Christ, The Lord Of Our TalentsDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 13, 1991
Selected highlights from this sermon
Are you ready for judgment day—to stand before Christ and account for the talents He has left you to manage?
While it’s true that some people have greater wealth and abilities than others, God expects us to do our best with what He has given us. We can receive all the rewards He has for us, but we often fall into the sin of the wicked slave who hid his talent. He feared failure and the master. We must avoid this test, and then we can avoid the disapproval of our heavenly Master.
This is the second message that I am preaching on stewardship – actually the joy of generosity, the joy that God gives to us when we become generous with what He has so generously entrusted to our care.
Do you often think of the judgment seat of Jesus Christ? The Bible teaches that there are two judgments, of course. There’s the Great White Throne Judgment where the unbelieving of all the ages shall stand before the Almighty. And in a detailed way God will go through their lives, not to see whether they are worthy to be saved, but rather to determine the degree of punishment that they will receive in hell. That’s the Great White Throne Judgment.
But the Bible also teaches that there is a judgment for believers. We call it the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ. That means that there is going to be a time when we will stand before Christ, and He will know us by name. This summer I was preaching on heaven and somebody said, “Will Jesus know us by name?” Well, obviously the answer is yes. First of all, it’s because Jesus knows everything, and secondly, it says that He puts forth His own sheep, He goes before them and He calls them by name. Jesus is going to look into our eyes, and when we see Him, our first joy will be to know that we will be forever in His presence. But the Bible says that at that time we will give an account to Him for the way we lived on planet earth, and whether we lived for ourselves or whether we lived for Him. And what an awesome day it is going to be. And it’s going to be individual. It’s going to be Christ evaluating us, and the Bible says that we should live in such a way that we will not be ashamed in His presence.
Now what I’d like you to do is to take your Bibles and turn to Matthew 25 where Jesus gives a powerful story about the need to be absolutely faithful with what God has given to you. The context is the Kingdom of Heaven and the return of Christ. And Jesus said in verse 14, “For it (the Kingdom of Heaven) will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”
I want you to notice first of all that this is so true to life because each of the servants was given a different amount. We don’t know how much a talent was. It was probably a huge sum of money. We think of talents as the ability to sing, the ability to preach or the ability to write, but actually talents in this context is money. That’s what Jesus is talking about. And whether we broaden the concept, and it’s perfectly fine to do that, to include our abilities (That is fine), what Jesus is saying is, “First of all, in life there is really no equality.” We think that everyone is created equal, and that has to do with their value, but you know that there are some people who have more money than others. There are some people who have more ability than others. There are some people who have better health than others. If there is anything that can be said about life it is that it seems to be haphazard and scattered. We all have differing amounts. George Orwell said in his book that all animals were equal, but then he added that some are more equal than others, and how true that is.
But secondly I want you to notice that even though they received unequal amounts it was possible for all of them to receive the very same reward because it says in verse 16, “He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.” Let’s skip for a moment the one who had one talent, and let’s go down to verse 20. “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.’ His master said to 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.’ 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.’ His master said to 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.’” The very same reward!
Now isn’t God good? Do you notice that God does not expect from a one-talent or a two-talent person the same as He expects from a five-talent person. But notice that the one who had five doubled his, and the one who had two doubled his, and that’s all that God expected. It’s not as if God expects all of us to be a scientist, all of us to write books, or all of us to be able to do thus and so. What the Bible is saying is that God wants faithfulness whether we are a five-talent person, a four-talent person, or a one- talent person, or if we feel that we have only one-tenth of a talent. It matters not to God because we will be judged with what we had.
Oh it’s been said so many times before, but you see, it’s faithfulness in the little things in obscurity that matters. It’s easy for me to be on time for a service because if I were late, if I came onto this platform or if others came onto this platform and I wasn’t up here, people would wonder, “Where’s the preacher?” because I’d be seen in front of a large congregation. Do you think that that’s more important to God than if you are an usher and you are late? Absolutely not, because, you see, God evaluates us with our responsibility - each according to his ability, each according to his assignment.
Do you think that it’s more important that I prepare well to preach than for you to prepare well because you teach a Sunday school lesson? Absolutely not! Oh where did we get this idea? It is a sinful, damnable idea that somehow faithfulness is expected for some areas of responsibility that are more visible, but it is unimportant for that which is invisible. And some people say to themselves, “Well, you know if God gave me more I’d be more faithful.” That’s a lie!
