Economics for Faithful Stewards: Time and Talents

Introduction:
The Christian life requires that we understand that the world that God made, has been deliberately structured with limitations. There is no evidence that Adam simply reclined under trees and had fruit simply fall into his mouth. Work was a major aspect of his destiny. He had to work within the God-given confines of his environment. He had limitations; his knowledge and understanding, the amount of time in any day to get something done, and his personal capacities and ingenuity- his talents. Furthermore, when Eve was created, the two of them had to learn to communicate, to understand one another, and work together. Their family was the first case of the division of labour.

The wise Christian person does not spend his time angry or frustrated with the way things are about him. Rather, he understands that he has a calling in life, and he is to make the best of whatever is his situation. Are there limitations? Of course. He does not have unlimited time or talents. But he can work constructively within the confines that God in His wisdom has placed him in. He can do his best, while recognising his God-given limitations.

The Bible says that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb.13:8) While our world has changed in some ways since Adam and Eve, many things remain the same. Many of our limitations today, reflect those of our first parents, even before they sinned. Our time and our talents are always limited, but others in the community can often supply what we need (at a price of course). This is another aspect of the differentiation of labor, which began in the Garden.

Luke 12:42-48:
Time and talents (gifts) are some of our greatest and most important commodities. Why? Because everyone's time runs out. Twice, this passage refers to particular moments in time: “…at the proper time,” (v.42) and “…when he comes.” (v.43) It is sad indeed, if people on their death bed say, “I wish I had….” God holds us accountable for our use of the time and the talents He has provided for us. He gave Adam and Eve a limited resource, (the Garden) then in time permitted a devilish visitation, to see if they would be faithful to Him, in the time He had given, and with the gifts and instructions He had given. They weren't.

The passage shows we face time related tests of accountability during life, which have the potential for either reward or penalty, (blessing or cursing) along with an ultimate and final day of accountability, at the end of our days.

This does not mean we are to live in a panic-stricken state, trying to accomplish what is impossible, and putting unnecessary burdens on ourselves and others. We are to “rest in the Lord,” (Ps.37:7) but also be diligent people who are about “Father's business.”  He has a work for us to do, along with a time-frame and talents to accomplish it. So, we must make honest assessments on what can be achieved in a given time-frame, and proceed accordingly, so that what was said about our Lord, is hopefully said about us: “He has done all things well.” (Mk. 7:37) It is the “faithful” and “sensible” servant who is “blessed.” (v.43)

One writer has said that,

You must budget your time, not in terms of maintenance, but in terms of creativity. Try to structure your life so that maintenance takes less of your time. Delegate, even if the job doesn't get done well… overcoming maintenance mode requires attention to detail and self-discipline. This must go on until you die. There is no relief. There is no escape. In the battle with entropy, it is not good enough to achieve a stalemate. You must overcome it.
Focus on the crucial [creative] 20%. The older you are, the more important this is.1

Joseph faced a number of time and talent related tests. The first one appears when he was seventeen, when he brought back a bad report about his brothers, to Jacob. (Gen.37:2) Immediately, a differentiation between he and his brothers is evident. We aren't told what is was that he said, but the next verse tells us that “Jacob loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.” Jacob appears to recognise and confirm this differentiation, which is clearly centred around a moral or ethical contrast, between Joseph and his brothers.

His second test occurs when he is sent by his father to check on his brothers and the flock. (Gen.37:12-14) He probably knows there is some ill-feeling towards him from his brothers, and it is plausible that they did not want him to return to their father with another negative report about them. But he operates out of faithfulness to his father and to God, and goes on his mission.

His third test occurs, when Potiphar's wife attempts to seduce him. He refuses her seductions, and explains why (Gen.39:8,9) but ends up in gaol because of her accusations. Another moral contrast is evident here: Joseph and Potiphar's wife.

His fourth test occurs, when the cupbearer and the baker each relate their dreams to him, and he interprets them. (Gen.40). This is not so clearly a moral test, though it is a test of Joseph's willingness to consider and respond to the needs of others, and to employ the gifts that God has given him. He had interpreted the dreams God had given him, which his brothers found so offensive.(Gen.37:5-11) Now, he would do the same for others.

His fifth test occurs, “at the end of two full years.” (Gen.41:1) Joseph is suddenly called before Pharoah (Gen.41:14) to interpret Pharoah's dreams. Joseph responds willingly and faithfully (Gen.41:16) to the request, interprets the dreams, and is subsequently promoted to be second only to Pharoah. (Gen.41:40-44)

What has been happening here? God has been employing time and talent related tests, intertwined with ethical/moral tests in the life of Joseph. The fact that he passed them all, did not lead always to immediate blessing or promotion; sometimes, he appeared to be worse off as a result. His brothers envied him, and Potiphar's wife unjustly accused him. If he had insisted on immediate or even short-term rewards for his faithfulness, he would have been disillusioned. Joseph was like Moses, who“refused to be called the son of Pharoah's daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God then to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.”  (Heb.11:24,25) He was also an example of a “faithful and sensible steward, placed in charge of servants, to give them their rations at the proper time.” (Luke 12:42) He was a classic example, of the principle that “ a man's gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.” (Prov.18:16)

Conclusion:
Joseph understood that his accountability to God included his time and his talents: his whole life. These are things that God has given to every person, and “since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Ro.12:6) We are instructed to ask God, to “teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” (Ps.90:12)

Will you use your time and your talents, with a sense of accountability to God?

Some Applications:

1. Have faith in God, and in God's plan for your life.

2. Ask yourself, “What am I good at? What do I like doing? What do I feel God has called me to?”  The answers to these question can lead us into what God wants us to do. “The wisdom of the sensible is to understand his way…” (Prov.14:8).

3. Be realistic about your time. Be sure what you want to accomplish is God's plan, not just a good idea. Ps.127:1-2.

4. Never entertain negative attitudes towards work. It's a vital aspect of God's plan.

5. If there is a long term goal to accomplish, (get the house painted, build the shed, put in a vegetable garden, learning how to sew, or another skill, or complete a degree) establish a Critical Time Path. This is simply a time-related plan: “If I want to complete project ‘J' this year, whatwill be the 5-6 steps, and when will I need to have accomplished each step?” (This is particularly the case when studying.) Set realistic, progressive deadlines for yourself, (for weeks, months or years) which make time for family, friends, work, sleep, holidays, and recreation etc. When you accomplish an important stage, celebrate!

6. Don't be one-eyed; your goal, isn't the only thing in life you will need to do. In relation to Aesop's fable about the hare and the tortoise, don't try to be the hare. It's the tortoise, (the plodder) who gets to the end first. Why? Because he's disciplined. He's not in a hurry, but he has a long-term goal in mind that he's determined to accomplish. It's better to be slow and successful, than brilliant but erratic. “The race is not to the swift…” (Eccles.9:11)

7. Be disciplined with time. Don't waste it with long meals, frequent sleep ins, or staying up late to watch TV.

8. Be future oriented. Keep the goal in mind; get it done.

9. Get organised with lists and plans, so that you aren't having to go to the shops more than you need.

10. Recreation is necessary, but don't be indulgent.

11. Get up early (Prov.20:13), get moving, and enjoy it!

References
1) Gary North, Life's Supreme Succabus: It Will Suck You Dry, garynorth.com, 16/2/2009.

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