I had the pleasure of listening to John Piper sermon this past weekend, and in it he made the statement that spiritual gifts are stewarded grace. Though I cannot exactly remember the context in which it was spoken, the statement stuck with me, and it has since caused me to think upon the gifts of God in a deeper way than I had before.
What immediately comes to mind from the declaration, “Spiritual gifts are stewarded grace,” is the parable of the talents from Matthew 25. There Christ gives a parable concerning his Return and the ensuing Judgment (sounds Amillennial to me;)), and he likens it to three men who were all entrusted with a sum of money by their master. One man was given five measures of currency, another two, and a third one. The master went on a journey, and the first two men took their five and two measures of currency and immediately went and traded that currency so as to double that which their master had entrusted them. The third, however, did nothing with the one measure he was given, burying it in the ground and hiding it.
After a long time, the master returned and came to his servants to settle accounts with them. The first two presented their earnings to him, and he commended them saying, “Enter into the joy of your master.” The third came to him and presented to him the same measure his master had given to him, and he began to make excuses for himself as to why he did not use that which was entrusted to him to benefit his master. And the master responded to him this way:
You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt. 25:26-29).
What is interesting about this parable is that the master’s allotment is not merely to those whom we would label as “elect,” but that it granted even to one whose final destiny is the “place [where] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” From this it can be gathered that God has given to all men a stewardship of grace, and that grace, irrespective of election, is to be used for the sake of God. And that which we in English call “talents” is I believe etymologically correct, for this parable is not restrained to the wealth that God gives, but it covers every grace that he gives to all men. Therefore all men will one day give an account for the graces that God has given to them, be they monetary, vocational, etc. graces, and they will be judged not only for how they have transgressed the law, but also for how they have not used that which God has granted them for the sake of his glory.
Though this parable is certainly a sobering and frightening warning for those who are not in Christ, it is more so for those who profess to be in Christ and yet have not stewarded that which God has given to them well. And though I believe this parable speaks to all graces given by God to men, it cannot be overstated that the parable deals particularly with money. And since the stewardship of money is such a relevant issue in the wealthy American church, this parable carries with it an even weightier implication.
That implication is this: Though it may seem to us that our money is merited by our labor and is therefore ours, it is in fact God’s and our possessing it is a grace. And in the parable we are essentially given two examples on how we are able to use our money–two positive examples and one negative. The two positive examples are singular, for both servants took all of that which their master had given them and immediately used it for the sake of their master. They did not give a tithe of it to their local synagogue and then lavish the rest upon themselves, but they took it all, recognizing that it was not their own but that it was their master’s. And they did thus because they loved their master and longed to enter into his joy.
The negative example demonstrates that we will be judged not merely by how we use our money but by how we do not use our money. For the wicked servant, like the others, recognized that money was his master’s and therefore did not spend it on himself, but he, unlike the others, did not use it to increase his master’s wealth. And though the wicked servant did not use the money negatively for his personal gain, he is judged and condemned by his master at his coming. For though he returned to his master precisely that which was given to him, he is damned because his desire was not for his master and he did not desire to enter into his joy.
You may say to me at this point, “This is a vague parable, for surely we are not to invest our wealth so that we are able to write Christ a check at his Return.” That is true, and parables for this reason are only beneficial insofar as they are explained and rightly applied. Therefore, it is no mere coincidence that Christ offers a clear picture of the Judgment following this parable:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Mt. 25:31-46).
The correlation between the parable and the reality is clear. The two righteous servants are those who used all that God had given to them to minister to those who were in need. Christ calls this elsewhere, “Loving your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Mt. 22:29). For they, instead of using the grace of money upon themselves or hiding it so as to be no use to anyone, “invested” it in people who were hungry, thirsty, estranged, unclothed, sick, and imprisoned. And in this way they loved their Lord, for he commanded them, “Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Mt. 22:37-39). For those who love God love their neighbors, and they love as Christ loved–becoming poor for the sake of the poor and dying for the sake of the lost.
The wicked servant, on the other hand, is not he who lives licentiously with his wealth or he who does not give a tithe of his earnings, but it is he who neglects the hungry, the thirsty, the estranged, the unclothed, the sick, and the imprisoned. For though he might live meagerly on his one talent and not possess all the luxuries of the world, he neglects those whom Christ has commanded him to love. The prophet Isaiah preaches the same judgment upon Israel, saying:
How the faithful city
….has become a whore,
….she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
….but now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
….your best wine mixed with water.
Your princes are rebels
….and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
….and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
….and the widow’s cause does not come to them (Is. 1:21-23).
For the Lord has ever been about his people bringing justice to the needy, and he demands that his people who claim to love him seek for their justice. And the church does not accomplish this justice through political activism (though political pleading cannot be discounted), but she does it chiefly through self-sacrifice. The Macedonians demonstrated this by the way in which they lived their lives, and of them the apostle Paul writes:
We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints–and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us (2Cor. 8:1-5).
And what is amazing about their testimony is that they ministered unto the saints out of “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty.” Though they might have only been entrusted with the same mere talent with which the wicked servant of the parable was entrusted, they used it all for the aid of the needy, giving “themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to [the ministers of God].” And because of their faithfulness, God was pleased with their stewardship.
The question of application is obvious, but we are all too eager to miss it: How is your giving? How do you use that which God has entrusted to you in the way of monetary grace? Do you, like the righteous, actively seek ways to use your wealth to minster to those who are in need, or do you consider yourself square with God because you have given your ten percent? For there will be a Day of Reckoning, and the King shall not be satisfied with anything less than one-hundred percent given for the sake of those whom he loves.