Life on the Edge: Make the Most of Every Moment
November 25, 2001
This wonderful little story is called the Parable of the Talents. Readers are drawn to it because it is simple, clear and easy to understand. And its lessons are impossible to miss. This parable tells what to do while we wait for Jesus to return. While we are waiting, we are to work for the Lord. We are not to go off to the mountains, sit in a tent, drink RC Cola, eat Moon Pies, and play Trivial Pursuit all day long. There is a warning here against laziness and passivity. And there is a call to action, to vital living, to risk all that you have for Christ and his kingdom.
Christ is coming! Don’t just sit there staring dreamily off into the distance. Don’t get goofy and act crazy. Don’t check out of life. If you really believe in the Second Coming, then get busy for the Master. There is work to be done before he returns. A German proverb says it this way: “Begin to weave and God will give the thread.” A famous philosopher issued this call to action: “Do the thing and great powers will come to your aid.”
“It is not the critic who counts.”
In one of his books Chuck Swindoll challenges believers to live with excellence, to go the second mile, to stop making excuses for non-performance, to turn our faith into deeds that change the world. He says that excellence is possible if you …
Care more than others think is wise
Risk more than others think is safe
Dream more than others think is practical
Expect more than others think is possible.
Often we will not risk anything because of fear of failure. What if we try and don’t succeed? What will our friends think? What will our critics say? What will happen to our reputation? But against those self-fulfilling prophecies of doom, we have the famous words of Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and short-coming; who does actually try to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checked by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
Here is the parable of the talents from the English Standard Version:
“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 five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, 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, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:14-30).
As I study this parable, two facts stand out clearly:
A) All three servants were judged by how well they managed someone else’s resources. When the master gave the talents to the servants, both they and he knew that it was still his money. Indeed, the first two men clearly call it “your money.” They never thought it was theirs. They understood that the master was loaning them the money with the understanding that some day he would call for an accounting of how they had spent it. And when the master rebukes the third man, he calls it “my money” and “my own.”
From this we learn a crucial truth. All that we have belongs to God. In the literal sense, we own nothing. Not a thing. All the things we think are ours are really God’s. He made them, he gave them to us, and one day he will take them from us again. Even your life is a gift from God. One day you will have to answer for what you did with the life God gave you.
B) The third man thought he knew his master but he didn’t. In verse 24 he plainly says, “I know you,” but he was wrong. He thought his master was a hard, cruel, unfair man who made a profit off the labor of others. But if he really believed what he said, he would have at least invested the money in the bank and gotten a small return. He didn’t even believe his own excuse.
How easy it is to deceive ourselves. If I watch you long enough, I can tell what you believe by what you do, not by what you say. You can say anything you like, but what you do tells the whole story. And you can watch me and sooner or later, you’ll know what I believe by what I do, regardless of what I say. The third man thought he knew his master but he didn’t. And that’s why he ended up losing everything.
I. Our Talents
What are the “talents” in this story? When we hear the word “talents” in English, we tend to think of natural abilities, like playing the piano or being good at football or baseball or knowing how to fix a broken radio. In the first century a “talent” was a large amount of money. Originally it stood for a particular weight; later it came to represent that weight in gold or silver coins. Most scholars say that a talent of silver would represent approximately 16Â½ years of salary for a soldier or a laborer. Any way you figure it that would be a huge amount of money today. To give a man five talents would be like giving him 80 years of salary to invest. Two talents would equal 33 years of salary, and even one talent would be 16Â½ years of salary. The master in this story must have been incredibly wealthy (like Bill Gates squared, times ten). And the three men in this story certainly had plenty of money to invest.
It is noteworthy that each man is given a different amount. Verse 15 tells us that each one was a particular amount “according to his ability.” Who made that determination? The master. Why did he do it that way? Because he wanted to. No other reason is needed. If you are the master and you are a multibillionaire and you want to give your money away, you can do it anyway you like and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. He could have given seven talents to the first man, four to the second, and two to the third. Or he could have reversed it if he had wanted to. The man who owns the money is sovereign over that money. He can do with it as he wills.
