January 18, 2015
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Becoming Less
#5—Use your gifts to serve others

Matthew 25:14-30, 1 Peter 4:10-11

Introduction:

How many of you this week did something for someone that they didn’t want to do?  Good on you!

This is part 5 of “Becoming Less”.  We are studying the teaching and example of Jesus to become more like Him by becoming less—more humble, more willing to serve others. 

Last Sunday we looked at the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.  Washing feet was considered a very lowly job; it fell to the lowest person on the totem pole, the least of all.  The disciples argued about who that was in their group, and while they argued, Jesus, the greatest among them, wrapped himself in a towel and knelt down and washed their feet.  Jesus did for them what none of them were willing to do.  He did the task that they all thought was beneath them.  Then He told them that He had set an example, and they were to do as He had done: they were to wash each other’s feet. 

Foot washing was a first century custom that made perfect sense then.  But we don’t walk on dirt streets in sandals; we drive in cars on slushy roads.  So what would be a 21st Century equivalent of foot washing?  I suggested that it is simply doing the task no one wants to do.  It’s serving someone by doing the thing they dislike doing or don’t want to do. 

But there is another side to serving that we’re going to talk about today.  The Bible teaches that God has given each one of us gifts or abilities or talents, and we are to use them to serve God and others.  So here is my question: Is Christ-like service using your gifts to make your best contribution, or is it doing whatever needs to be done, even when it’s a lowly task no one wants to do?  Yes!  It’s both!

There is a tension here.  Christians live in the tension between being willing to do anything and doing what they do best. 

ILL: Rick Noll, our executive pastor, signed up to serve at a local clothing bank.  They put him to work every week in the back room sorting bags of clothes.  Folks, Rick is a genius.  I mean that.  He is the strategic genius behind our church.  He is the best analytical and strategic thinker I know.  Using this guy to sort clothes is like using LeBron James to pump up your basketballs and clean your uniforms.  Not the best use of his talent. 

Here’s the thing: Rick did it willingly, happily, but after a year, he was done.  It wasn’t that he was above doing this; it’s that he realized it wasn’t his best contribution.  He could use those serving hours better in another role. 

We have to live in the tension and not swing to one side or the other.  If all you do is whatever needs to be done with no thought towards using your gifts, that’s off.  Or if all you do is use your gifts without ever rolling up your sleeves and doing what needs to be done, that’s off.  It’s not either/or; it’s both/and.

ILL: We have chores at our house.  When the dishes need to be done, I help.  I don’t say, “That’s not my gift.”  Who has a dishwashing gift anyway?  When the lawn needs to be mowed, I mow it.  I don’t say, “I don’t have a mowing gift.”  You don’t need a special gift to serve.  We all are called to serve, to help.

But on the other hand, if I were to spend all my time washing dishes and mowing lawns, you would want another pastor very quickly.  You want me to use my primary gifts to serve you—while still being humble enough to help no matter the task.

So here is:

The Big Idea: Christ-like service is not only doing what others don’t want to do, but doing what only you can do.  Use your gifts to serve others.

Today, we’re going to look at Jesus’ famous Parable of the Talents.  (Card.)

Matthew 25:14–30 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘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!’

22 “The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘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!’

24 “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘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. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 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.

28 “ ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Let’s unpack it.

 

1. You are the Lord’s servant.

The master in the story is God, and who are the servants?  We are.  He has generously entrusted each of us with His resources to manage until He comes back.  This was a common practice in Jesus’ day.  Servants often managed a great deal of their master’s commercial business, and were entrusted with lots of money and responsibility.  The servant’s job was to do what the master wanted done.  The first lesson is that you are God’s servant, called to do God’s will, not your own. 

In Jesus’ day, servants had nothing of their own.  All they had belonged to their master, and he entrusted it to them to accomplish his will.  All that we have is God’s, entrusted to us to be used for His purposes. Did you notice that it was the master’s money they invested, and when he returned, they gave back to him not only the original investment, but all the profit?  It was all the master’s.  All that you have, all your time, all your talent, all your treasure, is God’s too; and whatever you make of it will be His as well.  That is what it means to be God’s servant.  You are not your own. 

