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I Corinthians 15:51-58
Talk about someone needing a little encouragement! A pastor whose sermons were very long and boring, announced one Sunday that he had been called to another church and that it was Jesus’ will that he leave that week. Whereupon the song leader got everybody up to sing, “What a Friend we have in Jesus.”
Last week, we began a brief series on the topic of ‘encouragement,’ using as our text Paul’s words to the Thessalonians, “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up” (I 5:11).
We noted that although there is a real need for any kind of encouragement, Biblical encouragement isn’t focused on complementing someone’s pedicure or telling them how good their homemade salsa tastes. Indeed Paul’s counsel to ‘encourage one another’ follows a discussion about the hope we should have in Christ for life beyond the grave.
With that in mind, Biblical encouragement is always shared in the hopes it will, in some way, accomplish one of four objectives:
- Encourage people to embrace faith in Jesus as Savior,
- encourage people to become more like Christ in behavior,
- encourage people to trust that God always has their back
as Paul encouraged the Thessalonians,
- encourage people to know that God is using them in some way for the purposes of helping Him build His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
It is concerning this last objective that I would like to offer some Biblical encouragement to you today and next Sunday as well. That is, I want to encourage you to know that God is using you in some way for the purpose of helping Him build His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Specifically, as we serve Him.
I want to encourage you to know that God is using you in some way for the purpose of helping Him build His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Thus today’s text in Matthew 25 begins with Jesus saying, “The Kingdom of heaven can be illustrated by” (Matthew 25:14). In other words, this parable is going to open up some aspect of what it is like to participate in the Kingdom of God.
The meaning of the parable is quite obvious:
The master who is going to a far country and who later returns represents who? And the answer is the Lord Jesus who has gone to the right hand of the Father and who will someday return.
The servants represent who? All professing Christians; in other words, you and I.
Before He departed the Lord entrusted His servants with differing amounts of what the NLT calls ‘money;’ i.e., 5 bags of silver, 2 bags of silver and 1 bag of silver. But to think of what the Lord left us solely in terms of money limits the understanding of this word, which is literally translated as ‘talent’ as the New American Standard Version rightly renders it.
A ‘talent’ was a word for ‘a weight’ and was used to describe a weight; therefore, the value of any precious metal, copper, gold or ‘silver’ as the NLT renders the word.
According to Robert McQuilkin:
The talents represent, not the special abilities of the servants of Christ, but the capital He gives them to work with, that is, the opportunities for service, together with all their material, personal, and spiritual gifts.” 1
Lastly, and most importantly for us, the parable teaches that the Lord expects a return on His investment. Distinguished Professor of Christian Ministries, Leroy Lawson, in his fine little book, The Lord of the Parable, writes:
God expects a good return on His investment. The principle that energizes Jesus’ narrative is this: a servant belongs to his master; therefore, all that he produces or earns also belongs to his master. And the master expects to profit from his servant’s labors. No servant can say, ‘I am my own. What I do is my business. I am number one in my life.’ He is not independent. He belongs to his master. 2
The point of the parable then, is not concerned with how many talents we have, but how we use what we have been given.
As my favorite Bible commentator, William Barclay, writes, “The parable tells us that whatever talent we have, little or great, we must lay it at the service of God.” 3
As both the Old and New Testaments call us to:
I Samuel 12:24: “But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve Him. Think of all the wonderful things He has done for you.”
Romans 12:11: “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.”
In his bestselling book, Celebration of Disciplines, Richard Foster writes:
A natural and understandable hesitancy accompanies any serious discussion of service. The hesitancy is prudent since it is wise to count the cost before plunging headlong into any Discipline. We experience a fear that comes out of something like this: ‘If I do that, people will take advantage of me; they will walk all over me.’ Right here we must see the difference between choosing to serve and choosing to be a servant. When we choose to serve, we are still in charge. We decide whom we will serve and when we will serve. And if we are in charge, we will worry a great deal about anyone stepping on us, that is, taking charge over us. But when we choose to be a servant, we give up the right to be in charge. When we choose to be a servant, we surrender the right to decide who and when we will serve. We become available and vulnerable. 4
What Foster states sounds foreign to our ears. Who wants to be ‘available and vulnerable’? Certainly not me.
I’m glad Jesus didn’t say that.
Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, He humbled Himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
Well, we say, that was Jesus, He was God, He was on a mission, He was destined to humble Himself as a servant in that way. May I remind you that the paragraph we just read begins with these words: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5).
I repeat, the point of the parable God is not concerned with how many talents we have, rather, how we use what we have been given.
Now as it concerns what we have been given it is probably true that many of us would claim, ‘I am one of those one talent people.’
Therefore, I don’t really have all that much to offer the Lord. How is anything I am going to do going to impact Christ’s kingdom in a positive manner?
William Barclay again: “It is always a temptation for the one talent man to say, ‘I have so small a talent and can do so little with it. It is not worthwhile to try, for all the contribution I can make.’” 5
But Jesus makes it abundantly clear in His parable that to withhold that one talent invites disaster.
