Question for you.  Do you think God really cares about how you spend your free time?  Understand, I’m not asking, “Do you think God minds if you use your free time to rob banks?”  I mean, do you think God cares whether you use your spare time to go fishing or bowling or play cards?  For that matter, does God care what you do for a living?  Does God care about how many hours you put in each week, or what you’re doing with your time when you are on the clock?  And what about those times when you’re not really on the clock, earning a paycheck, but you’re not really relaxing, not really enjoying play time either. What about those times when you are volunteering?  Does God care whether you volunteer to be a Little League coach, a blood donor or a Sunday School teacher?  Does God really care about how we spend the time we have in life?

The answer to all those questions is, yes he does.  God does care about how we spend our time, how we use our talents, how we manage the gifts he’s given to us.  And as proof of that, we need look no further than the words of our text for today.  In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, our Lord invites us to do a little self-analysis as we consider this question, “Christian,

How Will You Use Your Gifts?

  1. Gifts graciously given by God
  2. Gifts faithfully invested by believers

The parable that we have before us was spoken by Jesus near the end of his earthly ministry.  He’s preparing his disciples for the time when he would no longer be visibly with them, but would still expect them to carry out the work he had given them to do.  And so Jesus shares this parable about a man who is going away on a long journey.  But before he goes, the man entrusts his property to his servants, in varying amounts.  Our text says, {15} To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.  In those days a talent was actually a sum of money, in fact, a great deal of money.  But, understand, that money was entrusted to the servants with a the expectation that after a period of time, the servants would have to give an accounting for what they did with the master’s money.

Now, you realize, a parable is sometimes called an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  And so, the question is, “What is the spiritual significance of this parable?  What is Jesus trying to teach us with this parable?  Well, I don’t think the meaning is that hard to decipher, especially when you consider that over the course of time, the meaning of that word, “talent”, has shifted from a measurement of money to what we think of when we hear the word talent used today.  A person’s talent is his natural ability, his aptitude, his skill set, his God-given “gifts.”  Well, in fact, that’s what Jesus is referring to here in his parable.  He’s talking about the: I. Gifts Graciously given by God.

I say “graciously given” because the abilities we have, the talents we possess were not earned by us.  Right?  I didn’t endow myself with the ability to speak or move or think.  All these were gifts from the hand of a gracious God.  You might say that God is lending us our talents to use while we are alive.  You may not agree with anything else that Rush Limbaugh says, but he does have one thing right when he says that he has “talent on loan from God.”  The same thing is true for every one of us.  God has graciously given us gifts, he’s distributed them in different measures to different people, and he expects us to put them to use—just like the master in Jesus’ parable did for his servants.

Well, you heard what one of the servants did with his gift.  The man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  When the master calls the man to account for his actions, what does the servant say?  ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  In other words, the servant accuses his master of being unfair, greedy, making everyone else do the work for him.  The servant goes on, {25} So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.  The key words there are “I was afraid” as in “I was afraid I might do something wrong.  I think you are demanding too much of me.  So rather than doing anything with your talent, I did nothing.”

What was the master’s reaction?  ‘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.’  In other words, the master said, “if you really believed that I was so demanding, then why didn’t you do something, anything with the gift I gave you?  No, the reason you buried your gift in the ground was that you were lazy.  You are wicked.  You are self-centered.  You have no appreciation for my goodness to you.”

And so, what judgment does the master hand down?  “‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. {30} And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  Again, I don’t think it’s too hard to decipher what Jesus is referring to in real life.  This man was thrown into hell.  Now, someone might say, “Wait a minute.  Are you saying that a person can go to hell for not making good use of the talents that God has given?”  Well, yes.  When a person refuses to appreciate the gracious gifts God has given—most importantly the gift of a Savior from sin—when a person selfishly thumbs his nose at what God is offering, ultimately that’s unbelief.  And unbelief damns.

Is there a warning here for you and me?  Yeah, I think there is.  When it comes to faithfully using our talents in a way that honors God and builds his kingdom, man, there is a real temptation to do what this servant did.  And that’s to bury our gifts.  And often times, we find ourselves thinking the same thing the servant said, namely, “God is expecting too much from me.”  Or maybe in this case, we should say, “The church is expecting too much of me.  I’m afraid I might do something wrong.  I just don’t want to get involved.”  But what point do the master’s words offer the real explanation for our behavior? “You wicked, lazy servant.”

I don’t know about you, but there are many times when I’ve been that lazy servant.  Times when I’ve wasted my time.  I’ve shirked my responsibilities.  I’ve failed to use my gifts to carry out the work that God has given me to do.  I see myself in that lazy servant. And maybe you do too.

