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Time Never Takes Time Off

“Time is of the essence.” This is not only a recent saying, it is a truth for the whole of human time. Our time on this planet earth is a very limited time - a time that we must make count, for we will certainly have to give an account. `The Parable of the Talents' is about how those who call themselves God's people use their time and how their use of time will, at the end, show up whether they were part of God's people. The Lord continues here the teaching preparing His Church for what is yet to be in this last time. As with the parables of `The Faithful and the Unfaithful Servant', and `The Parable of the Ten Virgins', He is bringing out something which marks certain people within the Church, as being quite different than what they seem on the surface.

The Lord does this not to highlight any individuals or groups within the Church, but because He is coming back. And so, with whatever believers go through they need to remember these words of Jesus exactly because He is coming back at any moment. Neither this parable nor `The Parable of the Ten Virgins' should be taken as indicating a delay in Christ's coming. He will come “at an hour when you do not expect him (24:44).” He will catch each man and woman, boy and girl, exactly as they are - saved or unsaved within the Church.

Digging Deeper

Read Matthew 25:14-30

1. Place yourself in the shoes of the 1st Century Judean listening to these words of Matthew. Whom do you think this warning would be about?

2. Look up what a talent was worth (you may find a footnote or be able to define it from a dictionary). Realising its worth, what does that say about what was given to the third servant?

A Master Who Had Come Back

As several others of our studies have shown, historical background can help us to understand what some of our Lord's imagery would have meant then. In this context, the story of Archelaus would have been fresh in their Judean minds. Archelaus succeeded his father Herod the Great in ruling Judea and Samaria. Well, that's at least what was expected to occur, for while he may have been his father's nominated heir that in itself had no value until the emperor had given it his approval.

So Archelaus went to Rome, to present his case, which not only involved Augustus having to deal with the three sons of Herod who were all putting their own particular cases, but also two other delegations - a Jewish one of fifty people asking that none of Herod's family should be made king, but the government should be entrusted to a high priest, and one from the Greek cities of Gadar, Hippus and Gaza, asking to be incorporated into the Roman province of Syria.

In the midst of this dilemma, several major rebellions broke out in Jerusalem. They ended in much bloodshed, and with the triumphant return of Archelaus. He had been confirmed by Caesar as the ruler of the lands his father willed him to be, though not as a king but as an ethnarch, which was still a higher position than that of Tetrarch, yet clearly a vassal title. The Master had come back, despite the most extensive efforts otherwise, and he certainly called to a deadly account those who had fought against him. They were not prepared for his return, for their hearts had been set on something else.

In the same way, this parable differs from `The Ten Virgins' because it is a patient and prepared waiting which shows that the Lord's people are ready for His return. Here there is a continuous activity, which marks the difference between those who are truly His in the Church and those who are not His.

This continuous activity is something which all believers must do. There is nowhere in Scripture where believers are not gifted. Every one has a talent or two. Knowing that a `talent' is a considerable amount of monetary resource, equivalent to 25 kilograms of silver or gold, it is clear that no one goes short of what they really need to be part of Christ's Body on this earth. And while the western churches' heightened emphasis on certain gifts may have led to an unhealthy focus on the individual, we all have something to do. But are we doing it? And if we're not doing it, what does that say about us? The words of Jesus are a strong warning to the disciples, and through them to the believers of the Church of this last millennium, that they have to be found building God's Kingdom.

In New Zealand, the regulation has been changed recently in regards to the registration of school teachers. For some years there have been three categories: the first being that of fully registered teachers who had to keep up an acceptable kind of teaching within three years to keep their registration; the second being provisionally registered teachers who were working under a supervised guidance program to become fully registered within five years; and the third being a Limited Authority to Teach, which was limited to a certain school(s) and involved teaching in a specific area of speciality. This last category was for those who had not been otherwise trained as teachers. But now they cannot stay on that level and simply re-apply every two years as before. They need to show that they are actively involved in further study related to teaching theory and skills. The Lord expects nothing less of us in living the Christian life.

We are showing that we're growing. It's a change that's absolutely essential to living by faith. You shouldn't be the same next year as you are now. But in a godly growth. In this way you prove your salvation.

Digging Deeper

Read 2 Peter 3:1-9

1. Which particular attitude is found in common in this reading from 2 Peter and our passage?

2. If the meaning is indeed that the third servant is unfaithful and as such isn't really a believer after all, why doesn't Jesus have at least some challenge for lazy Christians to be busy for Him here?

Not Even The Interest!

It is a bit of a play on words, but this above title can be taken both ways. Because the one who has done nothing with his talent proves he had no talent. His heart - and so his soul - couldn't be fixed on the Lord's will. In the days of the 1st Century, Palestine, a servant couldn't have the luxury of a choice of how he served. His bind to the Master was very tight - and while it may not have been to the extremes of the negro slaves brought from Africa to America, it was a very foolish servant who crossed his master this way. A foolishness that has a similarity with the position of unbelief.

There was no excuse for this kind of incompetence. Then, at least the range of slaves covered a wide range of occupations and even professions. So the servant the master gave the talent to had the ability and experience to deal with it in a profitable way. Here is no harsh slave driver expecting something for nothing. Despite the third servant's feeble defence, he has no excuse. In fact, he lies about his master. It's not true when he accuses the master, saying, “ you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.” This master was not like Pharaoh who demanded the Israelites keep making the same amount of bricks, though without giving them the straw they received before (Exod.5:7f). Nor is he like Rehoboam who, when asked for relief from the huge tax burden of his father Solomon, said, “My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions (1 Kings 12:11).”

There's no excuse - not even the one of being afraid. Because if he truly feared his master, he would have used that money in some way, at least. What the servant really feels is regret. It is not a sincere sorrow - it's just that he's got caught at last.

For those who have served it's a completely different picture. In old rabbinic literature their status is conveyed in a saying, `The reward of a duty performed is a duty to perform.' So here the reward of the two faithful servants consists in opportunities for further service even more responsible in character. The principle the apostle Paul applied in the choice of suitable elders is found here - if he can manage his own household well and see that his own children obey him with respect, then he can move on to serve in the leadership of God's household (1 Timothy 3:4).

Thinking It Through

1. When the Lord begins the parable by speaking of the handing out of the talents to each servant as being given “according to his ability,” what do you think most believers would be given, and why?

2. How much do you think you would be given, and why?

3. In which areas are you putting your `talent' to work now?

Christ says that lazy men bury the talent in the earth

because they think only of their ease and pleasure and do not want to undergo any troubles -

as we see in many who are devoted to themselves and their own private conveniences

and evade all duties of love and have no regard for common edification.

The head of the family is said on his return to have called his servants to a reckoning.

This should make the good more eager, since they know their work is not at all wasted;

and on the other hand it should greatly frighten the lazy and idle.

We therefore learn that we should daily spur ourselves on,

before the Lord come and enter into a reckoning with us.

(John Calvin)

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Faith in Focus / NZ Reformed Church / thirty@paradise.net.nz / Copyright 2001