Write Your Own Success Story
For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto 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. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 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: and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 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: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 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. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. —Matthew 25:14-30
We live in a society that is worshipping success. The sad thing is that most people do not know what success really is. They confuse success with popularity, or wealth, or position. If these are the essentials for success, then Jesus Christ was the greatest failure who ever walked this Earth! No, success from God’s point of view goes a lot deeper and reaches a lot farther. It is not a shallow thing, but the result of the right kind of a life.
In this familiar parable, Jesus answers three important questions about success; and in answering these questions, He tells us how to succeed.
What is success?
At least three factors are involved in success, and we see them in this parable: the will of the Master, the abilities of the workers, and the talents. Now please note that Jesus makes a distinction between abilitiesand talents.He gave the men the talents on the basis of their abilities. We often equate talentand ability,but in this parable Jesus makes a distinction.
We are born with abilities, and certainly nobody can take credit for the abilities he has! Our United States Constitution declares that “all men are created equal,” but when it comes to abilities, this is not true. Before the law, and before God, all men are equal; but compared with each other, all men are different. We all have different abilities.
What, then, do the talents represent? Opportunities to use the abilities.The man with much ability is given more opportunities to invest them; the man with fewer abilities is given fewer opportunities. But the Master rewards His men fairly: both of the men doubled the talents, and each one received the same commendation and reward. This leads us to a suggested definition of success: Success for the Christian is taking advantage of our God-given opportunities to use our God-given abilities to fulfill the will of God. And in fulfilling the will of God, we will bring glory to God, good to others, and blessing to ourselves.
Life, then, for the Christian, is a series of wonderful opportunities for fulfillment—fulfilling the will of God, and fulfilling the purposes for which we were born, and born again. If we are doing our own will, we are not successful. If we are neglecting opportunities, we are not successful. True success, for the Christian, is fulfilling the will of God by taking advantage of our God-given opportunities to use our God-given abilities for the good of others and the glory of God.
What are the principles of success?
As we look at the five-talent man and the two-talent man, we discover that there are three principles for success. According to verse 21, they are:
1. We go from servants to rulers.
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant…I will make thee ruler…” This is the pattern that is followed throughout the Bible: a man begins as a servant, and then God makes him a ruler. This was true of Joseph, who was a servant for 13 years before God promoted him to the throne of Egypt. It was true of Moses, who served for 40 years before God called him to lead Israel; and it was true of David, who faithfully cared for his father’s sheep before God asked him to shepherd the nation of Israel.
Why does God ask us to begin as servants? Because no man has a right to exercise authority who has not been underauthority. A man must learn how to obey, how to be patient, how to be humble, before God can trust him to lead others. At 17, Joseph certainly was not ready to be a ruler! But at 30, after years of discipline, he could be trusted to rule the land. If we are unwilling to start at the bottom as servants, we will never make it to the top as rulers.
2. We go from few things to many things.
“Thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things…” Once again, this is the Bible pattern. When God wants to prepare a man for ministry, he gives him just a few things to take care of ; and if the man proves faithful, then God trusts him with more. Joseph was faithful as a steward in Potiphar’s house, so God trusted him to manage the affairs of the whole nation of Egypt. David was faithful to kill a lion and a bear, to protect his father’s sheep, so God trusted him to kill a giant to save the nation of Israel; and then God eventually gave David the whole nation to shepherd. Joshua got his start as “Moses’ servant”; but because he was faithful, God promoted him to become Moses’ successor! Young Timothy was faithful in helping Paul, so God permitted him to take Paul’s place.
We must remember that the “big man” in God’s sight is the man who is careful about small things. Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much…” (Luke 16:10). The person who wastes five minutes will waste five hours, and the person who can steal a 10-cent stamp from his office is capable of stealing ten thousand dollars. Faithfulness in little things is the secret of receiving more from the hand of God. But please note that the greatest blessing of faithfulness is not receiving more things from God; it is receiving a growing capacity to handle more things. As we are faithful to care for the few things, we grow inwardly; and God sees that we are ready for more. The real reward of faithfulness is this increased capacity to do more for the glory of God.
