You Have Been Faithful Over A Little – 10.25.2020

[Matthew 25:14-30 and Proverbs 13:22]

Introduction

          Once upon a time, there was an ambitious young man who told his pastor that he had promised God a tithe of his income. As we’ve talked about before, a tithe is 10%. The pastor and the man prayed together for God to bless the man’s career. At that time he was making $40.00 a week, and so he was giving 10%, or $4.00 to the church. A few years later his income had increased a lot, his business was really taking off, and he was tithing $500 per week. He asked to have a meeting with the pastor to see if he could be released from his tithing promise – it was too costly now. The man said, “Pastor, 5 HUNDRED dollars every week is so much money for me to give.” And the pastor thought about it long and hard, and finally replied, “Well, I don’t see how you can be released from your promise, but if you want – we can ask God to reduce your income back to $40.00 a week, then you’d have no problem tithing just $4.00.”[1] [laugh] J.D. Rockefeller once said, “I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” C.S. Lewis once said, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” Today is a very special Sunday. This sermon is not part of a series, it’s not a finale or an introduction, this sermon is all by itself. Today is Stewardship Sunday, and so we’re going to examine a story from Matthew to see what God wants us to do with the gifts that he gives us. Let’s take a look.

Exegesis

          So we open up to chapter 25 of the book of the Matthew, and Jesus is in the middle of teaching his followers about the Kingdom of God. So he tells this story, [read v.14-15]. Three servants, each has been given bags of silver. Now there’s two things I want you to notice before we get into this. First, the man gives his money to the servant. Now, it’s a parable and it’s pretty obvious – the man represents God, and we are the servants. So, going into this we need to realize – everything we have comes from God. It’s not our money, it’s not our life, it’s not our stuff – this life, and everything in it, is given to us from God. God is THE source. That’s the first thing I want you to realize – it’s not the servant’s money, it’s God’s money. Second, let’s talk numbers. The New Living Translation, which is what I’m using this month, says “bags of silver” but last time I went to the bank, apparently that’s not an acceptable unit of measurement in today’s world. Other translations use the word “talent” – so I did a bit of research, and found out that a “talent” of silver is about 75 pounds. And according to the “silver price per pound” calculator that I found on the internet (isn’t the internet hilarious?). 75 pounds of silver in the modern world is worth roughly $25,965.63. So if you give a guy five bags of silver, it’s a little over 155 thousand dollars. Second servant gets a little over $50,000 and the last guy gets a measly $25,965.63. I don’t know, it’s not 150k, but I think you could definitely do some good with an extra 25 thousand bucks laying around.

          The story continues, [read v.16-18]. Three servants. Two of them think, let’s put this money to work. The last guy buries it in the ground. Then the master comes back. [read v.19-21]. The lesson we get from the first servant is pretty simple – if you are faithful with the gifts that have been given to you, God will celebrate. I love the Master’s words, “well done, my good and faithful servant.” At the end of my life, when I stand in front of God, more than anything else in the world I want to hear those words. Well done, my good and faithful servant. When you are faithful with the gifts God gives you – God says, “let’s celebrate!”

          [read v.22-23]. Did you hear it? The second servant comes forward and gets the exact same praise from the master. Word for word. This is super important. What we see with the second servant is that it does not matter what you start with. It does not matter how much you succeed, it’s what you do with the gift that matters. The first servant brought back 5 bags of silver, with his investment, with his work, he brought in one hundred and fifty thousand dollars of new money. Second servant took in only fifty thousand. A third as much, but he gets the exact same level of praise. Some people seem to think that the point of this story is that if you’re really good God will bless with you lots of money. We have a false teaching that God likes wealthy people more than poor people. But the second servant sets us straight. It’s not about the amount, it’s about being faithful with what you have been given. God gives the exact same level of praise. It doesn’t matter if God has given you abundant wealth, or just a couple of bucks to work with in this life – God’s praise is connected to faithfulness, not a financial number. Let’s move away from money for a second. A rich person might be able to donate an entire hospital wing or fund an entire soup kitchen, but in your life maybe you can only afford to donate a brown bag of groceries. What I’m trying to tell you, what the second servant is teaching us this morning is that – if you are faithful with the gifts you have been given, God has the same words of praise for you. Well done my good and faithful servant, let’s celebrate!

