Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: eternal rewards

Contrast of Eternal Rewards

The goal of Bible study is to think God’s thoughts after Him and to better understand the one who loves us…both of these aims have the ultimate goal of deepening our relationship with God.  Whenever our reading of the Scriptures needs some focused studying to fully understand what God is communicating (as we have been doing with Revelation 21:7), the best next step is to zoom out and add our new understanding to the surrounding context of verses.

Revelation 21:6-8
Then He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.  But the cowards, faithless, detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

The focus of the paragraph turns on one simple word – but.

“But” is a critical term when studying Scripture.  It lets you know that a contrast is taking place in the text, and these contrasts are important to our understanding.

On the one hand, we have those who did freely drink from the water of life, and from within them, those who conquer.  On the other hand are those who have rejected God and lived life counter to His plan for humanity.  In contrast to the conquerors who inherit in the new Jerusalem, those who have rejected God have their share (other translations – their place, their portion, or their part) eternally separated from God in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur…which the previous context of Revelation 20:10-15 indicates is the eternal destiny of Satan and those who follow him.

This is a serious contrast of eternal consequences. 

Thinking about the original recipients of Revelation, the terms God uses – the cowards, the faithless, etc – would have been descriptive of those who were persecuting the first century believers.  While this contrast does give comfort that God will make everything right in the end, there is another application, one for the here and now:

Remember, we are called to be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world by holding firm to the word of life (Philippians 2:15-16).  After all, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us.  We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

For those around us, eternal destiny hangs in the balance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Special rewards for those who conquer

When studying the Scriptures, it is always best to consider the context and author’s word choice with their writing before comparing how a word or phrase is used in another book of the Bible.  Within the English language we recognize that the same word can have different meanings…and the author’s intended meaning is conveyed by looking at the context of the word.  For example:

I ran a marathon.
I ran a meeting.
I ran for political office.

Same word, totally different communication – based upon the context.

Revelation 21:6-7
…I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

When we looked at the term inherit, we had to go outside of the book of Revelation for context…because in Revelation 21:7 is the only time John uses the word.  However, the phrase he who conquers IS used several times within Revelation, and primarily by Jesus himself.

At the beginning of the book of Revelation, John recorded letters that Jesus dictated to each of the seven churches.  These letters were written to believing Christians.  The contents in each letter deals strictly with the actions and choices of the people in the church, there is no mention of Jesus’ saving work on the cross.  These letters were focused on how these believers were living their lives in view of eternity.  In each of His letters, Jesus describes a specific task or obstacle that the church was currently facing.  He then followed up with an exhortation and a specific reward to those who conquer.

Let’s take a look:

Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7) – Jesus said they had done great things; however He also said: “but I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first…repent, and do the works you did at first…to the one who conquers, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God”

Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11) – They were warned that persecution was coming, but Jesus also told them to “be faithful to the point of death”, and as a reward for this, Jesus said “and I will give you the crown of life”.  Jesus also encouraged them through a figure of speech called a litotes – which is expressing an affirmative idea by negating its opposite (e.g. – “I am not amused” actually means “I’m really annoyed”).  Jesus said “The one who conquers will never be harmed by the second death”.  The point of the Lord’s promise is that those who remain faithful will experience eternal life to the utmost in the life to come.  Even though the first death might hurt them briefly, the second death (eternal separation from God) wouldn’t hurt them at all.

Pergamum (Rev. 2:12-17) – False teaching had infiltrated this church, as some were teaching that you can live in sexual immorality and recklessness without consequence.  Jesus’ exhortation was just two words before explaining their potential reward: “So repent! …To the one who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29) – They also dealt with false teachers.  To those who resisted the false teaching, Jesus gave just one command, “Only hold on to what you have until I come.”  However, Jesus followed it up with an amazing promise: “The one who conquers and who keeps my works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations…just as I received this from my Father.  I will also give him the morning star.”

Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) – Jesus warned them, “Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God.  Remember, then, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent…the one who conquers will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life (another litotes) but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.”

Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) – Jesus said, “I am coming soon.  Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.  The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will never go out again.  I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God – the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God – and (I will also write on him) My new name.

Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) – Jesus reprimanded them, “you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline.  So be zealous and repent…to the one who conquers I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

I love how Jesus used Himself as the example to the believers in Thyatira and Laodicea.  He completed His mission; He conquered the struggle placed before Him.  The world didn’t see Jesus as victorious, but God the Father certainly did – and in the end, His opinion of how we lived our lives is the only one that matters.

After looking at the rest of Revelation to how Jesus intends to reward the one who conquers, we need to be thinking: What is our God-given mission?  Do you have a plan on how you will be one who conquers?  Eternal rewards are available for us…but we must choose to pursue them in the here and now.

Revelation 21:6-7
…I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

God wants you to be a conqueror

Let’s be honest.  The Christian life is hard, and sometimes we wonder if following God is really worth it.  How much does it matter that we abide by God’s principles as we navigate our days, months, and years?  There’s got to be a larger reason for choosing to follow God, something more than just being “a good little Christian girl” or “a good little Christian boy”, right?

As we take a look at the last chapters of God’s final book of the Bible, we’re finding out that God DOES INDEED have more – much more – in store for those who follow Him.

Revelation 21:6-7
…I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.

Inheritance is conditional – it is based upon the choices a person makes in the life they live after they have accepted Christ’s free gift of eternal life.  Knowing this, the next question we need to answer is this:

Since a conqueror is the one who inherits, who are the Christians that God refers to as “the one who conquers”?

The Greek word for conquer is nikao.  In ancient Greece, it was a verb that meant to overcome or overpower; to conquer or triumph.  In legal terms, it meant “to win one’s case”.  The verb was used to describe winners of athletic contests.  It was also used in reference to the victorious ruling Caesars.  When used in its noun-form, the word nike means victory.  It was also the name of a Greek goddess, who was often represented in art as a symbol of personal superiority.  In our modern days, not only is “Nike” a clothing and shoe brand, but the company’s marketed identity purposely conveys an overcoming, victorious attitude.

So, to be a conqueror is to be victorious over any task, obstacle, or arena you are in…and thus have the right to claim the victor’s spoils.  This definition fits in perfectly with what we have learned about a believer’s potential inheritance in the New Jerusalem.  Since inheritance is conditional, those that obtain it are those who have lived a victorious life in Christ.

Paul used similar language as he encouraged the believers at Corinth.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way to win the prize.  Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything.  They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we
[do it to receive] an imperishable crown.

Paul says we should be striving for a crown that lasts forever…and in Revelation 21:7, we are told what the prize is for the one who conquers – it is the right to inherit in the New Jerusalem.

Making wise choices now, living victoriously for Christ through whatever circumstances we face, overcoming the obstacles that are trying to pry us away from our relationship with God…these are the actions that will make us – by God’s definition – one who conquers.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The biggest threat to your eternal rewards

Nothing wrecks a believer’s life faster than sexual immorality.  The author of Hebrews knew that, and he gave this warning to his readers:

Hebrews 12:16-17
And make sure that there isn’t any sexually immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal.  For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, even though he sought it with tears, because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance.


There are portions of our lives where there are no take-backs.  We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.  Sexual purity is one of them.  The author equates sexual immorality with godlessness (i.e. – acting like there is no God).  Both of these behaviors are selfish; they can completely wreck a believer’s life and witness.  By using Esau as an example, the original recipients of this letter would have recognized the seriousness of our choices in these areas.

As a first-born, Esau was automatically entitled to a double portion of his parents’ estate and guaranteed that he would inherit the role of patriarch in the family’s lineage and decision making.  However, Esau thought so little of this inheritance that he was willing to trade all the future rights and privileges of a firstborn son…to fill his immediate, temporal appetite.  Sexual temptation is also like that.  The immediate appetite is satisfied…but the actions cannot be undone, our life’s course is altered, and the inheritance is lost…no matter how many tears we shed.

Does that mean if a Christian indulges in an affair that he or she are out of the family? 
Will God stop blessing them? 
Will they lose all inheritance?

No, they are not cast out of the family, but there will be permanent consequences – in this life, and in eternity future.  Esau is still our example for how we resolve our questions:

After trading away his future inheritance to fulfill his right-now appetite, Esau eventually returned to his father and repented of his actions, saying he would be content with any remaining blessing his father was able to grant him. 

