We have talked recently about the Holy Spirit and the expectation of it being a much greater part of our lives in the near Future. This is a Chapter from Rich Traver’s book “God’s Holy Spirit: The Divine Nature” about using the Spirit and why it is so important that we do so. We will provide a link to the PDF version of the book at the end of this post. – Editor
Smug Security or Creative Risk?
The Holy Spirit makes possible the development of righteous character. But comfortable complacency can mean a smug security instead of extending oneself. The parable of the talents helps explain the difference.by Graemme Marshall © 1995-2006 United Church of God, (AIA) Reprinted with permission.
In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Jesus teaches that we should be in a state of expectancy for His return (Matthew 25:1-13).
The illustration that follows, the parable of the talents, shows what we should be doing while awaiting that return. Christ gave the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to make possible spiritual growth. He takes care to provide all the necessary tools. He committed to His Church authority and gave His truth, laws and future promises, plus the invisible Divine power to accomplish spiritual growth.
The talents are expressed in monetary terms, but refer to spiritual values. For our purpose, let’s accept a talent as a thousand dollars. Christ’s rich gifts are, however, purchased in His blood— something far beyond monetary value. Christ came as our Savior. Firstfruit Christians are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit and are to be busy using that Spirit to grow and transform.
The parable explains the Kingdom of God. “It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left” (Matt. 25:14-15, The Message paraphrase used throughout).
By the uniqueness of birth each of us has different abilities, mental processes and physical and spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit influences and provides an unseen power for the spiritual use of our natural abilities. This spiritual investment is to be put to good use according to our individual ability from birth and from later training in life. God doesn’t place a heavier burden on our shoulders than we can bear. He gives us a task, and we are to get on with it. As Christians, we all have different opportunities and capacities, dispositions and personalities. Our situations are not identical. This shows that Christ knows us individually—knows our temperaments, our strengths, abilities, family obligations, personal skills and mental skill. No other human knows precisely what another’s responsibility is. But each is ultimately responsible to Christ at the judgment.
Two Servants Did Well
” Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same” (verses 16-17).
These two servants doubled their spiritual capital, and Christ was happy with what each accomplished. They went and traded— immediately got busy. They applied themselves to their task. They lost no time. There was work to be done in transforming their hearts, attitudes, thinking and choices in life.
Having made right spiritual investment choices, they continued in that direction. They sought the Kingdom first, sublimated personal desires and dedicated everything in their life to honor God’s calling and way of life. They took risks in their personal lives (time and money) to make sure they could attend Church services, fellowship, help spread the gospel, be involved in Church activities and grow in Bible study and prayer.
This was their main focus. It had a personal cost. It involved a risk. They were prepared to pay it. They developed themselves spiritually. From novices at baptism, through the Holy Spirit, they went on to grow and develop.
The one with the five talents was expected to achieve more. He had more, so was expected to accomplish more. Because of greater ability, he was expected to go to greater pain and trouble in extending himself more. It was not sufficient for him to cruise along in smug comfort and security. The servant with only two talents was not expected to produce beyond what he could. If he did the best he could with what he had, it still produced the same percentage—double.
How does the term creative risk apply here? James helps explain it by saying: “For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man studying his natural face in a mirror. For he studied himself and went his way, and immediately he forgot what he was like” (James 1:23-24, Modern KJV).
To take creative risk is to open up oneself to challenges. It sees the self and determines to change what is personally needed. Few of us are comfortable at stepping into unfamiliar territory. Yet to grow, we sometimes have to be prepared to risk our fears. And God’s Spirit will not let us down. It may be uncomfortable, it may mean embarrassment, feeling awkward, even foolish.
Over the history of God’s Church few of us have wanted to confront speaking in public. It represented a creative risk to step up to a lectern and face an audience. But the risk of doing so paid off.
Some years ago one of the ladies who volunteer-ed to do phoning for the waiting room program was afterward terrified at what she had let herself in for. She was concerned about how she would cope with a “No.” She prayed about it. Her first call responded by saying, “Oh, that would be lovely. Thank you.” Her calls thereafter weren’t without some anxiety, but the ice was broken, and she moved on to a higher level of personal development.
