1 PETER #28: TALENT ON LOAN FROM GOD

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Our gifts, abilities and opportunities are given to us by God. In a way, they are loaned to us, and we are to use them not for ourselves, but rather to glorify God and bless other people. God has chosen to give us blessings when we live that way, though much of that blessing will not be fully ours until we stand in the New Creation. Recognizing all this, and living this way, is part of what it means to follow Jesus, and it will often make us stand out, and appear different from the world at large.

1 Peter #28. 1 Peter 4:7-11

7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:7-11

Last time we looked at how following Jesus causes us to have a different way of looking at life, compared to the rest of the world. We don’t live for our passions and desires. Instead, we trust that in some ways, God has placed limits on us, and we try to live within those limits for God’s glory, and because, ultimately, that is what is best for us, too. Instead of a life focused on ourselves, we are called to live in selfless love, particularly love for other Christians.

Peter then unpacks some of what it means to live in God’s limits, loving others. First, he says, “show hospitality without grumbling.” Hospitality was an important value in the Old Testament, and it continued to be important in the New Testament church. One of the requirements for leaders in the church is that they are hospitable. In Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13:2, just like here, all Christians are urged to engage in hospitality.

I think this is something that is often neglected among modern Western Christians. What, exactly, is hospitality? In the world of the New Testament, this applied to Christians caring for other Christians who were traveling, or new in town. Luke records a journey with Paul. In the passage below, you see over and over again that when they came to a city, they looked for other Christians, who took them in and housed them and fed them.

2 Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. 3 After we sighted Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4 So we found some disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. 5 When our days there were over, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, escorted us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, 6 we said good-bye to one another. Then we boarded the ship, and they returned home.
7 When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them one day. 8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him.

(Acts 21:2-8, HCSB)

Of course, usually once they found believers, the believers were eager to host them. A few years before, they met Lydia, a god-fearing woman. Once she became a believer in Jesus, she immediately invited Paul and his companions to stay at her house.

4 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

(Acts 16:14-15, HCSB)

Hospitality also refers to hosting church gatherings. In New Testament times, and for three hundred years after, there were no church buildings. When churches gathered, it was in the homes of believers. Therefore, if no one opened their home, there would be no church gathering. Some churches apparently rotated their meeting place from home to home (Acts 5:42 & 20:20). Others apparently met most of the time in the same home (Romans 16:5, Colossians 4:15, among others). Either way, unless Christians practiced hospitality, the church had no place to gather. In this way, the early church depended upon hospitality for its very existence. So Peter says, “don’t grumble about hosting each other.” From extensive experience, I can say that sometimes hosting church can be a bit of effort. But by far most of the time, it feels like a tremendous blessing to have church gatherings in our home.

Of the churches in the LTC network, some of us rotate from house to house, and others meet mainly in one home. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but if you have never hosted a house church gathering, I encourage you to try it sometime. It is a special kind of blessing.

By the way, this is one of those instances where the Bible makes a lot of sense to people who meet in house churches. In a church-building paradigm, these sorts of verses are harder to understand. But for house church folks, of course hospitality is an important topic. It’s obvious why Peter brings it up.

Peter goes on: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11, ESV).

Remember, Peter has given us a contrast between the ways of ungodly culture, and those who follow Jesus. Rather than following our own passions, or living for self-fulfillment, we trustingly accept the limits God places on us. That is the paradigm of self-control. Then we live, again not for ourselves, but for others, so that God may be glorified. Within that way of looking at things, Peter tells us to use our gifts as stewards of God’s grace.

You see, God did make each one of us with special purposes in mind. We are unique individuals, and we do have a calling and purpose. But we don’t find those things by looking within, or by “trying to be the best me I can be.” No, we find our calling, and our special purpose by living within God’s limits, and making it our purpose to love others and glorify God. When we trust God by living this way, he leads and directs us in many and various ways, according to how he made us. We do find fulfillment, but it is in God and his purposes, not in self. Our gifts, our uniqueness as individuals, are the result of God’s creation and intention. Peter tells us to use these things as “stewards of God’s varied grace.”

I want to unpack this a little bit. We don’t really use the word “steward” any more, except in some churches where “stewardship” essentially means “giving money.” But stewardship is much bigger than just money. Nowadays, a better word than “steward” might be “caretaker,” or even “manager.”

Imagine a person who manages a store. She is not the Owner of the store. However, she has a connection to the Owner. The Owner has hired her to make sure that the store fulfills its purpose: to serve customers, and make money, and perhaps be an important feature of a local community. The manager uses the resources of the store to accomplish the purposes of the Owner. She does get paid, but in addition to that, she might have a budget that amounts to millions of dollars each year. That is not money to spend on herself. Instead, her budget is a resource which should be used for the store: perhaps to buy goods, and hire employees, or maybe renovate the building. A manager takes care of resources that are not her own, and uses them responsibly on behalf of the Owner.