          Then we move to the third servant, [read v.24-25]. The final servant took a bit of a different approach. The first and second servant invested their money. They used the gifts that they were given. The third servant buried it in the earth. In this way, he guaranteed he wouldn’t lose any money, but he also guaranteed it wouldn’t grow. Think about this in terms of relationships. If you bury your feelings in the ground, don’t ever reach out to the people around you. You guarantee you won’t get hurt, but you also guarantee you’ll never be able to love. Burials are for dead things. The gifts of God are designed for living. You see, when you invest in something – it’s a risk. You put yourself out there, your gifts, who you are – and the truth is, maybe you’ll lose. And that fear of loss can be a powerful motivator. The third servant was so scared of losing that he wouldn’t even take the risk. It’s like you’ve got money in your hand, but you’re living with your fist clenched. But God is teaching us to live with our palms open. It’s a matter of trust. If you live with your fists clenched, you can never use the gifts that have been put into your hands. Clenched fists can never be the hands of God in the world. If you bury your gifts, they’re already dead.

And did you see what he did there? With that harsh man comment? He’s trying to make it God’s fault. You pressured me, you’re a harsh man who harvests crops you didn’t plant. It’s like he’s lashing out at God, trying to blame God for his desire to keep what’s his. His desire to live with a tight fist. But the servant forgets, all of it is God’s. God is the source! He trying to say God, you don’t actually do anything good in this world, tryna make me do all the work – but the truth is that God does everything good in the world! None of this exists without God. The gifts you have in life have been given to you, so you could join God in his effort to save the world. “You’re a harsh man, making me do good in the world” – well, that’s the whole point of the gifts. Burials are for dead things. The gifts of God are designed for the living. Everything we have is a gift from God, and to bury your gifts is wrong.

          Our second scripture lesson comes from Proverbs, and it’s just the one line – but it reveals something important. Proverbs says, [read v.22]. Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren. Other translations say “good people leave an inheritance to their children’s children.” Now think about this for a second. Think about how an inheritance works. When you die, your wealth passes on to your children. So, how does a good person pass that inheritance on to the children’s children? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not about money. No matter how much money you make in life, your children can ruin it and waste it all. The only way to give an inheritance to your children’s children is if you give your children the character to give it to their children. Dave Ramsey once said something like, “If you give your kids character with no money, they’ll be able to go out and win in this world. If you give your kids money with no character, that will be a curse in their life.” They might waste it, or they might spend their entire life terrified of losing it – and so live tight-fisted. Warren Buffet once said, give your kids “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” This one little verse in Proverbs pushes the teachings in Matthew beyond the world of finances. Yes, the parable of the three servants has clear connections to your money and how we should live – but it’s more than that. To get to your children’s children, to create generational change – it starts with character.

Exposition

          Alright, the good news this morning is that God gives us gifts. I say this every single week, “everything we have comes from God” – but take a second and challenge yourself with those words this morning. Do you believe that? Do you really believe that everything you have is a gift from God? And if you believe it, why do we live life gripping these gifts so tightly? God gives us gifts, and they are for us to use – not bury. There’s an old story about a naval officer who lived in Philadelphia. Like, a really old story – from back in the 1800’s, his name was Captain Levy. He was an incredibly generous person. He was blessed with a lot of wealth, and he would give enormous parts of it away. And one time somebody asked him, “how can you give so much to the Lord’s work, and still possess such great wealth?” And the Captain replied, “Oh, as I shovel it out, He shovels it in, and the Lord has a bigger shovel.” [2] Now I know that sounds crazy, but our church is a living testament to this. I can show you the financial statements. Back in march, when all this COVID stuff dropped, we poured more into the world around us. We poured more out into the community directly around us and in missions around the world this spring than we have done in years. So much so, have we given out into our community that I actually had a member of our congregation call me up and say, “hey, I’ve heard about all the stuff the church is doing in the community, and I was just a little worried – are we okay? Do we have enough for ourselves? Is the church doing okay? And I got to tell them, “I can’t explain it, but even though we’ve given so much away – our numbers are actually higher than they were last year.”

          And let me just be completely honest for a second. When COVID started, I was worried about the finances of the church. I wondered what would happen – are we going to be okay? I have a friend, a very well paid pastor friend, they cut his salary in half temporarily. Across the denomination, Boards and Agencies slashed an average of 27% of their budgets in expectation of a drop in giving. And I worried. I thought about our programs, some of the projects we had coming up and I was afraid. I was tempted to close my fist. To lead this church into a habit of clutching at what God has given us. Batten down the hatches, wait for the storm to be over and then maybe after that– we can get back to helping other people. I was so tempted to put a stop to our apportionment payments, to put a stop to our mission payments, for the missionaries we support, to put a stop to our financial support of Family Promise or FCOC. I was tempted to clutch at what God had given us, to hold on to it for fear of losing it, to bury it in the ground.

