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The Parable of the Talents September 14, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 25:14-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a man who goes on a long trip; before his departure, he delivers his goods to his servants. In particular:

  • one servant receives a bag of coins weighing five talents
  • another servant receives a bag of coins weighing two talents
  • a third servant receives a bag of coins weighing one talent.

This apportionment corresponds to their respective abilities.

The first two servants instantly engage in business and turn a profit; each of them actually doubles the amount that they have received.

Yet the third servant buries his bag of coins.

Their master eventually returns and compares accounts with them. The first two servants bring the profit that they have turned. He declares that they are excellent; thus, he will grant them more opportunities to turn a profit.

Yet the third servant attacks him, declaring that he is unforgiving and that he takes things from others. This servant assumes that if he had engaged in business and:

  • lost money, then his master would have punished him
  • made a profit, then his master would have taken it from him.

Thus, he chose to bury the amount that he had received.

His master declares that he is wicked and lazy; thus, he commands that this servant’s bag of coins be transferred to the first servant.

Similarly, God will grant those who bear spiritual fruit more opportunities to bear spiritual fruit. In contrast, those who do not bear spiritual fruit will not receive any additional opportunities to bear spiritual fruit. Moreover, He will cast them into hell.

Thoughts: In this passage, the first two servants are able to double the amount that they originally received from their master. This spurred me to consider the following hypothesis: significant profits are usually associated with significant risks. If this hypothesis is correct, then I believe that it relates to our walk with God. In particular, God may call us to take a particular risk, e.g. by placing ourselves in an uncomfortable position. In these cases, we may appear to fail – but perhaps we can bear more fruit when we are in a state of discomfort. As believers, we should consider how God may be calling us to take a particular risk; if so, how can we hold fast to Him, trusting that He will be glorified when we respond in obedience?

“Talents” play a central role in this passage, and Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Anything whereby we may glorify God is a “talent.” Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible – all, all are talents.

Ryle has an interesting viewpoint; he proffers a non-standard definition of “talents” (my understanding is that “talents” are usually defined as being equivalent to spiritual gifts, but I could be wrong on this point). If Ryle’s definition is correct, then as believers, we should ponder our advantages while discarding any notion of comparing ourselves with other believers in this regard. Given the advantages that are inherent to our circumstances, how can we leverage them to bear spiritual fruit? We must ask God to open our eyes on a daily basis, viewing our circumstances from His perspective.

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Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel July 26, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 1:12-30.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that his circumstances – instead of hindering the Gospel – have advanced it. His captivity has borne testimony to the Gospel among:

  • the soldiers in the imperial regiments
  • a wider circle.

His captivity has also spurred a majority of believers to have confidence in the Lord to preach the Gospel more zealously – without fear.

Now Paul notes that in Rome, there are:

  • Judaizing Christians who preach the Gospel from their envy of his influence
  • others who preach the Gospel out of benevolence.

Those in the latter group know that Paul has been destined to preach the Gospel. Those in the former group, though, act to promote the interests of their party and behave selfishly, aiming to annoy him during his captivity. Yet he knows that whether the Gospel is preached out of 1) a desire to promote the interests of a particular party or 2) selflessness, it is preached; thus, he is determined to rejoice.

Indeed, Paul will rejoice, as the Philippians have prayed for him, and their prayers have been answered by God, as He has supplied the Holy Spirit to Paul; this bountiful supply will save him. He earnestly desires that he would not be cowardly – but confident, so that Christ would always be glorified in him. Now he knows that living entails serving Christ, while dying entails a complete realization of his union with Christ. Yet he wonders if his life might bear fruit for Christ; he does not understand what would be the better option in this case. He is hemmed in both sides; his own desire is to leave his earthly tent and be in the presence of Christ – yet it is better that he clings to his present life. Being persuaded of this fact, he is convicted that he will continue to strengthen the Philippians in their faith. Thus, they would be able to boast in him.

Now Paul exhorts the Philippians – whether he visits them or not – to live as citizens of heaven and hold their ground. More specifically, they would not be timid in the face of opposition; their fearlessness would show their opponents that:

  • God would deliver the Philippians
  • they would be destroyed.