And so I am here to encourage us today that when we do our best to offer, even that one talent, in service to the Lord, it does make a positive difference in God’s Kingdom.
Some of you have volunteered your time to time to serve at the Labor Day Party. You may be tempted to think that what you are offering is not worth very much. After all, what benefit can there be for the sake of God’s Kingdom for me to slap some pulled pork on a bun and hand it to someone. Or haul some tables and chairs from the church to beachside and set them up.
But Jesus would say to you as He did those in this parable who offered what they had, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
And then there was today’s text from Paul which after a rousing discussion about our future resurrection he concludes: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (I Corinthians 15:58).
We may not be able to see the Kingdom impact our serving in these seemingly small and insignificant ways have but we must have faith that what we offer to Christ will be honored by Him.
In the Kingdom of God when we invest our one talent the Kingdom is impacted in a positive way. Jesus said, “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of My followers, you will surely be rewarded” (Mark 10:42).
Pediatrician David Cerqueira shares a story of how a dying girl showed his church the honor of serving God:
One Sunday my wife had prepared a lesson on using what you have to offer to serve the Lord. She taught the children that everyone can be useful because God has given every person something that when offered in the name of the Lord contributes to the building of His Kingdom. A little girl named Sarah spoke up: “Teacher, what can I do? I don’t know how to do too many useful things.” My wife quickly looked around and spotted an empty flower vase; “Sarah, you can bring in a flower and put it in the vase. That would be a useful thing.”
Sarah frowned, “But that’s not important.”
“Oh, it is,” replied my wife, “if you are helping someone.”
Sure enough, the next Sunday Sarah brought in a dandelion and placed it in the vase. In fact, she continued to do so each week. Without reminders or help, she made sure the vase was filled with a bright yellow flower, Sunday after Sunday. When my wife told our pastor about Sarah’s faithfulness, he placed the vase upstairs in the main sanctuary next to the pulpit. That Sunday he gave a sermon on the honor of serving others, using Sarah’s vase as an example.
During that same week I got a call from Sarah’s mother, who was worried that Sarah had lost a little weight and wasn’t feeling right. After a battery of tests, I sat numbly in my office, Sarah had leukemia. On the way home, I stopped to see Sarah’s parents to give them the sad news.
Sarah became confined to bed; she lost her smile, she lost most of her weight. And then it came: another telephone call. Sarah’s mother asked me to come see her. I dropped everything and ran to the house. There she was, a small bundle that barely moved. After a short examination, I knew Sarah would soon be leaving this world. That was a Friday afternoon.
On Sunday morning, at the end of the sermon, the pastor suddenly stopped speaking. His eyes wide, he stared at the back of the church with utter amazement. Everyone turned to see what he was looking at. It was Sarah! Her parents had brought her for one last visit.
She was bundled in a blanket, a dandelion in one little hand. She slowly walked to the front where her vase still perched by the pulpit. She put her flower in the vase and a piece of paper beside it. Then she returned to her parents. Seeing little Sarah place her flower in the vase for the last time moved everyone.
Four days later, Sarah died. Our pastor asked to see me after the funeral. “Dave, I’ve got something you ought to see.” He pulled out of his pocket the piece of paper that Sarah had left by the vase. I opened the folded paper to read, in pink crayon, what Sarah had written: “Dear Jesus, this vase has been the biggest honor of my life. Sarah” 6
Indeed, it is an honor and privilege to enthusiastically serve the One who promised that as we serve others we are really serving Him:
For I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home. I was naked, and you gave Me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for Me. I was in prison, and you visited Me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed You? Or thirsty and give You something to drink? Or a stranger and show You hospitality? Or naked and give You clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit You?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to Me!’ (Matthew 25:35-40).
Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate used the following benediction at the end of each service for many years in his ministry:
Wherever you go, God is sending you.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
God has a purpose in your being right where you are.
Christ, who indwells you by the power of his Spirit,
wants to do something in and through you.
Believe this and go in his grace, his love, his power.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
1 McQuilkin, R. C. Our Lord’s Parables. [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, © 1982] Page 118.
2 Lawson, Leroy. The Lord of Parables. [Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, © 1984]. Page 75.
3 Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, Revised Edition. (The Daily Bible Study Series). [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, © 1975]. Page 323.
4 Foster, Richard. Celebration of Discipline; the Path to Spiritual Growth. [San Francisco: Harper and Row, Revised Edition, © 1978]. Page 132.
5 Barclay, page 323.
6 Condensed from an article in Today’s Christian © 2008 Christianity Today International. For more articles like this, visit Today’s Christian
David Cerqueira, “Sarah’s Vase,” Today’s Christian (March/April 2008); adapted from Evangelmagazine (December 2005) https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2008/april/5040708.html
7 Submitted by Leighton Ford, Raleigh, North Carolina https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2016/november/5112116.html