Profitable Servant

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
November 16, 2014, Pentecost XXIII

Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

From the Book of Judges:
Now Deborah, a prophetess said, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”

From St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians:
For God has not destined us wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation!

There was a man from the Boston area who had always dreamed of owning a cattle ranch and had finally saved enough money to buy his dream spread in Wyoming. His best friend flew out to visit and asked, “So, what’s the name of your ranch?” His buddy told him that he had a really hard time coming up with a name that he liked. He and his wife couldn’t agree on what to call it, so they combined all the names together and settled on, “The Double D Lazy Horse Lucky 7 Diamond Ranch.”

His friend was really impressed and then asked, “So where are all the cows?” To which the new rancher replied, “We had quite a few at first, but none of them survived the branding!”

As Christians, we should always be striving to improve our service to God, but allow me to suggest this morning, that it’s possible to get so caught up in what we call our spiritual gifts that we might not survive servanthood. The key is not so much to identify what we have but to use what we’ve been given. 1 Peter 4:10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

Last week in our Gospel reading, Jesus compared His coming to the eastern custom of a bridegroom arriving in the middle of the night. He concludes Chapter 25 by saying in verse 13: “Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” This chapter ends with the separation of the sheep and the goats. Sandwiched in-between is the parable of the talents: our Gospel reading for this morning.

Notice in verse 14: “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey…” The word “again” indicates that Jesus is using yet one more parable to explain future events. The man going on a “journey” is Jesus. Jesus is the Master and He is entrusting us to carry on His work here on earth.

As we walk through this powerful passage this morning, we’ll see Seven Stewardship Lessons. Now some of you may think, why do we need a stewardship sermon if our church is closing? The fact is that you are giving to God regardless of where you worship. You are giving back to God based on what He has given you. So, next year you may be worshiping at a church down the street or across town; their finances may be more or less than ours, but your giving should be the same; because your giving is based on what God has given you. Remember, everything belongs to God. This is the first stewardship lesson.

So we have this Master who was getting ready for a journey and “called his servants and entrusted His property to them.” It was common in those days for wealthy men to take long journeys. Before they would leave, they would arrange to have someone pick up their mail and feed their animals. But even more than that, they would often delegate the control and multiplication of their wealth to trustworthy employees. They were expected to bring a return on what had been handed over to them. Given the uncertainties of transportation in those days, the time of return for even a well-planned trip was often open-ended.

There was no doubt in the minds of these servants that the property and money still belonged to the master. They were the possessors, but not the owners. Their job was to manage what they were given. Likewise, we must remember that everything we have has been given to us and is not really ours anyway. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Until we recognize this truth, we will not be good managers of what has been entrusted to us. Our days are in His hands. Our gifts and abilities are on loan from Him. Our money is an “advance” from the Almighty. Our houses, cars, clothes, and every possession we have doesn’t belong to us. We really don’t own anything.

The second lesson is that God gives us what we can handle. This master gave different amounts of money to each servant based on what he felt the servant could handle. A talent in those days was worth about twenty years’ wages. The man with much ability was given five talents; the man with average ability was given two talents; the man with minimal ability received one talent.

The talents represent opportunities to use our abilities. God assigns work and opportunity according to ability. We have been assigned our ministries according to the abilities and gifts God has given us. It is our privilege to serve the Lord and multiply His goods.

The three servants fell into two categories: faithful and unfaithful. The faithful servants took their talents and put them to work for their Lord. The unfaithful servant hid his talent in the earth. Instead of using his opportunities, he buried them! He did not purposely do evil. But by doing nothing, he was committing sin and robbing his Lord of service and increase. Think of it this way, how many of us are afraid to share our Christian faith with a stranger, for fear of rejection or harm? Do we “hide” or “bury” our faith from other people and thus deprive our Master of return?

God entrusts different stuff to different people according to His sovereign purposes. In other words, He knows what we can handle. Our job is to be faithful with whatever amount we have to work with. Do we trust God to know more about us, than perhaps we know more about ourselves?

The third lesson in this parable tells us that we should invest what we’ve been given. The two men who received the five talents and two talents, respectively, each worked hard and doubled their master’s portfolio. The third guy who received only one talent went off and buried his blessing. The practice of hiding valuables in the ground was quite common back then. It was one of the safest and least profitable ways of protecting possessions. Our potential is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to Him.

