Two Insightful Parables Exhort God’s Servants to Diligently Apply Themselves in Bringing Forth Appropriate Fruits. But Cultures within Churches can also have their Role by Promoting or by Prohibiting in the Fields of Opportunity.
Within the collective Body of Christ down through the ages, one constant dynamic has been in play. God incessantly provides, through the indwelling of His Spirit, Gifts and a Power by which to grow in grace, knowledge and in service. Not only is it a gift, but one that also carries with it a clear and present mandate!
Two parables, spoken among His Disciples, later in His Ministry, are found in Luke chapter 19 and Matthew chapter 25. In Luke 19, we are presented a variation in which three servant recipients are awarded Pounds (minas – a monetary term) in varying amounts, but with the active ‘producers’ using what they are given to bring an increase of similar proportion. Each doubles what he was entrusted with by which to produce. This would suggest we are not all given identical opportunities, despite perhaps having similar personal aptitudes.
In the Matthew 25 account, each chosen servant is given identical Talents, but return back to their Master varying increases, in proportion to their personal efforts. In this account, the opportunity appears the same, but the yield varies, in proportion to the efforts each puts forth and the situations under which each recipient operates.
The Non-Responsive Servants
But, it’s those individuals in the accounts who fail to employ their personal aptitudes in producing the expected and, might we say, the required return on what the Master’s invested in them that are our people of particular interest here.
Two important characteristics can come into play in these kinds of situations. Christ alludes to both. Personal fear is the primary one and lethargy (sloth) the other. And, we should ask, fear of what? Typically, when bible students read these parables,
the focus is placed with the individuals. That is the most obvious application, but as we’ll see, not necessarily the only one. Through history, various religious cultures have presented their members different conditions in which to function. In this age, for instance, there are vast opportunities due to media and electronic communications that to generations past were unimaginable.
The Warning and the Dangers
While providing positive encouragement, these two accounts also present each of us a serious warning, especially to those persons who are not only called but chosen with the expectation of them ‘producing much fruit’. What we need to be especially attentive to is the high risk situation of a servant not living up to his calling. As we see in Matthew 25, the awarding of talents takes into account a person’s natural ability. (v.15) God fully knows what we are capable of when awarding a Talent. That tells us that ones’ natural ability needs also to be applied in order to develop out the potential that the Talent makes possible.
No Talent produces gain for the Master on its own. But where the risk is involved is when the recipient fails to employ that Talent in any productive way. Even if the recipient is reluctant to put effort into creating an increase, he at least ought to place that Talent in the hands of others who can provide a return on it. (Giving it to a banker where at least it could earn some interest. (Lk.19:23 & Matt.25:27.))
To the servant who received the pound, and who produced nothing with it, this was his assessment: (Luke19:20) “And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21: For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22: And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23: Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24: And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds… 26: For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.”
The response to the servant who, in Matthew 25, failed to produce anything useful, we read: “Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 26: His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: 27: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28: Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 29: For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
Much is Ultimately at Risk
What is noteworthy in both of these accounts is the warning that failure to apply ones’ self toward developing acceptable fruit is not a small matter.
A person invested with a Talent does not revert to being considered as just an ordinary servant should he make no effort to achieve. Now, the relative amount of increase is a lesser consideration, but the total failure, whether due to fear or to personal lethargy, carries with it a greater consequence than might be apparent during the recipient’s Christian lifetime! Both entrusted servants’ personal excuse was fear, (Mat. 25:25 & Luke19:21) but the Master regarded it as slothfulness! (Mt. 25:26)
The Great Inhibitor
We all know what fear is. Who hasn’t been locked up in its grip at some point in his or her life? No doubt, Christ knew fear humanly, but conquered it. So why do we see such a severe reprimand, even to the point of the chosen servant losing even what he had? Is this alleging that ones’ failure to employ a God-given Talent puts the recipient’s very salvation at risk? The concluding sentence in each of the cited examples seems to suggest that! Realizing that, we can see that this matter is far more serious than a casual worshipper might realize. When presenting ones’ self to the Master for service, and when being awarded a Gift appropriate to his abilities, following thru with useful accomplishment is not optional!