So we are called to be managers of God’s grace. The personality, talents and opportunities we have do not really belong to us. They have been entrusted to us by God, the Owner. We are to use such things on behalf of the Owner, to accomplish the purposes of the Owner.

Peter gives us just two examples. We aren’t supposed to think that these are the only two things we are to do in service to God – they are just representative examples. He says: “whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

We understand what public speaking and teaching is. As far as “service,” the Greek word has a very broad range of meaning. Because Peter says to serve “by the strength God supplies,” I think he might have in mind physical types of service, like helping someone repair their home, or helping someone else in a physical way.

 I think Peter uses speaking and service as his two examples, because they are on either end of a kind of spectrum. Some people have a gift and calling to speak or teach. This kind of ministry usually involves standing in front of people, or in some way, openly communicating with many people at once. It’s a very visible kind of ministry, and often involves public leadership. Some of you might be called to some kind of public, visible ministry like that – it is a legitimate calling of God. For those who are called in that way, Peter urges us to treat it as a sacred trust. When I bring you these sermons, I am not doing something on my behalf, but rather I need to see it as God’s work. This isn’t my ministry – it is God’s, therefore I’m not supposed to be speaking my words, but God’s.

Service is a very different kind of ministry. It may not be public. It might appear very ordinary or mundane to some people. But again, Peter says, this, too is a sacred trust. When you serve, you don’t offer your strength and skill – you offer the strength and skill that actually belong to God.

So whether your gifts and calling are public and easy to see, or if they are quiet, and behind-the-scenes, or somewhere in between, they are from God, and should be used to benefit others and bring glory to God.

Just to make sure this is clear, let’s look at Romans 12:4-13, where Paul says something similar, but uses more examples than Peter:

4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

(Romans 12:4-13, NLT)

You can see the similarities here. Our talents and abilities are given to us to be used to bless others and glorify God. Here Paul lists a few more gifts than Peter, but this list is not exhaustive, either. It would be hard to catalog all of the different gifts God has given people to be used to bless others and glorify Him, because there are so many. Again, I think that’s why Peter lists only two – one very public and visible, and one fairly private and quiet. In other words, he means to include the entire spectrum that lies in between these two types of gifts. The point is, whatever gift or ability you have been given is a trust from God. You are a manager of those gifts, not the owner of them. Use them well on behalf of the owner. Of course, both Paul and Peter, in this, as in everything they write, are merely passing on the teaching of Jesus. On one occasion, Jesus used an illustration to talk about this subject of being a manager for God:

35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.
39 “Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”
41 Peter asked, “Lord, is that illustration just for us or for everyone?”
42 And the Lord replied, “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 43 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 44 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 45 But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 46 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.
47 “And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. 48 But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.

(Luke 12:35-48, NLT)

I think we’ve got the point that our abilities and opportunities are on loan from God. I want to make sure we remember something else. God’s purpose for those things is twofold: to bless others and to glorify himself. Bringing blessing to others glorifies God. Glorifying God brings blessings to others. God did not have to design things that way, but he did. He made it so that when he is glorified, human beings are blessed. This is pure grace – we don’t deserve to be blessed, ever, yet God made it so that he is continually blessing us, because he is continually being glorified. When we become a part of that glorifying and blessing, we get additional blessings of joy and fulfillment.

Let’s go back to the store manager and owner. It’s a little bit like this: the store exists to serve the community and make money. When the community is served, money is made, and when money is made, the community is served. Not only that, but every time the community is served and money is made, the store manager gets a bonus! She is not just a drone that is being used up by the Owner. No! the Owner makes sure that the manager has a stake in the store doing what it is supposed to do. He makes sure that when she does her job well, she is rewarded. So now, when the community is served, and money is made, the store manager also benefits. This is how God deals with us.

Now, let’s be honest. There are times when you are glorifying God, and serving others, and you don’t get so much as “Hey, thanks!” At times, it feels hard to perceive that extra blessing, that reward that Jesus talks about. But in the words of Jesus, above, it sounds like the main reward is coming after he returns. We have many verses reminding us that God does indeed see our work for him, that he does see when we live within his limits, and love others, using the things he has entrusted to us for his glory:

58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

(1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV)

7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. 9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

(Galatians 6:7-10, NLT)

10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.

(Hebrews 6:10, NLT)

I think we have plenty here for application now. Some questions for application that you might ask: How does thinking about these things help me to live within God’s limits, while loving others? Are there ways that God is calling me to practice hospitality? What are the abilities and opportunities God has given me? How can I use those to bless others and glorify God? What encourages me to persevere in blessing others and glorifying God, even when I don’t seem to get much out of it? How can I help others see the abilities and opportunities God has given them, and encourage them to use those things as managers for God?

