Saturday, March 11, 2017

The ( ) and ( ) Servant

The sermon I preached on Feb. 19th, 2017. The topic is "The (  ) and (  ) Servant," from Matthew 25:14-30 The Parable of the Bags of Gold. Click here to listen.

Sermon Transcript:

The Parable of the Bags of Gold (Matthew 25:14-30)

In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of a man, before he went on a journey, he entrusted each of his three servants some money. And he went on his journey. While the man was away, two of the three servants doubled the money by making some business investments; the third servant, however, went and dug a hole in the ground to hide the money. When the man has finally returned from his journey, it came the time for him to settle the account with his servants.

The man was very pleased with the first two servants, he said to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (25:21, NIV). The third servant, however, said to the man, “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” (25:24-25).

The man was very upset with the third servant, and he replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest” (25:26-27). So the man ordered the money, which was entrusted the third servant, to be taken from him, and to have him fired.

Begins from Matthew 24, Jesus was telling his disciples about the end of the age that would one day come. The end of the age will be an extremely chaotic time, but the good news is that it would also be the time when the earth will finally reunite with heaven. But we must keep watching. Because when that day comes, we will meet God face to face. And there will come a time for us to settle our account with Him. Therefore, in chapter 25, Jesus was talking in parables about, as His followers, how we should conduct ourselves as we slowly approaching the end of the age. The man in the parable is our Lord Jesus, and the servants are us. And our Master, Jesus, just like the man in the parable, though is currently away, He is coming back. This brings us to the question then, on that day when we are seeing Jesus face to face, when it comes the time to settle our account with Him, if it happens tonight or tomorrow, what do you think Jesus is going to call us? “Good and faithful servant” or “Wicked and lazy servant?”

Jesus told the Parable of the Bags of Gold to help us get prepared for that day, when we are to settle our accounts with him. To help us getting prepared for the day, I’d like to, first, identify the resources that God has entrusted us, as the man in the parable has entrusted his servants the money. Second, I’d like to identify the traits of the wicked and lazy servant as portrait in Jesus’ parable. And finally, I’d like to propose some practical ways that we may facilitate the resources that God has entrusted us.

What Have We Received from God?

From the Bible, I summarized 3 types of material and immaterial resources in general that we have received from God. First, we are all given the gift of grace. If you are a Christian, you are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8). Jesus is the grace upon grace that God gave the world (John 1:16). Grace is God’s perfect gift that He gives freely to the mankind, because He knows that we could never save ourselves (Romans 11:6).

Second, we are each given a different set of gifts, talents and spiritual gifts. For example, in Exodus 35, when the Israelites were building the tabernacle and the ark, God equipped them with different skills and knowledge so that they may do the work just as God commanded (Exodus 35:35 & 36:1). When Paul talks about Spiritual Gift, he says that we are each given a different set of spiritual gifts so that we may help each other (1 Corinthians 12:7-11 & Romans 12:6-8). Similarly, when talking about talents and gifts, Peter also commands us to use our God given talents and gifts to serve others (1 Peter 4:10).

Finally, we have also received material blessings and resources from God. This is particularly clear in the Old Testament. People of the Old Testament’s time understood that despite their hard work, all their earnings are ultimately gifts from God. Thus, we see the practice of tithe, the offerings and the festivals in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us not to worry, because if God would feed the birds, how much more valuable we are to Him (Matthew 6:25-34). At the same time, Jesus also teaches us to use these material blessings and resources for the heavenly purpose (Luke 16:1-9).

All in all, God has poured grace, talents, spiritual gifts and resources lavishly on us. These gifts are, however, not just for our own benefits. Since we have gladly received these gifts from God, we will also be held accountable for how we use these gifts and resources. Are we gonna be like the good and faithful servants, who doubled what their master entrusted them, or are we gonna be like the wicked and lazy servant, who let what his master entrusted him sat idly?