This is hard for us!  We like to see ourselves as independent and autonomous individuals.  I’m free!  Nobody can tell me what to do!  I’m the captain of my own ship, the master of my own fate.  I make my own money, buy my own stuff, run my own life, call my own shots, and do my own thing.  It’s my life and I’ll do what I want with it!  I am my own person!

But the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You are not your own!  You were bought at a price!” You belong to God.  It’s not your ship, your fate, your money, your stuff, your thing, or your life.  You were bought with a price—Jesus Christ gave His life for you—and now you are God’s: lock, stock and barrel!  To be God’s servant means that we are willing to do whatever He asks.  The heart of a servant says, “Yes Lord, to anything, anytime, anywhere.”  Say that with me: “Yes Lord, to anything, anytime, anywhere.”  That’s the heart of a servant.

That’s the heart that washes feet, that does what others don’t want to do, that does whatever needs to be done.  You are the Lord’s servant.  “Yes Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.

 

2. You are unique.

The master gave them differing amounts based on their differing abilities. Verse 15 says, “each according to his ability.”  Have you noticed that we have differing abilities?

Romans 12:6 says “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”  1 Corinthians 12 says that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to each of us, just as He determines. We’re all different, each one of us is unique, and we all need each other.

You are unique like everyone else!  You are a unique creation of God, a unique blend of background, personality, natural abilities and spiritual gifts.  When God made you, He threw away the mold!  You aren’t one in a million; you are one in billions.  There is no one like you!  You are a walking work of art, a one of kind masterpiece by the Ultimate Artist.

Some of us are prone to compare ourselves unfavorably with others.  We are not as smart or athletic or handy or talented as others, so what can we do?  I can’t sing like Cami, or organize like Rick, or fix things like Bruce, or administrate like Blake.  All those people outshine me, so what can I do?  Nothing—I’m worthless!  No—I can talk and I can lead! 

Now there are many things I can’t do well. But if I focus on what I can’t do, I won’t get much done!   I’ve got to recognize and accept my unique gifts and abilities and put them to work.  Perhaps the third servant looked at the other two and thought, “I don’t have 5 or even two talents; just one.  What’s the use?  Why try?”  Stop worrying about what you don’t have, and start using what you do have. 

ILL: Barbara Glanz is a consultant who was doing a customer service session for a large retail grocery company in the Midwest. Speaking to a large crowd of front-line service people—cashiers, baggers, stockers, butchers, bakers, and others—Barbara told them, “Each of you should put your own signature on your job. What could you do that is uniquely you, that tells your customers they are important?”

Three weeks after her talk, Barbara got a call from a nineteen-year-old grocery bagger named Johnny, who has Down’s syndrome.  Johnny told Barbara, “The night after I heard you speak to us, my parents and I talked about what I could do special for my customers. I’ve collected good quotations over the years, and we decided I would give them to the people I serve at the store.” He went on to tell her that he typed his list of quotes on the family computer, made 150 copies of each, and cut them out and folded them. The next day, he chose one of his quotes, and when he finished bagging a customer’s groceries, he’d say, “I’m putting my quote for the day in your bag. I hope it makes your day brighter.”

The day Johnny called Barbara, the store manager was making his rounds. When he got to the front of the store, he saw that all the customers were in Johnny’s aisle. When he tried to usher some of the people into other lines, no one would leave. They all wanted to get Johnny’s quote for the day. Barbara called the store manager. He said, “One of the customers told me, ‘I used to shop here once a week; now I stop by here every day.’ Since the kid’s success, everybody on my staff is trying to do special things for customers!”

What could you do that is uniquely you?  You are unique!  Use what God has given you to serve Him! You can do things for Him that no one else can ever do! 

Andy Stanley in The Next Generation Leader says, “Only do what only you can do.  Know your core competencies and stick to them.”  I agree completely, as long as you keep the tension: keep a servant’s heart. 

You are the Lord’s servant.  You are unique.

 

3. You are greatly gifted.

In our story, one man got 5 talents, one got 2 and another got 1.  Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh I’m just a one talent person.  Some folks are 5 talent people, some 2 talent people, but me, I’m just a one talent person. Some have a lot, and some not—I’m a not!”   You might look at others and think that God gave them everything.  I know some people who were at the front of the line when God was passing out talent.   Do you know those folks?  Maybe you feel like you never even found the line; you were probably stuck in the bathroom or something!  Here’s a different perspective. 

