Today I want to begin by asking the question, “What do you do with your potential?” Webster defines potential as “something that has the promise to develop and become real.” In most of its uses, the word “potential” describes what is often elusive yet much hoped after. A gambler wages his money on the potential that he could win much more. A sports team practices and do drills to increase the potential they’ll win the next game. A weather forecaster will give us insights into what potential storms may be or not be developing in the coming days. In each of these cases a person is using potential to describe what they believe or hope will happen and what could happen but nevertheless there is no guarantee it will happen.However, in talking about potential today – I want to be a bit more specific about the use of that word. Some of you may remember studying potential in science class in school. There, we learned the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy. Listen closely, in physics, potential energy is the energy stored due to the position of an object. The energy is there – it just hasn’t been released yet. Kinetic energy is the release of potential energy. A common example used to explain this concept is to place a ball at the top of an incline. We would then be able to say based on the ball’s position and the pull of gravity that the ball now has potential energy. When the ball is allowed to roll down the incline that potential energy is converted to kinetic energy and at the base of the incline the conversion is complete. The stored up energy has been released.
So when I ask the question, “What do you do with your potential?” I’m talking something that is already within your capability to do. It is something already possible. Your gifts, your abilities, your resources, your knowledge, your experience are all things that affect and result in your potential! For believers, your very position as a child of God is the greatest factor in the size of your potential. The question is not “What you have?” but what are you doing with what you have? It is a question, not only for ourselves as individuals, but also for us corporately as a church.
Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 25:14-30. This parable applies to how we live our lives today and how God acts and reacts to us, and how we act and react to him.
Let’s set the context. This parable comes in the section of Matthew’s gospel where Jesus is giving an answer to the disciples’ question about His Second Coming in Matthew 24:3:
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Matthew 24:3 (NIV)
Jesus warns them to be on guard so that no one will deceive them and helps them understand that once He leaves, He will come again. He challenges them in Matthew 24:44 to be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when He is least expected.
So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
Matthew 24:44 (NIV)
In chapter 25, Jesus compares His coming to the eastern custom of a bridegroom arriving in the middle of the night. He concludes this parable by saying in 25:13:
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25:13 (NIV)
Chapter 25 ends with the separation of the sheep and the goats. Sandwiched in-between is the parable of the talents.
Notice verse 14:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them.
Matthew 25:14 (NIV)
The word “again” indicates that Jesus is using yet one more parable to explain future events. The man going on a “journey” is Jesus.
As we walk through this powerful passage this morning, I want you to keep in your mind the question, “what do you do with your potential?”.
SIX LESSONS ABOUT POTENTIAL
1. What we have is not ours – our potential is a gift.
Verse 14 continues by saying that this man who was getting ready for a journey, “…called his servants and entrusted His property to them.” So he gives 5 talents to one, 2 talents to another, and 1 talent to the third. “Talents, money, dollars,” – all are synonyms for the same thing. He distributed his wealth among them and said, “While I am gone I want you to be stewards of this wealth”. He was granting them potential. They had the master’s wealth and the question now is what would they do with it.
He is the master. They are the servants. He owns everything. They own nothing. They depend on him for what they have. If he were not generous with them, they would not be able to live. Now he has called them in and said, “I have been watching you. I have studied you. I have concluded that you are servants I can entrust my money to.
There was no doubt in the minds of these servants that the property and money still belonged to the master. They were the possessors, but not the owners. Their job was to manage what they were given. Likewise, we must remember that everything we have has been given to us and is not really ours anyway.
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
Psalms 24:1 (NIV)
‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty.
Haggai 2:8 (NIV)
He has the rights, and I have the responsibility. He is the Master and I am the manager. I am the servant; He is the sovereign.
Have you allowed this basic principle to permeate your personhood? You don’t really own anything. Everything belongs to the Lord. Until we recognize this truth, we will not be good managers of what has been entrusted to us. Our days are in His hands. Our gifts and abilities are on loan from Him. Our money is an “advance” from the Almighty. Our houses, cars, clothes, and every possession we have doesn’t belong to us. We really don’t own anything.
Realize that your potential is a gift from God. Everything you have contributes to your potential. It is your potential from His resources.
