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The Joy of Stewardship

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 4, 2001

Matthew 25:14-30

Matthew 25:14-30
The Joy of Stewardship

O, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble. Let us worship God.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, O God, and this is all of Your doing, all of Your grace, and we have been called out of the world and into your kingdom by Your grace. A way into your presence has been provided by Your grace. You have united us savingly to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, by grace. In Your grace you have given Your Son as the atonement for our sins, and so we come this day to worship You. Grant that we would remember afresh the glory and the majesty of Your grace as well as remembering that You are the creator of all. You own the cattle on a thousand hills. May we then, O God, worship You as our Master, as our Redeemer, as our Lord, and now as our friend through our Lord Jesus Christ. We ask it in His name, Amen.

If you have your Bibles, I would invite you turn with me to Matthew chapter 25. Verses 14-30 will provide the story that we will study together today. Now, our stewardship committee has chosen Matthew chapter 25 verses 23 or 21, it doesn't matter because they are the same verses–they say the same thing–as our theme verse for our commitment this year. And it's a perfect passage to choose, I might add, when you want to emphasize stewardship of all of life. And that has been a theme that our deacons and our stewardship committee of the board of deacons have been desiring to hammer home to our congregation for the last four or five years, at least. That is, a desire for all of us to see stewardship not simply the issue of what we do with the Lord's money, or that portion of our money, or what we consider to be our money, that we give to the Lord's work. And not even looking at stewardship as the totality of what we do with our money and our material possessions, but looking at stewardship as something which is much broader. In fact, it is a category in which all of life can be encompassed. Looking at all of life as a stewardship and looking at ourselves as stewards.

And I can't think of a better passage to emphasize that point than the passage that the committee has chosen because that's precisely the point that Jesus is making in this tremendous story. You remember the story; probably you know it best called the parable of the talents. We might call it the parable of the three stewards because Jesus' point is to contrast the conduct of the two stewards with the conduct of one of the stewards in order to make a point to His disciples.

Now, you will remember that Matthew 24 and 25 contain an extended sermon by the Lord Jesus Christ about the end times. The disciples had asked Him what would the signs be of His coming and when the end was going to come, and when the kingdom was going to come, and in response to that, He gave them this sermon in Matthew 24 and 25. So Jesus is talking about the end times. And in particular, He's talking about what we as Christians need to be doing to be faithful in preparation for His return.

But He is also, especially in Matthew 25 in the stories that He tells there, concerned to tell us about His kingdom. What it looks like and what it means to be a citizen of His kingdom. In the story of the ten virgins, for instance, He basically makes this point: a citizen of My kingdom is watchful and ready for My return. And He makes a different point in this parable. A citizen of My kingdom, He's going to say in this parable, is diligent to work for Me, to use what I've given him for My glory and for My kingdom's sake until I return. So in the story of the ten virgins He says the kingdom citizen is vigilant, he is watchful and prayerful anticipating My return. In this story, He says the kingdom citizen is diligent. And so Jesus is making points not only about what we ought to be doing until He comes, but He's showing us some pictures, He's drawing some metaphors, He's giving us stories to show us what a Christian looks like who is faithful to His Lord until His return.

The central point of the story that we're going to read today is that Jesus has endowed all of His disciples with an investment. And He expects us to make a return for Him on His investment in us, and He wants us to look at the whole of our lives in that light. Let me go on to say that Jesus makes it clear in this parable that in order for His disciples to fulfill this particular challenge, they have to realize that they have a Master. And they have to realize that they have an obligation to that Master, and they have to realize that His investment in them is comprehensive. It's not just money. It's everything they are and have. It all belongs to the Master. And they have to realize that the reason that the Lord Jesus gave them that endowment, made that investment in them, is so that they could glorify Him. And they have to deliberately determine to use that investment in order to glorify him and they have to see the whole of their life in light of that stewardship. Jesus teaches His disciples through this story those things.

So let's hear God's holy word here in chapter 25.