But fear comes into play all too often. We’ll often ‘see the elephant’ and become reluctant to step out. Considering the unprofitable servants in both these parables, they weren’t necessarily citing their own personal fears as reason to remain unproductive. Their fears were in contrast to who they regarded as a severe master, making them too afraid of the task before them. In other words, they exhibited a clear lack of Faith. They disregarded the confidence that comes with being imbued with the power of God’s Holy Spirit. The Master saw that deficiency, and His ‘severe response’ can be better understood from that perspective. They didn’t have the solid confidence they should have, because they weren’t availing themselves of God’s Spirit as partner in their endeavor. The recipients saw the Master, but not the Helper! They were operating on their own!
Overcoming Cultural Fears
But in the modern age at least, and I refer to the modern age as that environment which exists under confining religious hierarchies, there’s another condition which contributes greatly to God’s true servants being under-productive, even non-productive! There are large well organized hierarchies and there are local ‘Diotrephesian’ ones! In either, a Gift of God can be rendered dormant, through no fault of the recipient. There are religious cultures that are toxic soil to personal growth or accomplishment. Any fruit to be borne is made subject to ‘another master’: that ‘church culture’ that can effectively quench any opportunity for productive increase, either in service or in attaining proficiency. The Master’s servants can often be made subject to a suppressive hierarchy of men, at times, rather uninspired men!
This matter is more the thrust of this chapter. The personal application of it is covered under another title: “I see Napkin People”. (Chapter 21)
What we need to carefully consider at this point is the responsibility that a church takes upon itself when it decides to inhibit or choke off develop-mental growth in its members. While the member may bear the loss of ‘even what he has’ by his non-productiveness, the church entity itself, large or small, is not exempt from blame. That is some-thing we ought to also consider.
“They MADE Me Do It!”
As we draw closer to the end of this age, we see the Church strewn about and limping along in various stages of dis-assembly. Ironically, that condition is largely the result of the organizational format it has opted to create within itself. A few have considered why, and a few have even come to see why. Could the above premise have anything to do with it, the failure of the church to put its talent base to use? And, the relevant question being, Is God pleased?
In Revelation 3:8 there is mention of an end-time Church as having ‘a little strength’. Many have taken that as a compliment, which to some degree it could be, depending on world conditions at the time. But we ought also to at least consider if it might rather represent a more negative assessment. In such an era, with all of the wide open opportunities for media, with all of the gained knowledge, with all of the informational resources available, with all of the training that has been invested in so many Church members, shouldn’t we see those ‘exploits’ referred to in Daniel 11:32?
You see, not only are individual servants given Talents or Pounds, Churches are also! We tend to see these particular parables as applicable on just the individual level. But organizations can be similarly unproductive, under fears of one sort or another. Where the irony comes is when the fears of the organization work to quench the Talents in its members. And, what might they be afraid of?
Our question should be, what is the Master’s assessment of any church organization, claiming to be His, that disregards or suppresses God given Talents among its rank and file? Are they to be similarly stripped of what they have on account of not making appropriate use of them? Even those within their own ministry are often restricted from exploiting their Talents. One has to wonder if the ‘use it or lose it’ adage isn’t in play in this situation, just as it is with the individual.
With manpower shortages, created by our incessant splits, a whole new echelon of ‘elders’ have to be brought up to fill service positions, who otherwise wouldn’t have been so used. (Is there a message in that?) At least in that, some few are provided a greater opportunity for active service and development. But each time a split happens, the overall respectability and productive viability of the Body is diminished further. Isn’t there a better way?
Under a climate of fear that can grip even religious entities large or small, (fearing loss of power or of prestige?) the approach of dampening the spiritual talents of the members is seriously detrimental to the growth dynamic of the overall congregation.
Considering it from another angle, when God knows that any Talent He might invest within an individual confined within a suppressive organization would not be used, because they wouldn’t allow it to be used, He is effectively blocked from giving a Talent to that person, lest He put that person’s salvation at risk. Even though the organization might be the responsible party, the individual still would bear the consequence. Organizations don’t lose their salvation (they don’t have one to lose) though they can at times lose their talent base, their spiritual vibrancy and ultimately their legitimacy before God.
God’s warning to all His servants may be more all-encompassing than we’ve chosen to see.