2. We’re given what we can handle – but our potential is the same.
In verse 15 we see that the master gave some talents to three of his servants:
To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
Matthew 25:15 (NIV)
Life is a treasure of diversity. One man was given 5 talents, another 2 and the third, 1 talent. I’m glad we’re not all the same. Who needs a world full of clones? I’m glad we’re all different. Each one of us is a unique combination of temperaments and gifts that can only do what we can do. Each person is unique in their ability.
I want you to notice that each servant received talents “according to his ability.” Your responsibility is tied to your ability. This is very interesting. God’s kingdom purposes do not operate according to what is “fair” but according to what is best. In 1 Corinthians 3:5, after challenging believers to be united by not breaking into subgroups who follow different leaders, Paul writes,
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
1 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)
Did you catch that? Each of us has been assigned a task – each of us has been granted potential. It’s our job to be faithful to what He has given us to do and release that potential! One key thing to note in this story is that although God granted according to ability, each servant still had the same potential. The 5 talent servant had the potential to double the 5 talents he’d been given. The two talent servant ha the potential to double the talents he’d been given and the same for the one talent servant. They each had the same potential to double that which was entrusted to them. Each one of us have the same potential for making a difference in this world. Though how we do that will differ because of our uniqueness, it doesn’t change our potential!
You have what you have because God gave it to you. And He expects you to manage His gifts within the boundaries of ability that He has wired into you. 1 Corinthians 12 says, there are different kinds of gifts, service, and workings, and the Holy Spirit distributes these responsibilities “to each one, just as He determines.” God entrusts different stuff to different people according to His sovereign purposes. In other words, He knows what we can handle. Our job is to be faithful with whatever amount we have to work with. Do we trust that God knows more about us than we even know about ourselves?
3. Our potential is meant to be released!
Verse 16 tells us that the man who received five talents went
The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.
Matthew 25:16 (NIV)
He didn’t waste any time but immediately went to work on realizing the potential that was resident in his master’s talents! The guy who got two talents did the same thing.
Verse 18 describes the different approach of the third servant:
But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
Matthew 25:18 (NIV)
Even though we don’t read about any specific instructions for what to do with the talents, the first two guys released the potential that was present because of the talents. The one-talent guy was a slacker who went off and buried the talent and withheld the potential.
Because Antonio’s voice was high and squeaky, he did not make the tryouts for the Cremona Boy’s Choir. When he took violin lessons, the neighbors persuaded his parents to make him stop. Yet Antonio still wanted to make music.
His friends gave him a hard time because his only talent was whittling. When Antonio was older he served as an apprentice to a violinmaker. His knack for whittling grew into a skill of carving and his hobby became his craft. He worked patiently and faithfully. By the time he died, he left over 1,500 violins, each one bearing a label that read, “Antonio Stradivarius.” They are the most sought-after violins in the world and sell for more than $100,000 each. Antonio couldn’t sing or play or preach or teach but his responsibility was to use his ability, and his violins are still making beautiful music today. (from “Using What God Has Given” by Brian Bill)
Our potential is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to Him.
Are you investing what you’ve been given, regardless of how much it is? Are you releasing the potential of that gift? Or, have you buried your blessing and withheld that potential? What do you do with your potential?
4. A day of accountability is coming.
None of us want to be audited by the CCRA, but we will all be audited by the Almighty! We’ll have to give an account for how we’ve used what we’ve been given and whether we’ve released our potential or not. Look at verse 19:
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
Matthew 25:19 (NIV)
Jesus is coming again and there will be a day of reckoning. While most of us believe this in our heads, we don’t always live with eternity in our hearts. If we would think more about His return, we’d be more focused on making an eternal return on our investments. Romans 14:12:
So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Romans 14:12 (NIV)
It was the duty of servants to always bear in mind that the master would be returning and would settle his accounts with them.
Friends, Jesus is coming again! Let’s be faithful in doing whatever He gives us to do. Let’s release the full potential in our lives – in the church! He’s invested something in you, and one day He’s coming back to claim it. Your job may be big or small, but whatever it is, do it to the best of your ability and you’ll be ready for your audit. Wouldn’t it be terrible to be ashamed and unprepared when Jesus comes back? 1 John 2:28:
And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
1 John 2:28 (NIV)
Serve in light of a future reckoning.
