USEFUL SERVANTS TO THE WORLD
by Pastor Mike Fortune
November 12, 2011
- Content (Matthew 25:14-17; 20-23)
- Useful (Matthew 25:18; 24-27)
- Motivated (Matthew 25:30)
Good morning! I’m Pastor Mike and on behalf of Toledo First Church, we’d like to welcome you to Pathfinder Sabbath. Pathfinders are a worldwide organization of young people in the fifth (5th) grade or its equivalent through the eighth (8th) grade while the teen Leadership Training (TLT) program works closely with the Pathfinder program and is for high school students (grades 9-12). It is sponsored by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, though young people of any religious persuasion, or none at all, are welcome and encouraged to join the organization. Pathfinders offer a wide range of activities including, but not limited to camping & camping/survival skills, grade appropriate leadership training, and activities promoting community pride & involvement through outreach activities such as helping in downtown soup kitchens, collecting food for the disadvantaged, cleaning & maintaining city and county parks, visiting and encouraging the elderly, and many more.
I remember joining Pathfinders when I was a kid. I was only nine years old, but they let me join anyway because I had already completed a bunch of the swimming and diving honors. I enjoyed the camp outs. Probably my favorite camp out was in 1985 when our entire club took a bus out to the first North American Division Pathfinder Camporee held in Camp Hale, Colorado. I slept in the luggage rack of the bus above the seats! It was the only place I could stretch out! It was a really long ride. And when we finally arrived, there were thousands of kids already there! Some of whom had passed out as soon as they arrived. No joke! They were so tired of being cooped up in the bus that even though their counselors told them to walk not run until their bodies acclimated to the much higher elevation and lack of oxygen, many ignored the advice. Pathfinders were keeling over left and right! I remember Jesse Jackson and Tempest Bledsoe from The Cosby Show were there as guest speakers. I remember one day they had a cake a mile long no lie. And I also remember not having any hot water to shower because all the water was snow melt from the mountains.
Back at home when we weren’t camping or working on honors, I remember raking leaves in the community for the elderly and collecting cans and passing out bread and cookies. I remember caroling and hanging out with my friends. My club didn’t have a Pinewood Derby. I wish it did because Pinewood Derby’s are really fun. And I’m glad Josh and Lydia get to participate in the Pinewood Derby. I didn’t know it at the time, but Pathfinders taught me to be content with with I’ve got, useful to others around me, and motivated to serve a broken world. There’s a passage of Scripture in Matthew 25 that reminded me of these truths as well. Let’s read it together.
14"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip. 16"The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more.17The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more.18But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master's money. 19"After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, 'Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.' 21"The master was full of praise. 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!' 22"The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, 'Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.' 23"The master said, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!' 24"Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, 'Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn't plant and gathering crops you didn't cultivate.25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.' 26"But the master replied, 'You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn't plant and gathered crops I didn't cultivate,27 why didn't you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.' 28"Then he ordered, 'Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver.29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"
That’s a sobering conclusion that deserves some thought. Which we’ll get back to in a bit. But let’s begin by noticing that Jesus tells a story about someone going away but before he does, he gives his servants different amounts of his money to invest. To one servant, he gives 5 bags of money. To another servant, he gives two bags of money, and to the last, he gives 1 bag of money. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy if I got just 1 bag of money. My friend Dustin works for Brinks and if he backed his armored truck into this church and started handing out single bags of money, how many of you would want one? I bet our church treasurer Marilynn Marsh, who is out of the hospital and doing much better now by the way, would be happy if each one of us grabbed a bag of money and marked it local church budget since she tells me year to date tithe is up by 6.4% over 2010 but combined budget income is under budget by 12.5%. Hopefully this last quarter of the year local church budget giving will catch-up. Church financial update over.
But say you got 1 bag of money and I got 2 and someone else got 5. Wouldn’t you be jealous of the guy who got 5? Why did he get 5 and I get 2? Why did I get 2 and you get 1? Is that fair? A cursory reading of the story suggests it is not. But two clues embedded in the story prove otherwise. The first is found in verse 15. There it says the master divided the money “in proportion to their abilities.” He knew what they could handle and what they couldn’t. Romans 12:4 says, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.” It doesn’t say we’ve all got the same gifts. It says we get different gifts. What would be unfair is if someone got a gift they couldn’t use that wasn’t proportional or custom fit to their faith. That would be like King Saul when he gave David his armor to fight Goliath. David tried it on, but it just didn’t fit! He learned he needed to fight Goliath in his own skin. With with the tools he was familiar with and the gifts God had given him.
And that’s point number one this morning. Pathfinders are content with whatever God gives them. Because they know God gives good gifts “proportional to their abilities.” If one of their friends has 5 gifts or 2 gifts and they only have 1, they don’t whine and cry about it. Because they know following Jesus isn’t about impressing men but about impressing God. It’s about being content and faithful with whatever God provides. We know this is true because in the story when the master returns, he tells the first two servants with different amounts of money the same thing. Please notice he says in verses 21 and 22, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!” Pathfinders don’t covet their neighbors stuff. They don’t whine and moan and cry when their Pinewood Derby car doesn’t cross the finish line first. They congratulate the other Pathfinder. They win with class and lose with grace. Right? They are content with who they are and what God provides. They encourage and commend each other knowing as Colossians 3:24 says, “The Master you are serving is Christ.” Right?