Learn from this a crucial truth: God is not obligated to treat you like he treats anyone else. He can give you more or less than others. And he does! You have more than some and less than others. You have more money and talent and opportunity, more strength, better health, and better connections than others. And you have less of all that than others. In the great pecking order of life, there are always people above us, people on our level, and people beneath us. That reality leaves us with two choices:
a) You can gripe about your situation and use it as an excuse,
b) Or you can accept it and start where you are and do what you can.
The comparison game is useless and nonproductive. Who knows why Jane got more and Alice got less? Who knows why one man has cancer and another doesn’t? Who knows why one woman is born in El Salvador and another in Belgium? Only God knows those things and he’s not telling. And every moment spent worrying about that is a truly wasted moment. We’re not all equal in terms of talents, gifts and opportunity. But we all have the same chance to do something with what we’ve been given. The question is not, “What have I been given?” but rather, “What will I do with what I’ve been given?”
Think of it this way: Your life is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to God. It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have that makes the difference. God gives us what we can handle when we can handle it. If we needed more, we would have more. And when we need more, we’ll get more. You’re not responsible for your position but you are responsible for your disposition.
II. Our Investment
Let’s take a moment and focus on the two men who multiplied their talents. One man started with five and ended with ten; the other started with two and ended with four. Which man had the greater increase? Answer: They were equal. Both men achieved a 100% increase on what they had been given. While ten is certainly greater than four, five is also greater than two. The man with five talents ended up with more but he did not do better than the man with two talents. Both doubled what their master gave them.
The case of the third fellow is something else entirely. He started with one talent and ended with one talent. In between he buried the talent in the ground so he wouldn’t lose it. He’s got the classic loser’s mentality. He’s a perpetual victim, afraid to do anything because he thinks the system is rigged against him. That’s essentially what he says to his master when he calls him a “hard’ man. Because he thought he would be punished, he tried to hoard it all. Making more money evidently never entered his mind. His fear of punishment was far greater than his desire to be rewarded.
Was he right in what he said to the master? In one sense the answer is yes. Clearly all three men knew the master would come back, and they all knew that he would demand an accounting. But the first two men focused on the fact their master, besides being a fair man, could also be very generous. They knew if they did a good job, they would have a great reward at the end. The third fellow lived in fear and so didn’t do anything at all.
“He who waits to do a great deed will never do any deed at all.” No pain, no gain. No risk, no reward. The third man played it safe and ended up losing everything. In the end, his talent went to the first man and he ended up with nothing. “Many people neglect the task that lies at hand and are content with having wished to do the impossible” (Teresa of Avila).
So what’s his problem? He thought he knew his master, but he didn’t. Because he didn’t know him, he didn’t trust him. Because he didn’t trust him, he did nothing. Because he did nothing, what he had was taken away from him. And he himself was cast into the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In biblical terms, he ended up in hell.
Let me say it plainly. If you do nothing with what God gives you, you will go to hell. Those are shocking words but I see no other way to interpret this parable. The third man was called a “worthless” servant and was rejected by his master. He represents those phony-baloney “Christians” who come to church but never give their hearts to the Lord. They don’t serve the Lord because they don’t know the Lord. They invest all that they have on themselves because they are living for the things of this world.
I noticed when I preached this on Sunday that people seemed to get very quiet at this point in the sermon. No one likes to go to church and be told they might go to hell. But it’s true. Those who live entirely and only for themselves, who claim to be Christians but live as if they were the center of the universe, who have no time for or interest in the things of God will wake up one day in hell because they are “worthless servants” who never knew the Lord.
This is a solemn warning. We would all do well to take it seriously.
III. Our Reward
Now we turn to the positive side of the story—the rewards promised to those who faithfully use their “talents” in the service of Christ and his Kingdom. In the parable, the master says the same thing to the first two servants: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23, ESV). First, there is a commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Second, there is a promotion: “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Third, there is an invitation: “Enter into the joy of your master.”