For it is just like a man about to go on a journey who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one. Each according to his own ability, and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them and gained five more talents. In the same manner, the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. And the one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents saying, "Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master." The one also who had received the two talents came up and said, "Master, you entrusted to me two talents. See, I have gained two more talents." His master said to him, "Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master." And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See. You have what is yours." But his master answered and said to him, "You wicked, lazy slave. You knew that I reaped where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore, take away the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has shall more be given. And he shall have an abundance. But from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness in that place. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Amen. This is God's word. Let's pray.

Lord God, we ask that You would open our eyes by the Holy Spirit that we might behold wonderful truth from Your word. Grant that we would see the mote in our own eye before we attempt to help our brethren. Grant , O God, that we would honor You with the stewardship of all that we have. In Jesus' name, amen.

What does it mean to be a Christian waiting for the Lord's coming? What is a person who is a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, a member, a citizen of the kingdom of heaven, what does that person look like? Well, Jesus paints several different pictures of what that person is and looks like in Matthew 25. He has just said in the verses before Matthew 25:14-30, that a person who's faithfully waiting My coming, a Christian, a member of My kingdom, a disciple, is like one of the members of a wedding party who is ready and waiting for the bridegroom to come.

Now, He changes the story a bit and says, "Well, someone who's a faithful Christian, a faithful disciple of Mine who's ready for My coming, that person looks like a diligent steward," and He tells a story that the people of His own time would have readily identified with. There weren't that many super wealthy people, mega wealthy people that they would have had contact with, but they would have been experienced with those people doing things like Jesus describes in this passage. And so Jesus' answer to the question, what does a Christian look like who is faithful in waiting for the coming of the Lord is answered in this story.

And I'd like you to see four things that Jesus says. To help you outline it in your mind, I want to give you two E's and two J's. There is an Endowment, there is Evidence, there is a Judgment, and there is Joy. These are the four things that will outline our study of this passage today.

I. The Endowment
First of all, look at verses 14 and 15. We have here a description of Jesus giving a trust, an endowment to some servants, some slaves. He's picturing a very wealthy magnate, a landowner, and businessman, giving an endowment to servants or slaves. A sum of money or weight. He's committing these things to three servants. And this, again, is not an uncommon thing. Citizens of the Roman Empire who were very wealthy, maybe senatorial families, who lived in Italy might literally spend half of the year in North Africa. While they were away, stewards of the house would be entrusted with the care of the master's investments, the conduct of his business, the oversight of his household. And so this story is recognizable to people in Jesus' day.

By the way, these talents are not native abilities. This is not Jesus saying, now make sure, servants, that you use those native abilities that are yours. The emphasis is actually on a sum of goods or money that are given to these stewards. Now, that, in and of itself, is a picture of all the things that God gives us, not just material blessings. But this is not something in us that is to be stewarded. This is something that is given to us. The emphasis is that everything that we have is given to us by God. It is an endowment. And, of course, Jesus' point is that Christ Himself has furnished all His people with personal resources for the sake of building up the kingdom. Professing Christians are all granted an endowment. They are granted a stewardship by the Lord.

Notice a few things that He stresses in verses 14 and 15. First of all, the master gives this weight of money, or goods, to his own servants. A man who is about to go on a journey calls his own slaves. These folk belong to him. They are part of his kingdom. Secondly, in verse 14, notice that the amount of money or goods that he gives to them belongs to the master. It's emphasized he entrusted His possessions to them. These things are not ultimately theirs, although they can get a percentage if they are faithful. That was the common practice in Jesus' day. Even if you were an owned slave, you were able to earn money on the investments of your master under roman law if thee master entrusted you with that job. So they had an opportunity to profit, but ultimately it's their master's money that they're going to attempt to earn that profit with. Thirdly, look at verse 15. The amount of resources that he entrusts to them is mind-boggling. When Luke tells a similar story that Jesus had told, he uses the figure of the mina, which is a much smaller amount of money. This is a colossal amount of money that is entrusted. For instance, to the man who was given five talents, he is being given the equivalent of five times ten thousand days of labor. If you figure an average day worker, somebody flipping hamburgers at McDonald's, we're talking 3- 4 million dollars just plopped right down. And here's the word: “This is my money, faithful steward. Go out and earn a profit. Bring me a return on the endowment that I'm giving you.” This is an amount of money that the day laborer would never have seen in the course of 20 years of work, even if he saved every dime of it. He's boggled by the amount that's being given to him. Furthermore, look at verse 15. Each servant is given this endowment according to his own ability. The master wisely determines who is best able to handle what, and he hands it out. And then finally, we are told in verse 15, that the master goes away for a long time. That is emphasized in verse 14 and also in verse 19, too. This indicates that the consummation of Jesus' kingdom is going to take a little while. It's going to be a long journey before He returns again to settle accounts.