You see, these people God rewarded after they were faithful with what they had, and then they received more. And some people want more upfront. They say, “Well, you know if God would bless me more then I would be willing to give more to Him.” That’s not the point. The point is faithfulness in what you had. That’s what matters.
You know that sometimes we talk about the widow who gave her two mites, and we say “the widow’s mite.” That’s terrible. Give her credit. She had two mites and not one. Do you know that if that widow had taken those two mites and had invested them at 4% interest the amount today would be 28 with about 40 zeroes, and do you know what I think? I think that when you invest your money for God that He gives you at least a 4% return throughout all of eternity so that you will never believe what faithfulness in something small may mean in terms of eternity. There’s no way for you to even understand it, and we blow it all because of our unfaithfulness, not recognizing how honest and truthful God is in keeping His promises and rewarding those who give so much as a glass of cold water in His name. I was walking through the auditorium early this morning and I saw someone give me my glass of cold water, and God will reward him in this life as well as in the life to come.
Now notice that there is, however, someone else in this parable that we’ve deliberately avoided until now, but he’s the focus of the story. All of the other men were simply a context in which Jesus could talk about this very famous, or infamous, one-talent person. Now I want you to notice what he’s like because maybe you have met a one-talent person.
Verse 18 says, “But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.” And then, of course, he needs to give an account to God as well as the others, so for that we’re going to skip to verse 24 because now it’s his time to give his explanation. “And 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.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown 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. (That’s bad enough, but listen to this.) 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. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Ouch! Who is this worthless slave? I’ll tell you! He’s somebody who was mighty wrong, and he was wrong about a number of different things. First of all, he was wrong about himself. He had a sense of inferiority. “Everybody else has five talents, two talents, ten talents, but here I am with just one talent, so what I do with this one talent isn’t very important.” He had a spirit of comparison. Paul said that those who compare themselves with themselves are not wise. I tend to think that the one-talent person said, “If I can’t have five talents I’m not going to serve with my one talent. If I can’t sing like Pete Lulusa, I’m not going to sing. If I can’t preach like Chuck Swindoll I’m not going to preach. If I can’t look like “So and So” (If I’m not as good looking as “So and So”) then I’m not going to do such and such.” And you see it is that kind of an attitude that made him wrong about himself – that sense of inferiority, the flip side of which is pride.
Milton, you remember, said that Satan fell because he would rather be king in hell than a servant in heaven. And you know there are many of you who come to Moody Church who are uninvolved because you think that your part is too small, too insignificant. You see other people serving with great ability and you say to yourself, “They don’t need me,” and God says, “Watch it because you are wrong – dead wrong!”
Comparison is such a curse. I remember one day my daughter came home from school and said that we were supposed to find the North Star. I’ve always had trouble finding the North Star. Maybe there is no North Star up here in Chicago. I can find the Big Dipper. I can sometimes find the Little Dipper, but it’s hard to find the North Star. But you know, books have been written, I’m sure, about the North Star and all the other stars, and we went out one night, and it was foggy. It was in the city and there was some smog. You know, whenever I get out of the city of Chicago for too long a time you know that I actually have to start up a car and breathe some smog because your system needs it.
And we went out there and we were looking at all these beautiful stars. Whole books have been written about them. Which one is brightest? Which one shines now? Which one shines then? But I’ll tell you something. When the sun comes out, all of the stars fade into oblivion. All the differences among them disappear as long as the sun is out. And I’ll tell you that when we begin to stop comparing ourselves with ourselves and begin to compare ourselves with Jesus Christ there is no essential noteworthy difference among us. We are all sinners, saved by grace, struggling to do the best we can and failing along the way. We’re all in the same boat. So he was wrong about himself. Inferiority! “I can’t do it. I’m not as gifted as somebody else.”
