Sermon: God’s Investment in Us

by Ian Grant Spong (November 13, 2011)
If salvation is a free gift does that mean that we can just sit back and be lazy Christians?
To discover what the Parable of the Talents has to say about this question.
Sermon Plan
Read the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Answer the question, what is a talent? Discover some important spiritual lessons. Examine the spiritual value of risk, the spiritual responsibility of wealth and look at some unanswered questions.
     1. What is a Talent
What is a talent in the Parable of the Talents? It is a unit of money for gold or silver. The Greek talent from Athens or Attic talent was equal to 26 kilogram (57 pounds) weight of silver. At the time of writing the spot price of silver was about $35 an ounce, giving a value of about $32,000 for a talent of silver. That value is somewhat helpful, but is a comparison for our time using today’s silver values. Another way to measure a talent was used anciently. It was a value equivalent to nine year’s wages. If the current average wage is about $42,000 that would result in a talent being worth about $378,000. Whichever way we calculate it, it contradicts the criticism of the lazy servant. The master was very generous.
     2. The Greatest Talent
The Parable of the Talents could be interpreted to justify bonuses for those who sell bad products and cheat their neighbors merely because they profited. It could also be used to justify selfish businesses which don’t share profits and pay lowest wages with few benefits. But, the parable is about the kingdom of heaven, not this world or its business practices. So the talents are spiritual and the bonus is given to those who produce the most spiritual profit. It is easy to deceive ourselves that we have greater value than others and thus overcharge our neighbors and underpay our workers. It is more logical that the parable pictures someone who produced the most in loving God and neighbor and thus would be rewarded the most, because in heaven the greatest talent is the capacity to love.
     3. Some Important Spiritual Lessons
The Parable of the Talents highlights some important spiritual lessons. 1) We are servants of the master of our destiny, not masters of our destiny. 2) The kingdom of heaven is not an egalitarian society. We are not equal in ability or opportunity. 3) Those who produce are sometimes good and faithful. Those who do not produce are sometimes evil and lazy. 4) The safe route can be the riskiest of all and lead to failure. 5) Faithfulness in small things can lead to great things. Unfaithfulness in the smallest things can lead to complete failure. 6) Don’t waste time criticizing the boss as too hard, just get on with the job. 7) Successful people get straight to work. Fear can produce failure. 8) Those who produce more deserve more but not excessively so.
     4. Same Salvation Different Rewards
The fight for equality among feminists, the occupy movement, trade unions, homosexuals and ethnic minorities is often in the headlines. Equality seems to be an unreachable ideal where greed, prejudice and poverty are at war. Even Christianity’s great advocates for social justice realize that total equality is not always just, nor realistic. The Parable of the Talents indicates that rewarding people according to their works is fair. The question is then how much is fair compensation and how much is greedy excess? The parable gives a ten or twenty percent raise to the one who produced much. That is a far cry from the hundred or thousand-fold pay that some think they deserve. Many Christians realize that the great equalizer is not in this life but in eternity, where the solution will be: same salvation, different rewards.
     5. Risky Christianity
Is our personal spiritual journey one where we play it safe or are we willing to take risks? It is a risk to mention the Gospel to others. They may hate us, or dismiss us as nut cases, or they may believe and be saved. Many Christians take their faith and bury it, but Christianity is meant to spread. In the Parable of the Talents Jesus likened the path that he would prefer a Christian to take to making business investments. A common practice in ancient times, before banking became common, was to bury money in the ground. It was the safe route. But Jesus does not want us to take the safe route with the spiritual investments that he has left us. He wants us to take risks and grow his investment. People are his treasure.
     6. Grace is a Risk
Rather than take a risk that people may abuse privileges, the legalistic solution is to ban them. We try to be more righteous than Jesus, ignoring many Bible passages which reveal such things as blessings from God if used rightly. Legalistic lists of things banned down through the ages include sex, dancing, alcohol, and card-playing. Grace is a risk. Legalism is not. Matthew 25:14-30 encourages us to take the risk of grace. Yet we seek the safe route, put all our blessings in a napkin and bury them in the ground. Let’s not live life as if we just sucked on a sour lemon. Legalism seems safe but it is not. It is a prison. Jesus did not obey such silly Pharisaic taboos. Instead he took giant risks, dying on a cross so that some might be saved.
     7. A Gamble vs the Safe Route
Some Christians are totally against gambling, meaning all games of chance. Those same Christians rarely criticize farmers, commuters or business people for taking a gamble. The truth is there are stupid gambles where the odds are terrible, like state lotteries, most games at a Casino and starting a business with inadequate backing. There are also calculated gambles, like playing penny ante poker, having car insurance or planting a crop of potatoes. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus staked a group of people and he asked them to take a gamble with his money. He did not ask them to take any foolish risks, but to take a chance never-the-less. Sometimes in life we simply need to step out and take a gamble. Remember, it was the person who took the safe route who was criticized in the Parable of the Talents.
     8. Kingdom Capitalism
Private capitalism in the hands of greedy people causes gross inequities and class warfare. In the hands of people who love God and neighbor it is a blessing. That reality may help us to understand what The Parable of the Talents is all about. The honorable means to wealth is hard work, but for Jews under Roman occupation the means to wealth was by corruption and oppressing the poor. Wealth today can also be gotten by good and evil means and also be used for loving or selfish purposes. Why does the parable reward those who produce more spiritually for the kingdom of God? Well, the parable is not about greedy capitalism, but kingdom capitalism. God knows that those who produce more spiritually will love him and their neighbors most, and be the most willing to share.
     9. What God Requires of the Wealthy
As class warfare threatens, a question needs to be asked: What does God require of the wealthy? Wealth can be gained by good or evil means. Wealthy people also have a greater capacity for good or evil. Wealth does bring a greater responsibility for doing good in the world. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus went on to illustrate how those who have been given much can do so much more for God. In Luke 12:41-48 he reminded us that to whom much is given much is required. Warren Buffett has been preaching that the wealthy need to pay a greater share of taxes, but that is only a small part of the story. Wealthy people have far more capacity to show love to their neighbors in practical ways than the average person. Love for neighbor is what God requires.
     10. Unanswered Questions
The Parable of the Talents does not seem to cover all possible scenarios. For instance, what if a servant was given an endowment and lost it all to bad investments? This parable is not talking about worldly money but spiritual capital. Heaven’s silver cannot fail because it is the currency of a kingdom which cannot fail. The only way to our personal failure is to do nothing, to bury the gift of God in the ground. If used, it will produce fruit. What if a servant was given a large sum and decided to steal it and run? Again, we are not talking about a worldly master here but God and his kingdom. There simply is nowhere to run. The only thing that we can do with spiritual gifts received is either use them or bury them.
God is master of our destiny and he expects us to do good works which show love to him and love to our neighbor. Lazy Christianity is not Christianity at all. The safe, do-nothing route is the riskiest of all. God expects us to take reasonable risks and produce fruit. Let’s get straight to work without fear because the kingdom of heaven and its investments cannot fail. All our efforts in God are profitable.