As a young child I loved to write stories (crazy idea, right?!). I can remember a time in the fourth grade when our school district was hosting a Creative Writing Competition. Since we could enter any kind of creative writing that we wanted to, I chose to write a short story. I still remember how happy I was with the way it turned out. I loved the characters and the setting that I had created. One of the main characters was even a little parakeet, just like one I had as a girl. And what made it even more exciting was that I ended up receiving an award for my story! As you can imagine, I was one happy little girl. Until... I found out that I didn't receive the highest honor. Nope. That honor went to my friend, Mark, and his poem. Suddenly, this story that I had been so happy with and the success that I had with it didn't seem so appealing anymore. I couldn't get Mark's poem out of my mind and I couldn't help but envy his ability to write such a stellar piece! (Although, I never actually got to read it... He wouldn't let me!)
Though that happened so (sooooooooo...) many years ago, I can still find myself getting trapped in similar circumstances. Maybe it's the joy I feel when I look at the table that my girlfriend and I designed for our church's Spring Tea... until I see her table across the room. Perhaps it's when I finish decorating the house for Christmas and stand back to admire the beauty, but then I see her post on Instagram. Or even how wonderfully productive I can feel at the end of a long day... that is until I talk to her and hear about all that she was able to accomplish. All too often I am tempted to let my joy in a job well done be squashed by a lateral comparison that I was never meant to make! I want to look at a story from God's Word that we may be very familiar with, but I want to look at a gem hidden in it that many of us may overlook.
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money." - Matthew 25:14-18
It is the Parable of the Talents. Most likely we have heard about it or read it for ourselves before, perhaps several times. But, did you catch what it says right in the middle of verse 15, "to each according to his ability". The master knew the ability of his servants, and he distributed his property to them according to that knowledge.
We know that the master in this parable represents the Lord. With that in mind, we must realize that our Master not only knows our abilities, but He has given us our abilities. And we must resign ourselves to the truth that to some He has given five talents, while, to others He has given two. It is His good pleasure to give as He sees fit.
"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone." - 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
While it may be painful to admit, we are foolish to ignore the truth that we simply cannot do all that we would like to. And we simply are not good at everything we'd like to be good at! And when we are good at a thing, chances are there are at least one hundred other people that are still better yet. This is not to say that we should not strive to improve our skills and abilities, especially when we are talking about ways that we serve the Lord and His body, the church. Excellence in a job is a good and righteous pursuit, but excellence in every job is an arrogant and foolish attempt!
So, we know that the servant with five talents was able to produce five more and that the servant with two talents was able to produce two more. Not only did these two servants have different natural abilities, but they both produced different results. In one sense, they were both able to double their investment, but in another very practical sense, the first servant was able to earn three more talents than the second servant. So, what happened? Was the master disappointed in the lower value of the second servant's return? Not at all! If we read on, we see that both of them received the same commendation from their master.
"His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’" - Matthew 25:21 & 23
Notice how the master refers to each of them. He calls them faithful. Each servant took what he had been given, according to his ability, and was faithful with it. It was that faithfulness, not the fullness of their purse, that pleased their master. Likewise, it is our faithfulness, not the volume of our results, that pleases our Master.
It would be easy to make ourselves feel better when we look at other woman who, we feel, are outperforming us by telling ourselves that they must have help that we don't know about, or they're in a different season of life, or even that they just have more resources than we do. The truth is, all of those things might be true, but who cares? We need to stop comparing!
When we do this, we are making it all about us. We envy because we believe that these other women are enjoying a better life than we are in some way. Their tea table is no longer about the way that it will bless the women who sit there, but how it's lovelier than ours. Their beautiful Christmas decorations are not about how they honor the Lord in their celebrations, but how they're prettier than ours. Even their fruitfulness in ministry is no longer about the people they are discipling, but about how they are more popular than us. Oh, how foolish can we be?!
Let's go back to the very beginning of our parable... "who called his servants and entrusted to them his property." (Matthew 25:14b) It was never about what the servants could produce for themselves, but what they could produce for their master. Our lives are more than our beautiful children, our Instagram feed, and our popularity in the church. They were made for our Master. If we keep this truth in mind, we will no longer envy, but enjoy! We will take pleasure in the varied gifts of our sisters and how we are all able to serve the Lord faithfully, side by side. Some with our two talents and some with our five.
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