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about these things.

TALENT ON LOAN FROM GOD

Burying-His-Talent

We don’t do good works in order to be saved, we do good works because we are saved. Good works indicate that Jesus is alive and active within you, and is conforming you to His character. Understanding that, you need to realize your entire life, and all that is “you,” and all that is available to you, is on loan from God, and is a talent to be invested for His kingdom.

 
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Download Matthew Part 87

Matthew #87. Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus has been talking about his return, and the importance of being ready. It’s always helpful to remember that the verses and chapter divisions in our modern Bibles were not there originally. Personally, I think Matthew 25:1-13 belong with the words of Jesus that came at the end of chapter 24. It is, in fact, one more admonition to us to be ready for his return. Let us look at it briefly.

The setting is a Jewish wedding. In those days, in much of Israel, weddings were the most important social events, after religious festivals. A large proportion of the population lived in poverty, and even, at times, on the brink of starvation. A wedding was a chance for them to eat their fill of good food. Most people had to work hard from sunrise to sunset, but a wedding was a chance to relax and celebrate. The 10 virgins that Jesus is talking about were part of the wedding procession – roughly equivalent to bridesmaids in the present day (though not exactly the same). This was a rare moment in their lives when they got to dress up, relax and have fun, and eat their fill of good food. It would be bitterly disappointing for such girls to miss out on a wedding where they were bridesmaids.

One of the key parts of weddings in ancient Israel was the procession of the bridegroom. He paraded through town to the place where his bride waited, and then they paraded together, accompanied by the “bridesmaids,” and others, to his home, and to the feast! This procession took place after dark. Anyone who was part of the wedding would be expected to carry lights to add to the joy and festivity of the procession. If someone was out on the streets without a light, they would rightly be considered a stranger, someone who was not part of the wedding.

People in those days did not have watches or clocks, so time was a pretty fluid thing. As the bridegroom progressed through the streets of the town to his bride, he might pause to greet friends and family, or stop off at various houses to receive blessings and gifts from various people. Therefore, no one knew exactly when a given bridegroom would arrive, and when the procession with the bride (and after, the feast) would begin. The bridesmaids waiting to meet them would have to be ready, because no one knew exactly when he would come.

In the parable, some of the bridesmaids were not prepared to wait for very long: they did not have enough oil to keep their lamps burning for a long period of time. Without lights, they would be considered strangers, and not accepted in the wedding party. Because they were not prepared, they had to leave to get more oil for their lamps, and when they got back they found out that they had missed out, the gates were closed and they would not get to participate in the wedding feast. There would be no leisure, no celebration, no joy, no good food. It’s hard to emphasize how deeply disappointed these girls would be.

I want to point out a few things about this parable.

First, it is told for people who think, “I’ll wait until the end of my life is closer,” or “I’ll get right with God someday – just not right now.” You never know when Jesus is coming, and it will be too late to get your spiritual affairs in order once he is here. Jesus is telling us to be prepared, now and always.

Second, in this parable, part of being prepared includes being ready for it to take a long time. The five foolish virgins were ready at first, but they weren’t in it for the long haul. If the Christian life is a race, it is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes life can feel long and difficult – part of being ready for Jesus is about being able to endure through those times.

Third (and this is my favorite part of this parable), before this, Jesus has been telling us to be prepared in order to avoid the negative consequences. This parable, however, paints his return in a positive light. This is something we won’t want to miss out on. There will be joy, and laughter, and feasting and celebrating. It is like a long awaited vacation. This is something we should be looking forward to, something we will want to be a part of. A wedding, for most of Jesus’ listeners, would have been one of the most fun, satisfying and joyful events that they could look forward to. Heaven should be that for us – only not “one of” the best things to look forward to, but rather “the very best thing” we have to anticipate.

So, up until this point, Jesus has been telling his disciples – and us – to be prepared for him at all times. Starting in 25:15, he begins to tell us how to be prepared. What does it mean to be ready? What does it look like? He starts with another parable, the parable of the talents. I want you to read the parable yourself. It is a little long, and I don’t want to use up the space here. Read Matthew 25:15-30, and then come back and finish reading this message.

Let’s make sure we understand the parable. Our English word “talent,” as in “ability,” can be traced back to this parable of Jesus, since he clearly intended us to understand this is about how we use what God has given us (and not only about money). But at the time Jesus told this story, a “talent” was simply a measurement of money, roughly equal to about 6,000 denarii. Isn’t that helpful? Well maybe, if you know that a single denarius was acceptable pay for one day’s wages for a manual-laborer (see Matthew 20:1-2). In today’s money, if we assume a manual laborer makes $80 per day, one talent is roughly equal to $480,000. If you assume a laborer makes $100 per day, then a talent would be more like $600,000. Another way to calculate it is that one talent represents the total earnings from 16-20 years-worth of manual labor.