Now, some may argue that the third servant did return exactly what was entrusted him, not a penny more, not a penny less, so that his master was wrong to be so angry at him. But let’s not take things at face value. Let’s take a closer look at the 3 traits of the wicked and lazy servant:

Trait #1 Gracelessness

One major mistake that the third servant in the Parable of the Talents made is that he thought of his master as a hard man, who “harvesting where he has not sown and gathering where he has not scattered seeds.” This is one of the areas that, as Christians, we need to constantly exam ourselves – when we do ministry or serve others, are we doing it out of the guilty, dutiful feeling, or do we serve from a grateful heart for what we have gladly received from God, and from the desire to share that grace we received? How often are we tempted to just call people sinners, rather than doing the difficult work of getting to know them? And how often are we tempted to just quote Bible verses at the ones confide in us, rather than really spend the time to listen to them?

The author of Hebrews speaks of Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are…” (Hebrews 4:15). One of the purposes of “the Word became flesh” is that our Lord/High Priest may have empathy for us, so much so that he even identified himself as one of us, hence his favorite title for himself – Son of Man. When He was talking with the woman by the well, you don’t see Jesus calling the woman out as an adulterer, but you see how the woman changed when she was embraced by Jesus, and when Jesus spoke to her heart. Jesus took the time to care, and the sinless Son of God stretched himself to meet people where they are. We are without excuse for not doing more than just fulfilling our “Christian duty.”

Trait #2 Sidelining

In the Parable of the Talents, when the man was distributing money before he went on the journey, “To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag...” (25:15‬). I imagine that when receiving the entrusted money from his master, the third servant must be thinking – “I'm not as smart as the first servant who received 5 bags of gold; and I'm not as talented as the second servant who received 2 bags of gold; I'm not good at anything, and that's why master only gave me 1 bag of gold.” “Because I'm not good at anything, doing nothing's better than doing something.” This is the corrupted and lazy thinking of the third servant. Sometimes, we can have quite the same mindset as the third servant.

A common misconception among many Christians is the belief that ministries belong only to the deep theological thinkers, and those who pray so spiritually. However, teaching or leading Bible study is not the only form of ministry. In the Matthew 25 parable, Jesus makes it clear that the servants were given different amount of money “each according to his ability” (25:15). Contrary to what the third servant in the parable believed about himself, “each according to his ability” implies that he did have some abilities.

The reality is that not everyone has the same degree of faith, and we all have different weaknesses and strengths, but we are all each given a different set of talents and spiritual gifts. As servants of God, we are responsible for discovering and facilitating our talents and spiritual gifts for the building of the Body. We’d be making the same mistake as the third servant, if we leave our God given gifts laying waste as we sit there thinking that ministries belong only to the “spiritual” few.

Ministry is an essential part of a Christian’s spiritual growth. It’s often in ministry we learn more about ourselves – what are my strengths, what are my shortcomings, what’s the state of my faith, how well am I being a doer of the Word, and how am I doing relationally. If we learn the Word without practicing it, it’s like having only lectures for PE classes without real exercises. At the same time, in what ministry capacity we serve has a lot to do with our talents and spiritual gifts, and these God given gifts sometimes change with time.

For example, because I studied in Audio Production for undergrad, I began serving in my church in Taiwan as the A/V technician. Later, because of my work as a website programmer, I served the church by developing its web applications. After getting to know the people at the church better, I began to serve by outreaching to the high school exchange students from the Europe at our church with my friend Karen. These young students were not Christians, but they came to my church in Taiwan, because it was an American church, and the Caucasians attending the church reminded them of home. There wasn't a youth outreach ministry at church, but Karen and I knew what it feels to be strangers in a foreign country; we saw the needs, so we made it our ministry. Through the outreaching experience, I discovered my spiritual gifts in teaching and discernment. And it was that discovery that brought me here in California to study in the seminary. As you can see that what I do as ministries change over time, but they always have something to do with my talents and gifts at the moment. And the more I served, the more I learned about my talents and spiritual gifts. So I was able to adjust myself, to serve more in sync with God.

