FAITHFUL OR FOOLISH
By Pastor Glenn Pease
One of the longest and most sensational legal cases of all time had to do with the murder of the Secretary of State for Ireland and his under secretary in 1888. The London times charged Mr. Parnell, the leader of the Irish Party with playing a role in the crime. To prove the charge they published a letter in his handwriting condoning the murder. Mr. Parnell declared immediately that the letter was a forgery, and so the Parnell Commission was set up to study the issue, and it became the center of worldwide interest.
The story had a dramatic ending. The Times had received the letter from a man named Pigott for 5000 pounds. Pigott claimed to have purchased the letter in Paris. The world waited for the day when Pigott would take the stand and be submitted to merciless cross-examination of Sir Charles Russell. The day came on Feb. 20, 1889, and to the astonishment of the court Sir Russell did not fire questions but simply hand Pigott a piece of paper and asked him if he would be kind enough to write a few words for him. He then began to dictate several words, and finally, almost as an afterthought, he added the word hesitancy.
As all watched in silence Russell ended his strange spelling bee and took the sheet of paper. The smile on his face revealed that his mysterious maneuver had been successful. His assistant looked at it and said, "We got him." Pigott had spelled hesitancy with ency rather than ancy. The same word had been misspelled the same way in the letter the Times had published from him. Pigott left the witness box and blew his brains out, and the case was solved. It was solved on the basis of an e being where an a should have been. It was such a small thing to have such a big consequence.
You are probably thinking that it is rare for judgment to turn on such a minor matter, but the fact is, little things are the primary factor in judgment. Jesus makes it clear that this is even true when it comes to his judgment of people. Here in Matt. 25 Jesus tells three parables of judgment, and all of them stress the vital importance of little things. In the first parable of the ten virgins 5 of them foolishly forget to bring flasks of oil with them. This little mistake causes them to be shut out of the marriage feast. They had done no great crime. They had not lost their virginity, nor had they planned any evil toward the bridegroom. They simply neglected to take care of the little matter of having extra oil for their lamps.
Certainly Jesus does not take a minor matter like that so seriously, we have a tendency to believe, but not only the text but life demands that we pay attention to the importance of little things for good or evil. In marriage it is the little things that add to or subtract from its stability. Someone has said, "The grave of love is excavated with little digs." Marriages do not disintegrate due to powerful blows of gigantic crisis, but they crumble slowly under the continuous pounding of the little hammer of complaint and criticism. Jesus is being realistic and deeply serious when He emphasizes little things. In the 3rd parable in this chapter He does it again. He says that people will be judged according to what they have done, not to kings, presidents and dignitaries of every degree, but to the least of his brethren. Whether you are with the sheep entering the blessed kingdom, or with the goats heading for destruction depends on what you have done about such commonplace things as being helpful and hospitable to people in need. The question is not, did you give millions, but did you give a cup of cold water to one who was thirsty?
In these parables everyone is put in one of two categories. You are either wise and faithful in little things, or you are neglectful and careless about little things. You will search this chapter in vain to find any of the great Christian doctrines. This is a chapter where Jesus majors on minors, and he does so deliberately because minors are of such major importance. There are times in life when we must think small. A cartoon had a Volkswagon dealer saying to his salesman, "Think big and your fired." They had to think small because their interest was in what was small. Jesus is telling us here that this is true in the spiritual life as well. Our highest interest in our final reward hinges on how we have handled little things.
God has built this principle into all of reality. The big is based on the little. The vast universe that is big beyond our comprehension is all built out of invisible atoms packed with potential power. The more man digs for understanding of the small things of reality the greater power he develops. If you want a fascinating Bible study, look up in your concordance the word small and little, and you will see what an important place little things have in God's Word from the little stone that killed the giant Goliath to the little lad whose little lunch was used by Jesus to feed the 5000. Goethe was right when he said that the Bible is a book that glorifies little things. The poet has captured this truth:
It's not the big events alone
That makes us what we are;
And not the dizzy moments when
We're hanging on a star.
It's just the things that happen as
Along the road we trod.
The little things determine what
We're really worth to God.
This truth is even more clearly taught by Jesus in the second parable of this chapter that we want to examine more closely. Jesus knew that most of His followers in history would not be racehorses among cows. He knew they would be average men and women for the most part. It was important, therefore, that Jesus make it crystal clear what the greatest danger was for the average Christian. He ha taught often of the danger of the rich man, but in this parable the 5 talent man and the 2 talent man are rewarded, and it is the one talent man that is condemned. Jesus is making it clear that no one can escape judgment if they are unfaithful in the smallest things. This is a parable of warning for the average person, and for those little people who feel inadequate and insufficient. Their greatest danger is in thinking that there little does not really matter. They feel that because they cannot do great things they just as well do nothing. They also feel that doing nothing is no great sin since they have so little to contribute anyway. It is for those in danger of this deceptive disease of littleitis that Jesus tells it like it is. He teaches here the doctrine of accountability that says every person will have to give an account of how they used their ability, however, small it might be.
