Work on Both Sides of the Eschaton

Matthew 25:14-23, “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 the master.'”

I’m not going to interpret the full meaning of this parable, for the parable doesn’t end here. I’ll save that for a later date. Instead, I want you to focus on the last verse I put in bold. This spring (May 2017) I finally graduate from college. Then I leave for seminary in St. Louis for another four years of education to become a pastor. Until this last semester, I was a part of the university’s band where I played at three graduations. At every graduation ceremony, a faculty member has said something along the lines of, “You are no longer students. Now you are adults going into the real world to work what you have studied so hard to do.” When we graduate college, we’ve worked really hard to graduate to find ourselves going into the real world to work some more. As a veteran, I already know what it’s like to work in the real world, but for most college students this is an entirely new thing. They’ve worked hard only to find out they need to do more work. Thus is life.

In this parable, Jesus is being represented as the master. The master gave his servants resources to do his work, and two of them came back having advanced His kingdom. If we continue reading the parable we’ll find the third servant didn’t want to take any risks and hid the money, which the master rebukes him. But let’s focus on what Jesus says to the two faithful servants. Notice what their reward is: more work! He didn’t give them a raise, or a bonus, or a huge house to live in, or expensive clothes. Instead, He gave them more work along with entering into his joy. Instead of getting more money, they get a promotion—more responsibility. It doesn’t matter that he gave the first servant more than the second; they both got the same reward because he “gave each according to his ability” (v. 15).

This parable is an image of both sides of the eschaton—responsibly doing our work to advance God’s kingdom on this side of the eschaton and being with our Lord in Heaven on the other side of the eschaton with more work. On this side of the eschaton, God gives us resources to advance His kingdom, and when we faithfully use those resources and not hide away because we’re afraid of the risks, God gives us more work to do on the other side of the eschaton—His kingdom—as we enter into His joy. He gives some people more than He does others—one may be rich in resources and another may not be so rich. Yet the point in our discipleship is not to have more things, but to use what God gives us to advance His kingdom, for He gives all of us the same reward in Heaven no matter what we have on this earth. I’m not rich, but I don’t need to be rich to advance God’s kingdom. Like the master’s servants, God gives us each according to our ability. With the abilities of writing and preaching God has given me, I use these abilities to advance His kingdom.

It’s common to think of work as a bad thing, as if it’s a curse. The biblical view of work is that it’s a good thing. You might be working a minimum wage job and maybe you hate it, but if you’re not doing anything to start a career, suck it up. If you hate working that much, do it for God and not merely for yourself. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). Even before the Fall, Adam worked. Adam’s job was to “work and keep” the garden, which included naming the animals (Genesis 2:15, 20). Bonhoeffer said, “Even after the Fall labour remains a mandate of divine discipline and grace (Gen. 3:17-29)” (206). Bonhoeffer continues, saying, “Through the divine mandate of labour there is to come into being a world which, knowingly or not, is waiting for Christ, is designed for Christ, is open to Christ, serves Him and glorifies Him. But it is the race of Cain that is to fulfil this mandate, and that is what casts the darkest shadow over all human labour” (206).

God has given man work as divine discipline. When we enter into His kingdom, He will give us even better work. Who knows what that will be? It won’t be work that we dread like we do on this side of the eschaton, much like Cain who dreaded putting together the offering to God and just went through the motions. Instead, our work in God’s kingdom will be joyous because we will literally be entering into God’s joy. This is quite the promotion.

I always wonder what work God will give me. I’ve been playing the saxophone for 19 years, so maybe He’ll make me a musician for worship in Heaven? Who knows? At least we know Heaven wont’ be boring. Either way, I’m excited. Work is a blessed thing in which we get to use those resources to advance God’s kingdom on this side of the eschaton. After our hard labour, He will reward us with joyful labour in Heaven.

Bibliography

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1955.

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