Secondly, he had a wrong attitude towards life. Notice what he says to the king. He says in verse 25, “I was afraid.” What was he afraid of? I believe that he was afraid of God, but he was also afraid of failure. That’s what he was afraid of. He said, "You see, if I take this talent and invest it, that means that there is some risk involved, and I want to play it safe. I want to be so conservative that I do nothing unless I know upfront that I’m going to be successful in it.” And there are some people just like that who just hate all risk. I remember working with a person who was so conservative that he believed that nothing should ever be done for the first time. Very interesting! “I can’t do it! I can’t respond to the needs that are listed weekly in the bulletin. I can’t get involved because of fear I might fail. I might do something wrong. I might not look good and that actually is the other part of his attitude here toward life. He was so concerned as to how he looked in the presence of others, so self-conscious. “I’m in the presence of those with five talents and I’ve only got one.”
I want you to know that he was totally wrong about life. God has a sense of humor. God uses some people that we wouldn’t use. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen God use people that I wouldn’t use if I were God, and yet, you know, God in His mercy and His grace makes us all different, and when we are feeling inferior, the criticism is directed ultimately toward God. We’re saying, “Why did you create me thus?” And that’s the third mistake he made right there. He had a wrong attitude toward the Lord. He had a wrong attitude about himself, a wrong attitude about life and a wrong attitude about the Lord.
He says in verse 24, “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.” And notice what he is saying. He’s critical of God. He’s saying, “God, you’re just exploiting us. You know, you expect us to make money with the money that you’ve given to us. And then you come and you receive all that money.” And that’s true, by the way, and the reason that God can demand that is because the money that He gives us is His, and our ability to multiply it is His as well. But you see he was critical of God. And there are many people who are very critical of God. They say, “God, why is it that You have put me in this predicament with my limited abilities, with my limited resources? Why is it, oh God, that I have been asked to play this role? You are harsh and you are demanding.” And he actually becomes angry with the Lord, saying, “You are not fair to me.”
Well, you know, God wasn’t pleased. You know, after an explanation like that I guess he expected the king to say, “Well, you know that really makes sense. I understand your viewpoint. I’m trying to see light through your lenses, and so I think that’s fine then.” But I’ll tell you this. He doesn’t hear that. He hears some very harsh words. “You wicked, lazy slave!” He had dug a hole for his talent. What he didn’t realize was he had actually dug a hole for himself. That’s what happened because he thought that his service for the master, because he had only one talent, was unimportant.
Now, I want you to notice what this man lost, and he lost big. First of all, he lost the approval of his master. There was no “Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of the Lord.” As he looked into the eyes of the king there was no word of appreciation. There was no word of thanks from the man who was most important. I suppose that’s the one thing that causes me to tremble a little bit. I have in my brief life received quite a bit of praise of men, but you know actually when I stand before the Lord I won’t be able to say, “Lord, look at all those letters that we receive from a radio audience.” It won’t make one bit of difference, not one bit of difference. If Jesus says to me, “Lutzer, you served with the wrong motives, you served with the wrong desires and you squandered your time,” as far as I’m concerned the opinion of somebody else, even the opinion of the world applauding me, will not make up for it from now until eternity because only what Jesus thinks matters in the final analysis. There is no other recourse. And so he missed the approval of his master. And you know the Bible says that we should live in such a way that we will not be ashamed at His coming.
I know that most of us think that the Judgment Seat of Jesus Christ is just going to take a moment. If we did poorly in ten minutes into eternity everybody will forget how badly we did and therefore it won’t make any difference. Oh, it’ll make a big difference, as we’re going to see in just a moment. But he missed the approval of his master, and that’s what really counts. And you see that’s why it’s possible to be faithful even when you are misunderstood. That’s why it’s possible to be faithful even though there are those who are saying things about you that aren’t true. It’s because ultimately the opinion of the other slaves is no big deal. It’s the opinion of the master that is important.
He lost the approval of his master. He lost the opportunity for growth in character. You’ll notice that the other slaves received the wonderful words, “Thou good and faithful servant,” but he didn’t hear those words. There was no opportunity for spiritual growth! And then he missed, of course, the privilege of greater responsibilities. All of the others were taken and they were brought into the kingdom and given more responsibility.
In a parallel account Jesus said that what happened is that if you had ten talents and you were faithful with those ten talents, you got to serve over ten cities in the kingdom. And here’s somebody who doesn’t get to serve in any of the cities in the kingdom, but actually is thrown into a place of outer darkness. I take him to be an unconverted person even though Jesus, in another parable tells a similar story where the man apparently is a Christian, but here he is not.