Jesus teaches here that people are unequally endowed. The master who went away gave his servants talents according to their ability. The inequality of men is an obvious fact, but what is not as obvious is that they are equally responsible for the use of what they have. The one talent person is not required to match the two or five talent person, but he is expected to produce according to his capacity, and if he does, his reward will be equal. A maid was called to account for her sloppy work. Her employer pointed to a dust-covered table and said, "I can write my name in the dust here." The maid responded, "Isn't that wonderful. That's more than I can do. It just goes to shows what an education will do for you." The maid was not required to write her name in the dust, for she could not do it, but she did have the ability to remove the dust, and it was for that she was held accountable. All of us will be held accountable for what we do with what we have, and we will be classed among either the faithful or the foolish servants. We want to look at each of these categories so that we might see which one we are heading for according to our present attitudes and actions.
I. THE FAITHFUL SERVANTS.
The first thing we need to establish about the 5 and 2 talent servants is that they were not successful because of their greater quantity of talents compared to the one talent servant. This is evident by the fact that the 2 talent servant is given the same praise and the same reward as the 5 talent servant. They were unequal in talent but equal in reward because they were equally faithful with what they had. Faithfulness is what counts, and not the number of talents. Quantity plays no role here, but all is dependant upon the quality of faithfulness.
When it comes to quantity, this parable makes it clear that even the most highly endowed servants are given only a little in comparison to the riches of their reward. Most of the modern virgins follow the Berkeley Version, which translate verse 21, "Well done, good and faithful servant, you are trustworthy in a little, I will appoint you over much." We need to see that every servant is being tested in this life concerning faithfulness over little things. The big things of eternity will only be entrusted to those who have been faithful with the little things of time.
Jesus likes His will well done, and He has a pattern of promotion for those who are faithful to His will on earth. If you want the joy of doing a great job for Jesus in eternity, you will be faithful in whatever job you do for Him now. Nothing greater can be said of Lincoln than what is on his monument in Springfield. It says, "He was faithful." The goal of every believer is to hear Christ's commendation, "Well done thou good and faithful servant." He does not say brilliant servant, popular servant, gifted servant, but he says faithful servant.
God does not grade on the curve. You are not judged according to how you measure up to someone else. Every person is judged and rewarded according to their faithfulness in using their own gifts. The one talent servant had an equal opportunity to be faithful. All Jesus demands is that a person be found faithful. Dean Stanley once said, "Give us a man, young or old, high or low, on whom we know we can thoroughly depend, who will stand firm when others fail...In such a one there is a fragment of the Rock Of Ages." What a beautiful description of the faithful. Jesus is given the name Faithful several times in the book of Revelation, and He also challenges us there with the words, "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life." Jesus does not need a great army of mighty soldiers. He simply needs commonplace people who will be faithful, and that is why the faithful are promised such great rewards. The church cannot survive without the faithful.
In every church, in every clime, when there's some work to do,
It very likely will be done by just the faithful few.
The greatest folly of the Christian life is to fail to be among those faithful few, for they are the ones who will reap great rewards and reign with Christ in joy when He comes again. It is tragic that many Christians fail to see the value of little things when even wise pagans have recognized it. Plato said, "A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in a little thing becomes a great thing." Jesus knew that sometimes unbelievers could see truths that believers were blind to, and that is why He told the parable of the unjust steward who was sharp enough to know how to invest money in friends and the future. Jesus said that the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light. Then in Luke 16:10 he lays down the principle by which he judges men, and it is the same principle we see here. He says, "He who is faithful in a very little is faithful in very much.....It then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches?" In other words, if you can't use what little you have in this life for the glory of God, how can you expect God to put you in charge of big things and vast riches in eternity? He will not do it as we clearly see by looking next at-
II. THE FOOLISH SERVANT.
The folly of this one talented servant was that he played it safe when he should have been willing to take a risk for his master. He was so afraid to fail that he never gave himself a chance to succeed. He spent more time and energy digging a hole than it would have taken to put his money to work. Fear is so illogical because it makes a man stagnant, and Jesus says there is no place for the stagnant in His fertile kingdom. The tree that bears no fruit is cut down and cast into the fire. Many Christians are in danger of judgment and do not even realize it because, like this foolish servant, they feel justified in their fears. They very sincerely believe that their masters standards are too high for them, and they feel they just have too little to contribute to bother. They can play no great role, and so they play no role at all, and they feel there is nothing wrong because they are facing the facts and being honest.
