God gave humans not only the physical world, but our own talents—gifts and abilities that we can use to serve him. Prior to the Reformation, the medieval church interpreted the talents in Jesus’ parable as spiritual gifts God bestowed on Christians. But the Reformers upset the status quo of the church by teaching people that their work matters to God. Martin Luther said, “The work of the milkman is just as important to God as the work of the priest.” Later, John Calvin helped shape the modern meaning of the word “talents” by defining them as gifts from God in the form of a person’s calling and natural abilities, rather than just spiritual gifts.
Despite some historical disagreements over the precise interpretation of “talents,” they are basically the tools God gives us to carry out the cultural mandate, the first job description he gave us in the Garden, to fill and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:27-28). He gives us everything we need to do what he has called us to do. In calling us to plant a garden, God gives us shovels, trowels, land, seed, strength and patience.
It is then our responsibility to use those gifts to the best of our ability. Even once we’ve used our gifts to till the soil and plant the seed, we look to him for rain and sun to secure the outcome of healthy plants. But without the contribution of our labor, the garden doesn’t grow.
Paul Marshall writes that Calvin challenged believers “to work, to perform, to develop, to progress, to change, to choose, to be active, and to overcome until the day of their death or the return of their Lord.” According to Abraham Kuyper, Calvin understood scripture to teach that “the whole of a man’s life is to be lived as in the Divine Presence.” As John Piper explains:
Calvin’s doctrine of “vocation” follows from the fact that every person, great and small, lives “in the Divine Presence.” God’s sovereign purposes govern the simplest occupation. He attends to everyone’s work. This yielded the Protestant work ethic. Huge benefits flow from a cultural shift in which all work is done earnestly and honestly with an eye to God.
While God calls each of us to work and gives each of us what we need to do that work, what and how much he gives is not the same for all. Matthew 25:15 is perhaps the most important, yet most overlooked, part of the parable of the talents. It says, “to each according to his own ability.”
Today, we’d hear an outcry of “unfair!” But it’s impossible to deny that diversity is woven into every aspect of God’s creation. Why else would we have 23,000 species of trees in the world, other than that God wants to show us his beauty in different ways?
God gives gifts and talents as he chooses because he is God.
AN IMPORTANT QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF, ON PAGE TWO