In the course of a day, how many times do you make contact with the suffering of another living being? Really, if you counted them, how many would there be?
It is 6:00 a.m. your radio alarm clicks on and reports that another suicide bomber took out twenty-three more people somewhere in the Middle East (one). Good morning. After mining the nighttime crusties from your eyes and brushing your teeth, you take a scroll through Facebook. Your college friend just got back from India, a medical mission to the slums, and she brought back scads of photos (two). Joe, whom you haven’t seen in a decade, is fighting cancer . . . for the third time (three). A pro-life meme reminds you that more than sixty million have been aborted in America since 1973 (four). The contact points are racking up and you haven’t even had your coffee yet.
We live in a troubled world. The magnitude of the problems is disheartening. We want to see the problems solved, but they seem too big, too far removed. What can we really do? It is a question worth asking. I suspect I can’t entirely answer this question for you (I don’t yet have a complete answer for me). Only you know all the gifts and abilities which the Lord has given you, and only you are acquainted with all of the opportunities He has sent you.
In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a story about a master who leaves on a journey. He leaves his possessions (the passage calls them talents) behind him in the care of three servants or slaves. He entrusts these slaves to take what he has left in their care and improve upon it. He does not give them detailed instructions on what to do to gain an increase; he simply entrusts them with the task. Now, when the master returns after a long absence he finds that two of his slaves have taken the talents and put them to work, and they have yielded an increase which doubled what they were given. “Well done, good and faithful slave” says the master, “you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.” The third slave, however, did not yield an increase. He hid the talent he had been given fearing that he may lose it and his master would be angry. The response of the master, receiving back the uninvested talent from his slave is, “You wicked, lazy slave . . . take away the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents.”
What are Your ‘Talents’?
What does this story, told by our Master, have to do with how we can personally help tackle the world’s biggest problems? Well, there are several things this story shows us which may help us toward an answer to this daunting question.
First, this parable is given as part of a larger teaching on what the kingdom of heaven is like. The Master is about the business of building His kingdom, and He involves his servants in the work.
Second, we are the slaves in this story. We are to serve but one master, and that master is Christ (I Corinthians 7:22–23).
Third, our Master gives us things which He fully expects us to use and invest to produce growth in His kingdom.
Fourth, slaves are responsible for the use, good or ill, of what they have been given.
These basics get us thinking about what we can personally do about suffering in the world around us. We can get more specific by asking ourselves a few questions:
Am I working in tangible ways to bring increase for Christ’s kingdom?
What are the talents the Lord has given me? What skills, resources, opportunities, and abilities does he expect me to use in doing His work?
Does fear of failure keep me from doing godly work in the world as I see opportunity?
Stepping Up to Responsibility
These types of questions help us focus on what is our responsibility rather than what isn’t. News travels fast in the age of the internet. With the printing press came newspapers, and with the television came the nightly news, and with the arrival of the internet the updates on mayhem and tragedy sound the alert moment by moment. The overwhelming volume of suffering leaves us deafened.
We can take note that in the story the Master did not hold his slaves responsible for what He had given someone else. The mere fact that we have heard about a problem does not necessarily make it our responsibility. What He does hold us responsible for is what He has specifically given us to do. When we are responsible with small tasks He gives us more to manage. Our responsibilities start small and close to home and expand outward. If we want to see the larger problems of the world solved, but are not being faithful in performing our duties within our personal lives, our families, and the local community, we should not expect our Master to give us even greater responsibility in His kingdom.
To be sure, it is the responsibility of the servants of the King to take the Gospel of the Kingdom to the nations, teaching them to obey. The solution to all that ails the world is found in obedience to Christ. We should desire greater responsibility in His kingdom, and have an Isaiah-like attitude of “here am I Lord, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Our Master’s words, “You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things” should ring in our ears, urging us to daily faithfulness in every small thing that comes our way, while keeping us alert to greater opportunities for service.
Return on Investment—Kingdom Economics
It encourages me to remember that in the economy of Christ’s kingdom, faithfulness in the mundane holds great value. It is true that faithfulness in small duties fits us to carry greater responsibility in the kingdom. It is also true that the duties we see as small may actually have far rippling effects. Our view is myopic, and so we don’t see how our faithfulness at home affects the world at large. What does it matter in the grand scheme of things if I honor my father, care for an orphan, pray for the persecuted, or keep my word to my neighbor? These things aren’t going to bring about world peace are they?
You may not be single-handedly rescuing all of the unloved children from the slums of India, or discovering the cure for Joe’s cancer, but your small faithfulnesses do matter. Each time you choose obedience over faithlessness you are living the life of a faithful slave to the One True Master. You are planting the seeds of the kingdom in your family and local community. As our Master tells us, the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which is small when planted, but grows into a tree larger than any in the garden (Mark 4:30–32). It is possible that your talents, if put to work, will plant a kingdom seed that will grow into a tree and offer shade far beyond the borders of your garden.