10.15.17 – 10.22.17
The 521 (Intro)
What are we doing with what we have been given? Are we giving life to others, or are we squeezing that life out of them? Are we maximizing and multiplying our time, talent, and treasure? What is our plan for using what God has given to us for leading growth, equipping believers, and enriching the lives of others?
We will begin the 2017 fall season at Reunion by answering these type questions with what we will call “The 521.” The 521 is based on the parable of Jesus in Mathew’s gospel chapter twenty-five. The Master gives talents (5, 2, and 1) to three different servants, each according to their skill and ability – and then he goes away. His return, response, and expectations are uniquely significant and entirely relevant to us.
Among the many messages, an overriding truth in this parable could truly be an understanding that the mere possession of the talents given by the master is not evidence of approval or salvation – everyone doesn’t get a trophy. This message is not a contradiction – it is a confirmation (more on this later!)
I know the idea that we have all been given some type or kind of gifts in this life (as it relates to this story), is not a groundbreaking revelation. But it is interesting to unpack the reality that not everyone uses those gifts to do or share something valuable with what they have been given. It is also interesting that the approval and salvation we often seek in this life is uniquely and intentionally attached to growing and multiplying that gift in encouragement, service, and leadership of others. And within that reality lies the message and the mission of the parable of the 521.
Hardly any parable has any more intrigue than the parable of the talents. We believe that there is a breath of new life in this parable, and that its message and mission are for us individually as leaders, and for the entire community at Reunion. Join me, in ‘The 521.’
521 Story and Context
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 is the sixth and final illustration that Jesus used to relate to being prepared for the second advent (coming). Like previous images and illustrations, the interpretation of the story is intended to connect with those who will be waiting and wanting Christ’s second coming to the earth rather than the rapture of the church from earth. The practical application of the principles involved, however, may best be considered by those who are looking forward to not only the second coming and the rapture of the Church, but also the righteous judgment of Christ as well. Why piece it things together when ultimately we are going to need and face it all?
Just a thought… the context of the 521 is not about a master who takes his servants from earth to heaven, but rather a master who returns to the scene of earth and judges his servants.
The 521 story does not direct its message to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, like in the parable of the ten virgins, but rather deals with the expectation and judgment of works as they relate to loving and faithful service as the fruit (evidence) of right relationship with Jesus. The parable views life in relationship to service, and the proper use of a given opportunity as evidence of preparedness and expectation of the return of the master or as in our case, the return of Jesus.
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.
The 521 begins in verse 14 of Matthew 25, where Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a man traveling into a far country who calls his own servants and gives them his own goods. The reference to “the kingdom of heaven” is not included from some translations/manuscripts, but the context for the 521 is obviously attached to the period time before the Lord’s second advent/coming. It was quite customary in the ancient world for a man to turn his property over to a servant, often a slave, who would administer his business for him in his absence. According to verse 15, he called in three servants. To the one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, “to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.” A talent is a sum of money, which varied in its value at different periods of time in history. A talent was actually a literal weight of money ranging from 58 to 80 pounds. A silver talent varied from $1000 to $2000 in value. A gold talent could be worth more than $30,000. It is probable that these talents were silver talents, and that they were worth about $2,000 apiece, but if they were gold talents, they were worth about $30,000 apiece. The purchasing power of this money should be viewed in a context of a person who would work all day for 15¢. The value of a talent was much greater in proportion than it is in our modern world. So the five-talent man, if they were gold talents, received $150,000, or if silver, $10,000. In purchasing power today, this would be equivalent to a fortune. The two-talent man, accordingly may have received as much as $60,000, and the one-talent man $30,000, if they were gold talents. The idea of course is that the master gave them a gift of great value.
The value of the talents is important because it establishes the confidence and level of trust that the master had in these men. However, he did not have trust or confidence in them equally – so he gave them different responsibility, of different value, with the same expectation. In verse 16, it says that they immediately got busy. “Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.” Then as now in business, it is possible to make money, but it is also possible to lose money. It is obvious that this servant must have been a careful and shrewd businessman in order to be able to double his money. The two-talent man did likewise: “And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.” He also doubled his money. “But he that had received one went and dug in the earth, and hid his master’s money” (Matthew 25:18). Here the word for “money” is the word for silver (Grk. argurion), but in this context can mean any kind of money.
The story of the 521 is not over.
“Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.”
The work that was involved in this five-talent gain was extraordinary and not easy, but how proud was this moment for the servant as he gave account of what had been committed to him. He could report that he had gained five talents more. And the master commended him:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Then we are told that:
“And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.”
In verse 23 the master commends the two-talent servant with exactly the same words as the five-talent man:
“His master said to him, well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter into the joy of your master.”
This introduces us to the biblical principle that good stewardship is always connected to faithfulness. It is not always how much, but always how faithful. The five-talent man and the two-talent man had been equally faithful and they received equal commendation and reward. This should bring hope and comfort to anyone who truly and faithfully serves God. It is a comfort and hope because as anyone who truly and faithfully serves looks around they inevitably will find someone who is more successful, gifted, and talented. Someone more intelligent or wealthier – that is how it is. It is obvious, that God does not give everyone the same talents and gifts. And it is also not quite true that all are created equal – just, that all are given gifts with equal opportunity. Reality check: Men and women are definitely created unequal, and no two of them are exactly alike in their stewardship (response) to what they have been given. But the significant factor is that at the judgment, as in the 521, it will not be a question of how much or how successful, but how faithful. The expectations of this master of his servants is only in proportion to what he has given to them. So there is a sense in which everyone has an equal opportunity to be rewarded.
