OT Lesson: Psalm 24
NT Lesson: 1 Peter 4:1-11
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 25:14-30
One of the milestones of growing into Jesus –of having a relationship with the Savior that goes beyond the issue of being saved – toward the issue of becoming mature in your faith – is the epiphany that Jesus is more concerned with “who” you are than (with) “what” you do.
This is a milepost of understanding – of revelation – because it evidences a growth of our spirit beyond the elementary coupling of the genuineness of faith to behavioral obedience, to the greater issue of Grace being the primary catalyst and our deepest motivation to change; to the place where we realize (that) only behavior motivated by the love of Jesus is Godly, and only Godly behavior is likely to withstand cultural pressures and human proclivities.
I can appear to the world (to be) good and right and proper; but unless this good, right, and proper behavior results from Grace having changed who I am – I may appear socially and culturally to be a good person –but spiritually I remain dead; I remain vulnerable to external pressures to conform, to adapt, and to acquiesce to my own human tendencies and to cultural suggestion.
Put another way:
Grace is a gift of God – unmerited – offered at God’s own initiative – and absolutely free.
And, apart from my willingness to trust this promise – to receive the gift – what I do is of secondary importance.
Now – lest we frustrate the Grace of God – lest we fail to inculcate its potential to transform – surely we must understand (that) what we do – the way we live – gives – or diminishes – credibility to our confession of faith.
Before Grace, nothing about how we live much matters.
After Grace, everything about our lives matter – as it either adds to or detracts from – the credibility of our witness to Jesus.
What is the essential difference between Christians who grasp the importance of the credibility of their witness, and those who do not?
I’d like to suggest the essential difference is the quality of generosity.
Absent a generosity of spirit, we cannot discern how God wants to work in us – to transform us into His likeness.
For it is through Grace-induced generosity (that) we glimpse the magnitude of ‘For God so loved the world’.
Generosity of spirit is the greatest vaccination against spiritual narcissism and the best defense against religious myopia.
In the passage we read today from 1 Peter we are urged to live whatever is left of our earthly life motivated no longer by human nature, rather by the will of God; so (that) even though we will all die to our human form, we might “live unto the Spirit as God does”.
Thus, our confession comes to define WHO we are – and this is of 1st importance.
We then lend credibility to our confession by HOW we live from that point on.
Paul’s life is a great example of this spiritual truth.
After Grace claimed his life, the “WHAT” he had been and done no longer mattered.
What mattered from that moment on was WHO he could – by Grace alone – become.
He then lived the rest of his life such that the credibility of his conversion – of his confession of faith – was confirmed over and over. The WHO he had become was imbued with authenticity by WHAT he did; by HOW he lived.
The credibility of his witness was accomplished through his being a willing steward of Grace.
So – here is a question for today.
Does the fact that Grace has touched your life make any difference in how you live?
Does Grace in your life influence how you cherish your wife or husband; does it add an ineffable dimension to the intimacy and romance of your relationship?
It should, for Grace enables us to love more deeply and give ourselves more completely because we are inspired by the knowledge of God’s love for us, and for His presence in all our life.
Does Grace influence how you parent your children or allocate your resources or make the myriad of decisions we all make every day?
It should, for it gives each of us contact with Eternal Truth and Eternal Goodness and Mercy, such that we are not constrained in any of our responses or decisions or relationships merely by human nature.
This question – does Grace make any difference in how you live – takes us to Jesus’ discourse about the talents.
I would re-name this (from the parable of the talents) to:
“The Stewardship of Grace; The Essentiality of Generosity”.
So, what did the master give his slave?
“His property”. The master’s property.
What is this property?
The master – God – gave His servant – you and me – His property: Grace.
Scripture tells us of the quantitative difference among the gifts:
To one He gave 5; to one 2, and to one 1.
I believe this difference speaks not to what God is willing to give, rather to our willingness to allow Grace to permeate our lives.
Winston Churchill made the point that Predestination and Free Will are – for the believer – the same thing.
God is sovereign. He knows how we are made and He knows who is willing to absorb the blessings of His presence; of Grace and Goodness; of Mercy and Generosity.
God knew how much to give each servant.
The Apostle Paul makes Churchill’s point when he writes in Romans 12:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
God gifts us with His blessings according to our willingness not only to accept them – but also to integrate them into the WHO of our identity.