From there, we find that Esau went on in life and was blessed by God – he even has his own chapter of family lineage and prosperity in Genesis 36.  However…Esau never regained his rights of firstborn inheritance.  Throughout the entire Bible and for all of eternity, the nation of Israel does not list Esau as one of their patriarchs.  Additionally, we consistently find God identifying Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…but we never find God describing Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.

Because of his choices, Esau missed out on blessings and opportunities – both in this life and in eternity.  And the author of Hebrews is telling us that OUR sexual purity has that level of importance in God’s eyes.  However, if we blow it…all is not lost…some inheritance will be, but not all opportunity to earn more in the future.

Remember what the author taught us earlier:

Hebrews 4:15-16
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.


There is grace to help us when we are being sexually tempted and we can receive mercy when we fail.  Our relationship with God will remain intact; however, the consequences of our sexual sin will echo throughout eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A warning, some encouragement, and a choice

Be careful here.  The author of Hebrews has an important warning to give his readers, but if these next 14 verses are taken out of context or read individually…not only would the reader miss the intended point, but it could cause significant confusion about God’s dealing with humanity.  HOWEVER, since we have traveled through the author’s major points of the letter, we are less likely to have a misinterpretation.  But we sill must approach the text with our thinking caps on and with the preceding context in mind…

Remember that the author is writing to eternally secure believers.  Also remember his previous warnings about what happened to the Israelites that disregarded their generation’s messenger:

Hebrews 10:26-31
For if we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries.

Anyone who disregarded the law of Moses died without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know the One who has said,

Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay
(Deuteronomy 32:35)
and again,
The Lord will judge His people.
(Deuteronomy 32:36)

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Like any of us who selfishly choose to go against our parents’ directions, those of us in the “Holy family” who purposely choose to continue a sin-filled life are going to have a very angry Heavenly Father to deal with.  This is the same warning the author gave in Chapters 2 and 3 – the consequences of failing away, of having a sinful and unbelieving heart – but now we know the full ramifications of intentionally making sinful choices since we now understand the Greater Message that Jesus has delivered.

Recognizing the implication of their choices, the author then encourages his readers:

Hebrews 10:32-36
Remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to taunts and afflictions, and at other times you were companions of those who were treated that way.  For you sympathized with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, because you know that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession.

So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.


What Jesus has promised is the opportunity to participate in His future kingdom.  Just as they were confident in Christ’s authority to forgive their sin debt and bring them into the family, the author encourages them to put that same level of faith and trust in the future which Jesus has promised is available to them.  To do so, the author relies again on an Old Testament passage:

Hebrews 10:37-39
For yet in a very little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith;
and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him.
(Habakkuk 2:3-4)

But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.


These three verse require the most care.  Do not read our modern-day assumption that the words “destroyed”, “have faith”, and “saved” always mean “sent to Hell”, “saving faith”, and “eternally secure, going to Heaven”.  A look into the multiple Greek words that go into each of these three words reveals the following:

destroyed = into ruin, waste
have faith = trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them
saved = into gaining, sharing in life

Given that the author includes himself when he says “but we are not those who draw back” and also remembering the context of him encouraging believers, a good paraphrase of verse 39 would read:

But we are not of those who shrink back now into a wasted life, but we are those who trust and act upon the Greater Message now and will therefore gain the rewards in the next life that have been promised.

The same choice is available to us today…will we draw back rom the Greater Message, or will we trust Jesus and act on His word?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The superior message of a Superior Messenger

Jesus taught His disciples that there will be significant rewards for those believers who prepare themselves for His return.  One of the best places in all of the Bible to understand what these rewards will be like is found in the book of Hebrews.  But for us to fully understand the implications of living and investing our lives the way God has intended us to, we must start at the very beginning of the letter.

The letter to the Hebrew believers doesn’t start with your typical Biblical greeting and stated occasion for writing.  The author pulls no punches and gets right to his point, almost as if he were giving a thesis statement for the entire book.  He then spends the next 11 chapters fleshing out what he meant by the first verses, before he gets to how it looks when it is lived out.  Once we understand his thesis main point, we will have the correct lens in order to see the author’s intended life-application for his readers.

Hebrews 1:1-2
Long ago God spoke to the [Israelite] fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways.  In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe.

