word in everyday speech it means a natural or acquired ability – something you do well. You might be a talented musician, a talented sports person, a talented writer or actor. You might be a talented craftsperson or a talented artist. You might have a talent for maths or science. And if you’re good looking you might be described as “a bit of talent”. (That’s a rather dated expression that used to be used in my youth! ) Yes, this is the way we use the word in everyday English, and I’m not saying it’s wrong. What I am saying is that in the original context of the Parable of the Talents it stands for so much more than just gifts and abilities. The talents referred to n the Parable of the Talents were large sums of money. They represent the opportunities we have in this life to serve God and do good. Not just the abilities we have but the opportunities we have as well. What use do we make of these opportunities?
When Jesus told this parable he wanted his disciples to think about the best way they could witness to him and spread his Kingdom before he returned at the Second Coming.
In the story a very rich man entrusts a large sum of money to his three servants and then goes off on a long journey – presumably some kind of business trip. The servants (who are really stewards) are meant to put this money to good use in the meantime, so as to make a profit for their master.
In this story we might feel sorry for the man who only had the one talent. Poor servant, he’s only got one talent! But when we realise how much a talent was worth we don’t feel quite so sorry. Even one talent was a substantial sum of money.
Originally a talent was a weight. Later it referred to a particular weight of silver or gold, and so it was a monetary unit. In Palestine at the time of Jesus it was a weight of silver of 59 kg. (or 130 lb.). That amount of silver would represent something like (at least) 15 years wages for a labouring man. So even one talent was a lot of money. It was enough to buy a substantial house. It represents a considerable investment on the part of the master. He obviously really trusted his three stewards.
· One man was given five talents, and when the master returned he had gained another five talents to return to his master.
· Another man received two talents, and he also managed to gain another two talents to give to the master.
· The third man didn’t want to take the risk of trading with his talent, nor was he prepared to put in the effort, so he dug a hole in the ground and buried his treasure. He could have given it to the bankers and got a bit of interest on it, but he didn’t even do that.
When the master returned he praised the first two servants but condemned the third, who hadn’t even invested the money, but just buried it in the ground.
Here are five lessons that we can learn from the parable of the Talents. These points have been suggested by Hugh Whelchel a Christian writer. ( Director of the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics.)
This Parable teaches that:
1) Success is a product of our work
Now it is true that success is sometimes a matter of just being in the right place at the right time. Everything in life is to some extent a product of chance. But the question we have to ask is, “What use do we make of our chances, our talents?” Are we prepared to take risks for the sake of God’s Kingdom or do we just bury it in the ground, as it were? Do we take up the opportunities that God gives us?
God has given us all work to do in our lives. Just because we are waiting for the return of the Lord Jesus it doesn’t mean we just got to sit around doing nothing. Many Christians see their salvation as a kind of “bus ticket to Heaven”. They are just sitting and waiting for the bus, enjoying themselves perhaps, in the meantime. But this parable tells us what we should be doing while we’re waiting for the bus.
We must get on with doing God’s work. We seek to make this world a better place – even though we know it could come to an end any minute. Our reward will be in heaven.
God wants to use all our talents. He wants us to use all our gifts all our energies, all our time, all our money, all our opportunities for him. We are to serve the common good, to further God’s kingdom and thus to glorify God. We are put on this earth for a purpose – to serve and glorify God.
When God calls us to do some work for him he will always give us what we require to do it. Our talents have been given so that we can use them for God – for some work that he wants us to do. In the parable, the three servants were given talents to use in the service of their master. (Even the man with one talent had a large sum of money to work with.) And so God is telling us to use all our gifts, abilities, energies and opportunities for his Kingdom. He will provide what we need to do it.
The Apostle Paul writes:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
God prepared it all in advance! That takes a lot of the stress out of Christian service, doesn’t it? We can stop worrying about how we can serve God and just get on with doing the things that he calls us to do. And he will give us the grace and the strength to do those good works. For they are his works through us.
