Last Sunday at our Sunday Night Praise service I taught from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. The reason that passage was important to me that week was because of a discussion (don’t you love that euphemism for a disagreement? We weren’t fighting or upset or at an impasse; we were “having a discussion”) that Laura and I had about my pursuit of a PhD. This parable was a big part of the discussion about why I want to pursue more education.
In that parable we have two faithful slaves who invest everything they have been given by their master and one unfaithful slave who invests nothing that the master has given him. I note that they were each given a number of talents in verse 15 equal to their abilities. None of the slaves invested a portion of their talents, and that led to the question: what would the master have said about a slave with five talents who only invested four of them? Would the master have praised the slave for the four wisely used talents or chastised him for the one that he wasted his opportunity with? I don’t know and I don’t want to find out! I want to hear “Well done, good and faithful slave” from verse 21, not “You evil and lazy slave!” from verse 26. The only way to hear that, though, is to be faithful with what I have been given. That means I must be faithful with all of it, not just some. I can’t compartmentalize, hoping that Jesus will not pay attention to the parts of my life that I want to keep to myself.
It is entirely appropriate to apply this parable to what we commonly think of as “talents,” such as our inclinations, gifts, abilities, and training. However, let’s not forget that for Jesus’ first audience this parable was “all about the Benjamins.” A talent was a huge quantity of gold equal to about 6000 day’s wages, so each one was a lot of cash! This parable was all about being a good user of the great responsibility of finances that the master had entrusted to each slave. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Since it is a big part of our lives, our financial management and the use of our money is a critical aspect of our discipleship!
This came to mind today because it is payday. In my life I get paid on the 15th and the end of the month. I like these weeks for lots of reasons, not the least of which is because I get to give at church on those Sundays. I think that pastors who invoke the idea that they don’t give because they accept a lower salary are probably not being honest (with their congregation or maybe with themselves) and are certainly not being good managers or examples to the congregation. It has been a real joy to me to see God at work in our life as we have been generous financially and faithful with giving back.
That’s all well and good; it’s vitally important to give at church and support the building of the kingdom. The power company doesn’t accept prayer in exchange for electricity! However, that is only part of the picture of financial faithfulness. It is only one of multiple “talents” given to us by the master to be a manager over. I am convinced that He is every bit as interested in how we spend the amount we do not put in the plate as He is in the amount we put in there. In fact, I think that many Americans have become leery of organized Christianity because of our focus on giving and our lack of focus on doing what is right with what is left. However, especially in tough economic times we must ask ourselves if our expenditures and our budget glorifies the Lord. Are we spending wisely or foolishly? Are we saving for the future, living within our means, and putting our money in places that we would be happy for Jesus to be a part of?
Today, on payday, is a good time to remember that. Making the mortgage payment or rent is a good thing—but is our home what God wants for us? Paying the bills is wise—but are we living too high a lifestyle for our income? Enjoyment and discretionary income is joyful and good—but am I using my discretionary income in a way that is profitable for me or harmful? Paying back my debt is honorable—but am I making a good decision getting into debt in the first place? If I am to hear “Well done, good and faithful slave” at the end of life, these are the questions I have to answer when I look at my checkbook. And I am finding that the more I can be generous with money that is not really “mine” to begin with, and faithful with every decision to use it for my family or for others, the more I can see God at work in my life and the more that I get the feeling that He trusts me in non-monetary ways. As Jesus says in verse 21, the slave who is faithful in little things (and in the parable, even 6000 day’s wages is a “little thing”) will be trusted with many things.