The first thing we are to know is that God has upgraded his message-delivery system.  God had previously sent messengers to reach out to the Israelites in a variety of ways – prophets with a wide range of backgrounds, visions, dreams, a talking donkey (seriously!), clouds, a burning bush, even angels – all to get Israel’s attention.  What should really get their attention now is Who has been sent in these last days…the very One that made it all in the first place, the One that owns it all.

For further emphasis, they are reminded of exactly who Jesus is…

Hebrews 1:3
[Jesus] is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature and He sustains all things by His powerful word.  After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 

His qualifications far exceed that of any messenger previously sent by God, and, on top of that – Mission Accomplished.  Christ fulfilled the mission God the Father gave to Him.  Jesus brought the good news of reconciliation with God through His sacrificial death on the cross.  Jesus announced that new life was available in Him and proved it with His resurrection.  After charging His disciples to spread the word, Jesus left Earth, and rightfully sat down in the place of highest honor in Heaven.

Hebrews 1:4
So He became higher in rank than the angels, just as the name He inherited is superior to theirs.

Wasn’t Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, already higher in rank than the angels?  God the Son was always superior in his identity (his essence as God); BUT NOW, His humanity has inherited a superior rank.  While Jesus was living in the flesh as the God-man, we was inferior…he joined us in our inferiority.  But by His faithfulness, Jesus fulfilled the words of the angel Gabriel, when he announced Jesus’ birth to Mary:

Luke 1:32
He will be great
and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.

The author of Hebrews then presses his point:

Hebrews 1:5-6
For to which of the angels did He ever say
You are My Son, today I have become Your Father
(Psalm 2:7),
or again,
I will be His Father, and He will be My Son
(2 Samuel 7:14)? 

And again, when He brings His firstborn into the world, He says
And all God’s angels must worship Him
(Psalm 97:7).

Christ – in His humanity and through His faithfulness to complete His work – inherited the title of Son, and has been appointed heir of all things.  And as such, He is the Superior Messenger with a message that is superior to all previous messages.

The author states this upfront, because it is the key point to understanding the rest of his letter.  If you boiled it down to one sentence, I’m sure he’d say:

DO NOT FORGET WHO IT IS YOU’RE DEALING WITH NOW.

Have we?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 3)

As Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a conclusion, He took His disciples aside and strongly encouraged them to be prepared for His eventual return.  As He often did, Jesus stressed His point through a series of parables.  In this parable, two slaves did well as they prepared for their master’s return and one slave did not.  Last time, we looked at how the two were successful in the eyes of their master.  Now, let’s see what happened to the one who did not prepare:

Matthew 25:14-19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey.  Immediately the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more.  In the same way the man with two earned two more.  But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

After heaping praise on the two servants who worked their talents to the fullest extent of their ability, the master turned his attention to the last slave.  When the time came to settle accounts, the last servant was not prepared…and there was no way to do a last-minute fix.  So this servant did what we often do – he tried to shift the blame for his lack of productivity.

Matthew 25:24-25
Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you.  You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, you have what is yours.’

As you can imagine, the master was not impressed with the servant’s actions or words.

Matthew 25:26-27
But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave!  If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers.  And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

If that is what the he truly believed about his master (who had just entrusted him with the equivalent of $720k), the servant could have, at a minimum, put the money in the bank and let the interest compound over the long time the master was on his journey. 

The problem with putting it with the bankers is that there would be an official record that the servant had some of the master’s money.  It’s possible that the servant wanted the money for himself and his own desires.  Perhaps he was hoping the master wouldn’t return, or that one day in the future he could declare to the community that he had “found” this large sum of money buried in a field.  Whatever excuse or plan this servant convinced himself with, the master’s promised arrival undid them all.  Instead of the praise given to the other two servants, this evil, lazy servant received a harsh rebuke.

Matthew 25:28-30
So take the talent from him and five it to the one who has 10 talents.  For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough.  But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When we look at someone who we think God gave more talents to, we tend to get jealous.  We often convince ourselves that we should just quit, saying things like: “I’m not the preacher.”, or “I can’t sing like that.”, or “God didn’t give me lots of finances.  If He had, I could sure help a lot of people.”  None of those self-defeating thoughts help us fulfill the opportunities and mission God gave us.  And these excuses for our lack of effort shift the blame back at God, just like the foolish servant did.