There are but two things we can do with the gift of Grace.
We can multiply it or we can horde it.
Hording it is the same as hiding it.
How – and why – do we multiply Grace?
How do we increase these ‘talents’ lent to us by the Father?
These increases spoken of in the parable come only through service motivated by the love of Jesus.
The spirit of generosity born of the experience of Grace.
Increases do not come through humanitarianism; nor through philanthropy; not through political action; nor through liberation theology to seeks to create victims so to elicit the motivation of righteous anger.
Increases also do not come through efforts at appropriating Grace as our personal property and assuming authority to say who else receives it.
Rather do increases in the talents of God’s blessings come through humble service as shown by Jesus – and this, solely because of what Jesus has done in your life.
Any other motivation leads ultimately to residual resentment because all motivation but Grace is ultimately flawed by human nature.
At some point, all other motivation will crash on the rocks of our humanity, and we will be bereft of succor or of consolation at the end of life’s frenetic attempts to do good.
Absent a generosity of spirit, we simply cannot overcome human nature, and out ‘talent’ – our ‘use of the gift of Grace’ remains buried and unproductive – and the FACT of Grace – for those believers – makes scant difference to how they live; thus does their confession of faith have no credibility with the lost and searching of the world.
This spirit of generosity enables us to overcome our human tendencies toward ‘me first’, ‘self-advancement’, and the perverse sense of ‘ownership’ we cultivate about Grace.
Generosity of spirit encourages us to look for opportunities of service for the Kingdom of God, and to not be content with simply satisfying the ‘minimum standards’ of our faith.
If the gift of Grace is buried and horded for your exclusive use, the world will see simply your exercise of religion but will miss any evidence of the Gospel in your life.
To increase God’s property, we must open ourselves to Jesus-centered service motivated by nothing but His love.
The 5-talent and the 2-talent servant did not work to enlarge God’s property out of fear of Him, but out of a sense of spiritual generosity.
Having been touched by Grace, these servants incorporated Grace into all of WHO they were, and this had profound impact upon WHAT they did from then on.
The 1-talent servant only RECEIVED Grace, but his human nature colored his understanding of God, and he led a fearful and defensive life;
1-Talent servants have judged God to be demanding, harsh; requiring adherence to an endless and unattainable set of rules and regulations, pronounced seemingly without sensitivity to our human condition.
These Christians echo the 1-Talent servant when he spoke about the Master:
“You are a harsh man, reaping where you do not sow; gathering where you did not scatter. I was afraid of you so I just hid your property.”
My friends, this is works-righteousness at its most perverse.
Works-righteousness always emphasizes what we do over who we are.
Works righteousness always leads here.
Believers so affected are often hyper-religious but they do not perceive God as being generous to them.
To placate a harsh God, they become structured and rigid and defensive.
“I was afraid, so I hid your property.”
I lacked the generosity of spirit to put your property to work among those who so desperately need it.
Fearful and defensive people are never generous; thus is the credibility of their witness diminished.
Believers who never can get confident of their salvation can never exhibit a generous spirit because they are burdened with residual fear that God might change His mind about them.
And the world loses the benefit of lives redeemed, forgiven, and emancipated.
How is it with you today?
Have you asked God for that generosity of Spirit which will give credibility to your confession of faith?
We cannot serve without this generosity of spirit.
If we do not serve, we cannot grow God’s property.
In the amazing power and simplicity of the Gospel Jesus tells us that common, ordinary, incremental acts of service in His name is what multiplies Grace, and can cause us to be pronounced:
“God’s faithful servants”.
Defining God by what we know of human nature makes us fearful and defensive.
It matters not if we are 5-talent, 2-talent, or 1-talent servants.
What matters is the credibility of our confession.
One last question:
Does Grace make a difference in how you live?
If it does, then Grace will grow through generous service?
Are you generous or are you fearful?
It must be one or the other.
I can tell you, you are a generous people.
Your generosity of spirit will enable us this afternoon to leave for our 10th annual mission trip where we will represent you and your generosity among people whose need is so very great;
Among people who will never know WHAT you do – but will reap the benefit of WHO you are.
And, WHO are you?
You are a servant of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and your confession is credible by how you have multiplied Grace.
And God knows that if the WHO you are is ‘you are His’, the WHAT will – over a lifetime of service – mover closer and closer to the Savior.