Use It or Lose It
Myra Hindley was one of the most notorious murderers of the twentieth century. Her crimes were almost unbelievably horrific. Yet, one person took it upon himself to visit her regularly while she was in prison.
Lord Longford (1905–2001) was a controversial figure who spent much of his life visiting prisoners, including Myra Hindley. Yet, no one can doubt his compassion and his faithfulness, both to God and to those he visited.
When he died, former prisoners joined hundreds of mourners to say farewell to the man who had spent his life faithfully fighting for society’s outcasts.
He found inspiration in the words of Jesus from today’s passage. On his deathbed he asked his wife, ‘You know what the most important quotation from the Bible is?’ He spoke his last words by answering his own question, quoting the words of Jesus: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’ (Matthew 25:36).
Life is not a competition that you have to win. It is not supposed to be a rat race. Life is a huge privilege and an opportunity. God has trusted you with gifts and abilities, which he wants you to use. Use them or lose them. He is faithful to us and he expects us to be faithful to him.
46 The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Saviour!
50 He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and to his descendants for ever.
‘Be kind,’ said the philosopher Plato, ‘for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’ The Bible gives us an even stronger reason to always be kind. God is always kind to us. In his faithfulness, he shows us ‘unfailing kindness’ (v.50).
David is able to look back at his life and see how God has shown ‘unfailing kindness’ to him and his children and grandchildren, (‘his descendants’, v.50). God had delivered him from all ‘the attacks of the people’ around (v.43a). He had put him in a position of leadership with great responsibility (v.43b).
He had given David ‘great victories’ (v.50a) and had saved him and exalted him (v.48). David responded in worship (‘I will sing praises to your name’, v.49b), thanking God for his faithfulness to his ‘anointed’ (v.50b).
You also are ‘anointed’ (2 Corinthians 1:21–22; 1 John 2:20). God will show you his ‘unfailing kindness’ (Psalm 18:50). He is kind all the time. And, if you want to be like him, make kindness your ambition.
14 ‘Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.
19 ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 ‘The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five...
21 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”’
22 ‘The man with two bags of gold also came. “Master,” he said, ‘”you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.”
23 ‘His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
24 ‘Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man... 25 … I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”
26 ‘His master replied, “You wicked, lazy servant! …”
28 “‘… take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”’
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory... 32 … he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
34 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance... 35 ‘“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”’
37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry… or thirsty… 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
A life of faithfulness
How can you be ‘faithful’ (vv.21,23)?
- Use it or lose it
God is generous and kind. He gives us so much. In the parable, the ‘bag of gold‘ (or ‘talent’, as is used in some translations and is the origin of the English word ‘talent’) represents not only your money but your gifts, skills, time, energy, education, intellect, strength, influence and opportunities.
Be faithful with whatever you have been given. It is no good wishing that you had been given more. You are simply called to do the best you can with what you have.
To be faithful means to use the gifts and abilities that God has given you. I am sometimes tempted to be like the third servant who said, ‘I was afraid’ (v.25). We hide our talents because we are afraid of failure and what others may think of us, or of the hard work and responsibility that may be involved.
It has been said that ‘The greatest mistake you could make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.’
The servant who received five talents and the one who received two talents must both have had to risk losing it all. Step out in faith, use your gifts and risk failure.
Jesus said, in effect, ‘use them or lose them’ (vv.28–30). If you do the very best with what you have, God will give you more and say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (vv.21,23).
- See the least and the last as Jesus in disguise
Jesus said, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (v.40). He tells us that faithfulness to him is shown in what we do for the most vulnerable and most needy in our world (vv.35–36,42–43):
Millions of people are dying of starvation. Every time you feed the hungry, you encounter Jesus. Mother Teresa said, ‘The dying, the unwanted, the unloved – they are Jesus in disguise.’
To be homeless, a refugee or an asylum seeker must be one of the most painful experiences of life. When you encounter people who are ‘strangers’ and when you look after the homeless, provide them with shelter and invite them into the heart of your community, you encounter Jesus (vv.35b,38).
Another way in which you can meet Jesus is through ministering to those who are sick, whether they are in hospital, at home or at church. Every time you pray for the sick you have the opportunity to encounter Jesus.
Those in prison often come from the category of ‘the last and the least’ of our society. Jesus challenges us to imitate his grace and acceptance of ‘sinners’. We need to remember that we too are forgiven sinners.
It is a huge privilege to go into the prisons or to care for and mentor prison-leavers. I remember the chaplain general to the prison service saying that when he first went into the prisons, he thought he would take Jesus in with him. He soon realised that Jesus was already there. He said that from then on he went into the prisons in order to encounter Jesus.
In all these areas Jesus says, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (v.40). Jesus tells us that when he comes again in glory there will be a judgment (vv.31–33), and it will involve a separation that will surprise people (v.37,44). How we respond to Jesus has eternal consequences (vv.30,46).
8 … My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.’ 10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.
God has had a good plan for you from the moment you were conceived. He also had a good plan for Job. Right from the start he had planned Job’s restoration and blessing.
Job is remembered throughout history for his faithfulness. The apostle James says, ‘You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about’ (James 5:11).
Once again God fires questions at Job making him realise that there are simply some things ‘too wonderful for [Job] to know’ (Job 42:3b). Job holds on to God's faithfulness, ‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted’ (v.2). This is a wonderful promise to hold on to when things in your life are not going according to your plans. God has a good plan for you and it will not be thwarted.
God does not give us trouble-free lives. He does not answer all our questions. But he does reassure us that he is with us in our troubles.
God tells Job to pray for his friends who had hurt him, let him down, wrongly accused him, judged him and criticised him (vv.7–8). Job forgave them and showed his total forgiveness by praying for them. As he interceded for them, God not only accepted Job’s prayer for his friends but also, ‘The Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before’ (v.10).
Joyce Meyer writes, ‘If you do things God’s way, he will give you double for your trouble.’ ‘The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first’ (v.12). As with David, God showed his kindness to him and his descendants (v.16).
Job is commended for his perseverance in the face of suffering (James 5:10–11). Satan believed that suffering would cause Job to turn away from God. Job’s perseverance demonstrated that Satan was wrong. With brutal honesty at times, Job was nonetheless able to maintain his worship of God in good times and times of great trial.
His perseverance is an example to us of how to respond to suffering. When you respond with faithful perseverance, Satan is defeated. Job is a ‘type’ of Christ. Through Jesus’ faithful perseverance in response to his suffering on the cross, Satan has been totally defeated, once and for all.
In the story of the talents in Matthew 25, at first glance it does not seem at all fair, giving more to a person who already has a lot. I feel sorry for the man who was too frightened to use his talent. I can relate to him. Sometimes fearing to fail or not wanting to look a fool can hold us back. But God has made us the way we are for a purpose that only we can fulfil.
Verse of the Day
[Jesus said] '… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
‘The dying, the unwanted, the unloved – they are Jesus in disguise.’
Thought for the Day
‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’
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Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible, (Faithwords, 2018) p.812
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.