But notice, point number two, Pathfinders are also useful. While they’re waiting for the Master to return, they actually do stuff with the talents God gives them. But not the wicked lazy Pathfinder. Look what he did in verse 18. “But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master's money.” I suppose he could get partial credit for digging the hole. I mean, that takes a little effort right? But then he buried the money in the hole and did nothing with it! But the reason he did that wasn’t because he only got 1 bag of money while the others got more. He didn’t bury it like a bone because he was pouting and upset. No! The Bible says he buried because He thought the Master was a jerk! Verses 24-27 say, “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, 'Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn't plant and gathering crops you didn't cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth.”
Notice it doesn’t say the Master actually was a harsh man that harvested crops he didn’t plant to be afraid of. It says that was what the servant thought. And listen, there are lots of people today who think God is a harsh and unfair God to be afraid of. But Jesus said if you’re seen me, you’ve seen the Father. John 3:16 says God the Father SO loved the world that HE sent His Son. Luke 11:11-13 adds, “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead?” (This would actually be a good thing for Josh who has a snake named Peaches. And for all you other Pathfinders working on your Reptile honor because tonight’s vespers program you’re all invited back for features Herpetologist Gary–The Snake Guy from Toledo Herpetological Society). Vespers starts @ 6pm. “But if your children ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him."
We all have different work to do. And different gifts to do it. Some of us have five talents. Some of us have two. But all of us have one. The question is not how many talents you have, but what are you doing with the one? What would be unfair is if God treated those with five talents differently than he treated those with two or one. But he doesn’t do that. And that’s good news because nine year old Austin wasn’t even very good with his one talent. He really liked basketball. So he tried out for his elementary school team but he didn’t make the team. But that didn’t stop him from doing something useful. With his dad’s help, he came up with a plan to shoot one free throw on World AIDS day a few years ago (2004) for every child in the world that would die of AIDS that day. He asked people to sponsor him, whether he made the free throw or bricked it, and he raised more than $3k that year. But the next year, after spreading the word around school and online, he had 1k people getting sponsorships and shooting free throws and the charitable organization Hoops of Hope was born. Because Austin was willing to do something useful, in just five years, Hoops of Hope has raised more than one million dollars. The money has been used to build schools, medical clinics, and orphanages in Africa. Seven years later, God is still using Austin. He has written a book called Take Your Best Shot. Which I highly recommend. I read it to the kids during family worship.
Pathfinders are committed to being useful. Regardless of how many talents God gives them. Maybe it’s because they know God loves them like crazy and is not unfair or dishonest or mean. That God wants the best for them. And has wanted the best for the world since the beginning of the world. We know this is true because the first word the Bible uses to describe us is blessing. Genesis 1:28 says, “Then Godblessed them and said, "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” David Platt says in his bookRadical says, “God blessed the human race, not because of any merit or inherit worth in us, but simply out of pure, unadulterated grace. God created humankind to enjoy his grace. But that was not the end of the story, because on the other hand, God immediately followed his blessing with a command. ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.’ He created human beings, not only to enjoy his grace but also to extend his glory.” (David Platt, Radical, p.65).
He told Abraham the same thing in Genesis 12:2, “I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.” In other words, be useful! Do something! I love you like crazy SO THAT you will have the confidence to live like crazy! To invest your talents for God! To do something that blesses others! Platt says it this way: “The message of biblical Christianity is not ‘God loves me, period,’ as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is ‘God loves me so that I might make him known’” (Ibid., p.70).
And while I believe there are a myriad of ways God can and is making himself known aside from our useful efforts, I’m grateful God includes me in His plan aren’t you? So let’s not be wicked and lazy thinking mean thoughts about God. He wants us to enjoy his grace. But He also wants us to extend His glory. To be content. And to be useful. Because there are lots of people who still think God is a jerk. And when some of them stumble upon verses 29-30 in our passage today, their mistaken conclusion is re-affirmed. So let’s get back to that. God’s Word says, “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Yikes! Those are sobering words of judgement. But rightly understood, judgement is a good thing for those who have accepted the grace of God. We know this is true because Daniel 7:22 says God the Ancient of Days pronounces judgement “in favor of the saints of the Most High God.” If you know you’re on God’s team, you can’t wait for God to finally settle the score! In Habakkuk 1:2 the prophet cries, “How long O LORD?” Which is a refrain the souls under the altar in Revelation 6:10 echo. “How long before you judge the people who belong to this world and avenge our blood for what they have done to us?”
And the answer is not long! Because John 12:31 (NIV) says, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Jesus accomplished that when He died on the cross. He has already started judging the world and ruling in favor of the saints. And He continues to do so whenever the Gospel is preached. But when it is preached, and the opportunity to respond is made, like today, the natural consequence of rejecting that call is judgement. We too quickly forget John 3:17-18. Yes, “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” And “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him." But after that John says, "But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God's one and only Son.” Jesus used this graphic description of darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth elsewhere in Matthew 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30 and Luke 13:28. It was something sobering to remind us there are consequences for rejecting the Gospel.
So point number three: Pathfinders are motivated by those consequences. They want everyone to know Jesus and accept His grace and extend His glory to all the earth. They are happy and content with God has given them. And they’re useful where they live so their friends and family will want to be on God’s team too. But they also know, because God is love, He will not force people to go to heaven. You have to choose. And there are blessings to saying yes to Jesus besides being content and useful. You get eternal life! But there are eternal consequences for saying no to Jesus as well. And the weeping and gnashing of teeth is an appropriate description of the overwhelming loss and regret those who reject God will one day express. Revelation 20 describes that day if you want to read more about it in detail.
But my hope for you today is that we will thank God for His grace and use our talents, regardless of how many we have, to extend His glory so more and more people choose to be on his team. Pathfinders, is that your desire?