3) Not all are equal in abilities
All humans are equal in the sense that they are of equal value to God, but they do not all have equal abilities or equal opportunities This is just a fact of life. The street kid growing up in the slums of Calcutta does not have the same opportunities as the multi-millionaire, millionaire’s son, President of the United States! That much is obvious. It is just a fact that there is both a diversity of ability and a diversity of opportunities in life. But all the Master requires of us is that we do the best we can, with what we have. If life has dealt us a pretty poor hand then he’s not going to expect us to do amazing things. It would be amazing enough just to be able to survive for some people.
If on the other hand we’ve been given abilities and opportunities, then we expected to use them. And more will be expected of those who have been given more. The five-talent man managed to produce five more talents. I’m sure it took a lot of work: trading, dealing, buying and selling. The two-talent man managed to produce two more talents. And for him that probably required just as much work as the five-talent man had done. So the Master rewards of them both the same way.
(But the one-talent man didn’t want to take the risk. And he didn’t want to put in the hard work of buying and selling. If he had taken the risk I’m sure the master would have commanded him, even if he had not made a great deal of profit.)
We see that both the five-talent and the two-talent man were rewarded equally. This shows us that God is looking for our willingness and commitment to serve him, but he is not all that interested in our outward success.
This parable is a great encouragemnt to all engaged in full-time Christian work. Ministers, preachers, evangelists and missionaries sometimes labour in stony fields. Sometimes they seem to have very little impact on the people they are ministering to. Other ministers may seem to be phenomenally successful, and this is because they landed in a place where people are responsive to the message. This parable is comforting to the one who might be working under such difficult circumstances. It tells such people, “At the end of the day, the Lord won’t judge you on the basis of the number of converts you’ve gained. No he will judge you on your faithfulness to serve him in a hard, place and your willingness to do his work.”
So the reward is the same, no matter the amount of profit that is brought in. The talents very, but the reward is the same.
4) We should work for the Master and not for ourselves
The servants were giving large sums of money, but it was not theirs to do what they liked with.They were not supposed to just fritter it all away on their own pleasures. It was held in stewardship, and when the Master returned they would have to give the money back to him, along with any profit they had made.
And so we realise that, whatever our place in life, whatever our talents, we should use them for God’s work and not our own selfish pleasures. Of course there are times for enjoyment, relaxation and leisure, but there is also work. And we must do that work diligently – whatever it is that the Lord has called us to do. I’m not just referring to a career or paid employment here. Retired people and unemployed people are also called by God to do his work. The work God is calling you to do might be to do with helping others, or being a good neighbour, or being considerate and caring to the needs of others. It should be our aim to please God in everything we do – whether it be work, rest or play.
5) We shall be held accountable
One day we will have to give account for our lives. How well did we use the opportunities and the gifts we were given in life?
Well, you highly educated person, how did you use your education? Did you use it to help other people or just to make money for yourself.
Well you, gifted musician or artist or writer – did you use your art to give pleasure to others and to praise God, or was it just a selfish thing to inflate your own ego?
Well you, practical man or woman – did you use your hands and eyes to help others and to serve God’s Kingdom, or did you just build up your own house and garden?
You, who are good at listening to others – did you give your time to listen to what others were saying to help them or counsel them, or did you not bother?
You, who are able to encourage others and to build them up – did you use that opportunity, or did you not see other’s need for encouragement?
Did you have a opportunity to tell others about Jesus? How well did you take up that opportunity?
Did you have a chance to offer forgiveness to someone who had hurt vou? Well then, did you indeed forgive them, or did you harbour resentment in your heart?
Yes, we shall all have to give account before the Lord for the way we lived our lives on earth. This can be a devastating thought – but don’t let it make you feel guilty or depressed. For our lives are a joyful opportunity to serve the Lord.
Remember what Paul wrote:
We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
A Family Service at the Brecon Presbyterian Church on 11th. September 2011
(The talk given below was broken up into sections and various visual aids were used.)
Today is 9/11, the11th. of September, and ten years ago there was the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, with all that terrible loss of life.
Today we’re going to think about how sin and hatred has brought violence into the world, and what God has done about it in sending his Son Jesus into the world.
The Peace Child
Headline in the Daily Telegraph August 25, 2011
“TRIBAL FEUD RESOLVED BY SWAPPING CHILDREN”
On the tiny Pacific island of Tanna a feud has been raging for 27 years between two tribes. Things got so bad that tribal chiefs have revived a 200-year-old custom.