We risk pain to do what is right. We risk pain to confront unsavory things within ourselves. But from these risks we grow, produce and increase our talents.
The Third Wouldn’t Risk Himself
“But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money. “After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.. “
” The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’ “The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent’.” (Matthew 25:18-25).
The third servant is severely rebuked. Why? Because he hadn’t earned a lot of money for his employer? No, the parable doesn’t say this. It is possible he might have been commended even if he had gained only a little, providing that he had sincerely tried. He did not misspend or embezzle or squander the money. He simply hid it. But a hidden talent is no good to anybody.
Is a spiritual talent only for one’s own personal benefit and need? That he hid the money implies he was aware it was not his. Similarly, the Holy Spirit belongs to God, and He can take it away. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we are stewards of its work in our lives.
Here in this parable we have two servants who are busy developing their talents and being successful in spiritual development. The third servant remains spiritually comfortable in the smug security of having received the truth and God’s Spirit, but he doesn’t have the motivation for any further effort. The zeal of the others did not rub off to inspire him to any action.
The heart of the parable is that we must strive to produce fruits of the Holy Spirit. The two servants who were successful risked their spiritual capital to produce. They stepped out in faith and trusted God for the result. The third servant could have done the same, but didn’t. Instead he was satisfied with what he had received; he had the truth, had access to the Holy Spirit, had a fellowship—what more was needed?
” The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest” (verses 26-27).
The third servant reveals a fearful, negative attitude in living as a true Christian. He recognizes that God is his master, but he has the frame of mind that God is demanding and unfair. He buried the money for safekeeping so that it couldn’t be lost. This way he wouldn’t be accountable for squandering it. He was safety minded and showed concern for his own protection. He didn’t want to risk stepping out into an unknown where he might appear foolish or make mistakes.
Fear has been at the heart of our human psyche from the time of Adam and Eve. Yet often the fear of having to face the same fears again is enough to change the direction in our lives. We can say today “never again,” which means we do not want to face the same experiences, attitudes, penalties or tensions. So we change.
The smallness of his one talent did not excuse him from failing to make use of it. We will not be called to account for what we couldn’t do, but for what we have received. The third servant is comfortable with not having lost what he was given. He confesses, though, to burying his talent, of hiding it. Perhaps he expects praise for having kept it in a safe place and that he didn’t hazard losing it.
But doesn’t an attitude of mind emerge here? He fearfully viewed God’s way as too harsh. Having received God’s love and forgiveness, he had assumed life would be easier without effort on his part. His fears reveal a false notion about God—that if he attempted to develop more, he would also have to answer to being more responsible.
Christ’s judgment illustrates that it is not sufficient to just give back what was given, but to make good use of it and improve. When Christ says He would have been happy with just bank interest, it indicates He would have been satisfied if the servant had just tried, even if accomplishing only a little. Instead this servant elected for safety and smug comfort. The others risked of themselves to make personal change and to grow.
” Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this ‘play-it-safe’ who won’t go out on a limb” (verse 28).
In effect, what Christ is saying is that what one will not do, someone else will end up doing. If we fail to be accountable for the Holy Spirit in our lives, then it will be given to someone else. Spiritual progress comes from taking the risk of struggling to diminish the negatives in your human nature, confronting your self-justification, facing denial and examining your motives in your spiritual life.
Growth in developing the fruit of the Holy Spirit means moving on to a deeper understanding and love for God’s law (Psalm 119:97-104). It means walking in a deeper relationship with God through meaningful prayer and fasting. It means exploring an ever-increasing humility and self-assessment (Psalm 131:1; Phil. 2:3). It involves an increasing dedication to be accountable and forgiven for past mistakes, attitudes and motives.
Christ does set the high level for which we are to strive. And that involves the frightening task of facing up to ourselves, of hearing what others say about us, of seeing ourselves as others see us, of recognizing our pride, our blind spots, our irritations, our areas of temptation, our fears, inadequacies, loneliness and our human inability to communicate much beyond our human limitations.
The Holy Spirit is too important to neglect. The parable of the talents helps us examine if we live in smug security, or if we exercise a creative risk in developing our spiritual talents. If we do take the risk, the unseen power of God will help us— guaranteed.