They are not the conspicuous scoundrels of society talked about in gossip circles. They are not the prodigals wasting their money in riotous living. They are just average people who do no great wrong, but who just do nothing. They will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and say, in all sincerely we didn't do anything, and Jesus will say that is precisely the charge against you-you did nothing. Like the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side, you did nothing. Like the rich man in the pangs of hell who had poor Lazarus at his gate, you did nothing. Doing nothing is one of the greatest sins of life. In verse 26 the master calls this foolish servant wicked and slothful. The man who does not invest his talent that the riches of Christ might be increased is a great sinner for doing nothing.
This parable is a serious warning to the average Christian, and to the Christian who is always saying, "I can't do it." The Christian who says that he has so little to contribute that it makes no difference does not realize that such thinking originates in the very pit of hell. Nothing is better for the cause of evil than getting Christians to believe their little does not count. The curse of the world is one talented people who are afraid to invest their one talent. Their philosophy that says it is better to do nothing than fail is pure folly. Jesus says it is better to try and fail than not to try at all. He says the very least a servant could do was to invest his money with the bankers. If he didn't have the know how to a make a profit himself he could have let others use his money to gain interest for his master. All that Jesus asks is for effort. If you have no talent you can turn to fruit, you can at least invest in the labor of others. Giving to any Christian work is a form of ministry, and a form of investing your talent in the kingdom of God.
One of the greatest hoaxes of history, which all of us are tempted to swallow, is that the average man does not count for much. The world problems are so big and none of us have the power or wisdom to solve them, and so we feel that doing nothing is our only choice. It is up to the leaders and people in high places, for the average person is not responsible. Such reasoning puts us in the shoes of the one talented servant who says we should leave it to the two and five talented servants. They have more to work with, but my little will not be expected to produce anything. Alfred Zimmern, a teacher at Oxford, and a leading authority on world politics, was asked, "What in your opinion is the greatest obstacle between us and the building of enduring world peace?" He answered without hesitation, "The small-scale individual." It is not the presidents, prime ministers, and leaders of the world who are the problem. It is the masses of one talented people who feel they are nobodies. Spurgeon said that God has no time to make nobodies. Everybody is somebody to God, and so everyone can make some contribution.
Jesus told this parable, not in order to glory in the condemnation of the foolish servant, but in order to prevent average people from the folly of doing what he did. The purpose of the parable is preventative. It is to wake Christians up to see that one talented people can receive equal praises and equal reward with the two and five talented people if they will be faithful with their little. Horace Bushnell wrote, "It seems very certain that the world is to grow better and richer in the future, not by the magnificent achievements of the highly gifted few, but by the patient faithfulness of the one-talented many."
Faithfulness is the essence of love. We vow in marriage to be faithful to each other until death parts us. The most unloving thing we can do is to be unfaithful. The reason you like your car is because it is faithful. If it is sometimes faithful you do not like it. If it only started 6 days out of the week, you would be discouraged by its unfaithfulness, and you would lose your desire to own it. You would feel the same about any tool or appliance that let you down consistently. Faithfulness is the key to peace and tranquility. When the paperboy ceases to be faithful and you paper doesn't show up you want to get rid of him and get someone new. If you refrigerator does not keep ice cream frozen you are discouraged with its lack of faithfulness.
We demand faithfulness because we cannot live peacefully with anything or anyone who is unfaithful. If you can't count on a thing to do what it is expected to do, and if you cannot count on a person to be what they are expected to be, you are experiencing the same emotion that Jesus felt when He faced the one talented man who buried it. You feel justly angry because nobody can be happy with the lack of faithfulness. It is hard to find anything that is more appreciated than faithfulness. It is the foundation of our satisfaction with everything and everyone. Jesus does not expect us to be what we are not. He does not expect us to be two or five talented people when all we have is one talent. But He does expect us to be faithful with that one talent. We don't expect a calculator to cut paper and play music, but we do expect it to be mathematically accurate. When it does that it is being faithful, and that is all we can expect.
A commercial traveler named Rigby spent a week and every quarter in Edinburgh. He always went to hear Dr. Alexander Whyte, the famous biographical preacher. It was his practice to persuade some other visitor in town to join him. One morning he saw a fellow traveler at breakfast and asked him if he was going to a place of worship. He said he was too busy, and beside, he was a Catholic. Finally he consented, however, and he was so impressed he wanted to return to the evening service. He was moved by the Holy Spirit and gave his heart to Christ.
The next day Rigby passed the home of Rev. Whyte and decided to call on him and tell him of what happened. Dr. Whyte had tears in his eyes as he told him the story, for he had come away from the pulpit feeling like a failure. When he asked what his name was and he told him it was Rigby, Dr. Whyte exclaimed, "Why you are the man I have been looking for, for years!" He went to his study and returned with a bundle of letters. He began to read parts of them like this: "I am a young man and the other day I came to hear you preach, at the invitation of a man called Rigby, and at the service I decided to dedicate my life to Christ." Twelve such young men had written, and four of them had entered the ministry. It was all because of a one talented man who was faithful in doing what he could do, and that was inviting people to join him in worship. That is all Jesus asks of any of us, that we be faithful.