Faithful Stewardship

To be well prepared for death, we have to be reconciled with our Maker and Judge. That is the most fundamental thing. The story of the Ten Virgins, covered in my last blog, teaches that we cannot have the connection that we have with Jesus to run dry, and faith be lost. Presuming that this is not the case, we go on to Jesus’ next parable, The Parable of the Talents, in Matthew 25:14-30 to learn another valuable lesson about being prepared for death and/or Judgment Day.

This story describes Jesus as a rich man who is going away and leaving property in the management of three stewards. From Jesus’ ascension to His return, Jesus is not going to have a direct visible presence. He promises to be with us always. He promises that we are “the Body of Christ” and that He is in us. But to the outside observer, He is gone. The wise and prepared disciple of Jesus understands that Jesus is here and that He has given us responsibility. We are best prepared when we are faithfully caring out our responsibility to the very end of our days.

In the story, two of the three stewards manage to bring a 100% return. They are not given equal responsibilities (one has five talents of silver-approximately 100 years wages and the other has three talents) The money represents a wide range of things of which we are stewards: our money, our time, our abilities, our opportunities, our bodies, the planet, our knowledge of God and possibly more.

Their example instructs us to be examining our stewardship throughout our lives. Again, our stewardship doesn’t save us, but clearly there is a reward connected with doing a good job and we don’t have an evaluation until Judgment Day. It is good to be aware of our stewardship as early as possible, but this lesson is especially valuable toward the end of life when we might be inclined to evaluate our own lives as useless.

To be productive stewards isn’t necessarily the same thing as having a big impact on the world. It is just a matter of being faithful with what you have. As physical and mental faculties diminish, we need to seek what we can do rather than merely survive or bemoan what we have lost. Can you still pray? Then do it. Can you show love? Can you praise God, even internally? God determines when our stewardship is concluded in this life.

This is the primary argument against suicide. Suicide is not necessarily damning , but it is a sin. When we cut the corner to death, we leave behind at least some of our stewardship responsibility. A person who sees life as a stewardship given by God and is confident in eternal life because of grace is highly unlikely to find any situation bad enough to merit killing oneself.

Faithful stewardship involves both respect for the asset under your stewardship as being the property of God, efficient use of it, and results that further God’s Kingdom or honor God’s name. Faithful stewardship is a second level of preparedness for death.

The story has a third steward in it. This one is given only one talent, but he buries it in the ground. Who does this character represent? It represents those who are given at least life, time on Earth, and an intellectual understanding of the Gospel; but it never results in faith, salvation and consequently any result that is pleasing to God.

In his explanation, the third steward says that he knew the owner was a hard man and was afraid. Is God a hard man? In a way, yes. God is patient, merciful, loving and supportive. Those who have faith can never be completely unproductive, so there is little to worry about. But the story reminds us of the twin facts that God can be generous and severe.

Faithlessness and unfaithfulness as a steward results in the third steward being “cut to pieces and put with the hypocrites. In that place where there will be weeping a gnashing of teeth.” This sentence a description of being damned. God’s law leaves no room for those who reject Jesus’ sacrifice. God’s justice or severity will not compromise that requirement.

Again, do not take away that decent stewardship saves you. God gives salvation, but throwing it away damns you or, even better, leaves you in your natural state of being damned. Being a good steward rewards you. The two productive stewards get this accolade and promise:

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.

Matthew 25:23

That is a promise that excites and a commendation that we should all seek.

For another angle on The Parable of the Talents go here:

https://wordpress.com/post/afterdeathsite.com/1395

Do You Have Oil in Your Lamp?

If you are not familiar with Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 of the Ten Virgins, then the title of this article would be confusing. Jesus tells a story where 10 bridesmaids are waiting the coming of the bridegroom. It is a picture of waiting for Jesus’ return and Judgment Day, but it might as well also be a story of waiting for our death.

In the story, five of the bridesmaids run out of oil for their lamps, because they did not adequately plan for the long delay. What does the oil represent? It is God who gets through to us and gives us a connection to Jesus that we call faith. This connection can be weak or strong, demonstrating its presence with trust and good works or barely discernable from those without faith. It is also comparable to a living thing–like a plant. Stronger is obviously better. So to grow or even to just survive, faith requires the input of God like a plant needs water. This input comes through exposure to God’s Word and through the gift of Jesus’ body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Jesus instructs all of his people to have certain practices: worship, prayer, confession of sins, reading the Bible and regular participation in the Lord’s Supper. These practices not only keep “oil in our lamps”, they bring us into a more personal interaction with God, and prepare us for our life’s God-given purpose.

That said, these practices, which I call the practices of a disciple, are a way to not only prepare for life but to prepare for our death. Life is relatively short, but in the midst of troubling times it can seem to drag on for a long time. During these times it is easy to lose our zeal for God, then lose our basic feeling of being connected to God, next to drift away from critical practices and run low or out of “oil”.

One of my big concerns as a pastor is how the Covid-19 pandemic will impact people’s discipleship practices. Will be become both physically and spiritually soft during this pandemic because we acquire a habit of doing nothing?

If we continue to walk with God through all situations, we will have oil to spare. People who die with oil to spare, approach their immediate death with joy and expectation. They leave a marvelous example for those they leave behind and give a reason for happiness in the midst of loss.

Having oil in your lamp is one part of our preparation. Being active in pursuing our God given purpose is what I will cover in my next blog.