One talent is scary. The guy with two talents, he can afford to lose a whole talent and still bounce back. And the guy with five? He can take all the risks in the world. He has five, after all. Losing one talent would just barely put a dent in his finances. But if you’re the guy with only one, losing it means bankruptcy.
So what do you do? What can you do? The only safe bet, the only rational course of action, is to keep it safe—to protect it, to stash it where no one can get to it. Nothing ventured, nothing lost, right?
Sometimes, when I read that parable, it seems like the one-talent guy was set up to fail. With just one talent, how was he ever supposed to compete with two-talent guy and five-talent guy?
Easy: he wasn’t. That was never the point. His only competitor was himself. The master had distributed “to each according to his own ability” (Matthew 25:15), which means each of the three servants had been given an amount he could handle and nothing more than that. Their job was to take what they’d been given and to do something with it, and all three of them had been equipped to succeed. (A talent, by the way, was a measurement of weight. Whether these were talents of silver or gold, it’s clear that these servants were entrusted with considerable sums of money.)
So why did the one-talent servant fail? In his own words, “I was afraid” (Matthew 25:25). The responsibility of achieving something with his one talent meant the possibility of failing, and that was too much for him. Better to do nothing; to risk nothing. But if the parable of the talents teaches us anything, it’s this:
To do nothing is to risk everything.
I think it’s easy to look at this parable in a vacuum, but that would be a mistake. Christians don’t exist in a vacuum. Our actions have real and tangible consequences, and they extend far beyond our own lives.
If a single one of your blood cells decided one day to stop doing its job, I don’t suppose you’d notice any difference. You have tens of trillions of red blood cells, so if just one decides to phone it in, it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Life goes on.
But what if all 30+ trillion red blood cells in your circulatory system stopped trying all at once? What if every single one of them stopped functioning in a single instant because they all realized their efforts didn’t make that much of a difference?
I guarantee you, you’d notice.
And then you would die.
I don’t know who you are and I don’t know what your gift is, but I do know this: you have one and we need it. Maybe you’re a five-talent guy or maybe you’re a one-talent guy. I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. You are here, you are part of the Body of Christ, and God has given you something to contribute.
That’s important. That’s key. Whether it’s five talents or one, you were given your gift for a reason. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
(1 Corinthians 12:18-20)
That whole chapter is filled with priceless wisdom, but the gist is this: It doesn’t matter what part you are in the Body of Christ; it matters that you’re a part in the Body. God knew you in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), created and shaped you (Psalm 139:13), endowed you with certain gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11), and then set you within His Church exactly where He wanted you, equipped for success.
I think one of the big lies we tell ourselves is that the Body only exists on Saturdays. No one says that, but sometimes we act like it—as if, somehow, between services, the Church is on pause. But it’s just not true.
Church isn’t a place you go once a week; it’s something you’re part of, 24 hours a day, seven days a week; no exceptions. When you and your brethren walk out of the building you meet in every week, you’re not walking out of Church. The Church is walking out of the building. The Body is still alive and well, and you still have a role to play in it.
Paul writes about the Body as “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share,” which “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).
What’s your share?
If you’re in the Body, then you have a gift—a gift with the potential to make the Church a better place. I can’t tell you what that gift is, because I have no idea. But I can tell you how to find out for yourself.
What are you passionate about? I’m not talking about hobbies or things you do to pass the time—what are the activities and causes and pursuits you engage in with true passion? What can you absolutely lose yourself in? What do you find yourself investing your time and energy into simply because you enjoy it? I can almost guarantee you that, tangled up in the roots of those pursuits, you will find your gift. It’s in the pursuit of our deepest passions that we instinctively employ our greatest gifts, because the two go hand in hand. Find your passion and you’ll find your gift.
The next question is what to do with that gift. I’m afraid the answer isn’t quite so simple this time. There’s no pre-defined map. No one has ever been you before, not once in the history of the universe, which means you—and you alone—have the opportunity to do something special and unique in a way that no one has ever done before.
And what’s more, we need you to do it.
The Church is a living organism. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). When you grow, the Church grows. When you find your gift and embrace it and put it to use, the whole Church reaps the benefit.
Historically, I think we have the habit of looking at service in the Church through several predefined, preapproved activities. There’s the set-up crew; there’s the sound crew; there’s the potlucks and the prayers and the sermonettes and the flowers and if you don’t fit into one of those slots, sorry, that’s all there is to the Church and you’re out of luck.
Oh, the potential we squander when we believe that.
The Church is so much more than those things. Yes, those things are important, and we need them, and you should absolutely lend a hand in those areas if you’re able, but they are so far from the definitive list of all things Church that it’s not even funny. The Church is the Bride of Christ—whatever you can do to bring the members of that Body closer together and closer to God is a gift well-used.
Maybe that does mean joining the sound crew. But maybe it means something else, too. Maybe it means visiting shut-ins or writing cards or giving compliments from the heart or passing on knowledge or learning from a mentor or just shutting up and listening to someone who’s dealing with a trial. I don’t know. I’m not you. No one else is you, either, so no one else can tell you exactly what you can accomplish and how.
There are boundaries, of course—boundaries set in place by God for our benefit—but within those boundaries, anything is fair game. Dream big. Swing for the fences. Take your gift and do something with it.
Because here’s the thing. Here’s the little secret no one tells you about edifying the Church: You don’t need permission to do good. Never have. You don’t need a committee’s approval before you get a group together to spend time with a lonely widow. You don’t need a form signed in triplicate before you can send a card to a brother or sister in Christ who could use a pick-me-up. You don’t need anyone’s go-ahead to do good works, because you already have God’s go-ahead (Ephesians 2:10). The Bride is to make herself ready (Revelation 19:7), and you have a part to play in that process.
And I know. I know. It’s scary. It’s beyond scary to step out and try something no one else has ever tried before. Maybe you are the guy with one talent. Maybe your idea will fail and everyone else will see.
So what? Let it fail. Let them see. A righteous man can fall seven times and still get back up again (Proverbs 24:16). A righteous man knows that the status quo is only your friend if you’re perfect. A righteous man knows that the gifts of God are “given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7), which means he has a duty to put his to use. The fear of failure is never an excuse with God.
When we talk about God-given gifts, our go-to parable tends to be the one about the talents—but it’s not the only parable Christ gave on the topic. There’s also the parable of the minas. Same general plot, same general outcome, one vital difference: Each servant is only given one mina to work with. Just one. They all face the same risks, they all face the same challenges, and yet they all arrive at different outcomes. One servant gains ten minas, one servant gains five minas, and, like before, one servant gets scared and hides his mina, doing nothing with it.
Two things to note here. First, in both the parable of the talents and the parable of the minas, the only servant who didn’t have an increase was the servant who was too scared to try. Second, it’s worth noting that what you end up with has little to do with what you start with and everything to do with how much effort you’re willing to invest along the way.
We need your gift.
I can’t stress that enough. God has given you the ability to do something in a way no one else can. I don’t know what that is. It might not be big or flashy or attention-grabbing, but it doesn’t need to be. In fact, the best gifts usually aren’t. What I do know about your gift is this: the Body is “joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” That means you have something to supply. You have a share to do.
God did not call you to fill a seat one day out of seven. He called you to play a role in the Body of His Son’s Bride. Will we survive if you hide your gift out of fear? Absolutely. Without a doubt. We can get by without you, and the Church will continue on, like it always has. But “like it always has” isn’t optimal. The Church was designed to thrive, and it could be that your gift—coupled with the gifts of your fellow brethren—is exactly what we need to make that happen.
Please. We need you. We need what you have to offer.
Your gift is far too precious to bury.
Until next time,