Today was a tremendous day at Nazarene Theological College as 7 received their Diploma in Theology and 12 were awarded the Bachelor of Theology. Here is the address that I delivered to the graduates.
“Well-done, good and faithful servant”
An address on the occasion of the 22nd Annual Commencement Exercises
Nazarene Theological College
Muldersdrift, South Africa
Gregory Crofford, Ph.D. — Regional Education Coordinator
March 16, 2013
Dr. Filimao Chambo (in absentia), Rev. Collin Elliott (in absentia), Rev. Mashangu Maluleka, Members of the Board of Trustees, District Superintendents, Pastors, Graduates of the class of 2013, students of NTC, parents, friends, honored guests, all protocols observed –
Jesus, teller of parables
Our Lord Jesus Christ was a man of the people. He knew their hopes and fears, their dreams and their disappointments. For 33 years, he walked among them as one of them, showing them both the dangers of self-love and the joy of loving God and others.
The Parable of the Talents retold
Jesus had a way of speaking to the people in their own language, and they loved him for it. His parables connected with people right where they lived. One such story is recounted in the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. The master was going on a journey, but before leaving, he called to him three of his servants. To the first he gave 5 “bags of gold” (as the TNIV puts it), to the second 2 bags of gold, and to the last servant, 1 bag. Some translations use the word “talent,” which was equivalent to 20 years of a day laborer’s wages.
Some time later, the master returned and called his servants in to give an account of the money that he had entrusted to them. “Look,” said the first servant. “You gave me 5 talents. I have gained five more!” The master was delighted, and 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!’ Likewise, the man who had been entrusted with two talents came before his master, carry an additional two talents. He, too, received the blessing of his master. But the third man came before the master with a single bag of gold. “Here is the talent you entrusted to me,” he said. ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.”
The master was furious. “So you knew I was a hard man?” he demanded. “Then at very least you could have put the bag of gold on deposit at the bank so I would have it back with interest.” The master confiscated the bag of gold and gave it to the servant who already had 10 bags. He concluded: “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”(Matt. 25:29). The story has a very sad ending. The master orders that the servant be thrown outside into the darkness, where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Traditionally, preachers have three points to their message, but today, let’s look at four lessons gleaned from the parable of the talents.
1) Find your talent.
Youth is a time of endless possibilities. When one asks children of 8 or 9 what their dreams are, some will say: “I want to be a champion soccer player.” Another may dream of becoming President of South Africa.” A little girl might reply: “I want to be a doctor.” Yet another will say: “One day, I will win a gold medal in swimming” like Olympic champion Chad Le Clos or maybe “I want to be a world famous singer.”
As parents, we are concerned when the schools that our children attend are poorly equipped because this limits the horizons of our children, making it harder to uncover the talent that God has given them. And this is the first truth that we find in Jesus’ parable: Each servant had at least one talent.
Today, you are graduating from Nazarene Theological College with a credential in theology. You have had three years to explore the riches of God’s Word, to preach, to study the practice of Christian ministry. At the end of this discovery process, it is time to ask the question: What is your talent?
Some of you, graduates, are like the servant who received five talents, or the one who received two. You have been especially gifted by God, and with that greater gifting comes greater responsibility. Yet each of you has at least one area where God has given you a gift.
Of all Nazarene congregations, 2/3 are small churches, having 100 or fewer members. When introducing me, the Principal mentioned that I have served a time as a pastor. I know firsthand that especially in the small church, there are many demands placed upon the time of the pastor. The temptation is to try to do too many things oneself to keep the program of the church functioning. In so doing, – like a glass of water poured on the ground – our efforts are dispersed in many directions. Too often, the gifting that God has given us is neglected because our energy is invested in a variety of tasks for which we have no special gifting but that we do simply because someone must do them.
Nazarenes are part of the Holiness Movement, but we also are part of Protestant Christianity. It was Martin Luther who taught the principle of the “priesthood of all believers.” I recall visiting a Nazarene congregation, and reading the front of the bulletin. It said: “Pastor: Patrick Smith.” Then underneath, they had typed: Ministers: The whole congregation.” Graduates, if you try to do everything yourself, pastoral ministry will crush you! Your first task as a pastor, youth pastor or other church worker is to help those with whom you work discover their own gifting. Meanwhile, be patient. You may need to work for a time outside your primary gifting. Trust God to bring other more gifted workers alongside you.
I ask you: What is your talent? Maximize that talent and resist the pressure to use all your time in areas for which you have no gifting.
2) Don’t waste your time coveting the talents of others.