At any rate, it’s important to note that we should refrain from comparing ministries. Often times in churches, people tend to see teaching ministries as the most respectable and the holiest ministries, and all the other ministries as non-essential and not as spiritual. But Acts 6 tells us that, after Jesus’ ascension, and the 12 apostles are now the leaders of the people, at some point, they became overwhelmed by the daily functioning of the church, such as food distribution. So they decided to choose seven disciples from among the congregation to serve the table. The scripture tells us that the seven they chose were all of “good reputation, full of spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3). So do not judge a brother/sister’s spiritual maturity base on his/her ministry. Don’t be limited by what people render as more spiritual or less spiritual. The seven in Acts 6 were not less spiritual than the twelve apostles, they were just given different resources and tasks. We have to remember, the purpose of our gifts is to build up the Body of Christ, whether it’s through teaching, praying or serving at the table.

Trait #3 Tithe is Tithed

When the man in the Parable of the Talents was settling the account with the third servant, with fear and trembling the third servant said to him, “Master, I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” In other words, the third servant is saying that “because I’m so scared of you that I don’t want to come up short, so I hid the money. Look, here’s your money back. Not a penny more, not a penny less. See, I owe you nothing.” This is one of the other area that, as Christians, we need to exam ourselves constantly – do we tithe with much the same attitude? “See, God, the Bible tells me to give tenth of my income, so here it is, now my account is settled for this month. I don’t owe you anything!”

What exactly is tithing? In the Bible, tithe includes the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, or even the fat of the animals. Though the seed of the land, the fruit of the tree, and the fat of the animals are the results of the hard work of the farmers and the shepherds, but they acknowledged that no matter how hard they work, if God had not allowed, the land would not produce seeds, the trees would bear fruit, and animals would not grow fat. It has always been God’s good intention that we shall enjoy the fruit of our hard work, but if God had not allowed, we would not have the opportunity to do what we are doing, or the health to thrive. What the third servant had failed to see is the privilege that he was given by his master.

As we can see, tithe is an act of acknowledgment of God’s gracious giving, and a response to God’s love for his people (Deuteronomy 26:13). Because tithe is the acknowledgment of God’s gracious giving, so tithe was the giving back of what was from God. If tithe is the giving back of what was from God, then, why is it limited only to monetary giving? God has given us more than the monetary blessings. Especially for the people in Orange County – not to guilt trip you, but I do believe that we are given a lot more material advantages than many others in other parts of the world. There’s so much we can do with the material resources that God entrusted us for the Great Commission.

What can We Do to Multiply What God Entrusted Us?

So now we have identified the material and immaterial resources that we have received from God. What can we do to facilitate them? Especially with grace, how do we facilitate grace? How do we put grace into work?

Grace

Well, first of all, grace should be the foundation of everything, just like rice is to the Chinese people. All the other things – your gifts, talents, the programs, and the logistics are the dishes. If you can’t go a meal without rice, then you shouldn’t go about ministry without grace. Grace should be the fuel that moves us (1 John 4:19). Grace should be the attitude we treat each other (Ephesians 4:2), the heart of our ministry (John 13:35), and the salt in our conversation (Colossians 4:6 & 1 Peter 3:15).

C.S. Lewis, in his essay "The Weight of Glory," writes "If you asked twenty good men today what they thought [is] the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love...The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love." Do you know that how we go about ministry reflects how we see God? Do you see God as a hard man, who “harvests where he has not sown and gathers where he has not scattered seeds,” or is He like the loving Father in the parable of The Prodigal Son, waiting eagerly for his children to come home to him?

Talents, Gifts and Spiritual Gifts

What are your talents and gifts? What are some of the things that you are good at? Like with our worship team, for those who are good at music, whether it’s piano, guitar or singing, they serve by facilitating their music talents. For those who think that they are not good at anything, well, at the very least, they do speak English. A friend of mine works for a church that outreaches to USC international students. And English conversation is a very important part of their outreach ministry. Each semester, it brings 40 to 50 international students to church. If we wanna see our church grow, we’ve got to ask ourselves the question – have I done my part?