And I’m not really sure what changed my mind. You know what? That’s not true, I know what it was. It was you. It was your faithfulness. Every week we count the offering, and I keep tabs on that, to see the health of the church’s finances. And when we went fully digital, do you remember those pre-recorded services we had for a while? When we went fully digital, I expected the giving to drop. I expected much smaller numbers on my little offering report sheet. But it didn’t drop. This church, all of you, continued to give faithfully, our finances continued to be strong. And when I saw that, I realized that I had a responsibility to be faithful too. If you were going to be faithful in your support, I was going to be faithful as your leader. And so we did a thing in April. I reached out to the head of missions and I said, “we’ve got a budget for the year, money we’ve planned to give away throughout the year 2020. Let’s give it all away right now. Let’s write the check and give these groups a little boost, because I’m sure they could use it.” Let’s spend the entire missions budget right now. And continuing that spirit of honesty, I didn’t do that because I’m just so generous. I did it because I was worried. I was worried that tomorrow maybe giving in this church would drop and I would be tempted again. I didn’t want to be tempted to live with a tight fist – so I emptied my hands. We gave away our entire missions budget by June, because I wanted to remove the temptation of living in fear. And here’s the crazy part – God refilled us with twice as much. I can literally grab the financial report from a year ago and the financial report from the last ad board meeting back in September and show you what living with an open hand has done for this church. The good news this morning is that God gives us gifts, and those gifts are designed to be used.

And before we get to the application, I should add – coming out even is not good enough. The third servant did not lose a single penny, and yet the master still called him “wicked and lazy.” A lot of people measure their life in terms of good and bad. I need to do enough good to make up for all the bad. As long as I do more good than bad, I’m a good person. And if people think they are good – they bury their gifts. But coming out even is not good enough. You should be using the gifts you have, financial gifts but also other types of gifts. You should be using all the gifts God has given you, and investing them in the people, the community around you. Empty your hands, so that God can fill them again.

Application

          So we come to the end and we ask the question, as we always do, how does this matter in my life? What am I supposed to do with this? Well, first of all – be faithful with what God has given you. God has given each and every one of you skills, talents, finances, personality and presence – use it. Use the gifts God has given you. You were put on this earth for a reason. I know a lot of people don’t believe in themselves, or maybe you think “I’m not as good as other people.” But do you remember the second servant? Not as good as the first servant, and yet the praise was just as much. It’s not about being successful, it’s about being faithful. Use your gifts for HIS purposes. Be faithful with what God has given you. I’m talking about finances – give back the tithe, the 10% portion in recognition that God has given us everything, and I’m talking about your life. Imagine if you tithed your time too. 24 hours in a day, so what if you spent 2.4 hours a day doing God’s work in the world. 2 hours every day try to show people the love of Jesus. 10% is not even that much, but it’s loads more than most of us every try to give. Be faithful with what God has give you.

          And the second piece is step up to the new responsibilities. Jesus teaches, you have been faithful with a little – so now I will give you many more responsibilities. If you start putting things out into the world – the ripples of your actions matter. For example. I don’t know how this works, but let’s talk about assist day for a second. The Assist Day fund, for those who don’t know, is an account of money that we have to help people. People come asking for food cards or gas cards or help with rent, and when we can – we help people. And here’s what happens. The first time I help someone, It’s like a trigger, I don’t know how – I’m not sure how word spreads out in the community. But if I help one person, more will come. We’ll go a couple months with no requests for help, and then I help one person. After that first request, I always get a surge of requests until the money runs out. Another example, Flushing Christian Outreach Center. For a long time FCOC operated under the assumption that they were meeting the needs of our community. Then a new chairman came on, and through good fundraising and smart finances, he more than quadrupled what they were doing in the community, and everything they did was still getting used up. FCOC has no idea how great the need was, until they started doing more. If you do well more will be given to you. When more is given, more can be done. I hope you understand, this church has done well with what we have – and God is calling us to do more. America needs the church right now. Flushing needs the hand of God working through the churches of our community. We have work to do in this community – they need us. Be faithful with what God has given you, and step up to the new responsibilities.

Conclusion

          To you who are faithful, more will be given. It’s not about how much you start with. It’s about being faithful with the gifts you have been given. Everything we have from God is a gift, and to bury that gift in the ground is wrong. God gives us gifts, so use the gifts God has given you. Be faithful with what God has given you and step up when more is asked of you. Amen.


[1] Story from W.A. Criswell, via sermonillustrations.com

[2] Today in the Word, July 1990, p28.


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