There is nothing new about the desire of people to leave a legacy. For many, it is primarily about how they will be remembered by others.
Consider so many of the archeological and historical structures of antiquity. From the tombs of the Pharaohs to the ruins of Rome such as the Arch of Titus – remembering his military exploits – these are all efforts to enshrine a legacy of greatness and accomplishment. And a few of them remain, though surely the majority of such efforts over the years are lost to ravages of time.
A better encouragement about what defines “legacy” comes from the venerable mind of Billy Graham, who said, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”
There is great truth to that, as you can indeed impact three, four, or perhaps five generations after you by your faith, evidenced by a life of trust and commitment to God.
But today, let’s take apart the parable of the talents for some help in defining how we can be a people of legacy leaving.
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
I am reading from the NIV – which I typically use, though Chris often uses a different version – the ESV. It would be better for the NIV translators to have remained with the word “talents.” Probably they were trying to get away from the confusion of “talent” as an ability or skill that one possesses, when actually the term in the text speaks of a measurement of money – a LARGE measurement. It could be gold, or more often actually silver – ranging from about 40-60 pounds. A talent was thought to perhaps represent the equivalent of 15-20 years of wages for a working man. In any event, it was a lot of money.
In the ancient world, slaves (who served as a sort of indentured servants) were often entrusted with great responsibility of stewardship in a household.
16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
We don’t know how long the master was gone, but it sure sounds like the banks in these days paid a lot better interest than we can get in our generation!! But the point of the story is that there were means available to the servants to, while putting assets to some risk, have them yield a positive return through wise investment.
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. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
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!’
That last phrase probably is a reference to an invitation to a banquet, or feast, at the master’s table … and though it is getting ahead of ourselves in interpretation and application to say this: You can see how this has a ring of spiritual and eternal application of the great feast that the Scriptures speak of as in heaven – the eating at the table of the Lord forever, etc.
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, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So 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! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
Actually, the statement uttered by the third servant condemns himself, not the master; and it reveals his true intent. If the master was as the servant claimed, it should have motivated him even more greatly to invest and make the most of what he had been given.
It would appear that this servant, along with being lazy, simply hid the money away in hopes that it would be forgotten – in the event that, if the master did not return, it would be his own. There would be no official record of it with others. So he was to be seen as both lazy AND self-motivated.
28 “‘So 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. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Let’s take this passage and make five statements of application from it:
- We are servants of Jesus Christ – our master – living in a period of time where we await his promised return.
- We have been given gifts and resources to be used – spiritual gifts and material assets – with a presumption that they will benefit the household (the kingdom) of our master.
- Our master – Jesus – will return (or call us to join him where he is) and there will be an accounting as to our use of HIS resources given to us.
- There is abundant opportunity to invest HIS resources in causes that will benefit the master’s kingdom.
- Seeing the master as harsh, and thereby hoarding HIS resources with a view toward keeping them for our security and use, positions us away from being any sort of blessing.
I am afraid that too many Christian people who are part of the kingdom see God in the way the third person today in the story viewed the master. They see God as hard and scary, not really someone they can trust. They’d rather play it close to the chest and hold onto resources carefully – because one can’t quite be sure what God will do if they are generous.
Summary Statements and Thoughts …
I’ve heard more than one person, late in life say, “The only thing I’ve ever really kept is what I’ve given away. It’s a universal law: You have to give before you get. You must plant your seeds before you reap the harvest. The more you sow, the more you’ll reap.
I have never seen a year before this one to quite match the maple tree seeds that cover the ground. In my frequent cycling on the canal towpath, the pathway is so covered as to make a soft and cushioned, tan surface. Imagine a maple tree holding onto the seeds, afraid to lose them out of fear. That would never happen. What they produce is for the purpose of watching the wind scatter and wing those seeds even far from the tree. Even a dumb tree knows what to do with its resources! Share them!
In the end, this all comes down to a heart issue – the view that one has of God, along with a person’s values system about the passing reality of this world and the eternal reality of the world to come. Jesus rightly commented that a person’s heart and their treasure are not far separated. And when we value those things that God values – the stuff of the eternal kingdom of light – the use of our treasure to prosper that becomes a legacy we can never lose. It may well bless our family for several generations, but even if it is forgotten by them and we are forgotten by everyone in the world of the living, we are not forgotten by God, nor is our work lost.
Are you going to count on others – friends, family, business associates, etc. – to remember what you’ve done in the physical world, or do you suppose it would be better to think in terms of letting God be the custodian of your legacy because of your investments in things eternal?