Thursday, February 13, 2014

Matthew 25: Faith and Faithfulness


Matt 25:14-46 "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.  Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.  And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.'  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.'  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.'  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.'  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.'  But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.  For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' 
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  36  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'  And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?' Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." 

In these final parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, we have the teaching that salvation is ultimately dependent on what we do rather than what we believe. In fact, the word "faithful" (carrying the meaning of fruitfulness) is used four times to describe those who finally inherit eternal life rather than just "faith".

The grace-purists may find these parables uncomfortable because they seem to teach that we are saved by our faithfulness (in self-works) rather than by our faith (in Christ's works). But I see no inconsistency between between faithfulness and faith, for in the Greek, the same word is used for both (pistos). In some parts of the New Testament, the word pistos is translated as "believing". Among the nine manifestations of the character of Christ listed in Galatians 5:22-23, one of them is pistis, the noun of pistos, an adjectival verb. It is translated as "faith" in KJV and "faithfulness" in modern English translations. The point of this discussion is that faith and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin. Or to be even more precise, you can't have faith without fruitfulness: "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" (Matt 25:21). The focus is what we have done with the gifts and opportunities the Master has given to us as His servants.

Biblical faith is not just focusing on our spiritual "rights" (blessings) but also on our spiritual "responsibilities" (fruitfulness). Our faith entitles us to receive God's gifts through His Spirit. Those gifts are almost entirely to bless others, to become fruitful by being faithful to what have been entrusted to us. One day, when the Master returns, He is not going to ask us to recite our doctrines but He wants to see what we have done with the gifts and opportunities He has entrusted to us. The authenticity of our faith is revealed not in our mouth profession but in our ministry production: "And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" (25:40).

So there is no contradiction: we are saved by grace through faith/faithfulness (pistis/pistos).  The grace part is God's gifts bestowed upon us as children of God. The faith/faithful part is our response to these gifts.

Father, thank You that faith and faithfulness are not contradictory but complementary. Help us discover the joy of salvation by focusing on our spiritual responsibilities rather than our spiritual rights. Amen.

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