But you know, there are two ways that you are not like that wicked, lazy servant.  #1.  That man’s day of reckoning has come and gone.  Yours and mine hasn’t.  There is still time for us to do something with the gifts our God has given to us.  And the second and most important difference between you and that man is summed up in these words from the Apostle Paul.  You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)  In other words, you dear Christians, know what Jesus has done for you.  You know how he took away the poverty of your sins.  He has given you the riches of his grace, his love, his holiness.  He’s given you a new identity as his people, God’s gifted people.  And really, it’s that fact that empowers us to turn the gifts graciously given by God into something more.  God’s grace empowers us to turn gifts graciously given by God into: II. Gifts faithfully invested by believers.

Now, what does that mean, to faithfully invest the gifts God has given?  We’re not talking about money.  We’re talking about time and abilities.  How does God want us to use the talents he’s entrusted to us?  Well, on the one hand, there are a lot of ways to use our time and talents in ways pleasing to God.  Scripture says, So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)  That means, it’s not wrong to invest our time in making and enjoying a delicious meal with our family.  It’s not wrong to make sure you’re taking care of the body God has given you by getting enough sleep, exercise and a proper diet.  And of course Scripture says, As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people (Galatians 6:10).  That means it’s not wrong to volunteer at the local homeless shelter or food pantry or community event.  And yet, when it comes to prioritizing where we’re going to invest our time and talents, it’s important to look at the bigger picture, yes, the eternal picture.             Remember, the reason God has put you and me on this planet is: 1. To come to know Christ as our Savior and then 2. To share him with others.  Isn’t that the marching orders Jesus gave to his church just before he ascended into heaven?  “Now, go and make disciples of all nations.”  The question is, from a very practical standpoint, exactly how do you do that?  How do you invest your talents in the Great Commission?  Well, in a sense, it’s a two-step process.  First you need to determine what your gifts, your interests, your abilities are.  And then you need to determine where you can plug them into the mission and ministry of this congregation.  To help you do that, I want to direct your attention to one of the trifold brochures in your pew racks today.  It’s called God’s People Serve.  Go ahead and take one out.  In it you’ll find a whole lot of ways that you can serve at Mount Olive, along with a cheat sheet to explain what some of the tasks entail.

Here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to take one of these home with you.  If you are a Mount Olive member, you’ll find a pair of them in your mailbox today.  If you need more for your family, take one from the pew rack.  And then I want you to ask yourself.  What am I good at?  What has God given me the ability to accomplish?  Maybe you are good with children or with numbers or with technology.  Well then, find a role that fits your skill set.  Mark it in the brochure.  Doesn’t mean that you will automatically be asked to carry out that particular task tomorrow.  Rather it gets you on the radar.  For example, when we’re setting up the Sunday School staff next year, we’ll say, “Oh, look, this person said she’d consider serving in that role.  Let’s ask her if she’ll serve.”

At the same time, I think we have to admit that a lot of the work that is accomplished here at Mount Olive doesn’t require a unique skill set.  Rather than ability, they simply require availability.  They require a heart that is willing to serve.  A heart that says, “God, I’m making myself available.  I want to use the time you’ve given me.  I want to invest the talents you’ve entrusted to me.  I want to serve you with the gifts you’ve given me.  In fact, isn’t that exactly what St. Peter encouraged us to do in our epistle reading today?  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

            It’s true, isn’t it?  God has poured out his grace, his undeserved love in its various forms.  Not everyone has the same gifts, not everyone has the same talents, not everyone has the same opportunities.  But as individual Christians our goal is the same—to be faithful in using whatever gift we’ve been given.

When I was in grade school, the teacher would hand out a report card with two grades for every subject.  One grade was for ability; the other was for “effort”.  My dad always told me, “Robby, God is the one who determines what that first grade is.  He’s the one who gave you your abilities.  But that second grade, the one for effort—that one is up to you.  God wants you to work hard to put your ability to good use.”

My friends, isn’t the same thing true for you and me today?  Our goal as Christians is to be faithful—to faithfully use the gifts God has given us, the time, the talents, and yes, the treasures he’s entrusted to us.  For then, as we look forward to that day of final reckoning, as we put our trust in a Savior God whose blood and righteousness covers all our sins of mismanagement and indifference, as we, in response to his love, rededicate our lives to investing ourselves in work that has an impact on eternal souls, then by God’s grace, we too will be privileged to hear our Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  God grant it, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.