Training for Reigning
This is another post sparked by one of Phillip Camp’s sermons. Phillip preached this Sunday on the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25. He noted that the distinction between the commended and rejected servants in this parable has to do fundamentally with the different ways they view the master. Fear tends to paralyze, which is what leads the servant who considers the master harsh to bury the significant amount entrusted to him.
Before leading the discussion on this sermon in our Sunday night gathering, I decided to look at the comparable Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:11-27. Interestingly, Luke introduces this parable by noting that Jesus told it to those who “thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” A parable that speaks of a master going on a journey of indeterminate length before returning to settle accounts obviously seeks to shift these hearers’ focus in a different direction.
Jesus’ correction of this misperception raises a couple of important questions. Why is there a delay before the kingdom comes in its fullness? Why does Jesus stress the faithful “investment” expected of servants to whom much has been entrusted? The first question is particularly difficult to answer completely, but the two taken together point to the graciousness of God in allowing us to participate in his larger purposes. To entrust something of great value to another is deeply affirming, especially since God’s human servants have regularly proven untrustworthy.
In both Matthew and Luke, the master entrusts servants with significant material wealth. In both gospels, this wealth is described as small in comparison with what will be given to those who prove faithful. Matthew says the master invites these faithful servants to enter into his joy and puts them in charge of many things. Luke tells us that the master places them over a number of cities in proportion to the return on their investment.
The delay between Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom and his return to consummate it extends grace not only to his flawed servants, but also to those who have not embraced the redemption Jesus came to make available. Consider one additional benefit of the delay: while we serve as God’s agents in embodying the kingdom and its redemption, we are being prepared – as were the servants in the parable – for “greater things.”
God originally intended for humanity to reflect his benevolent reign within the creation (see Genesis 1:26-28; 2:5, 15). We have failed to live up to that calling, not only in the garden, but repeatedly ever since. Yet God has not given up on his original intention. We get a glimpse of our role in God’s future in a couple of passages from Revelation:
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.
They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light And they will reign for ever and ever.
Whatever we have at present (abilities, opportunities, resources) comes as a gift from God:
1 Corinthians 4:7
What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why to you boast as though you did not?
In these gifts we see God’s generosity. If we use them in a way that glorifies him and serves others, we embrace our “training for reigning” in the future. This, I think, is what Jesus means when he says that “whoever has will be given more” (Matthew 25:29). In other words, we do not truly “have” something unless we recognize its source and purpose. Living with this awareness, on the other hand, prepares us for our greater future service. Every servant in the parables received something, so the “have-nots,” are those who squander and ultimately lose God’s gifts by either fearfully burying them or greedily hoarding them.
As for the exact nature of our future reign, we might confess with John, “what we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:2). He goes on to say, however, “when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We will in some sense share in his eternal reign over the renewed creation if we faithfully and bravely participate in his current reign. We participate now by investing what we have received in ways that anticipate God’s future within the present creation.