These words contain an enormous truth here that we would do well to ponder: What you do now determines how you will spend eternity. Nothing is wasted when we serve the Lord. Even the “unseen” acts of kindness are seen by Christ and will one day be rewarded by him. As we will see next week, even a cup of cold water given to a thirsty person is noticed in heaven. At this point a question arises: What did Christ mean when he promised to “set you over much?” In a similar (though not identical) parable called the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27), Jesus explicitly promises to give his loyal followers the chance to rule over the cities of the earth in the coming millennial kingdom. To one he promised “ten cities,” to another “five cities.” This is an astounding thought. One day we will share in Christ’s triumph and will rule with him in the kingdom. If we have been faithful in this life, he will give us “cities” to rule. What city would you like to have? I think I’d like to have Oak Park. Just let me have this village for a few weeks and there would be a few changes! But maybe you want Singapore or Nairobi or Anniston or Melbourne or Kabul. It doesn’t matter. All those cities will need leadership in the millennial kingdom. Why shouldn’t it be you or me? And it could be any of us if we are faithful to serve the Lord now.
Lessons From Ground Zero
This week during a radio interview the discussion turned to our visit to Ground Zero in New York City last month. When asked what I had learned there, I told the interviewer that one fact keeps pounding away in my brain. The words of I John 2:17 come through loud and clear: “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (ESV). As I stood just a few feet from the twisted, smoking ruins of the World Trade Center, I kept thinking, “This is what the world comes to sooner or later. Everything built by man can be destroyed by man. Nothing lasts forever.” September 11 ought to be a wakeup call for all of us to reconsider our personal priorities. What are you living for? “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Mark 8:36 (ESV). There is a message here for all of us if only we will heed it: “Find out what matters in life. And then go and do it!” Not everything matters. Not everything is truly as important as we thought it was.
It’s time to serve the Lord.
Back in Exodus God said to Moses, “What is that in your hand?” It was a staff. “Throw it on the ground, Moses.” He did, and it turned into a serpent. “Pick it up, Moses.” He did, and it turned back into a staff. (See Exodus 4:1-9.)
God asks the same question of you and me: What is that in your hand? Not much, you say. Give it to the Lord anyway. Offer it to him. You don’t have much talent, not much money, and very little opportunity? Fine, offer what you have to the Lord. Give it all to him. Put yourself at the disposal of the King of Kings. You may be surprised at what God does with the “little” you think you have. Remember, it’s faithfulness that God rewards, not worldly success.
You church needs you. What will you do?
The world cries out for help. What will you do?
Christ calls and says, “Come follow me?” What will you do?
The time is short, the world is passing away, the end of all things is at hand. Who knows how long you will live? Who knows if this is the day when Jesus will return? Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Now is the time, this is the hour, and God is calling you. What will you do? How will you respond?
“We Were Not Able to Stay.”
This week I was rummaging through some papers when I ran across a note I made when Greg and Carolyn Kirschner and their children left to go to Nigeria for the first time a few years ago. Greg and Carolyn are both medical doctors who had successful practices in Chicago. Back then there were more than a few people (including some in the church) who wondered about the wisdom of taking their children to Nigeria so they could serve as medical missionaries. At one point Greg and Carolyn spoke to the church to share their vision. I jotted down one sentence that stuck in my mind, and that’s the sentence I ran across this week. Why did they go to Nigeria? “We were not able to stay.” That says it all. God called and they were not able to stay in America. It’s as simple and as life-changing as that.
Have you ever offered yourself unreservedly to the Lord? “Lord Jesus, here I am. Use me any way you see fit. I offer you all that I have for the service of your kingdom. Put me where you want me to be. I give you the right to change my agenda without informing me in advance. Amen.”
Are you afraid to pray like that? Don’t be. There is a great adventure ahead for those who serve the Lord. Many of us have been praying the Prayer of Jabez in the last year. We’ve asked God to expand our borders, to push us out of our comfort zone, and to bless us indeed so that we can bless others in Jesus’ name. When you pray like that, great things are bound to happen because God loves it when his children risk everything for him.