God wants us to fully utilize the gifts He gave us, not stew over how well we’d do with someone else’s.  Don’t convince yourself that your talents are not valuable enough to make an invested impact.  The finances, skills, and abilities you have are specific to you for a reason.  If the servant who received just one talent worked and invested like the other two; he certainly would have received the same praise and rewarding from the master.

Don’t hide your talents

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 2)

We were created to work.  God gave Adam and Eve jobs to do, long before Satan ever tempted them.  Even after sin entered the picture and our work became hard, we still retained the internal drive to explore, design, create, and produce.  However, our sin and selfishness will often cloud our reason and motivation to fulfill our innate urge to work.

Being a Christ follower has an advantage when we deal with the inevitable thistles and thorns of modern-day work.  We have perspective.  We understand where the work ultimately comes from and Who enables us to accomplish the goal of our labor.  However, we might too quickly assume that our efforts are only focused on taking care of our family’s immediate needs.  Those responsibilities are important, but have you considered that our work could have even larger implications?

As Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a conclusion, He took His disciples aside and strongly encouraged them to be prepared for His eventual return.  As He often did, Jesus stressed this point through a series of parables.  In this parable, two slaves did well as they prepared for their master’s return and one slave did not.  Let’s take a look at how the two were successful in the eyes of their master:

Matthew 25:14-17, 19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey.  Immediately, the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more.  In the same way the man with two earned two more.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

These weren’t small amounts of money, either.  If we were handed modern-day lump sums, it would look like this: five talents = $3.6 million, two talents = $1.44 million, one talent = $720,000. 

Jesus didn’t say exactly how these two were able to double their master’s investment, but we do know that they worked within their ability and they did so immediately.  They weren’t messing around when it came time to work. 

However, their results didn’t happen overnight.  They didn’t work a get-rich-quick scheme.  How do we know this?  Because Jesus tells us they settled accounts with their master after a long time had passed.  So, what was the master’s reaction?

Matthew 25:20-23
The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.  Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave!  You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Share your master’s joy!”

Then the man with two talents also approached.  He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents.  Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave!’  You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Share your master’s joy!’

Did you notice?  Both good servants received the same praise and type of reward.  The one with 10 was not praised above the one with 4.  The one with 4 was not compared against the one who had 10.  The master was overjoyed with their results because each one had worked to their full ability

So don’t worry that someone else appears to have received more (or even less) talents than you, we are responsible to handle what God has given us.  We get tripped up when we start looking around and comparing ourselves against the others around us…and we only see the outer portion of their efforts and struggles. 

When we look at someone who we think God gave more talents to, we have a tendency get jealous.  However, if we look at someone who appears to have received less talents than we did, it’s easy to look down on them…or wish that we had it “so much easier”.

These two successful servants remind us to keep our focus on the talents God has given to us, and to make sure that we’re investing them properly and for the long haul.  It would have seemed like the master was gone for a long time while they were putting in the work, but when the master arrived to settle accounts, every drop of effort was rewarded.

Can you imagine?  The Creator of this vast, incredible world – where we still have not exhausted everything to explore, learn, and create – will reward those of us who have been faithful with a few things.  Out of His joy, He will reward us with responsibilities, according to our ability, in eternity future.

What will those responsibilities be?  I don’t know.  But as good as this world is, when God gives out of his joy, you can trust it will be incredible.

So, let’s get to work with the talents we have.  Immediately.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Settling accounts (part 1)

One of the last topics Jesus addressed with His disciples before He went to the cross was how they were going to live after He returned to the Father.  Since the exact time of His return to earth had not been revealed, Jesus told three stories to help them understand their need to be ready at all times.

In the first parable, Jesus contrasted the two paths before a servant who was put in charge of other servants.  When the master returned at an unannounced time, he would find that either the servant continued to be faithful, or he would find that the servant had been derelict in his duties.  The appropriate reward or punishment would then follow.

In the second parable, Jesus contrasted two groups of virgins who were waiting for the groom to return.  When the groom took longer than expected, it became clear that some of the virgins had prepared for a long wait and some of them had not.  When the groom finally did arrive, those that were prepared were welcomed into the wedding feast, while those who were not prepared were excluded from the event.