Indeed, God has granted the Philippians the privilege of suffering for Christ. Paul concludes by noting that they are contending for their faith, just as he was persecuted at Philippi – and is enduring opposition in Rome.

Thoughts: In verses 15-18, Paul addresses the issue of Judaizing Christians in Rome who preach the Gospel with the twin objectives of 1) gaining converts to their theology and 2) belittling him. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 15:

Here…the choice is between an imperfect Christianity and an unconverted state; the former, however inadequate, must be better than the latter, and therefore must give joy to a high-minded servant of Christ. In Rome there was room enough for him and for them. He was content therefore that each should work on independently. It was a step in the right direction to know Christ, even though he were known only in a worldly way.

Now this is a rather difficult passage to digest, notwithstanding Lightfoot’s explanation. I wonder how Paul would react to a pastor who insisted on his congregants wearing formal clothing to Sunday services and claimed that those who dressed casually were not truly saved. Also, how would Paul react to a pastor who insisted that his congregants refrain from consuming alcohol and claimed that only teetotalers are truly saved? Perhaps God had already revealed to Paul that the converts of the Judaizing preachers would eventually know the freedom of the Gospel, which would have been quite encouraging.

Verses 21-26 illustrate Paul’s struggle between living for Christ and dying – whereby he could be with Christ. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 22:

The grammar of the passage reflects the conflict of feeling in the apostle’s mind. He is tossed to and fro between the desire to labor for Christ in life, and the desire to be united with Christ by death. The abrupt and disjointed sentences express this hesitation.

Unfortunately, many modern-day Christians – and I would count myself in this camp – fail to truly appreciate this inherent dilemma in Paul’s ministry. More often that not, believers seek the pleasures of life on this planet, bemoan the sufferings that stem from laboring “for Christ,” and fear death – especially as we fail to grasp the concept of infinity. This passage serves as an important reminder for believers to focus on Christ and embrace the concept of eternity – without getting ensnared by impermanent issues.

In verse 29, Paul states that the Philippians are blessed by God in that they are suffering for Him. Lightfoot restates this point as follows:

“God has granted you the high privilege of suffering for Christ; this is the surest sign that he looks upon you with favor.”

This is an interesting statement and it caused me to think about believers who live in different contexts. Are believers in countries where Christianity is denounced, e.g. China and Nigeria, automatically more blessed than other believers in countries where Christianity is tolerated, e.g. the U.K. and the U.S.? Will believers who are being actively persecuted for their faith automatically gain a relatively higher place in heaven than believers who enjoy freedom of worship? Of course, this subject is a can of worms; the question “can Western believers truly suffer for Christ?” has been roundly debated.

An Illustration from Marriage March 5, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 7:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, Paul proves his assertion from Romans 6:14, where he states that believers are not under God’s moral law, but are actually under grace. In particular, he states that believers are not under God’s moral law since they have, in some sense, died. To show how death yields freedom from God’s moral law, he uses the illustration of a married woman, who is legally bound to her husband as long as he lives; in fact, she would be labeled an adulteress if she were to marry another man during her first husband’s lifetime. Now if her husband were to pass away, though, her legal ties to him would be severed and she would be free to marry another man. Given this illustration, Paul then infers that since we are united with Christ in His death on the cross, we have died to God’s moral law and are free from its obligations. Previously we were bound to obey God’s moral law, yet it actually spurred our sinful nature into action, causing us to serve sin and reap its “rewards.” Now the Holy Spirit empowers believers who have been freed from their obligations to obey God’s moral law, granting them the strength to serve God and bear fruit for Him.

Thoughts: In verse 6, we see the phrases “the new way of the Spirit” and “the old way of the written code.” Hodge explains them as follows:

That is, we serve God in a new and holy state due to the Spirit, which the Spirit has produced, and not sin in, or according to, the old and corrupt state under the law.

Clearly the presence of the Holy Spirit and its transformational power in our lives is essential for us to truly serve God and honor Him. As believers, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have to honor God by committing righteous acts and satisfying a “divine checklist” in the process. When we strive in this direction, though, we quickly see that we fall far short in this regard, and our conscience rebukes us. Indeed, we must continually remember that it is the Holy Spirit who leads us, and not the other way around. This is a struggle that is common to all Christians.