One of the regrettable teachings of the church is that the single issue in redemption is that of eternal destiny. In other words the focus of salvation is heaven, and the present work of salvation is getting there. That makes redemption present tense in experience but future tense in purpose. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God has redeemed us unto an eternal destiny. But between now and then there is God-purpose related to our place in history – our place in this time/space world. At core, that purpose is expressed in these words of the apostle Paul: 2Cor. 5:18-20: Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. Two things here: 1) we have been reconciled to God; 2) we are now the instruments of that same reconciliation in relation to those not yet reconciled to God.
This is not about going to heaven. This is about here and now; this is about present purpose as we make our journey towards our eternal destiny. When Christ said of His followers – “You are the salt of the earth; You are the light of the world.” - notice He did not say, you are the salt and light of heaven. The issue of salt and light relates to our time upon the earth. It addresses the matter of our influence (the matter of our testimony) while enroot to our eternal destiny. And here is what we need to know: there are a thousand things that can negatively impact upon our present influence (the effectiveness of our testimony) without changing our eternal destiny.
All of that to say this: The Bible has as much to say about present responsibility, present God purpose, and present Kingdom reality and function as it does about eternal destiny.
God has entrusted to each of us a stewardship in relation to very particular responsibilities.Those responsibilities have been assigned in keeping with the gifts, talents and abilities He has given to each one. In other words, He has equipped us to do what He has assigned or called us to do. What I need to know about that assignment and the gift essential to getting the assignment done is that I do not own either of them. My relationship to both is that of a steward.
The difference is this: An owner is accountable to himself regarding what he does with what he owns. A steward is accountable not to himself but to the owner of what he has been given. And what we have been given is an assignment, and the gifts necessary to the accomplishing of that assignment. God is the owner of both the assignment and the gifts. This means we are accountable to Him in the exercise of our stewardship.
Eph. 3: 1-3For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles- if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.
Col. 1:24-25 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
Read these verses with care and it becomes clear that Paul is acknowledging: 1) he has been given an assignment, 2) he has been graced or gifted to carry out that assignment, and 3) his responsibility in relation to the assignment and the gift is that of a steward rather than an owner. This means his accountability is not to himself but to God who owns the assignment and the gift.
In closing this out, let’s take these considerations back to the parable of Christ in Matthew 25.
Note that there was one master in the house. Note also that there were three servants.Question:Who determined which servant got what talent and how many? That is the first major issue to settle if we intend to be effective in our assignment here. It was the master who assigned the talents and the number of talents. And he did this (and this is important) not as a matter of guess work, but on the basis of his knowledge of each servant’s ability.Whatever else that may mean, it certainly means this: God knows that you can do every single thing He has assigned and gifted you to do right down to the tiniest detail. And that is the truth the devil wants to steal from you and keep you doubting. And what you need to know about that enemy is that he is not nearly as interested in you as he is in the assignment and the gift you carry.
But know this going forward – the church, the pastor, your parents, your friends did not give you the gift nor the assignment you carry, and in the end the issue of accountability reaches beyond the church, parents, pastors and friends; it reaches to the One Who gave the gift and the assignment.
The parable also reveals that each servant was given the same assignment – each was to steward or manage the gift he had been given.That is important. The temptation is to compare the outworking of one stewardship with that of another. When we do that we run the risk of feeling cheated that our assignment and gifting is less than someone else’s, or we become proud that ours is greater than someone else’s. But at the end of the day, the master of the house is not going to compare the stewardship of one servant with that of another. Each individual servant will give an account for the stewardship of the gift and assignment he/shewas given.
The parable reveals that each servant did something with their assigned gift. I cannot tell you how important this is. Every person on the planet carries within them a gift that was given them by their Creator. And every person on the planet is doing something with that gift – even if they have decided to bury it.
And then we discover what the master was looking for in assigning the stewardship of his gifts to his servants. And what he was looking for was increase of his interests. Take that back to what we read earlier regarding the ministry of reconciliation and it becomes clear that the one thing Christ is looking for as His servants steward the gifts they have been given is an ever expanding increase of the influence of His passion for reconciliation in the earth. And when I am called into account it will be in relation to His interests. In other words, how did my stewardship of the gifts of God expand the reality of His heart of reconciliation in the earth?
The final point I want to address this morning, which in fact is the core point of the entire presentation is this: What was the difference in the stewardship of these three servants?
On the surface the difference was as simple as this: Two servants invested the gifts they were given; one refused to invest. But nothing is ever as simple as it appears to be on the surface. To invest requires the willingness to release and let go. It requires the ability to relinquish control. It requires the ability to risk rather than protect.
With that word ‘protect’ we have touched upon the issue that defined the stewardship of the one talent servant. His idea was to protect the gift, keep the gift, hold on to the gift, play it safe and go with the guarantees. But the tragic deception of that kind of stewardship is that it always results in loss and diminishment. The more you tighten your grip upon this gift the greater becomes the risk of loss.
This explains the difference between the stewardship of the one talent servant and the other two servants. What it does not explain is the internal or underlying motivation behind that difference. That is revealed in three words of the one talent servant: “I was afraid.”Everything he did or failed to do is explained in those three words. And by contrast, everything the other two servants were able to do is also expressed in those words.
The opposite of fear is not courage; it is faith.And courage is not the absence of fear – it is the presence of transcendent faith. The ability to risk investment of the gift is not a matter of the absence of fear- it’s a matter of the presence of faith. And it is not faith in your ability but faith in the power of the gift itself, as well as faith in the master who entrusted you with the gift in the first place. Did the master make a mistake when he gave you your gift and assignment? Did he get it wrong? Was he confused and mixed up? Did the master give you the wrong calling; the wrong assignment?
How does your faith respond to these questions? I can tell you that forty years in, I am still investing the gift, and still pursuing the calling and assignment because of one thing, and it is not because I am brilliant or special; it is not because I am fear-free and courageous by nature. It is because there remains a core defining faith that the master gave me an assignment, and that he gave me whatever gifts are needed to get that assignment done. And in the end the reverential fear generated by that reality is greater than the fear of man, the fear of failure, the fear of hurt, and the fear of rejection.
Once again at the end of this message we are where we have been at the end of the past several messages heard from this pulpit. We are face to face (not with the issue of eternal destiny) but the issue of gifts and callings and assignments and kingdom purposes in the now. And once again the Holy Spirit is calling our dream out of hiding. He is walking us to the burial site – the exact place where, because of fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of disillusionment, fear of hurt, fear that what happened in the past is going to be the pattern of the future – we made a decision to wrap up our calling and hide it from our sight. But in walking us there He is confirming that it is not too late to reach, to risk, to invest your gift; it is not too late to engage your assignment. It is not too late to take up your stewardship of the gift and assignment God gave you because He knew you could do it.
Rom.11:29 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. The wonderful hope of these words is that God will never withdraw the gift and assignment He has given each of us. The sobering warning of these same words is that regardless of what we do or fail to do with our gift and assignment we are still going to give an account for both the gift and assignment.
Hear the strong appeal of the Holy Spirit: It is time to rise above the hurts and wounds of the past; it is time to engage that much larger reality of faith in relation to kingdom purpose. It is time to risk again.