But Jesus' point here is that He has entrusted His Church with gifts that are to be employed for His Church and for His kingdom's sake. He is making an investment in His disciples in order that they might get glory for God. And they are going to be judged, we will see later on when we look at verses 19-30, in accordance with their diligence in that stewardship. They are to view the whole of their life as a stewardship from God, an investment by the Lord Jesus in them in order that they might get glory for God. So it may be that a servant of the Lord is granted a great deal of wealth. And if he is a good servant, as described by Jesus in this passage, he's going to be thinking, “How can I get glory for God by this investment of wealth that He has made in me. It's not my money. It's His money, all of it. It's not that 10% of it is His and 90% is mine. No. 100% is His. How am I going to get glory for Him in the 100% of it that He has given to me?”

But that's not all, you see. It may be your vocation. You may be given some sort of vocational gift and talent. Yes, it provides your livelihood and it puts food on the table and clothes on the back and a roof over the head of your family, but more than that, that vocational talent is given to you by God. It's not yours. It's not intrinsic. It's there so that you can get glory for God. So the good steward sees that gift as an endowment, as an investment, as a stewardship, and his job in that vocation is to get glory for God. Or maybe it's like a friend of mine whose eyes opened and she was in a strange hospital. And her husband and her children were not around her, and she asked for her husband and her son. She was told, "You were in an automobile accident and your husband died and your son died in the accident." And she responded, "The Lord is good in all He does." See, the Lord had made and investment in her. And she determined to get Him glory in the experience she went through.

My friends, everything that God has given you is an endowment. Everything. Every last thing. Your background, your experiences, your family, your church, your wealth, everything is God's gracious endowment in you, and it has one purpose. All of it is to get him glory. And Jesus is emphasizing it here. J.C. Ryle puts it so comprehensively: “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 of these are talents. All of these are endowments given to us by God. From whence came these things. There is only one answer to that question. All that we have is alone from God. We are God's stewards.”

Remember the line that we just sang in 474. Turn back there and look at the fifth stanza of that wonderful Wesley text. “By our sin, yea who have sold for naught your heritage above, just like Esau. We sold it for a mess of pottage. We got nothing for it.” What happened? You have received it back, unbought, as a gift of Jesus' love. Now, all of it. Live it for My glory. That's the first point. Endowment. He has made an investment in us, and our goal is to get him glory with it.

II. The Evidence
Secondly, evidence. Our faithfulness, our diligence in seeking a return for His investment in us is the evidence of our love and loyalty to Him. Notice in verses 16 and 17 how interested in Jesus is in the return that these men get. We're told that the man who was given five talents got five more. 100% return. The man who was given two talents got two more. 100% return. Now, don't overlook on that. Jesus isn't saying, “Get Me 100% or else!”

Now, it does get your attention, doesn't it. There are a lot of us who would settle for 100% return right now on the market. You know, it wouldn't have been that uncommon in Jesus' day for people with an extraordinary amount of wealth to get exorbitant amounts of interest. We are told that there was one large magnate who loaned an entire Roman city a tremendous amount of money, and over a period of six months he was repaid at the rate of 50% interest. I'm looking for an investment like that right now. And so, yes, the number grabs you. You lock in, you've got some attention. But Jesus' point isn't that you've got to make 100%. Jesus' point is that the pursuit of the Master's agenda is the evidence of your love and your loyalty to the Master. And of course, the dark side of that is the failure to pursue your Master's agenda is definitive evidence that you don't love and are not loyal to the master.