None of us want to be audited by the IRS, but the day is coming when we will be audited by the Almighty. This is the fourth lesson. We’ll have to give an account for how we’ve used what we’ve been given. Verse 19 says: “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.” Jesus is coming again and there will be a day of reckoning. While we’ve all heard this before, we don’t always live with eternity in our hearts.

Friends, Jesus is coming again! Let’s be faithful in doing whatever He gives us to do. He’s invested something in each of us, and one day He’s coming back to claim it. Your job may be big or small, but whatever it is, do it to the best of your ability and you’ll be ready for your audit.

The fifth lesson is that God gives us a certain amount of talents and what we do with them reveals our view of God. The two servants that doubled their talents approached the time of reckoning with anticipation and excitement.
The master was thrilled with both of them because they demonstrated responsibility for their ability. And the master says to both of them, “Well done, good and faithful servants!”

The two servants put their money to work and each received the same commendation. It was not the portion but the proportion that made the difference. They started as servants, but their Lord promoted them to rulers. They were faithful with the few things so the Lord trusted them with many things. They had worked and toiled, and now they entered into joy. Their faithfulness gave each of them a capacity for greater service and responsibility.

The third guy had a wrong view of the master and had his mind made up even before he received his talent. He looked at him as someone who was hard and harsh, instead of loving and gracious. A.W. Tozer was right when he said that what we think about God is the most important thing about us. If we view God as a tyrant then we’ll filter everything through this lens. Perhaps you blame God because he did something or didn’t do something that you think He should have. As a result, your view of Him is skewed. Your preconceived notions prevent you from seeing Him as a God of grace, and as a result you refuse to serve Him with what He’s given you. When we blame God we end up burying our blessings.

One of the reasons the third guy hid his talent was out of fear. If you’re struggling with fear today, the best antidote is to further your understanding of the character of God and ask Him to grow your faith. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is moving ahead in spite of your fears.

This third servant also showed that he was unfaithful and therefore was unrewarded. Because this man was afraid he might fail, he never tried to succeed. He feared life and his responsibilities. This paralyzed him with anxiety, so he buried the talent to protect it. The least he could have done was put the money in a bank and collect some interest. There was no real risk in that.

It is possible that the one-talent man thought that his one talent was not really very important. He did not have five talents, or even two. Why worry about one? It was because he was appointed as a steward by the Lord. Were it not for the one-talent people in our world, very little would get accomplished. His one talent could have increased to two and brought glory to his master.

The sixth lesson teaches us that if we don’t use and invest what God has given us, we will lose it. In fact, the master was quite upset with this third servant. We read in verse 26, the master says: “You wicked and slothful servant!” Wickedness and laziness partner together to keep many people from full surrender and service. While the other two servants were busy and working hard, this selfish servant dug a hole, little realizing that he was digging it for himself! A selfish heart coupled with an unwillingness to do anything about it, will take many people on the path of destruction that can lead to the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Because this third guy did not use what he had been given, he lost it according to verse 28: “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who had the ten talents.” It’s the “use it or lose it” principle. Friend, don’t hold what you have. Develop it, invest it, and multiply it by using what you’ve been given.

The seventh and last lesson of this parable, is that it is important who you know and what you do, that will lead to either abundance or agony in the next life. In verse 29, we learn that those who are faithful with the little things will have abundance, or excess: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance.” Those who have given themselves in full surrender and selfless service to the Lord will be given even more opportunities.

On the other hand, those who bury their blessings will face agony. Jesus concludes this parable by saying that the worthless servant will be thrown “outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Some commentaries feel that this unprofitable servant was not a true believer. But is seems that he was a true servant, even though he proved to be unprofitable. This darkness is quite often referred to hell. The man was dealt with by the Lord, he lost his opportunity for service, and he gained no praise or reward. That could also refer to outer darkness.

Those who don’t know God don’t serve Him. That’s why Jesus referred to him as “worthless.” A believer has worth because of his faith in Christ.

The three parables in Chapter 25 of Matthew encourage us to love His appearing, look for His appearing, and labor faithfully until He comes. We should be watching, witnessing, and working. We may not be successful in the eyes of men, or even popular with others. But if we are faithful and profitable, we shall receive our reward.

Let us pray:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior, Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

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