Redeeming our Talents
Topic: Stewardship Scripture: 1 Peter 4:8–4:11
Redeeming our Talents
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
We are continuing in our sermon series called “Redeeming the Gifts”. It is a series based on the belief that everything we have, which can be sub-divided into our time, our talents, and our treasure is a gift from God.
Last week, if you were not here, we talked about our time, that while we often think of time as being “restricted” time or “free” time, that really all of our time is a gift from God. That we should be intentional with how we use it. That we should be present with other people, that we should prioritize relationships, and above all, to try and walk not in front of, nor behind God’s leading.
This week we are going to talk about talents. Now what exactly do we mean when we use this word “talents?” Oftentimes we think of natural abilities. We say, “she’s so talented at soccer, and we mean she’s been given a God-given gift to do something perhaps better than most people.
Sometimes it simply means the sum total of our abilities. I remember when the NBA star Lebron James made “the Decision”, where he revealed his next team by saying he was taking his “talents” to South Beach.
In the context of our scripture passage, talents are abilities that God has given us that can be used to His glory. They can be what we would consider “spiritual gifts”, such as teaching or preaching, but they can also be what we often refer to as natural gifts, like organization or administration.
The truth is there really isn’t a true divide, between sacred or secular gifts, because all gifts come from God, and all gifts can be used for God’s service.
So with that said, let’s turn to our text this morning, from 1 Peter 4:8-11:
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Let us pray.
Before we dive into our text, I’d like to take just a quick word on our author. If you recall, Peter is the one who wrote this letter. This is interesting on a number of levels, but one is this, that ultimately, Peter is a character we often relate to.
Partially I think, because his flaws are so obvious to us. If you’ve spent time in scripture you know that Peter was the first to stand up for Jesus, but he would often fall right back down because he kind of missed the point.
Remember how Jesus was walking on the Sea of Galilee and Peter sees Him, and his first thought is a phrase that most of us have heard children utter a million times: Can I do that? And remember he begins to walk on the water but then he becomes afraid, and he begins to sink.
On another occasion in Matthew 16, Jesus asks the disciples, who do people say that I am?
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it.
But the story isn’t over there is it? If it is, Peter gets an A and we all go home. But this is where it goes next:
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
So Peter is a bit fickle…he gets it, and then he doesn’t. He has faith, and then he doesn’t. And perhaps we often are drawn to Peter because he’s like us. He wants to do the right thing, but he often messes up.
So it’s kind of interesting to think about Peter now, writing this letter, years after Jesus has lived, died, resurrected and ascended to heaven.
He’s not quite like the man he was when he walked beside Jesus. He has changed significantly. And I would argue that is because he experienced both the mercy and the grace of Jesus after everything that took place during his arrest and subsequent trial and death. Remember, Jesus tells Peter, you will deny me…and Peter says “No I won’t…” and of course he did.
Fast-forward a few days. Jesus has resurrected from the dead. It’s a miracle, it’s amazing. But Peter, Peter must have still had questions.
Will this be like one of those old Westerns where the protagonist seemingly dies, but comes back to get revenge on those who wronged him? Or will Jesus forgive him, and restore him to relationship?
Peter is restless, and so he goes back to what he’s used to….he goes back out fishing in the evening. At the end of a long night on the water, the disciples spot someone on the shore with a fire, a couple fish and some bread being cooked over a fire.
I think we can imagine Peter at this point. He’s tired, he’s cold, he’s probably hungry. And what does he see, a fire, with delicious food, and whose tended this fire? Whose made this meal? Jesus.
And what does Jesus do? He invites them to share in a meal. In Middle-Eastern Culture this is a sign of reconciliation. To eat at someone’s table is to forgive them of their mistakes. Peter is cold, and Jesus provides warmth. Peter is hungry, and Jesus provides food. Peter is more than any of those things, probably burdened by the way he treated his savior his last days on earth.
But Jesus is here with a meal to be reconciled to Peter.
Now why do I bring all this up about Peter? It seems a lengthy aside considering we are here to talk about gifts and talents. Well it is because , when Peter talks about our gifts, he talks about our talents it all takes place within the context of God’s love and His grace.
Peter experienced that grace from Jesus, and now he shares it with these young Christians.
Remember the words from our text:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
Let me repeat that last verse:
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
In other words, when we serve, when we exercise our talents, our gifts, we do so not out of a place of obligation, or one-upsmanship, but out of a profound experience of God’s grace.
