For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Christian at Work: A Fresh Look at a Parable

Most people are not self-employed. Both the dishwasher in a restaurant and the vice president working for a huge multi-national corporation have something in common: they work for someone else who oversees their work and signs their paycheck. They have certain responsibilities they are expected to fulfill.  Interestingly, the Lord told a parable that gives insight into how he thinks each of them should do their jobs. It is found in Matthew 25:14-30. Let's take a look.

Jesus speaks about a man who is going to go on a long journey. He will need to entrust his affairs to his servants. Like any boss, he delegates things to them based on his estimation of their abilities. To the servant he thought had the most ability, he gave five talents, the second servant received two talents, and the servant with the least ability received a single talent.

It is important not to be confused by the word "talent" because it is a what is called a linguistic false friend. It has nothing to do with a person's abilities. A talent was a sum of money equivalent to twenty years worth of work. So let's do some math and then insert the amount in euros just to avoid the linguistic confusion.

According to Wikipedia, the average gross income in France is 35,484€. Here's how verses 14-15 read after some quick calculating:

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave 3,548,400€, to another 1,419,360€, to another 709,680€, each according to his ability.

These three servants worked for their boss. They had different abilities and so they received different amounts of money. Those with the ability to handle large amounts of money received more to manage, but each of them had responsibilities which were important to the boss. Each of them had a significant role to play in the operation of the boss's affairs.

After entrusting his three servants with over five and a half million euros he went away...for a long time. The Greek word implies going on a long journey for a significant period of time. In today's language, we might translate it with something like "he went abroad." In an era before cell phones and the internet, he was giving these servants an incredible amount of responsibility and was not able to look over their shoulders to make sure they did their jobs.

The good and faithful servants.

There were two servants who Jesus called "good and faithful" servants. They took the money and put it to work. During the time that the boss was away, they each doubled the money that they had been entrusted with. They were diligently at work caring for their boss's interests while he was away. They were wise and skillful.

What's more, they gave all of the money and the earnings back to the owner.

Think about the temptation that they would have faced. The first one earned over 3.5 million euros in profit. If the boss had been gone 5 years, that is about a 14% return on investment. The servant could have told the boss that the ROI was only 10% and secretly pocketed the difference. Who would be the wiser? The opportunity to cheat the boss was there. But Jesus specifically points out that the good and faithful servants gave back all the money that they had earned. They had integrity.

Diligence, skill, and integrity were the characteristics of the good and faithful servants. They received a great reward.

The wicked servant.

There was a servant who had been given less because his employer thought he had the least ability. Still, he had been given over 700,000 euros to manage. That is a significant amount of money and responsibility. When the owner returned, he discovered that the wicked servant had not even done the bare minimum he might expect from him. Instead of even putting it in the bank where it would draw a little interest, the servant buried it in the ground.

The servant's explanation for his behavior is telling. "I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you  did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid." On the surface, it seems like having a "hard" boss would cause the employee to make sure that he did what the master wanted. Why did this servant have the opposite response?

There are two reasons:
"When the cat's away,
the mice will play!

First, this servant was a sluggard. There is a proverb that says, "Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to him who sends him" (Proverbs 10:26). That certainly describes how the owner felt when he found out how little the servant had done! The sluggard (or slothful person) avoids work at all costs. He makes up reasons for why he cannot do anything. "There is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!" is the cry of the sluggard. He imagines dangers that are not there.

The wicked servant was afraid of doing what the others did with the money. They went and traded with it. They put it to work for their master. The sluggard was afraid to do that. He reasoned, "What if something bad happens? I better not even put it in the bank...it could be robbed!" So he did the foolish thing: he buried it. That was easier than taking it downtown to the bank.

Second, I believe that the servant totally misunderstood the character of the boss. He was not a "hard" man. He was good. The two faithful servants were well rewarded and enjoyed a great relationship with him. The opinion of the sluggard was based on a misunderstanding of the nature of working for someone. He thought the man was "hard" for "reaping where he did not sow." After all, he made over five million euros while away on a trip! Was that wrong? Did that make him "hard"?

Not at all! The man had money that he could have buried all by himself. Instead, he invested it with his servants. He wanted to put it to good use. It says that they "traded" with it. So they went into the marketplace and bought and sold things for a profit. Maybe they opened a restaurant or a furniture store. They took the capital and put it two work in a way that produced goods and services that people wanted, benefiting the community, providing jobs (probably), and returning a good rate of return...the profit for the owner. So they were making the owner richer, but also improving their lives and the lives of other people. It was a win-win situation. The wicked servant did not understand that and only thought evil of his boss.

I thought this parable was about the kingdom of God!

It is. Jesus is telling us to be good and faithful servants with what he has entrusted us with. If we are, we will be well-rewarded when he returns. The parable is primarily talking about using what we have been given for the benefit of his kingdom. We need to understand the responsibilities he has given to us and be wise stewards of them.

At the same time, though, this parable tells us what Jesus thinks a good and faithful servant is. That definition applies to our work lives where we have been given responsibilities by our bosses. Whether the responsibility is managing a large enterprise or washing dishes, Jesus expects us to be faithful, diligent, and honest in discharging their duties. That is the definition of a Christian employee.

The Scriptures make it explicit in Colossians 3:

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (Col 2:22-24).

This is one of several articles about the Christian at work. All of them can be found by clicking here. 

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