In 1976, I watched the American runner Frank Shorter win the silver medal in the Olympic marathon in Montreal. He inspired me to begin running, and for the next 2 years I ran on the cross-country team of my high school. Running brought me many benefits. Before I began training, my resting heart rate was 76 beats per minute. By the end of the first season a few months later, it had fallen to 56 beats. I had more energy and could concentrate on my studies better. But I decided not to pursue a third season of cross-country for a simple reason: I wasn’t very good at it. Running was not my talent. Most races, there were only a couple of runners who crossed the finish line after I did. Every hour that I spent training was one hour that I could have used to pursue another area where I was gifted, like music or Bible quizzing.
In Jesus’ parable, the servant who received only two talents could have been jealous of his fellow servant who received five. He could have grumbled and said: “Why did the master give him five talents and he only gave me two?” But he didn’t waste his time coveting the talents of others. Instead, he was grateful for the two he had received and got busy improving those talents.
In the United States, there is a popular singing competition on television called “American Idol.” Now, I have nothing against singing. I’m an above average singer myself, and have sung in choirs across the years. I think we need more people to sing, and not just those who are really good at it. But “American Idol” is looking for the best, for those who have a special talent as singers. It’s surprising to me how many really bad singers end up on that show. When they do their best and the judges , like Simon Cowell, say: “That was pathetic” or “That was awful!” the disappointed contestants will often be interviewed later in the hallway. Tearfully, they say things like: “Those judges must be wrong, because my parents and my friends say that I’m a great singer.”
Sometimes I think it’s like that in the church. Because there are some talents that are more “showy” – like singing or playing in the worship band – we end up coveting those gifts. Then, instead of directing our young people into discovering what other talents they might have, we are afraid to speak the truth in love when they persist in pursuing something for which they have little talent. Let’s not waste our time coveting the talents of others. Instead, let’s help our young find what they’re good at and then encourage them to become better.
3) Be faithful with what you have, and you will be entrusted with more.
Besides discovering your talent (or talents) and developing them, besides avoiding coveting the talents of others that you don’t have, I see a third lesson for all of us today: Be faithful with what you have, and you will be entrusted with more.
In the parable of the talents, only the servant who hid his talent in the ground was rejected by the master. The other two servants received his blessing. The first servant – the one who received 5 talents and through work made 5 more – was most blessed of all. On top of those 10 talents, he received the talent forfeited by the wicked and lazy servant. At the end of the story, the master announced: “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance…” (vv. 28-29a).
Go into any bookstore and you will find books on success in business, or leadership principles. Everyone wants to know how to make it big. Yet here in the parable of the talents is a secret you won’t have to pay 300 rand to read about. Be faithful in what God has entrusted to you, not as an overlord, but as a servant. The master said to the two faithful servants: “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”
We see this principle repeated in the story of Joseph. When he was faithful in his service to Potiphar, and Potiphar’s house prospered, he made Joseph his manager over his entire household. Later, when Joseph was in prison, the jailer put him in-charge of the jail. These experiences where he proved his usefulness later resulted in Joseph being made the second in command to the Pharaoh himself.
It would be a great temptation to say: “I’m a graduate of Nazarene Theological College. I cannot be pastor for that small church. I need a ministry that is worthy of my academic qualifications.” Yet that is exactly the opposite of what our Lord is teaching in this parable, indeed, what he taught in many places throughout the Gospel. “If any wants to be first,” said Jesus in Luke 22:26, “he must be the last and the servant of all.” Rev. Enoch Litswele, former Principal of Nazarene Theological College, once addressed a group of educators at the Good News Conference Center. He advised: “As you climb higher up the academic ladder, make sure that you keep climbing down to serve.”
Be faithful with what you have, and you will be entrusted with more. And whatever position you occupy, remember that we are always no more than a servant of the master. Serve him well by serving others with humility.
4) Step out in faith.
Finally, graduates, I urge you this morning: Step out in faith. The two servants who doubled the amount their master entrusted to them had no guarantee of success, yet they acted decisively. Albert Wisemen, in Living Your Strengths, insists: “Developing our talents requires risk. We must step out, try new things, or take a chance by doing something we may fail at – at first. But if we do not take some risks, emotionally, physically, and spiritually – we will never grow”(Living Your Strengths, Gallup Press, 2003-04), pp. 213-14.
William Carey, missionary to India and the father of modern missions, admonished: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” The old saying is still correct: “A ship in harbor may seem safe, but that’s not what ships are for.” Keep yourself anchored in God’s word, daily prayer, and mutual accountability. These are all essential, but don’t forget to set the sail. Catch the winds of God’s Holy Spirit. Like the two faithful servants, step out in faith.
Graduates of the class of 2013, to you and to those who encouraged you not to give up before this great day, I say to all: WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS. Congratulations! You know your talents, now use them for God’s glory and not your own. Don’t waste your time wishing you had talents that you don’t. Be faithful with the talents and responsibilities that God has entrusted to you. Serve with humility, and God will entrust you with more responsibilities, for the advancement of His Kingdom. Finally, step out in faith! Be open to the Kingdom adventures God has in-store for you. Now, receive this blessing:
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-25).