Matthew’s gospel tells us one of Jesus’s many intriguing parables, the parable of the talents.  Like many parables, this one makes us think and reflect as the story unfolds in unexpected ways.

In the parable (found in Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus tells of a man who goes on a journey, entrusting three different amounts of money to three different servants according to their ability. Two of them put the money “to work” but one buries his portion in the ground.

Upon the master’s return, he commends the two who put the money to work but condemns the one who put the money in hiding.

Many of us recoil at the thought of a master treating a cautious servant with such a fierce punishment—the ”worthless servant” must go “outside, into the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.” However, as I meditate on this passage, I see some instruction and warning for us as servants to whom our Master, God, entrusts his property, or wealth. 

The two servants who put the master’s money to work receive more responsibility, more wealth, and an invitation to “share in the master’s happiness.”  While it would be easy to assume that the reason the master rewards the servants is because they increased his wealth, I see a different reason.

The role of a servant, or steward,  in an ancient household was to do the master’s will with the master’s possessions. A steward did not have any claim on the master’s resources for himself, but rather had the responsibility to know the master’s mind and act accordingly.

The two servants who received commendation had done with the master’s money what the master himself would have done—put it to work in order to receive an increase. They knew the master and knew their job was to imitate him. The master tells them, “Well done.”

The servant whom the master condemns, on the other hand, knew the master but did not act as the master would have.  Instead, he reacts with fear and laziness. “I was afraid,” he says, “and went out and hid your talent in the ground.”  We don’t know exactly what he did while waiting for the master’s return, but we do know that he was too afraid to put the talent to work, and for that the master calls him worthless and sends him away in disgrace.

Money and fear

As a financial advisor, I often talk with people who are afraid.  They fear the changes in the market, the loss of present savings and future earnings, or the possibility that their future retirement savings are not locked up.  While I can understand the real fear people experience, I also believe that God addresses and challenges that fear with truths in scripture about His comfort and trustworthiness. Instructions and rhetorical questions regarding fear occur at least one hundred times in scripture and include the following, many of which are God’s direct words in the form of commands:

Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Psalm 23:4: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 27:1: The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 46:1-3: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
John 14:27: (Jesus says) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
Luke 12:32: (Jesus says), “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

The problem with fear

When we make financial decisions based on fear, like the third servant, we reveal that we believe our money is our own and we are responsible to protect it so it can provide for us.  This subtle idolatry interferes with our ability as God’s steward to treat our resources as His resources and freely release them for His purposes.  God is our provider, not our 401(k) plans, our pension, or our social security.

We cannot control world events like pandemics, wars, droughts, floods; events in the financial realm like rising interest rates, inflation, and business scandals; or events in our own lives like illness, job loss,  or disability.  Thinking we can control them is a deception that feeds on arrogance and preys on our fears of what is happening and what might happen. Fear does not account for the powerful presence of God and His Holy Spirit in our lives to sustain and provide for us. God is our protector.

Fear and investing

Our master expects us to steward His resources for His purposes and not sit paralyzed by fear.  In order to do that, we need to know Him and His word, and we need to consider ways in which we can release our hold on “our” money and put it to His use.  Think about the following questions: 

Am I willing to ask God how He wants me to deploy His resources here and now, and not just stockpile them for future use?

How fearful am I? Do I consider missional investing in frontier markets, among unreached people groups, too risky?  Am I willing to assume additional risk to proactively extend God’s grace to those who do not yet know Him?

Am I willing to examine my portfolio and consider how my holdings earn their profits?  Perhaps they profit from slave labor that’s buried in the supply chains or they profit from practices that do not align with God’s holy nature.

The good news is that there are a growing number of investment opportunities and tools that allow you to screen companies and choose ones that align with your values and even promote kingdom values.

Are you interested in seeing how your investment portfolio can seek to promote investment in businesses that align with kingdom values? Please review our list of probing questions that you can use to start meaningful discussions with your advisor around this topic. If you do not work with an advisor and would like to speak with someone who can help you, please click HERE.

Photo by Rodion Kutsaiev on Unsplash