It would help us to get in the habit of asking the question, “What am I doing with my potential from God’s gifts?”
5. What we do with what we have reveals our view of God.
As we come to verses 20-25, we see that the man who had been given five talents brought five more with him. The language is insightful here. He says,
The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
Matthew 25:20 (NIV)
The word “see” means, “Behold” or “Look!” He was eager to invest what he had been given and now he’s excited to show the master what He had done. He’s bubbling with enthusiasm and thoroughly thrilled. He couldn’t wait to present what he had done because he wanted to please the owner.
The man with the two talents approached this time of reckoning with the same anticipation and excitement. The master is thrilled with both of them because they demonstrated responsibility for their ability and released their potential. He says the exact same thing to both of them: “Well done, good and faithful servants! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” The master increased their resources after they had proven themselves faithful. Jesus said a similar thing in Luke 6:38:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Luke 6:38 (NIV)
These two faithful servants received:
Affirmation: “Great job! Well done. I appreciate your good work and your faithfulness.”
Promotion: “Since you’ve done so well with what I’ve given you, I’m going to give you even more responsibility and opportunity for growth.”
Celebration: “You’ve made me very happy. Let’s celebrate together!”
The phrase, “well done” can be translated, “excellent,” or “wonderful.” They were faithful and were called good because they had a right view of the master. Likewise, when we see God for who He is, we will want to be faithful and we’ll focus on doing good things. God is looking for faithful people, for those who properly manage their resources for kingdom purposes. And, when we’re responsible for what we’ve been given, we’ll be given even more responsibilities. I picture a smile on Jesus’ face when He says, “Come and share your master’s happiness!”
The one-talent guy came a bit more reluctantly to the master and said in verse 24: “…I knew that you were a hard man…” Notice that the first words out of his mouth were about himself: “I knew.” We could translate this as, “I always knew.” The other two guys kept the focus on the master when he returned: “Master, you entrusted me.”
This third guy had a wrong view of the master and had his mind made up even before he received his talent. He looked at him as someone who was hard and harsh, instead of loving and gracious. A.W. Tozer was right when he said that what we think about God is the most important thing about us. If we view God as a tyrant then we’ll filter everything through this lens. Some of you may be secretly angry with God because you think He did something, or didn’t do something that you think He should have. As a result, your view of Him is skewed. Your preconceived notions prevent you from seeing Him as a God of grace, and as a result you refuse to serve Him with what He’s given you. When we blame God we end up burying our blessings and withholding our potential.
A faulty view of God can also lead to excuses. In verse 25 this man declares that the reason he didn’t do anything with what he had been given was because he was afraid. His fear paralyzed him and so he decided to play it safe. He hid the money to make sure it wouldn’t be lost. And he accomplished exactly what he set out to achieve: nothing. Like the saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”
A wrong view of God always leads to fear: “So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground…” A right view of God always leads to faith. If you’re struggling with fear today, the best antidote is to further your understanding of the character of God and ask Him to grow your faith. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is moving ahead in spite of your fears. I think the first two guys were probably a little afraid as well, but because they knew the master’s character, instead of being frozen by fear, they stepped out in faith.
Let’s look at the differences between the two servants who served and the one who took a dive.
The first two were determined to make a profit; the third was afraid risk a loss.
The first two were willing to work hard and take risks; the third made no effort and took no risks.
The first two received the gift; the third buried the gift.
The first two wanted to advance the master’s domain; the third had no interest in what mattered to the master.
The first two viewed the money as an opportunity; the third guy saw it as a problem.
The first two allowed the master’s gift to change their lives; the third refused to let the gift touch his life.
The first two invested; the other one wasted.
The first two saw a blessing; the third guy saw a burden.
The first two knew the master; the third guy had no clue.
6. What we have we must use or what we have we will lose.
Verse 26 reveals that the master saw right through the flimsy excuses of the servant when he said,
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
Matthew 25:26 (NIV)
The word “wicked” means “evil, hurtful, and malicious.” In other words, the master is saying, “You’re lying. In your heart, you are a selfish and lazy servant. If you really wanted to do something, you would have put my money in the bank. I see right through you.” These are pretty strong words. God will judge not merely for doing wrong, but for not doing right!