But I want you to understand that there are some lessons from this parable that are so explosive that if we were to take them seriously, today would be a major turning point in our lives regarding faithfulness.
Number one, your talent (and here we are talking about money as well as ability) is your trust. It’s your trust. I want you to know that you do not own the money that God has given you the ability to make. You do not own the gifts and the talents that you have. Notice what the text says right from the beginning. It says in verse 14, “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.” His possessions! These are not theirs.
By nature we are greedy. By nature we grasp. By nature we cling. By nature we say, “This is mine.” By nature we say, “I have a right to hide this money in the ground or in the bank.” By nature we are like that, and you see when the Holy Spirit of God works deeply into people’s hearts it is said that there are two conversions. There is the conversion of the heart, and then there is the conversion of the pocketbook. And some people are only half converted, you know. We begin to recognize that all that we have is God’s. All that you have is God’s. Some of you businessmen are so gifted in your ability to organize and to manage. Please remember that Jesus watches you every single day to know whether that talent and ability is being invested for Him or whether you think it’s something for which you have the right to say, “This is mine.”
Every day we are being monitored. Your talent is your trust. You have the ability to write letters to friends and to missionaries. You have the ability to encourage. You have the ability to usher. You have the ability to do whatever it is that God has called you to do. And I want you to know that God holds you accountable. It is a gift of God.
Secondly, not only is your talent your trust, but also your talent is your test. I’ve been studying the life of Joseph. When Joseph was thrown into the prison the Bible says in the Psalms that the Lord tested him. He was falsely accused. He had done right but was falsely accused of attempted rape. He resisted temptation and that’s what he gets for serving God. You know, I mean that’s what you get. He said no to Potiphar’s wife, and of course, God blessed him. Right? No, he gets a prison term for two years, and the text says that God tested him. But you know that’s true of all of us. Our talent is our test.
What do I mean? Why do you think that you are on this earth? One of the most important reasons is so that God might know how and where to slot you in the coming kingdom. That’s why. It’s like a college entrance exam. Why do you take college entrance exams? Well, you don’t know whether or not you are ready for advanced French, or freshman French. You don’t know whether you are ready for advanced mathematics. They don’t know where to put you, and so they say, “What we’re going to do is to give you the test so that we’ll know where you are slotted once school begins.” And that’s what God is doing.
He’s saying, “Darryl, I am giving you the privilege of either being a ruler over ten cities or five cities, and the way you serve here on earth is going to determine where you are going to be slotted.” And He’s saying to you and to all of us that that’s exactly what’s happening in this world. In the world to come are you going to rule over ten cities, five or none at all? That’s why your faith, or lack of it, upon planet earth is going to have to some extent repercussions throughout all of eternity because it will depend on the responsibilities he’s given to you in the kingdom.
You say, “Well everybody in heaven is going to be happy surely.” Oh yeah, everybody in heaven is going to be happy but there are some people who are going to be given more responsibilities. If you had a kingdom here on earth, you’d have some people who would serve the king more directly. They would be at the king’s table, and there would be others who would have other responsibilities. And in the very same way in the coming kingdom everybody is going to be happy. Everybody is going to be serving. Everybody is going to be plugged in somewhere, but where you are plugged in is determined by whether or not you are so faithful that you are in church on time, whether or not you prepare your Sunday school lesson, whether or not you give consistently or regularly, or only whenever you feel like it. All of that, you see, is being put into the equation as to where you are going to fit into the kingdom. That’s why this idea that somehow we can fritter our time away in the kingdom of the Lord, and then in the end hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” is nonsense. Your talent is your trust.
Thirdly (the third lesson), whatever you don’t use you will lose. You may say, “Well, you know I think that the king was unreasonable.” Well, isn’t that interesting that you would think that. Guess what! God’s not asking you your opinion. Sometimes I give all kinds of opinions to God even though He doesn’t ask me for my opinion. I give Him mine anyway. It just feels good to know that at least I let him know what I think. But notice what the king does. He says, “Take the one away.” And you may say, “At least he presented to him his one talent that he was given.”