Both tribes will give a child to the other tribe to become a member of that…
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Simon Templar, The Saint (nothing to do with this sermon!)
Last Wednesday was All Saints Day – a day upon which the departed saints of the Church were venerated in medieval times. “But we are Protestants,” you might well say, “and we live in the light of the Reformation. We do not venerate the departed saints or offer prayers to them.” Some would no doubt say that we should not even take note of All Saints Day. But I would disagree. I think it is a good thing to be able to think about the departed saints of God and this season in the Church Calendar gives us a chance to do so. We Presbyterians don’t worship them, or venerate them, or pray to them, but we do thank God for them and seek to emulate them.
What is a saint?
But what does it mean…
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Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg
Romans 3:19-28, Jeremiah 31:31-34
At Hallowe’en this year we shall be commemorating 500 years of the Reformation, for it was on 31st. October, the eve of All Saints Day, in 1517, that Martin Luther posted his famous 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. In those days the church door functioned as a kind of public notice board ( for those who could read). All kinds of public notices were nailed to the church door. So Martin Luther’s action was not the act of vandalism it might at first seem to be to us!
But why did Luther post this notice on Hallowe’en? Well, on the eve of All Saints Day the Castle Church was open to the public. People came to view the large collection of relics of the saints which were held there. It was believed that if you viewed these relics you could obtain a reduction in the time you would spend in Purgatory. In fact it was considered equivalent to buying an indulgence for your sins. So there was a significance in Luther choosing that day to put up his notice.
Well, I’m not going to go into Luther’s 95 Theses now, but I do want us to think about what the Reformation stands for. What does it mean to be a Protestant? In what ways do we differ from our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters? In what I am now going to say I do not want anyone to see it as some kind of attack on non-protestants. It’s just that I believe strongly that we ought not to be ashamed of what we believe as Protestants. In these ecumenical times you quite often hear people expressing regret for the Reformation – as if it was an unnecessary splitting up of Christendom. Well, I don’t regret it. It was a necessary return to Biblical truth at a time when the Church had lost its way.
Discarding the untrue
Reformation is about discarding those things which are not Biblical, and which are untrue, and at the same time holding on to Biblical truths which might have been forgotten over time. That is what Luther and Calvin and all the other Reformers were trying to do. And that is what we should be trying to do also.
So what were the things they discarded?
· The sale of indulgences – you could pay money so that your sins would be forgiven and you would spend less time in purgatory ( it was thought).
· The doctrine of Purgatory itself – it’s not taught in the Bible.
· Praying to the saints.
· Offering worship to the Virgin Mary
· Praying for the souls of the dead
· Bowing down to images of saints and angels
· Bowing to the altar and worshipping the bread and wine of the Eucharist as the actual body and blood of God: the doctrine of transubstantiation.
· The power of the priesthood, who were believed to be able to forgive people’s sins.
All these things were thrown out by the Reformers. (However, many of these practices were brought back into the Church of England with the Anglo-catholic movement of the C19th.) You will notice in Presbyterian churches we don’t offer prayers to the saints, or pray for the souls of the dead. Nor do we believe that the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper actually turn into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
These are the things which we don’t do, but what are the things we do do ? Let’s not be too negative. We might, as Protestants, have a tendency to stress the things we protest about rather than the things we positively stand for. So I want to rectify that – here are the things the Protestant Reformation stressed, the Biblical truths they rediscovered and emphasized:
The priesthood of all believers
Before the Reformation if you wanted to get close to God you thought you had to go to a priest. You had to confess your sins to him. He alone had power to absolve you. He alone could bring God near to you and he did this by offering you the Host – the sacramental wafer which was the Body of Christ.
When you prayed you didn’t unusually pray directly to God the Father, or to the Son. You prayed to the Virgin Mary, or to one of the other saints, or to your guardian angel. They were closer to God – they would act as intermediaries between you and God.
When the Reformation came people realised the truth of the Apostle Paul’s words to Timothy :
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5)
So, in the name of Jesus you can pray directly to God. In Old Testament times only the priests could enter the Holy Place in the Temple to draw near to God. But now, under the New Covenant, we all have access to God.
