Our theme for the 2018-2019 Worship Ministry Year is Make It Better, and the scriptural basis for this theme is The Parable of the Talents as found in Matthew 25:14-30. The very first lesson we learn in this passage is that the parable is based on how things are done in God’s kingdom. It’s God’s kingdom. If we’re the king of our own kingdom, we have a less than desirable kingdom. God’s ways are much better than ours. Let’s follow His process, His plan, His way of doing things.
This parable is about joy. The two faithful servants were told to “enter into the joy of your master.” Entering into the joy of the Lord is the reward for faithfulness. We’re tempted to think that the promotion and the increase are the reward, but those are simply a reassignment based on faithful performance. An increase in responsibility isn’t the source of our joy. The Lord is the source of our joy. He is the reward. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” Be faithful, and enter into that place where Jesus is first, others are second, and yourself is last.
God assigns places of service based on ability (verse 15). The ability to produce, duplicate, replicate, and otherwise increase. Some are great at it, and some are learning, and, hopefully, all of us are striving to develop our ability to take the investment God has made in us and use it to expand His kingdom. Too often we use this parable to tell people “if you don’t sing in choir, God might just take your voice away.” That’s part of it, but there’s so much more to serving. God is more interested in leading you in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake than He is in making sure you are able to showcase your gift or talent in His kingdom. There is a rich young ruler found in the New Testament who asked Jesus what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I don’t need your money (your gift); take it and give it to people who do need it, and then come follow me.” The rich young ruler went away sad. Serving is doing what is needed when it’s needed. Be faithful in this season of sowing and reaping. If your assignment is small, be faithful anyway.
More people attend less than ever before. Engagement is at an all-time unpredictable and inconsistent level nation-wide. It’s hard to plan and even harder to execute, but we still expect superlative performance. The churches that are thriving have made it clear that engagement is an expectation. Pastor Johnny Hunt says “We don’t show up because something else is more important,” and it’s true. It’s kind of a Captain Obvious statement, but it has some weight to it. Being present but unengaged, furthermore, is a deal-breaker in the kingdom of God. The master called the servant who didn’t engage “lazy” or “slothful” depending on the translation. The penalty was severe. Our service is unto the Lord. He is worthy of our utmost. We are on the serving side of ministry. We are accountable day by day for our engagement or lack thereof, and one day, we’ll give an account on a grand scale. We aren’t saved by works, but we are saved for works, so let’s be faithful with the assignment God has given us. One day we’ll hear the Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
What’s in it for me? How does it look? How do I sound? Where’s my spot on stage? Where am I in the food chain? It’s good to be assertive. It’s good to have initiative and gumption. Selfish ambition, however, is unhealthy in the Kingdom of God. When we become territorial, covetous, entitled, and cynical, it’s only a matter of time before we lose our joy. Jim Cymbala has said that “The moment it becomes about ourselves, the Holy Spirit is out.” The kingdom of God is a place where complaining and negativity stand out like a sore thumb. God’s dislike for complaining would shock all of us. He loves His flock too much for His loved ones to be poisoned from within. Sometimes people don’t even know there’s a reason to be disgruntled. Let’s not give them one!
Have you ever encountered a rude, negative, and bitter
worker at a place of business and thought to yourself, “It’s not my fault you
hate your job or you’re having a bad day?” That’s probably happened to all of
us. Maybe at one point or another we’ve been that disgruntled worker. The
thief, our enemy, the devil, comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and he goes
straight for the heart and tries to establish a root of bitterness. He wants to
ROB you of your joy in the Lord. Not by making sure you don’t get your way but
by spoiling your heart. Can I encourage you? Be ready for that. Pre-determine
on the front end. Greater is He who is in you, the Lord God Almighty, than he
that is in the world. This struggle is not with flesh and blood, in other
words, it’s not with other people, it’s in the unseen realm. In your heart. Win
that battle by serving the Lord with gladness where you are. God is a great
master. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He will reward you with
unspeakable joy that can only be found in Him.
This part gets overlooked, but it’s really encouraging if we don’t miss it. The master in this parable makes the point that the wicked and lazy servant, wicked because of his attitude and lazy because he didn’t engage, could have avoided severe punishment had he only engaged at a minimal level. This is a gracious master. God is not eager to cast people into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. A minimal level, as described in verse 27, could have kept the servant out of trouble. He may not have been promoted. We don’t know. He may not have been given as much to work with the next go-around. We don’t know. He may or may not have heard the words, “Well done faithful servant, now enter into the joy of your master.” We don’t know. He may have been told to do better next time! We don’t know. We do know, however, there was a “least” he could have done. The kingdom of God is a flow-through kingdom. It’s not a flow-to kingdom. Completely withdrawing engagement shuts down the flow. Present but not engaged shuts down the flow. Blood clots are fatal to the body. We’re vessels. We’re stewards. We are not the source nor are we the destination. What we have is because He entrusted us with it. The Lord uses this simple business model to communicate a spiritual principle of sowing and reaping. He provides the investment and the reward. He simply asks us to be faithful. Let’s do all we can to make it better. Whatever you touch, and whatever touches you, make it better.