HOW SHOULD WE USE OUR SPIRITUAL TALENTS?
By Eric V. Snow
In all of publishing history, what novel has sold the most copies? Any guesses? First published in 1896, Charles M. Sheldon’s “In His Steps” went on to sell some 28.5 million copies by 1977. Despite it has some scattered and recurring doctrinal errors when examined from a Sabbatarian COG viewpoint, it still retains its spiritual power. Its characters, all members of a staid upper middle to upper class Evangelical Protestant church in a small city in the American Midwest, had merely been going through the motions of living as Christians. After taking a vow that for a year they wouldn’t do anything without first asking themselves, “What would Jesus do?,” they all suddenly had their professional, family, and/or spiritual lives turned upside-down. A particularly interesting point the book makes concerns the willingness of one of its characters, Rachel Winslow, to use her great natural talent in singing exclusively in the service of her church, including in evangelism meetings held in a rough section of town. She turned down the opportunity of going on tour as part of a professional concert tour company that would win her both professional recognition and a high salary. As she explained her decision to her infuriated mother: “I am hungry to suffer for something. . . . How much have we denied ourselves or given of our personal ease and pleasure to bless the place in which we live or imitate the life of the Saviour of the world? Are we always to go on doing as society selfishly dictates, moving on its little narrow round of pleasures and entertainments, and never knowing the pain of things that cost?” So then, are we willing to use our talents to serve God and others, as Rachel Winslow did, and not merely ourselves? But why has God allowed us to have different talents to begin with, instead of making us all little yellow pencils cut from the same mold?
Consider carefully implications of the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), which used an ancient monetary unit to make the spiritual point that those who refuse to use the gifts God gave them (natural or spiritual) in His service can’t be saved. The worthless and lazy slave was cast out into “the outer darkness” for merely returning to his Master what he had been given without increasing it (vs. 26, 31). Notice that the three servants had been given different numbers of talents (five, two, and one), “each according to his own ability” (v. 15). Different people, whether in the world or in the church, can have wildly varying levels of natural talents, whether they be social skills, athletic ability, intellectual aptitude, musical ability, etc. This parable indicates that God judges relative to our ability our works that determine how high or low we’ll be in the kingdom of God. The increased levels of spiritual responsibility to be given us in the afterlife are symbolically represented by the number of cities servants were given in the parallel parable in Luke 19:12-19. Those who are unusually blessed physically or spiritually in life this should consider now the sobering implications of Luke 12:48: “And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” God requires more of those who were blessed with (say) wealth, good health, physical beauty, stable family lives (from childhood or presently), superior social skills, education, good jobs, intelligence, etc. than from those who may be lacking in one or more of these areas when it comes to determining one’s relative position in the kingdom of God. God does “grade” relative to effort put forth in overcoming relative to the greater or fewer obstacles we may have in our paths while we serve Him.
Of course, we could question why God has allowed such enormous variations to exist in people’s natural talents and physical gifts (and these extend far beyond inherited wealth, i.e., artificial class differences engendered by society). In this light, consider the scene in Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, “Death on the Nile,” in which one working class bloke laments, after briefly glimpsing the beautiful heiress who was soon murdered on her honeymoon: “It seems all wrong to me—her looking like that. Money and looks—it’s too much! If a girl’s as rich as that she’s [got] no right to be a good-looker as well. And she is a good-looker. . . . Got everything, that girl has. Doesn’t seem fair . . .”
Remember, God, since He was the Creator, produced in us the natural talents we have, not just the spiritual ones we gain as Christians in His service. God harnesses these natural variations through having decreed different roles for different people in the church through a process of the division of labor since not everyone in the Body of Christ has the same function (I Cor. 12:18): “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” He’ll use people’s natural or acquired talents in His service, and can increase them by His Spirit if He so chooses, such as by (say) making an average public speaker better (cf. I Cor. 14:3). And each part (member) is important, even though others in the church may not perceive why God called a given person (who they may carnally regard as a pain in the neck) as opposed to somebody more congenial they know from work or college (v. 22-23): “On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor.”
God may call those who have fewer natural talents or more personal problems into His church precisely because they feel a perceived need for Him more in their lives rather than the man or woman who is unusually blessed naturally. God can do more through the humble one “who trembles at My word” (Isa. 66:2) rather than the “mighty” or “wise” or “noble” one who dismisses God and Christianity as crutches for weaklings: “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (I Cor. 1:27). This is one way in which indeed the first shall be last, and the last first (Matt. 20:16). Those who see a need for God to fix their lives spiritually, God can work with, but those who are unusually naturally blessed are apt to see little need for God in their lives, so God can’t use them until they realize their need for Him as well.
So in conclusion we should remember God has entrusted us with different talents, both natural endowments and spiritual gifts, in order for us to be able to help each other in our Christian walk since different parts of the Body of Christ have to have different functions so that the church works together harmoniously (Eph. 4:13-16). So then, are we using our talents to help out others in the church and to glorify God, as the fictional Rachel Winslow did by singing, or are we leaving them in a handkerchief, to gather dust?