In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. ( Ephesians 3:12 )
We are all priests. Hence the expression: “Priesthood of all believers”.
Justification by faith
Before the Reformation you struggled hard to find peace with God. Luther himself had been a monk for many years. He had fasted and flagellated himself and prayed, and yet somehow never got right with God. He was aware of his sins and also became aware that none of these disciplines of fasting and penance could wash them away.
Then, one day as he was studying the Letter to the Romans he came upon this verse:
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.
( Romans 1:17 )
Luther realised that it was only the grace of God which could save him. He threw himself on the mercy of God and trusted Christ for his forgiveness. Luther realised these great truths : no need to make pilgrimages to the graves of the saints, no need to fast on Fridays, no need to flagellate himself, no need to pay the church for indulgences. All he had to do was truly repent of his sins and trust in Christ. This is the great liberating truth of our faith – Jesus saves.
Centrality of the Bible
“Scriptura sola” – the Bible alone – was the Reformers’ great motto. Before the Reformation you could only get the Bible in Latin. Only priests could read it and only they could interpret what it said. Also the tradition of the church was held to be of equal importance to the Bible.
So, if the Church taught about purgatory, and indulgences, and Mary being perpetually a virgin and sinless, and Papal authority, these things must be true – even though they are not in the Bible! With the coming of the Reformation people threw out these ideas as erroneous and returned to the pure teaching of the Bible. They also had it translated into the language of the people – German, French, English, Welsh – rather than in Latin.
The Lord’s Supper as a memorial
Before the Reformation the Lord’s Supper was seen as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It was believed that the bread and wine actually changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest offered the Body and Blood of Christ as a sacrifice at the altar – just as the Old Testament priests offered the sacrificial animals. Every time the Mass was celebrated Christ was offered again for the sins of the world. But the Reformers realised the truth of these words from Hebrews:
Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. ( Hebrews 7:27)
The Lord’s Supper is a meal we share in memorial of our Lord. We take bread and wine as symbols of his Body and Blood. They remind us of his sacrifice on the cross. We do not sacrifice him again.
You won’t find crucifixes in our churches because Christ is not still on the cross. Instead you will see the plain, empty cross – a sign that Christ has risen and is alive today.
No, I can’t agree with those who decry the Reformation and seem to want to apologise for it. We cling to the truths rediscovered by Luther and the other Reformers. And a Reformed church is not just one which was reformed 500 years ago – it’s a church which is continually reforming – always looking for new insights in God’s word, and new ways to reach out with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
[An earlier version of this sermon was first blogged in 2008 under the title “Reformation”.]
Today we are going to look at a quite well known passage.
Here we see eight things we should be doing.
1) Stand firm
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends! (Philippians4:1)
“Therefore” – whenever you see a “therefore” in the Bible ask yourself: “What is it there for?” It will always be following on from the previous section.
In Philippians, chapter 3, Paul has been speaking of the Heavenly Hope, the Return of the Lord Jesus, and the Resurrection Body.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
“Therefore, stand firm” – through all the trials of this life we are able to stand firm because our spiritual eyes are fixed on the goal – the Celestial City, gleaming in the distance.
Paul refers to the Philippians as his beloved brothers and sisters, his joy and crown. He had led them to the Lord: now he wants them to stand firm in the Faith.
Let us also then stand firm. As we face the trials and struggles of life, let us fix our eyes on the heavenly reward. It is the knowledge that this life is but the preparation for the next that gives us the strength to go on.
2) Agree with one another
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
These two ladies were both Christians who had worked alongside Paul in spreading the Gospel. Now they have fallen out about something. Paul pleads with them to be reconciled – to forgive one another. However difficult it may be, it is always better to patch up an argument. Indeed it may only be patching up at first, but even that is better than the festering sore of resentment. “Forgive one another”, Paul is saying, “set aside your pride for the greater good of the cause”. Agree to differ, perhaps. For there is nothing more harmful to the spread of the Gospel than enmity between believers.