The man was wicked because he deliberately misrepresented both his master and himself. He falsely accused the master of being harsh and he lied when he said in verse 25: “See, here is what belongs to you.” He actually owed his employer not only one talent but also whatever it would have earned had he been faithful. Amazingly, instead of owning his guilt, he behaves as if the master should have given him credit for having been so cautious.
Because this third guy did not use what He had been given, or release the potential He lost it according to verse 28:
“‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.
Matthew 25:28 (NIV)
Let’s ask some hypothetical questions this morning, “What if the 5 talent man had buried his 5 talents in the back yard?” You know the answer. They would have all been taken away from him, and he would have been considered “wicked, lazy, worthless,” just like the 1 talent man.
Or what if the 1 talent man had invested his 1 talent? You know the answer. When the master came back, he would have been given more talents. He would have been considered a faithful servant too.
Let me ask another hypothetical question. “What if the 1 talent man had invested his talent & lost it?” But that idea isn’t even suggested. Why? Because God’s Word, as best as I can ascertain, never commands us to be successful. I have never found a place where God says, “If you try & fail, I will condemn you.” God’s Word commands instead, faithfulness and obedience. “Be faithful” and God will provide the increase.
I’m convinced that is the way God works. You be faithful in investing the talents he has given you and releasing your potential and he will entrust you with more. You bury them and withhold your potential and you will lose even that which you once had.
Friends, your potential is meant to be released through investing what God has given you in kingdom work. You don’t lose talents by investing them – you lose talents by burying them. When you invest them for Him, God will always honor the investment!
There are thousands of churches across our land that at one time were 8 talent churches. But they buried their talents, they withheld their potential and now they are empty shells.
There are thousands of Christians who reached a level of maturity in their Christian faith and then became self-satisfied and complacent. They decided they didn’t need to grow anymore, or pray anymore, or study anymore. And they started dying spiritually because they buried their talents and withheld their potential.
The principle never changes. All the way through Scripture Jesus is constantly challenging us to invest & reinvest again & again in the Kingdom. And He will always honor the investment. He will never honor those who are afraid & who bury their talents in the back yard.
I ask again, “What do you do with your potential?”
God’s principles are clear. The lessons from this parable on potential are vital. Jesus said once,
As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.
John 9:4 (NIV)
The message of the parable has not changed. God is still the master. He is still the giver of all good things. Without His generosity we would have nothing. Without His gifts we would have no potential. So He says, “Invest what I have given you and see what will happen.”
As a congregation it is important to continually ask ourselves. What will we do to release the potential God has given us? Sometimes releasing that potential means we give things up or give things away. Sometimes that means attempting things we might not ordinarily do or seem bigger than us. A good example of that is the Zimbabwe 2007 project! The most important thing to do in everything however is to be faithful and obedient to what God directs us to do. It is He who has planted the potential in us.
As individuals I encourage you to ask yourselves – What am I doing with my potential?
Some of you are releasing that potential or are beginning to release that potential in your lives and this morning, I want you to be encouraged. Continue to invest in the Kingdom knowing that God honors your faithfulness and obedience and you will be entrusted with greater responsibility.
If you are a Christian this morning – maybe you have leveled off in your Christian life. The Word of God doesn’t have the power in your life anymore than what you remember. Your prayer life has dwindled. You aren’t giving sacrificially anymore. You aren’t sharing your faith with others. You are burying your talent – you are withholding your potential. It’s time to make a choice. Will you continue to bury that talent and withhold your potential or will you surrender to God this morning and start the ball rolling so your potential is released?
If you are someone who does not believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again I want you to know that you have been given talents too. God doesn’t leave anybody out. Everybody gets something & He waits to see what you will do with it. Everyone has potential but the first step to its release is to believe and receive Christ – to acknowledge His Lordship and His sovereignty.
If you are here this morning and Jesus Christ is not your Saviour, then He waits to see what you will do with the little seeds of faith that have been planted in your life.
Will you invest them so that more faith may come? Or will you bury them? The principles have never changed. They are always the same. God waits to see what we will do with what He has given us. What do you do with your potential? What are you going to do with your potential this morning?