You know there are some people who think, “Well, as long as I have not sustained any losses when I see Jesus Christ, as long as I can still prove to Him that I have essentially what I started out with, that that will be good enough.” Oh really? The king said, “Take what he’s got and give it to somebody else.” A person like that is unworthy. And by the way, you know that we say we have unconditional worth. Notice that this person is spoken about as being an unworthy servant. Unworthy in the worst sense of the word!
I’m concerned, folks, about our lack of enthusiastic exciting involvement in the ministries of Moody Church (whether it has to do with the attendance at prayer meeting, whether it has to do with the attendance in Sunday school) and the utter disdain with which we sometimes look at the work of God in comparison with the way in which we serve in other capacities.
If you have a job down in the Loop you know that your boss would never say to you, “Well, you know the thing is you’ve been on time three out of five times. I guess that’s okay.” That would be intolerable. They don’t work like that down on LaSalle Street, but this also is LaSalle Street, and it makes little difference (does it?) sometimes whether we are on time or whether we give consistently, because you see, the point is we think to ourselves that we can do as we like.
How about those of you who pay for a mortgage? And my wife and I do. It’s that monthly experience of having to write out the mortgage check. How many of you think that your mortgage company would say to you sometime, “You know, actually you paid ten out of 12 times last year? That’s pretty good. We’ll accept that.” And yet when it comes to giving to the church, we may not give regularly with any kind of regularity. We say, “Well, you know, I gave three out of eight Sundays. That’s pretty good.”
Why is it that we treat our daily work, which obviously should be done for God, and our financial institutions with so much more respect and honor and concern and faithfulness than we attend to the blessings of the ministry of church, when we know that we are going to have to look into the eyes of Jesus and say, “I’ll tell You, this is really what happened.” And we also know that He’s not going to be too quick to accept excuses.
“You lazy slave! Throw him out! I gave him all that money and all that he did was fritter it away. (Sometimes we fritter it away.) He kept it, and this is all that he’s got to show for it.”
I like to tell that story about some men who were walking through a desert and they came to a well with a pump. And those of you who know anything about pumps know that pumps frequently have to be primed. And on the well there was a can of water that said, “Use this can of water to prime the pump. If you do that you will have enough water for yourself and those who are traveling with you.” And so here you have a group of people who are thirsting to death. They have the option. They could drink the water in the small can and that would be certain. That’s something sure. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Or they could take the risk of pouring it down into the pump, trusting that the note was right and that the pump would work, and that there is water.
That’s what God does. He says, “Are you willing to take the risk of letting me become King and Lord over your talents, over your money, over absolutely everything? And if you do, trust Me to multiply it for you, and I’ll even give you more.” You see most of us are saying, “Lord, if you give me more I promise to be faithful.” God says, “You be faithful and I’ll give you more.” That’s the teaching of Scripture, to be able to say, “I’m willing to give it all to You in faith that You will do well with me.”
One footnote! If you are here today and you’ve never received Jesus Christ as Savior, the biggest mistake that you could possibly make is to think that what I’m saying here today is that you must be very, very faithful in order to be saved. That’s a big mistake. The Bible teaches that when Jesus died on the cross He made a sacrifice for sin, and therefore that those who believe in Him as Savior are saved. They receive the free gift of eternal life. They come helplessly to look to Jesus Christ.
After you are saved, that’s the time then to be faithful to give an account to Jesus Christ. But if you are here and God is distant and you don’t know how to be rightly related to God, it is not a matter of going out of here and saying, “I’m going to be faithful.” It’s a matter of saying, “I come as a sinner and I receive the free gift of eternal life.” Whatever God has talked about to you today would you respond to him? Let’s pray.
Our Father, I pray that You might take these words so inadequately spoken, and I pray that You might use them to shake all of us to reality, to realize that we are going to give an account to You. And so many of us, as we look at this one-talent person, feel exactly as he did. We are intimidated in the presence of others who are more gifted than we are. We feel self-conscious, just like he did. We have all the emotions that poured over his spirit, and yet You were displeased because he wasn’t faithful with what he had. Lord, make us faithful. Help some people who have never been involved to break out of that awful cycle of insecurity and to say, “By Your grace I will. I will.”
For those who may be here who have never received Christ as Savior, they have never believed on Him personally, may today be a day in which they say, “Lord Jesus, I need to go back and do the first step, namely to receive You as my own.” In Jesus’ name we thank You, Amen.