The Lesson of the One Talent Servant

April 11, 2014

When we use the word talent, we are usually talking about abilities and aptitudes which someone has. Interestingly enough, our English word comes from the Greek word used in the New Testament. Our English meaning may even come from the phrase “each according to his ability” in Matthew 25:15 in the Parable of the Talents. But the Greek word means a weight of about 75 pounds.

The servants in the Parable of the Talents receive 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent respectively. That is, they receive about 375 pounds, 150 pounds, and 75 pounds of something. The talent was equivalent to about 6,000 drachmas or about 20 years’ wages for a laborer. If we were to say a laborer earns $15 per hour, at 2,000 hours per year, he would earn $30,000 per year. That would make one talent equal to about $600,000.

  • 5 talents = 100 years of wages or about $3,000,000
  • 2 talents = 40 years of wages or about $1,200,000
  • 1 talent = 20 years of wages or about $600,000

These are approximations, but they give us a comparison we can understand. This stops me from saying, “Oh, the poor one talent servant, he was given so little.” He was richly blessed, but other servants had greater blessings.

What is wrong with the one talent servant? It is not that he possesses only one talent. He is not blamed for his more limited resources. But two words describe him that we ought to ponder. He is “slothful” ESV, KJV or “lazy” NIV, NASB, NKJV. The definition of the word is possessing a state involving shrinking from something, holding back, hesitation, reluctance. And from that, the definitions of idle, lazy, and indolent.

The second word is “worthless” ESV, NIV, NASB and “unprofitable” KJV, NKJV. This word means being of no use or profit especially in an economic sense or being unworthy of any praise, although the former of these meanings would be more likely in our parable.

The thing I must ask myself has to do with the kingdom of God. Am I dragging my feet to be involved? Am I hesitating to serve God with the result that I’m actually idle or lazy? Am I useful to the kingdom? Does God derive a benefit to his kingdom because I claim to be a servant? Let us learn the lesson of the one talent servant.

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Jesus Serves

November 1, 2013

Imagine coming home and finding Jesus there. He’s dressed in grubby clothes—the kind you wear to clean house. He’s in the bathroom cleaning away. The faucets sparkle. The toilet gleams and even has that blue water in it. The dirty towels are in the laundry, and Jesus is on his knees working on that stubborn soap scum in the tub. How would you feel? Awkward? Embarrassed? No doubt we would try to get Jesus to the living room where we could be good hosts. We would say, “Jesus, you are much too important to be doing this.”

Enter into the world of the upper room. It was customary for guests to have their feet washed. It was considered a servile job — a job left to slaves, children or an exceptionally submissive and dutiful wife. Would any of the Twelve do it? They probably wouldn’t have minded washing Jesus’ feet. But would the thought have occurred, “I’m just as important an apostle as everybody else—why should I wash their feet?”

Jesus laid aside his garment. Not only was he going to do the slave’s job, but he looked the part. The one who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped took on the very nature of a servant — a slave. Jesus washed their feet (John 13:1-17). Peter’s protest no doubt broke the awkward tension and captured other’s feelings. But protests aside, a necessary lesson was being taught.

Jesus is Lord and Teacher. If he could do this for them, then they should serve others. With a towel and a water basin, Jesus shattered our proud, self-importance—our clamoring for position. How can any of us ever say, “I’m too important to serve,” when our Lord washed feet.

David Lipscomb became editor of the Gospel Advocate in 1866 and started the Nashville Bible School in 1891, which later became Lipscomb University. In 1873, Nashville was faced with a cholera epidemic. The first case was reported on June 7th. Two weeks later the cases numbered 397. Likely hundreds died that summer. Lipscomb wrote in the midst of that crisis, “Every individual, white or black, that dies from the neglect and want of proper food and nursing is a reproach to the professors of the Christian religion in the vicinity of Nashville.” But he did more. He led young men into the slums “where they prepared wholesome food and cleaned the filth from the affected area” of cholera victims. Lipscomb nursed cholera victims because he served a Lord who washed feet.

You have heard it said, “Jesus saves.” How true and wonderful that is. But equally wondrous is the truth that Jesus serves, and so must we who follow Him.


Who Are Deacons and What Do They Do?

September 20, 2013

“Deacon” is not a translation but a transliteration. A transliteration is when you spell a word of one language in the corresponding letters or characters of another language. The Greek word is “diakonos” (Strong’s number G1249). It is usually translated as servant or minister. The definition in the standard Greek dictionary of the New Testament is: (1) one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction, agent, intermediary, courier, and (2) one who gets something done, at the behest of a superior, assistant.1 A number of groups and individuals are called “diakonos” in the New Testament.

  • Servants of a king: Matt. 22:13
  • Servants at a wedding: John 2:5, 9
  • Governmental rulers: Romans 13:4 (2x)
  • Christ: Romans 15:8, Galatians 2:17
  • Satan’s servants: 2 Corinthians 11:14-15
  • A number of individuals: Paul and Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5), Paul (Eph. 3:6-7, Col. 1:23, 25), Timothy (1 Tim. 4:6), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1), Tychicus (Eph. 6:21, Col. 4:7), and Epaphras (Col. 1:17).
  • Disciples: Matt. 20:25, 23:11, Mark 9:35, 10:43, John 12:26, 2 Cor. 3:6, 11:23.
  • Deacons: Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:8, 3:10 (verb form), 3:12

It is not unusual for words to have a general use and a technical term use. There is a proper sense that all Christians are servants. Yet, it is also clear that there is a special group of servants in Philippians 1 who are distinguished from the other church members (i.e., the saints) and the overseers. The fact that we have qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 also indicates a specially appointed group of servants. Not everyone has the qualifications mentioned in this text.

But what do deacons do? The New Testament doesn’t give specifics. The word itself suggests that deacons assist the work of the overseers in some way. They are said to serve (diakoneō, G1247) in 1 Timothy 3:10. Acts 6:1-6 may at least be a case of proto-deacons. The men in this passage are not called deacons. Years later Philip is referred to as “one of the seven” (Acts 21:8). Yet the passage speaks of the “daily ministry” (diakonia, G1248) in Acts 6:1, and the apostles do not want to neglect the preaching of the word of God “to serve tables” (diakoneō, G1247) in Acts 6:2. Certainly to serve tables could refer to serving food at a table, but it could also mean “serve as accountants.”2 The word table is associated with money changers and banking in the ancient world and therefore accounting. Even our English word “bank” comes from the “bench” of the money lender. The seven of this passage are either distributing food or funds.3 At any rate, the seven assisted and served in the work of the church so that the Apostles did not lose the focus of their ministry. It would seem that deacons function in the same way in relationship to overseers.

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1A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Earl Christian Literature (abbreviated as BDAG), p. 230

2BDAG, s.v. trapeza, p. 1013

3Several English translations say in Acts 6:1 “daily distribution of food.” However, the Greek text only has “daily ministry” or “daily service” (cf. the KJV or ASV). I think it is an open question as to whether the Seven were distributing food or money. The bottom line was that they were taking care of widows.


How Does Your Garden Grow?

July 21, 2012

Imagine different gardeners and their plants.

In one case, there is but an overgrown pot. Everything is under control, but growth is stifled. The plant could be several times its current size, but that would mean being repotted or placed in the garden. It would mean having room to grow.

In another case, the garden is neglected. The plants are sickly. They need weeding and pruning. They need water and fertilizer. With attention, the garden could be lush and fruitful, but this garden has many a brown spot and plants that are about to die.

The third garden is hardly a garden. Dead plants really do not a garden make. It is evident that something toxic had been in this garden. Instead of water and fertilizer, these plants received poison.

The final case is a lush, green, and fruitful garden. It has received good care from the gardeners. Weeds have been pulled. Water and fertilizer have been applied, and the increase is great.

The story of the gardeners provides a lesson for the church. The selection of elders and deacons is a vitally important decision. As the work of gardeners affect the garden, so does the work of elders and deacons affect the church.

Overbearing leaders (see 1 Peter 5:3) can stifle the life of the church. The church can be like the pot bound plant—capable of great growth if given the chance, but stifled instead.

Neglectful leaders fail to do the work that needs to be done. The church can become like the neglected garden in need of weeding, pruning, fertilizing, and watering.

Toxic leaders bring false teaching (see Titus 1:9-11). Instead of the sound doctrine that produces spiritual health. False teaching kills off the life of the church.

Finally, good leaders do the work that needs to be done in the church. The result is a healthy church. The members are equipped for service (Ephesians 4). The church grows and produces good fruit.

As we consider the qualities that elders and deacons need to have, and the work that they are called to do, may we be reminded of the importance of this decision. The health and growth of the church are dependent on the quality of leadership we have. May we wisely choose spiritual men who will be a blessing to the church.