3) Help and encourage
Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women … (Philippians 4:3)
The “true companion” or “yoke fellow” referred to might be none other than Luke the Physician, who wrote the Book of Acts as well as Luke’s Gospel. Paul says to him, “Help these women to make up their quarrel.”
Now there’s a lot we all can do to help and encourage our fellow believers. Not only to help them make up their differences, but to help them in other ways as well. Is there a brother or sister who is discouraged, or sad, or lonely, or sick? See what you can do to help them. Sometimes a smile or a kind word is all it takes. Help and encourage.
4) Rejoice in God
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!
Christian joy is a deep-seated state of the soul. It is not always linked with outward emotions. But it is always there, deep in the heart, even when the surface of our minds may be stirred with sorrow or grief.
The joy is still there because it is founded on God, and on our relationship with him. He is the Eternal and Unchanging One, and so our joy in him does not change.
We notice that Paul does not just say “rejoice” – he says “rejoice in the Lord”. And that’s the important thing – it’s in our relationship with God that we rejoice.
And so we all need to learn how to rejoice in the Lord, even when bad things happen to us in life. Whatever happens to me in life it does not change the fact of my relationship with God in Christ.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Christian love shows itself in gentleness or meekness. Note that this is not the same as weakness. You are weak when you have no power to resist someone or something. You are meek or gentle when you have the power but you choose not to use it. Jesus was gentle in that sense in all his dealings with those who were in need. Yes, he was very stern with the arrogant Pharisees and with the Priests who were turning God’s temple into a den of thieves, but he was always gentle with those who were broken and poor.
Here is a good guideline – always be gentle to those who are weaker than yourself. A Christian does not lord it over others. A Christian should be compassionate, loving and gentle, and thus be a true follower of the Lord Jesus.
“The Lord is near”, Paul says. It is true that he was expecting the return of the Lord Jesus at any moment. But it could be that he is referring here to the presence of the Lord through the Spirit. “The Lord is near at all times – so show his gentleness in your lives,” is what Paul seems to be saying.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Anxiety doesn’t cure anything – it only makes things worse. It just worries away at the problem like an old dog gnawing a bone. Sometimes we need to break out of the cycle of worry. I know it’s easier to say this than it is to do it: but if we can just trust God, that will do the trick. So let us open our hearts to God.
Paul says to pray about everything, no matter how trivial it might seem to be. God is concerned about every part of our lives, so bring it all before the Lord. And do so in a thankful spirit. That is: don’t just ask things from God, but trust God for the answer and have the faith to thank him before he has even answered. Anyway, a thankful attitude will help us to trust God and not to be so anxious.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
7) Accentuate the positive
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Fill your mind with good thoughts, helpful thought, pure thoughts, noble thoughts. Not with all that is evil and mean, wicked, harmful and unclean. Many people spend a lot of time on social media, and it can be very harmful. There is no doubt a lot of wickedness out there in the Internet. But it’s not all harmful, there’s also a lot of good. So when you’re online, look for the good. If I see something positive or encouraging on Facebook I will share it with my friends.
The other day I read the story of a 91 year old man who is terminally ill and in hospital. All he can do is sit up in his bed all day long. But he has got hold of one of those knitting looms, and all day long he knits hats for homeless people. He has now knitted more than – would you believe it – 8000 hats! What an inspiring story this is. This man hasn’t got long to live and he could just lie in his bed in despair, but he is chosen to do what he can to help others for the remainder of his life. That’s what I mean by a noble and inspiring story, and the world is full of such things. Think on the good and the positive things.
8) Follow the example of dedicated leaders
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Paul was totally dedicated to the cause of Christ, and he urges his listeners to be similarly committed – to put into practice what they have learned from him. Today we can learn from the teaching and example of many inspiring Christian leaders. Some of them of our own day and others of the past. There can be a great inspiration in reading Christian biographies. We can read the writings of great Christians of the past. We can follow the teaching of dedicated Christian leaders. And we can seek to put into practice their teachings and example in our Christian lives.
“And the God of peace will be with you.”
Put these eight points into practice and the God of peace will be with you. Notice, it doesn’t say “the peace of God” will be with you, but the “God of peace”! There is a difference. You see: it’s not just God’s peace with us, it’s God himself with us. The God of peace!