3. We go from toil to joy.
These two servants had to work hard to get their money to multiply. The least they could have done was to put it in the bank, but this would not have doubled it. Instead, they used their opportunities to the fullest, they worked hard, and they were rewarded. We live in an era of “fun”—everything has to be “fun” or people will not participate. If school is not fun, then the students drop out. If work is not fun, then the workers quit. Jesus never promised that life would be “fun”—but He did promisejoyto those who would faithfully work. First the toil, then the joy.
These are the three principles that reveal God’s philosophy of life: we go from servants to rulers, from few things to many things, and from work to joy. But the world has a philosophy that is just the opposite! It is illustrated in Luke 15, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This young man started as a ruler—an important person—and he ended as a servant—taking care of the pigs! He started with many things—his share of the inheritance—and he ended up with few things. He started with joy—at least it was what he thought was joy—and ended up with toil. He received too much too soon and it ruined him. This same philosophy of life is ruining people today, and they are missing God’s way of success.
The key, of course, is faithfulness:“thou hast been faithful…” Jesus is telling us that faithfulness to the will of God is the key to success. This requires faith in the Word of God, of course; because the will of God is revealed in the Word of God. There are no short cuts in God’s philosophy of success. There may be years of toil, suffering, sacrifice, and even opposition; but in the end, God will honor those who honor Him.
What are the obstacles to success?
There are three, and they are illustrated in the one-talent man. His attitudes were all wrong! And more than anything else, wrong attitudes rob people of success.
1. He had the wrong attitude toward himself.
He felt that he was not important because he had only one talent. “Everybody else has more ability than I do,” he argued; “so why take the risk of losing what I have?” But in the end, he lost what he had anyway! Had he been faithful, he would have increased his capacity for service and God would have given him more. Instead, he felt sorry for himself, pampered himself, and took what he thought was the “safe route.” We need to realize that God makes no mistakes when He distributes abilities and opportunities. God needs the one-talent men just as much as He needs the five-talent men! It is no disgrace not to be a genius! But it is a disgrace to be unfaithful in the use of God’s gifts.
2. He had the wrong attitude toward life.
“I was afraid!” Not afraid to die, but afraid to live! He was the kind of person who wanted to maintain the status quo,so he buried his talent and kept it intact. Life involves risks; like Abraham, we often go out “not knowing where we are going.” God guides us a step at a time, a day at a time. If we are afraid to live, then we will never fulfill God’s purposes in our lives. If we stand in the safety zone all of life, we will never make any progress. Life is an adventure! Life is a struggle! I believe that this man would have hidden the five talents if he had possessed them, because his attitude toward life was all wrong.
3. He had the wrong attitude toward his Master.
“I know that you are a hard man!” He had no love for his master; he criticized him and accused him falsely. He wanted to blame his master for his own failures! Some Christians have this same attitude toward God: they think He is a hard Master” who demands more than He gives—and they want to blame Him for their own unfaithfulness. The other two men were grateful for their master’s gifts, and they sought to please him and honor him. But this man was narrow and critical and bitter, looking for a scapegoat. Well, he only hurt himself. Instead of growing and developing new capacities for service, he became smaller and smaller; and instead of entering into joy, he went into darkness!
In God’s program, faithfulness is the key factor: faithful as a servant—faithful over a few things—faithful to work. God is faithful, and you can be sure He will reward those who follow His principles: servants who become rulers; the few things will grow into many things; and the toil will lead to joy, joy today and joy for eternity. The result is a full life, a life in the will of God, a life of fulfillment. To ignore these principles means an empty life, a narrow life, and life of failure.
I believe God wants us to succeed for His glory. He may not give all of us “big names” or “big places,” but He will enlarge us and our ministries throughout eternity. Success means fulfillment; and fulfillment depends on faithfulness. May all of us hear that glorious “Well done, good and faithful servant!”