Here’s another quote I ran across this week: “A ship is safe when anchored in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” If your goal is to live a life of security and safety, you’ll end up with everything but Jesus. Our Lord never took the safe road. He never took the easy way. He never took a shortcut in order to play it safe. So if that’s what you’re looking for, you might as well forget about Jesus because he doesn’t have any part with that. We’ve been fed a lie of Satan on this point. We’ve been taught that to be saved means to be safe. To which the biblical answer is, Balderdash and Poppycock! Nothing could be further from the truth. There is such a thing as eternal security but that has to do with your standing before God; it has nothing at all to do with playing it safe in the decisions of life.
A more biblical view would be as follows: To be saved means to be so secure in the love of God that you never have to play it safe again. To me that’s a far superior perspective. Salvation puts you in such a position that you can afford to take big risks because you know that God loves you even when you fail.
Find Out What God is Doing
Let me wrap things up by giving you the best argument I know for living on the edge with Jesus. Here it is: We’re all going to die someday. Since we’re all going to die someday, the only question is whether you’re going to die playing it safe or risking it all for the Lord. I don’t want to die until I’m dead. I want to live until the very last moment, fully invested for Jesus Christ and for his kingdom, doing everything I can to advance his cause in the world, and taking risks on the basis of kingdom principles. I don’t want to waste my few years on planet earth hoarding my resources so I can have earthly security. That’s not what the life of faith is all about.
One last point. If you decide to live on the edge, you may not be completely successful. Maybe things will work out for you, maybe they won’t. If you decide to become a risk-taker for Jesus Christ, will you see success in all that you do? Probably not. Most of the men and women in the Bible who took great risks saw only partial success for their efforts. Abraham made it to the Promised Land but lived his whole life in tents. Moses led his people to the Jordan River but could go no farther. Joshua conquered the land but not all the enemies were defeated. So it goes for those who live by faith.
Our great calling is to find out what God is doing in the world, and then to fling ourselves wholeheartedly into his cause. Let me make that more specific …
Go back to your world. Go back to your home, your business, your neighborhood, your classroom, your club, your family, your church, your town, your city, your state, your nation. Go back to your world, wherever it is, and find out what God is doing there. Then go do it with him. Throw yourself without hesitation into God’s work in your world. And then get ready for the time of your life. That’s God’s call to all of us. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. But in the end, the only losers will be those who held themselves back.
If you truly know Jesus Christ, you can live that way because you know whatever comes, you’ll be all right. On Friday afternoon I got a call that Frank Catrambone had been taken to West Suburban Hospital with serious blood clots in his lungs and in one of the vessels leading to his heart. His situation was extremely critical. By the time I got to the Intensive Care Unit, he had been given some sort of powerful clot-dissolving drug that was dangerous because it could possibly cause a stroke. When I saw Frank, he shook my hand and said, “Pastor, it’s good to see you.” When I asked him how he was doing, he smiled through his oxygen mask and said, “I have the best physician in the world. His name is Jesus Christ” I thought to myself, “How do you stop a man like that?” You can’t. He’s placed his life in the hands of the Great Physician and that’s why he can face whatever comes with a smile.
In 1981 when President Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated, his pastor from California came to see him in the hospital in Washington, D.C. Pastor Don Moomaw took the president’s hand and asked him, “How is it with you and Lord?” “Everything is fine with me and Lord,” replied Mr. Reagan. “How do you know?” The answer was simple and profound: “I have a Savior.”
That’s the difference that Jesus Christ makes. When you have a Savior, you can face your own death with courage and grace. Do you have a Savior? If you don’t, or if you aren’t sure, I urge you to place your life in the hands of Jesus Christ right now. Trust him as Lord and Savior. Ask him to take away your sins and to give you new life. Come to Christ and your life will never be the same again.
Heavenly Father, grant that we might be great risk-takers for the kingdom of God. Forgive us for making excuses to cover our selfish choices. Shake us free from the love of the world. May we enter into the freedom that comes from living on the edge with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.