Tuesday 13 March 2012


Yesterday at the Chinese Church, we looked at the parable of the talents, exploring what Jesus had to say about our motivations in our work and our expectations of his return. We concluded with the following three points:

1. Work with joy: Jesus is our Lord

Eric Liddell, the Olympic athlete famously portrayed in the movie, "Chariots of Fire" once said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure." He ran not simply to reach the finish line or to win the prize. Eric experienced God's joy in the race, as he ran.

In the parable, the faithful servants were motivated to work hard at expanding the master's assets simply to hear these few words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:21,23). CS Lewis called this "the weight of glory"; by which he wasn't talking about riches, power or even the gift of eternal life. It was the praise of a master over his trustworthy servants, the love of a proud father for his obedient son, the joy of the Creator over the work of his creation: "It was very good!" (Genesis 1:31).

2. Work for joy: Jesus is our reward

Work finds it's fulfillment and purpose in rest. That is, rest is only partly the cessation of work or the absence of work. True rest flows from finishing the work - from satisfactorily completing that work - and then enjoying the beauty, the fruit and pleasure that comes from beholding the masterpiece. Thus God finished his work of creating the world in six days and on the seventh, he rested. God rejoiced over his creation.

In this parable, Jesus invites us to join God in that rest; to join the master in his joy. "Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21,23). The greatest treasure the master can share with his servants is not more of his wealth, but the fullness of his joy.

3. Work on joy: Jesus is our Judge

Our Chinese culture takes great pride in being prudent. We don't like taking unnecessary risks. Rather, we exercise every precaution to maximise success at minimal cost.

Ralph Winters was one of the most influential individuals used by God to effect global mission in the last century. He said this, "If something is worth doing, it is worth doing poorly." Read that over again: It is worth doing poorly! That's very un-Chinese! What's he talking about? He is describing unrestrained sacrifice. He is talking about risk.

I think many of us read the parable and think the third servant's problem - the guy who received only one talent - we think his problem was that he got too little. "The other guys received more than me. The master obviously thinks more highly of them compared to me." It really isn't the case, you know. He turns up with the master's money, freshly dug up from the back garden and says, "I was afraid and hid your talent in the ground" (Matthew 25:25). We need to remember that one talent was equivalent to 20 years' wages. Today, that's about 600,000 pounds. It was a fortune. What the third servant was saying, in effect, was this: "This is too much." In other words, he was simply being cautious. He didn't dare take any risk losing the money entrusted to him and then facing the master's anger and disappointment.

For this servant, the result over time was fear, resentment and self-righteousness. "See, take what is your's," he says. He thinks he has done his job. "Here you go. Mission accomplished." He even implies that the master does not deserve to have more than the servant was presenting him.

Our over-cautiousness with God's gifts may not necessarily be a sign of prudence. Cautiousness may rather imply callousness towards God. Like the unfaithful servant, we think of God as a miser. We doubt his motives. We question his grace. Ironically this often happens in seasons of abundance; in situations when God has actually been generous with us. When we have been blessed with plenty our temptation is to hoard that treasure and store it away, instead of spending it freely to bless others and using every opportunity to grow the work of the gospel.

Jesus challenges us to work on our joy (and not simply to work on our work). He sees straight into our hearts. He knows our inner struggles and hidden motivations. When there's conflict in your workplace; when there's a misunderstanding in your church; when there is bitterness in a relationship - the first step is not to change your job; to switch to a different church or to end that friendship. Our first step is always to turn to Jesus and to trust in Jesus - for forgiveness, for renewal, for grace. 

For there, at the cross of Jesus Christ, we see unrestrained sacrifice in exchange for unlimited joy.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

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