From these two parables, Jesus teaches that being prepared for His return will lead to significant rewards and opportunities.  The next logical question the disciples must have been wondering is How do I get ready?  What must I do?

Fortunately for them (and for us) Jesus’ next parable answers that question.  Continuing to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said:

Matthew 25:14-15, 19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey…After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

Notice that elements from the previous parables are here also – namely that the servants had responsibility over a portion of the master’s property, and that the master took a long time before returning. 

Now a talent was a very large sum of money, worth about 6,000 denarii.  That monetary unit doesn’t mean much to us, but a denarii was the equivalent of a day’s wage.  Using today’s median income, a talent would be worth about $720,000.  This wasn’t some dinky gift from the master.  This was a serious investment of resources.

Interestingly, the servants did not receive an equal share…but they did receive an appropriate share, to each according to his own ability.  The master was wise enough to know that some servants could handle more, and some should to be in charge of less.  To give a someone more responsibility than they are capable of handling would be setting them up for failure, and the master didn’t do that.

Just imagine the scene when they received the master’s possessions.  The first servant received $3.6 million, the second received $1.44 million, and the third received $720,000.  That moment when the master looked the servant in the eye and said “I’m entrusting you with my money.  I’ll be back to see how you’ve managed it.”  How would you feel?  

Overwhelmed? 
Nervous? 
Jealous that someone else got more? 
Worried that the master entrusted you with too much?

Very few of us will ever receive a full talent of money as a lump sum in our lifetime.  However, if we look at how much we typically make over our entire lifetime…we’ve been entrusted with a lot of the master’s resources.  Now factor in other talents and abilities each of us have, think about how those could be invested…and if you’re like me, I’m starting to feel like the servants must have felt. 

Jesus has entrusted us with a lot.  And when He comes back, He’s going to settle accounts with us.

Invest wisely.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Wedding preparations (part 1)

So much goes into a wedding.  In our culture, it’s more than just the day-of ceremony between two people.  There’s the decorations and the rehearsal dinner and procession lines and the wedding reception and dancing and eating and gifts and on and on and on.  More than just the bride and the groom, other friends and family members have their “parts” to play in the various events.

In the second of three parables, at the end of what is referred to as ‘The Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus continued with the theme of being prepared for his unannounced return.  He used an illustration from something his disciples would be familiar with – one aspect of the Jewish wedding procession. 

Matthew 25:1-5
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.  Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.  When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them.  But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.  Since the groom was delayed they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”

Jesus was a master storyteller, and the disciples would have immediately picked up on the tension in the story.  They knew the Jewish marriage customs: that the bridegroom would travel to the home of his prospective bride, he would pay a purchase price for her, and at that time she was declared to be set apart exclusively for the groom.  The groom would return to his father’s house, for an unspecified time, to prepare their new home.  The bride would prepare herself for his eventual return.  Typically, about a year later, he would lead a procession to fetch his bride and bring her to their new home.  Their return home would be heralded with a shout and a torch-lit ceremony – where all invited guests were ready to attend the wedding feast.

Jesus’ parable takes place at the return of the groom with his bride.  However, there were some waiting for his return that were not completely ready.  They expected the groom to return quickly, and not be delayed.  As Jesus continues, we find that their lack of preparation will certainly cost them.

Matthew 25:6-13
“In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom!  Come out to meet him.’

 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

 The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you.  Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

 When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived.  Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet and the door was shut.  Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

 But he replied, ‘I assure you; I do not know you!’

 Therefore, be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.”

The foolish virgins knew the groom was coming back.  They had every right to be out waiting for his return.  They were on equal footing with the sensible ones in terms of position and ability.  It’s almost like they ‘knew’ when the groom would return, so they didn’t make any provision beyond their immediate needs.  They were not prepared to wait for the long haul, in case (according to their plans) the groom was delayed.  Their lack of preparation meant that they missed out on that portion of the joyous wedding festivities.

Jesus re-emphasized the point of His parable with His last sentence: Therefore, be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

Even though it’s been many years since Jesus gave this warning…His return is still imminent.  His promise still stands.  He is coming back.  We shouldn’t be lulled in to slothfulness, thinking that every day will go on like the last one did.  TODAY could be THE DAY.  Are we watching?  Are we ready?  We don't want to miss out on anything Jesus has in store for us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken