This TBT excerpt is adapted from Tom Nelson’s Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Crossway, 2011). TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a regular column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation to introduce you to thoughtful literature and to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.
We all have a curiosity about the future, and Jesus’s first-century disciples were no exception. Steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, they understood that history was not a series of meaningless, random events. They believed history was being skillfully guided by the hand of a good and sovereign God.
History was moving somewhere, but where? How would the future unfold?
Overcome by curiosity, the disciples asked Jesus about the future.
Jesus Talks Talents
In response Jesus paints a compelling picture of unfolding future events and the consummation of all things. His aim isn’t to give every detail but to urge his disciples to live with discernment and expectancy, always prepared for the Son of Man’s return to earth and the coming day of judgment.
To drive home his point, Jesus tells a story often referred to as the parable of the talents. Sometimes we overlook that Jesus sets this parable about the future in the context of work and the workplace:
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 sown 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.” (Matt. 25:14–30)
Jesus’s parable introduces us to three workers. In our modern context, we might refer to them as investment portfolio managers tasked by an owner to manage and grow his wealth and to expand his net worth. Two of the three workers demonstrate diligence by investing the financial resources well. But one demonstrates slothfulness, and doesn’t invest the owner’s financial resources. We might say he stuffed the owner’s cash in his mattress rather than investing it in the market.
The owner’s response to the three workers is telling. The two portfolio managers who demonstrate diligence in their work not only receive great commendation, they are promised greater responsibility and opportunity in their future work. “You have been faithful over a little,” the owner tells them. “I will set you over much.” The clear implication is that the owner has more work and greater responsibility for his faithful workers in the future. The slothful worker, however, receives a stern, heart-stopping rebuke. The investment portfolio entrusted to him is snatched away and given to another, and the slothful man’s future work isn’t greater responsibility and opportunity but a hellish destiny in “outer darkness,” the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
In light of his future return, Jesus calls his followers to lives of gospel readiness. He makes the vital connection that Christian faithfulness now—in this already-but-not-yet moment in redemptive history—will be rewarded on the last day.
I don’t think it’s a small thing that Jesus’s clarion call to faithfulness is set in the context of work. As God’s image bearers, after all, we were created with work in mind.
Connecting Faith and Work
I believe Jesus’s parable of the talents encourages us not only to gospel readiness but also to more seamlessly connect our Sunday faith with our Monday work. Diligent stewardship of all that’s been entrusted to us is an authenticating mark of any true Christian and an essential component of a life well lived.
The writer of Ecclesiastes concludes his quest for life’s meaning with the bottom-line reality of our unavoidable accountability to our Creator. The book ends on a sobering note:
God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Eccl. 12:14)
The day is coming when each one of us will give an accounting to God for our life. This is a game-changing truth that ought to shape how we live and work now. And since such a large portion of our time on earth is devoted to our jobs, much of our accounting will be answering for the stewardship of the work God has deployed to do.
In this famous parable Jesus paints an enticing picture of the future that brings with it great reward for faithfulness. Indeed, our future reward involves joyful intimacy with our King. We will “enter into the joy of our Master,” but we will also be given greater work to do. In many ways, then, we are training for our coming reign with him. The work you do now matters more than you often realize.