In our story, a talent was a weight, a measure of money.  And it was a lot of money!  A talent of gold was worth a lifetime of wages.  If you make $25,000 a year for 40 years that would total a million bucks.  At that modest rate, the guy with 5 talents got 5 million to manage; the guy with 2 talents got 2 million, and the one talent man got a cool million bucks.  Poor guy!  How many of you would feel bad if someone gave you a million to invest?  That’s not pocket change!  That’s a lot of money! 

Most people focus on the difference between the three men; but we make too much of the difference and overlook the largeness of each gift.  The smallest gift was huge!  Jesus is saying that the one who got the least still got a lot.  Even the one talent person is greatly gifted.  Don’t sneeze at what God’s given you!  God has been good to you.  God has been generous with you.  You are greatly gifted!

ILL:  In 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. The satellite’s primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and its moons, and beam data to earth about Jupiter. Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, for at that time no earth satellite had ever gone beyond Mars, and they feared the asteroid belt would destroy the satellite before it could reach its target.

But Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more. Swinging past the giant planet in November 1973, Jupiter’s immense gravity hurled Pioneer 10 at a higher rate of speed toward the edge of the solar system. At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn. At some two billion miles, it hurtled past Uranus; Neptune at nearly three billion miles; Pluto at almost four billion miles. By 1997, twenty‑five years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun.

And despite that immense distance, Pioneer 10 continued to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth. Here’s the incredible thing: those signals emanate from an 8‑watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night light, and takes more than nine hours to reach Earth.

The Little Satellite That Could was not qualified to do what it did. Engineers designed Pioneer 10 with a useful life of just three years. But it kept going and going. We finally lost contact with Pioneer 10 on January 23, 2003, when electrical power to its tiny transmitter ran out.  It was roughly 7.5 billion miles from earth! By simple longevity, its tiny 8‑watt transmitter radio accomplished more than anyone thought possible.

Have you ever felt like you have 8-watt abilities?  God can do incredible things with 8-watt people who are surrendered to Him and just keep going.  What seems small to you becomes huge in God’s hands.  You have no idea how gifted you are!  This story suggests that everyone has more than they suspect!  God has been generous with you.  You are greatly gifted!

 

4. You must put your gifts to work.

This is the main point of the parable.  Use what you’ve got; don’t bury it!  Don’t waste it; put it to work!  1 Peter 4:10 says “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  Each one—that’s you—should use whatever gift you have received to serve others.  You must put your gifts to work. 

How can you do that?  First, identify your gifts and talents.  The best way to do that is to:

  • Examine your experience: what are you good at?  I’ve always wanted to do interpretive dance during worship, but they never let me.  I’m not good at it, so I don’t do it.  I do know some good dancers.  Sironka’s Dance Troupe.  I’m not good at dancing, but I can lead and catalyze change, so I do that.
  • Ask your friends: what do you see in me?  Please ask people who will be honest with you—not American Idol friends!
  • Experiment: try something and see if it fits.  You may have a gift you don’t know about simply because you’ve never tried using it. 

First, identify your gifts and talents.

Second, identify your passion.  What is the one thing you would change, if you could?  What is the one thing you would do, if you could?  What cause makes your heart beat faster, and gives wings to your imagination? 

Third, find a need and meet it.  I’m always amazed when people say, “I don’t see anything I can do, anywhere I can help.”  We are surrounded by needs in our church and community and world.  Wherever there are people, there are needs.  You are surrounded by opportunities to serve!  Find a need and meet it. 

ILL: Sam and Jed turned into fortune hunters when they heard there was a $5,000 bounty being offered for each wolf captured alive.  Day and night they scoured the mountains and forests looking for their valuable prey.  Exhausted one night, they fell asleep dreaming of their potential fortune.  Suddenly Sam awoke to see that they were surrounded by about 50 wolves with flaming eyes and bared teeth.  He nudged his friend and said, “Jed, wake up!  We’re rich!” 

You are surrounded by opportunities—it’s all in how you see it!  Jesus said, “Open your eyes and look!  The fields are ripe for harvest.”  You are surrounded by needs; find a need and meet it!