And I think if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us serve, but we don’t serve based on God’s grace.
We serve out of obligation. We serve out of a sense of, “this is what good “Christians do”…not out of an awareness of God’s gracious love that we so epitomized by Jesus dying a criminal’s death on our behalf.
Peter makes this very clear because he is afraid that these followers of Jesus will become just like the Pharisees, who lose sight of God’s love and instead become people of the law.
So when we serve, we do it not because we “have to”, not because “it’s the right thing to do” but because we have experienced the life-changing, life-transforming knowledge of God’s grace: that while we were yet sinners, He died so that we could live.
There is a great story, a true story that illustrates the importance of having the right motivations when we serve God.
And it comes to us by way of a small village church in Kalonovka, Russia.
“Attendance at Sunday school picked up after the priest started handing out candy to the peasant children. One of the most faithful was a pug-nosed, pugnacious lad who recited his Scriptures with proper piety, pocketed his reward, then fled into the fields to munch on it. The priest took a liking to the boy, persuaded him to attend church school. This was preferable to doing household chores from which his devout parents excused him.
By offering other inducements, the priest managed to teach the boy the four Gospels. In fact, he won a special prize for learning all four by heart and reciting them nonstop in church. Now, 60 years later, he still likes to recite Scriptures, but in a context that would horrify the old priest. For the prize pupil, who memorized so much of the Bible, is Nikita Khrushchev, the former Communist czar.
As this anecdote illustrates, the "why? behind memorization is fully as important as the "what.? The same Nikita Khrushchev who nimbly mouthed God's Word when a child, later declared God to be nonexistent-because his cosmonauts had not seen Him. Khrushchev memorized the Scriptures for the candy, the rewards, rather than for the meaning it had for his life.
Now, candy can work as a bribe, I know because I have children, but if it never turns into something different, we are left with someone like Khrushchev, who learned the gospels in one sense, in his mind, but never in his heart.
And sometimes when we serve, it’s in the head, but it’s not in the heart, and so that is why Peter urges these early followers of Jesus to serve through the power of God, not man.
Because ultimately, if and when we serve out of obligation or duty, we will become either resentful, or tired. And we will not have the strength to continue.
Some of you may have heard of a man named William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a British Aristocrat and member of the British Parliament. Like most Brits of his time, he was a Christian, but it was primarily a cultural Christianity, not an authentic faith.
Everything changed in his mid-twenties, when he turned his life over to Jesus. Soon his entire life, including his political career, was being influenced by his faith. And ultimately his career would center on one subject, one fight: to abolish slavery in his native England.
But as you might imagine, it’s not always easy to change things, especially something that made a lot of his fellow Brits a lot of money and gave them a lot of power.
At one point in the early 1790s, Wilberforce was so discouraged after another defeat in his 10 year battle against the slave trade in England. Tired and frustrated, he opened his Bible and began to leaf through it. A small piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. It was a letter written by John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Church) shortly before his death.
Wilberforce read it again: "Unless the divine power has raised you up... I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that (abominable practice of slavery), which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.
Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might."
So our talents are not only a gift from God, but they are made even stronger by those who let God work through them.
William Wilberforce was given a monumental task: abolish slavery in England. At times it seemed like this service was too much. He had been mocked, bullied, threatened, but ultimately, even in his darkest moment, he received the strength from God’s Word to go on.
Wilberforce had learned in large measure what Paul himself experienced in a Roman jail when he wrote the letter to the Philippians;
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
As we begin to close our time together this morning, I want to come back to Peter. Peter who was so fickle, up one minute and down the next. Jesus’ biggest follower one minute and denying any relationship to him the next.
Something changed in Him: He experienced the grace of God, and the Holy Spirit enabled him to become more than a mere mortal. More than a human being that is torn this way and that, but someone who was fully committed to following Jesus even if it meant giving up his life…which, he did, dying, like Jesus on a cross, but upside down so as not to take away from the uniqueness of Jesus’ sacrifice.
So as you consider your gifts, your talents, your service, do you use them out of an obligation? Do you muster up the effort? Or does this passage remind you that even with our talents, we are called to be gracious. We are called to remember that life is a gift, and this life is how we return thanks to God.
And our greatest strength comes when we use our talents not in our own strength, but through the strength that comes from Jesus Christ, working and through us.
So as you consider using your talents, may you use them through the grace and power of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.