And what are your Spiritual Gifts? I think these are the gifts that are often neglected. For many like me, who became Christian later in life, it’s easier to discover our talents, because they’ve been there all through our lives. But Spiritual Gifts are something that only comes after we’ve received Christ into our lives. And the purpose of Spiritual Gifts is solely for the benefit of the others. It’s for the building up of the Body. Here is a list of Spiritual Gifts as listed in the Bible:

Romans 12 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 1 Corinthians 12:28 Ephesians 4 1 Peter 4
Prophecy Word of wisdom Apostles Apostles Anyone speaks
Serving Word of knowledge Prophets Prophets Anyone serves
Teaching Faith Teachers Evangelists
Encouragement Healing Miracles Pastors
Giving Miracles Healings Teachers
Leadership Prophecy Helps
Mercy Distinguishing between spirits Administration
Tongues Tongues
Interpretation of tongues

  • “Distinguishing between spirits” in 1 Cor. 12:8-10 is sometimes called the gift of “discernment.” It’s the ability of sensing what is from God, and what is not.
  • “Apostles” in 1 Cor. 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 are those who bring the gospel to the world, and plant churches.
  • The gift of speaking in “tongues” doesn’t necessarily have to be the “tongues” in the charismatic sense. If a missionary can quickly pick up the language of the nation he/she is ministering to, I’d say he/she has the gift of speak in tongues as well. Because “tongue” in the original biblical language could be both simply a language and an angelic language.

You could learn about your unique set of Spiritual Gifts through either observation – What comes natural to you, and what do people say that you are good at; or through Spiritual Gift assessment tools, which can be found online.

Material Resources

Like I mentioned earlier, there’s so much we can do with the material resources that God entrusted us for the Great Commission, such as with our cars, even our tv screens, or BBQ grills. For those who are good at driving, I highly recommend that they participate in our UCI student airport pickup ministry. It’s a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the Bible’s teaching about love.

Throughout the entire Bible, eating together has been a repetitive theme. Like in the Old Testament, we see Abraham preparing a feast for the angels. And in the New Testament, we see how much Jesus loved dinner parties at people’s houses. That’s because the theme of eating together in someone's house carries meanings of special importance. Easting together signifies relationship, whether it’s between God and the people, or between individuals. Therefore, I’d also like to encourage us to open up our houses for the church, whether it’s to host a small group gathering, or for the outreach purposes. Similarly, for those who have BBQ grills and nice big tv screens at home, well, even these can be facilitated for a neighborhood outreach.

Many at our church have, in fact, modeled that for us. Like last month, for Chinese New Year’s Eve, though it’s usually the time for people to chill at home with their own family, Steve and Grace opened up their home for a Chinese student dumpling party. And it spoke louder than words the meaning of being God’s family. And then in the beginning of this month, we’ve just had a fun evening watching Super Bowl at Ruby's house, and we were so blessed by the good cooks from church that they made wonderful and abundant food. Like Steve and Mimi, they’ve also opened up their home for international students for countless times, and I’m among those who are blessed by their hospitality. And I’ve also heard stories of someone, who would just invite neighbors he didn’t know over for a movie night and BBQ outreach. I know that many at our church have, in fact, been doing this for a long time, but I’d just like to take this opportunity to invite those who haven’t to join in. Because all these are the most direct manifestation of Jesus' teaching “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself” (22:37-40).

Conclusion

What other needs do you see in our church? What other resources do we have in our church, whether material or immaterial resources? Can you think of any creative ways to facilitate them for ministry? Just remember, ministry is just a fancy Christian word for serving. And to serve others is a call that Jesus gave to every one of His followers. When that day comes, I hope it’ll be the sweet sound of our Master saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share my happiness.”

No comments:

Post a Comment