The 521 takes a sudden twist with the one-talent man. When it comes his turn to report the fruit of his efforts he quickly and falsely attempted to excuse and justify his inactivity and lack of faithfulness:
“He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’
Clearly there was some sarcastic innuendo in the reply from the one-talent man – probably why he was the one talent man. He describes his master as a very controlling, difficult, shrewd businessman. He tells him that he is the kind of a man who reaps where he has not sown, and gathers where he has not spread – this was not true. In those days, boundaries sometimes were rather indefinite and they did not always bother to plow a field. They would just scatter the grain and it would grow. When it came to reaping, they were not above taking a little of the seed that had fallen on the neighbor’s property. The one talent man insinuated that his master was the kind of person that got everything he could. He implied that the master was not completely ethical or honest. Again, this was not the case.
The master of the one talent servant does not bother responding to the charge, although he does not accept the verdict that he is a “hard” or difficult man. If the one talent servant really believed his master was as shrewd and difficult as he tried portray him he would have been much more diligent and mindful to please him. Regardless, his response was no excuse. Of course, whenever a person fails to meet reasonable expectations or to do his or her duty, the default is always to find some excuse or someone else to blame. That is what the one talent man was doing. The third servant’s estimate of his master as a hard money-making Jew who enriched himself at the cost of others, gathering gain where he had not spent, was untrue; but the master’s point is that the servant, believing (in a self-deceptive way) as he did that it was true, should have been all the more concerned to see that he had something more to bring to his master on his return from his travels than the same bag of gold that he had been given! It is probably reasonable to assume that the one talent man had full knowledge of what the other two servants had done with the talents they had been given.
So, the master answers him directly:
“You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.”
The master’s expectations, evaluation and judgment of the servant is pointed and painful. Why didn’t this man simply put his money out at interest? This minimal effort would have been safe to do, and he would have had at least some income to report on what he had been given. But instead, the one talent man went in the backyard and dug a hole and put the money in the hole and buried it. Hmmm…
Even in our modern day when people bury money in the backyard, it usually indicates something bad or at the very least – that something’s not right. Perhaps they are trying to avoid tax, or maybe it was illegally acquired of somehow, because the normal, responsible thing is to put it in a bank. Why didn’t the one-talent servant put it in the bank? Most opinions are usually pretty vague on this point. His master said that he was not only lazy, but wicked. But what was there that was wicked about this? Good question.
How about this? This one talent man gives in to some twisted scheme or dishonest reasoning. It is much like the thinking of Judas when he sold out Jesus. Judas reasoned, if Jesus is really the Messiah, my betrayal will not hurt anything, and I will get my money from the High Priest. If He is not the Messiah, then at least I get paid and don’t come out of the whole thing empty handed. I believe the one-talent man reasoned in somewhat the same way. His master was going on a far journey. If the servant puts the money in the bank, he would have to register it in his master’s name. If his master did not come back (which often times happened), his family could claim it. He thought, however, that if he buried it in the backyard, there would be no record of the money. If his master did not come back, the servant would have it. If he does come back, he could not accuse him of dishonesty because he could produce the talent. It was a cunning plan that was built upon uncertainty (lack of faith) that the Lord was returning. He just did not believe that his master was coming back – in fact by burying the talent, he bet on it. If he had, he would have handled the money differently. This is what the master meant when be said that he was a wicked servant.
In verse 28, the judgment is given,
“So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Verse 29 has been the subject of some controversy and debate. When it says, “for to everyone who has, more will be given,” the reasonable question is, “To everyone who has what?” Does it refer to everyone who has works, or to everyone who has faithful and moral character? What is the difference between the one-talent man, and the two-talent man, and the five-talent man? In the next few weeks we will profile each one and answer that question while making the connection to ourselves and the community at Reunion.
To be sure, their works were definitely different, and their character was somewhat distinct as well, but the point of the 521 is the five-talent man and the two-talent man believed their master was coming back and they worked in keeping with their faith and commitment to faithfully serve. I am convinced the one-talent man did what he did because he did not believe. Belief is a game-changer, just as unbelief is a game-breaker. So ultimately it comes back to the question of the reality of faith in the words of their master. The expression “to everyone that has” means to everyone who has faith, everyone who has expectation in his master and Lord. Works are not the foundation of salvation; they are simply the evidence (fruit) of faith, and love for God. Here works are presented as an evidence of true faith and belief in the promise of Jesus to come again. What do you believe?
Verse 30 finishes the story:
“And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Hard… This outer darkness could not refer to the destiny of true Christians – genuine followers of Jesus. This one-talent man, while he was given opportunity to trust in his master and to serve him, did not really believe in the master’s return. Is this a true Christian and follower? It is however typical of those who have heard and rejected the truth concerning the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The unprofitable servant is one who was not saved, not redeemed, and therefore not rewarded for his service. The 521, brings us up close to the application and image of the truth of the return of Jesus. It makes clear the relation of future hope to present and real-time faithfulness to Christ and what He has given us. Belief in the promises of Jesus is revealed to us as an important evidence and fruit of our faith and an exciting and practical motivation for faithful service.
Supportive Scripture in 521 Context
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, 5:1-11
Ephesians 2:4-10, 4:1-16