To make it simple, it is reasonable to picture it like this (as of 2016 in America): The man with one talent had roughly $500,000; the one with two had $1 Million; and the man with five had about $2.5 Million. In other words, this is a significant amount for investment. Even the one who had the least was dealing with a sum equal to twenty years-worth of earnings. Now, obviously, this parable is not about money. Very few people in any generation are given that sort of money all at once. Jesus was talking to his disciples, and none of them ever had nearly that much money. But the point is this: What God has given you is very valuable. Even the least amount is still worth a very great deal. And he wants us all to use what he has given, for his glory and his purposes.

So what are your “talents”? Your natural abilities are certainly part of what the Master has entrusted to you, to use for his purposes. Maybe it is musical or athletic ability. Perhaps it is the way people look to you for advice or for comfort. It might be your ability to listen, or to talk, or to sing, or dance, or make others laugh, or to be real. If you know how to put people at ease, that is a talent on loan from God. If you know how to appropriately challenge people and encourage them to grow, that is also from God. Your personality, your voice, your face, your body, your intelligence – all these are on loan from God, and are supposed to be used for His purposes. Don’t insult your own body, or any of your talents: to do so is to insult God, who made them, and has a purpose for them.

Some people are given monetary wealth. This too, is on loan from God, and is intended for use and investment in His Kingdom. Your situation in life is also part of what God has given you. Many of my readers were born in the United States of America, and that gives you opportunities and privileges not found in many parts of the world. You may not feel privileged, but you are. Even the poorest Americans have more wealth and opportunity than much of the world. Those opportunities and privileges, like your natural abilities, are “on loan” from God, and he expects us to use them for His purposes. Esther was given this sort of “talent,” and God wanted her to use it. She was made a queen, with a position of influence. When there was trouble for God’s people, Mordecai, her uncle, told her this:

If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.” (Esth 4:14, HCSB)

In other words: “The opportunity and privilege you have has been given by God. Use it for Him. If you don’t, God will still deliver his people, but it won’t help you. But perhaps God has given you this privileged position for this very moment in time.” So we too, who are better off in this world, are supposed to use that privilege for God’s purposes.

Our relationships, our connections, are also gifts of God to be used for Him. Can I make it simple? your entire life, and all that is “you,” and all that is available to you, is on loan from God, and is a talent to be invested for His kingdom.

Now, I hope you have a few questions. The big one is this: doesn’t this parable make it sound like we will be welcomed into heaven if we use what God has given us for His glory, and we will not enter in if we don’t? In other words, doesn’t it seem like we are saved, not by God’s grace, but by what we do? It seems to contradict what the Bible says elsewhere:

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I understand why, at first glance, someone might think there is a contradiction here. In order to resolve it, we need to understand the role of “good works” (good things, done in the name of Jesus) in the Christian life. This will be very important when we look at the next parable, also.

I think you should write this down somewhere, because it will help you through so many parts of the Bible: Good works indicate that Jesus is alive and active within you, and is conforming you to His character.

Good works are not absolute proof that you are a Jesus-follower – many non-Christians do all sorts of good works. But if you claim to be a Jesus-follower, and your life shows no evidence of the character of Jesus, there is a problem. You might say that the presence of good works does not necessarily prove anything, but the absence of good works is a strong indication that something is spiritually wrong. Let’s look at the verse from Ephesians again, only this time, I’ll include the part I left off:

For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10, HCSB, emphasis mine)

Being saved by grace (not by works) goes hand in hand with walking in the good works that God has already prepared for us to do. Salvation and good works go together. We don’t do good works in order to be saved, we do good works because we are saved.

When we refuse to use what God has given us for God’s purpose, it shows us that there is a problem in our relationship with God. We are telling him that we aren’t interested in what he wants. So the man who refused to invest his talent was rejected, not because he failed to make an investment, but because, by his refusal, he showed that he wanted nothing to do with the Master.

So where does all this leave us today? Are you ready? Are you in this for the long haul? And do you use your life like it belongs to God, and is only on loan from Him? If you don’t, why don’t you? What prevents you?

What is the Lord saying to you today, through the Scripture? Spend some time praying about it, right now.

Lord help us to recognize that all we have belongs to you. Help us to recognize that you have saved us for a purpose. Let us realize that you want to use all you have given us for that purpose. Help us to allow you to do so. Where we have been selfish, and withheld from you, please forgive us, and restore us to a right, healthy relationship with you.

As you continue praying, please also remember this ministry in your prayers. Through this ministry, we are trying to do what the parable speaks about – invest our talents for God’s purposes. Please pray that the investment here is fruitful, that we continue to have all that we need to do his work. Thank you!