III. The Judgment
And that leads us to the first J. You've got your Endowment, you've got your Evidence of your discipleship, now you've got Judgment. You see that in verses 19-30, don't you. Though Jesus has those beautiful words that He speaks in 21 and 23 to the faithful stewards, it's almost as if the most of His focus is on the unfaithful steward and on the judgment that is meted out to him. Here we see the master's assessment of his stewards. And Jesus is teaching us here that His final judgment and reward of professing Christians will be in accordance with their stewardship. He's simply pointing out to us the truth that the Bible makes in all places, and that is that God's grace always bears fruit. And one of the fruits that God's grace bears in our lives is the fruit of faithfulness and diligence in the service of the king and in the stewardship of what He's invested in us.

And isn't it interesting that it is only the unfaithful steward who views God as unreasonable. It is only the unfaithful steward who views God, the Master in this story, as hard, as grasping. The two faithful stewards know their master and know that they are in for a blessing. You can feel the energy of their report. They are not just excited about what they managed to get for the master. They've got a confidence that the master will deal with them generously. But the unfaithful steward–for him stewardship is a burden. Is stewardship a burden for you. Ken Canfield tells the story this week in his little e-newsletter of a father who was told by the doctors that when his son was born, his son was not going to be able to see, to speak, ever to crawl or walk or even to lift up his head. The doctor said you really need to put this child in an institution. The care for him will be a tremendous burden. The father says, “Oliver is my son. We are taking him home with us.” He cared for Oliver for 33 years before Oliver died. He determined with that investment to get God glory.

Now let me ask you something. Are you grudging seeking God's glory in whatever investment that He has made in you? The unfaithful servant was grudging toward his master, and he gained him nothing. That's the judgment that comes to him that He has cast out. A lack of faithfulness is the definitive evidence of our lack of love and loyalty to God. And what will it get? It will get us exactly what we wanted. We didn't want His presence and favor and grace and blessing in this life. We'll forego it forever. That's His judgment.

IV. The Joy
And then there's the final J. And that is the joy. You see it in verses 21 and 23. The joy in the service of the Lord. The joy of stewardship. There is true delight in responsibility. And responsibility is delight and brings delight for the faithful steward. The true Christian delights in responsibility. And his responsibility is a delight and it brings him more delight.

Now isn't it interesting that the two things that we are told that the faithful stewards receive in addition to the well done, and those are words that you want to hear, “Well done.” The two things that they received are: first, more responsibility. Second, joy., delight. They enter into the joy of their master. Even as Jesus prayed in John 17, that they would enter into love and the joy and the fellowship of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are given more responsibility.

Can you imagine these day laborers. Slaves in the household. They are given millions of dollars, literally. They invest it. They do well. They are given a percentage themselves.

And then the Lord says, after He's given them their percentage. “Now, you know what? I'm going to give you some really big dough next. That was chump change. Now I'm going to give you some real responsibility.” And they thrive on this. They delight on this. It's as if a great master violinist or pianist has decided to invest himself in the student with much potential. He says, “You know, you've done so well that I think you have the chance to be the best ever. And I'm going to invest things in you that I've never invested in anyone else.” And the Lord says, “I'm going to give you more.” And then He says, “I'm not only going to give you more, I'm going to give you joy. You're going to delight in your responsibility and you're going to get joy for your responsibility.”

You know, there's no hint in these faithful stewards that they trembled with some sort of survive fear before the master. They loved serving their master. And now their master says, “You think you've found joy? I'll show you what joy is because you've been faithful to me in just a little. Now I'm going to give you joy.” No wonder Jesus said, “It's more blessed to give than to receive.” May God grant that we recognize the endowment that has been given to us and by grace may we pursue to get Him glory from it. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we want to get You glory. Help us to do so, and then at the last day say to us, we pray, by your grace, to enter into Your joy. We asks it in Jesus' name Amen.

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