Put your gifts to work serving others!  Here’s some good news:

 

5. You will succeed if you try.

Three men were entrusted with large resources; two succeeded and one failed. What was the difference between them?  Two tried and one didn’t.  Everyone who tried, succeeded!  Their success rate was 100%!  If you try, you’ll succeed.  One of my favorite theologians, Woody Allen said, “80% of success is just showing up.” The one who tries, the one who keeps showing up, faithfully using his/her gifts, is the one who succeeds.

Let me define success: God will use your efforts for good.  He will make it count for good.

There is not even a suggestion of the possibility of failure by the master.  He gave each one of them large enough resources to guarantee their ultimate success if they tried.  He gave them enough that they could each afford some failures along the way.

When I say that you’ll succeed if you try, I’m not suggesting that you’ll never fail.  You will!  And you should.  If you’re not failing some, you’re playing it safe; you’re probably burying your talent!  I’ve got a ton of failures I could tell you about. If you try, you’ll fail some, but your failures are preparation for your success. 

ILL: Paul Harvey said that if anyone asks him the secret of his success, he tells them, “I get up when I fall down.” 

If you try, you’ll fall down; but get up and keep going and you’ll succeed.  When you fall down, pick something up.  Learn something.  If you can learn from your failures, and then keep trying, you’ll eventually succeed.  Like the men in the story, God has generously gifted and equipped you for a successful, significant life—if you’ll try.  The only way to fail is to do nothing.

Why didn’t the third man try?  He said, “I was afraid”.  He was afraid of the master, but the master was kind and generous with everyone who tried, and was harsh only with the one who did nothing. 

More than anything else, fear keeps us from trying.  Some of us are paralyzed by fear:  we’re afraid of failure, afraid of embarrassment, afraid of what others might think…and maybe even afraid of God.  But Jesus is saying in this story that you have nothing to fear from God—if you try.  He is the one who has so generously gifted you.  And He is the one who will handsomely reward any effort you make.  The only way you risk God’s displeasure is if you let fear paralyze you.

ILL: Don’t be afraid of failure!  You fell down lots when you were learning to walk, but you kept getting up and now you can walk!  You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim; but you kept trying, and now you can swim!  Did you hit the ball the first time you ever swung a bat?  I remember in the fourth grade being so terrified when I was batting that I wet my pants. But I kept trying and became a capable baseball player.  Babe Ruth struck out a record 1330 times, but also hit 714 home runs and had a lifetime batting average around .330, one of the best of all times. R. H. Macy failed seven times before his famous store in New York caught on.  And Thomas Edison had over 10,000 failed attempts at inventing the light bulb before he got it right!  Don’t be afraid of failure!   The greater danger is not trying at all!

The parable also teaches that you either use it or lose it!  It is interesting that those who risked failure, succeeded and gained more, while the one who played it safe, failed and lost everything.  Jesus indicates that you can increase what you have by using it.  The talent taken from the lazy servant was given to the one who already had ten, who had proven he would use whatever God gave Him.  When you use what God gives you, He gives you more!

When you understand how generously God has gifted you, and that He insures your success if you try, it ought to inspire some reckless abandon, a boldness to risk great things for God.  He wants us to maximize our lives, make the most of our resources, and make a difference in the world!   God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things when they risk obeying Him, and use what they’ve got!

 

6. You will give an accounting.

The master required all three servants to give an accounting for what they had done with what He gave them.  Someday each of us will stand before God and answer for what we’ve done with the life and the gifts He gave us.  God expects a return on His generous investment in us. 

The good news is that God will reward you for your efforts.  The two who tried, who were faithful to put their gifts to work, were praised and rewarded by the master.  “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  God rewards our faithfulness.  Every effort made to serve God and people will be rewarded.  Jesus said in Matthew 10:42 “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”  Even the smallest things count and are noticed and rewarded by the Lord!

What if God called you in to settle accounts today?  What would you have to show him?  What have you done with what He’s given you?  How have you used your gifts to serve God and others?   What have you done that will last forever?  How have you helped to advance God’s kingdom?  Those are questions we’ll answer someday. 

And what we all want to hear is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come and share your master’s happiness.”

 

What will I do?

Read the Scripture each day and pray, “Lord make this true in me today.”

 

Who will I tell?