Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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What is a talent?

Jesus told a parable of a man going to a far country who distributed talents to his servants. The talents given in this parable were money, not ability, for it says that He gave “to every man according to his several ability” (Matthew 25:15).

After generations of misunderstanding this passage we have come to understand talent to mean ability. This is not such a bad thing, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. But it is a serious misunderstanding to interpret the parable to mean that when we become Christians God will give us some new ability that we never had before. That is not taught in this parable, nor anywhere else in the Bible.

What this parable does teach is that God wants us to develop the abilities that we have so that they can be employed for the good of His Kingdom.

I was thinking of this the other day as we were in Saskatoon. Our first stop was at the Christian book store. I am impressed with all the staff here, but I’ll just mention one. This store has a loyalty program which requires the person at the till to enter the customer’s phone number. Tanaya never asks for my phone number, but the cash register slip always comes out with my name on it and a summary of my loyalty account.

This young lady obviously has a phenomenal memory, but that’s only part of it. I do not get preferred treatment over other customers, she makes every one of us feel that we are especially welcome in the store. We say she has a special talent for the job she is doing.

I don’t believe that this is a talent that was given her at the time of conversion, or any other particular moment. It is rather the result of her efforts to develop the abilities she had in a way that would be of helpt to thers.

The same day we had dinner with our friends Ray and Ruth. Ray is an accomplished artist; he has made his living by other means, but has been able to sell some of his art work for good prices. As a child he had an ability to see things around him in a way that allowed him to draw accurate representations.

His third grade school teacher remembers drawings of birds and animals on the margins of his school work. He has studied to refine and deepen the ability he began with. He painted a 60 foot mural in the church which he attends that depicts the history of the world from Creation to the Last Judgment. He also has a talent for teaching basic art techniques to children and people of all ages.

Finally I had an appointment with my eye doctor. This man has given me numerous injections for macular degeneration, which is now stable, and has done cataract surgery on both my eyes. His skill is the reason I can still see to type this post. Someone at the CNIB once told me that this doctor is the best in Western Canada for diseases of the retina.

For each one of us there is a way that we can develop whatever natural ability we have and put it to use in God’s kingdom. We should not feel that we are helpless until God grants us some special talent. Let us not despise the ability we already have, no matter how insignificant it may appear to us, and be ready and willing when He gives us an opportunity to put that ability to use for His honour and glory.

Missed opportunities

Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:16
Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time  Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Colossians 4:5-6

Like many other Christians, I read these verses and feel that I need to be much busier in the work of the Lord. So far, so good. The question is, however, what is it that I need to be busy doing? I can fill my time with doing good things, but how do I know that this is really what God wants me to do? Am I asking the Spirit to guide me in doing God’s will, or am I just busy?

The word translated time in these verses seems to have more the sense of opportunity. One Bible dictionary says that “redeeming the time” means “to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good.”

The passage in Colossians is addressing our witness to others. Perhaps it could be rephrased to say that we should be ready to act when the Spirit prompts us to do or say something for the Lord. Is there a danger that I may be so busy doing the things that I believe to be good and needful that when the Spirit speaks I cannot hear Him? Or that I am just too busy to interrupt the important thing I am doing to do the thing the Spirit tells me is more important? How many opportunities for service do I miss because I am too busy with something ele?

Or, to put it another way — am I so busy doing right things that I have no time to do what is right when the opportunity arises?

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of a man travelling to a far country who gave his servants varying amounts of money to use for his benefit while he was gone. The money is expressed in talents — a talent of silver in Bible times was about 45kg. This has given rise to our English word talent, denoting a special ability. This is a misunderstanding of the parable. Each servant was given a number of talents, “according to his several ability.” Thus it was not abilities that were being handed out, but rather opportunities to use their abilities in their master’s service.

One servant thought he had no ability to profit by the opportunity given him and the master characterized his unwillingness to serve as wickedness. How many opportunities to serve do we miss because we think our Lord is asking something beyond our ability? Do I see it as wickedness when I am unwilling to do the small things that the Holy Spirit asks of me?

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