|Settling Our Accounts
Looking to the New Year
Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.--Psalms 40:5
Timo Nordman, Finland
The beginning of a new year is an appropriate time to reflect upon both the past and the coming year. When we look back and think about our lives, how grateful we should be to God for all the grace and love he has given us. What have we done to receive life and the senses to enjoy the life around us? Have we earned it? No, it was our almighty Creator who, in his great love, gave it to us. By his grace "God created man in his own image" and crowned him with earthly honor. He was created as the highest being among the visible creation, the highest form of material life. "For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet." (Psalms 8:5,6)
Let us praise and honor God with all our hearts for his great gift of life which we enjoy. In these days people's minds are filled with things of the world so strongly that, as the apostle Paul declares, "when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened." (Romans 1:21)
In addition to the gift of life, we can be thankful to God for an even greater gift: Jesus Christ. God loved us so much that--while we were sinners--he even gave his only son so that we could have eternal life (1 John 4:9,10). Think about the magnificent love that God, the Creator of the entire universe, showed us tiny creatures by offering the greatest possible sacrifice, his only begotten son. How grateful we are to God for this grace and love. Day by day, year by year, the realization of this gift adds to our reverence for him.
God's goodness toward us did not end there. Through Christ he gave us an even greater gift. The ability of man to receive the love of God is limited. Only those who share the divine nature can receive and grasp the abundance of his love. For this reason God decided before the foundation of the universe to have a New Creation that would share his divine nature so that he would enjoy equal fellowship and divine love from them. To this divine family he has called us as joint heirs of Christ. "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1:4) "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." (1 John 3:1)
How incomprehensible is the grace we have received, this call to the divine family. We have received the holy spirit of truth whereby we have been able to taste the powers of the coming age and understand God's plan of the ages. This is a mercy indeed, for which we are so grateful.
"What shall I render unto the LORD"
If we really understand that God, our Lord and our Creator, has showered so much love and mercy upon us, is it possible for our hearts to remain cold and indifferent in the face of such love? No, we cannot! It is our joy and privilege to express our gratitude and love toward him. We can ask with the psalmist, "What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people." (Psalms 116:12-14)
What can we pay to the Lord for all the goodness he has shown us? We have already consecrated our lives to him. Now, in the beginning of a new year, let us renew our vow; let us make our sacrificial covenant with him more alive than ever. Let us tell the Lord that we belong to him, that our earnest intention is to keep all we have on the altar during this coming year, until it is burned to ashes. Let us keep going, day after day, completely fulfilling our vow of consecration to the Lord, as did the psalmist.
When we look back upon the old year, we see many shortcomings, imperfections and weaknesses. How can we faithfully fulfill our vows to the Lord in an imperfect body? These weaknesses may depress our minds if we don't fully trust the Lord. God is the one who has called us; he is able to complete his work in our imperfect bodies if we keep close to him. He is a merciful God; he takes care of us. He is able to direct all things for our good, even when we can not. (Romans 8:28) He is able to help us more than we can even ask, more than we can even think. He "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us." (Ephesians 3:20)
Our heavenly Father has promised to help us if we seek to walk in his ways. "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore." (Psalms 121)
Our hearts and minds can only bow in respect before God's immense power and love. How can we pay for all this? How can we show our love toward him? How can we fulfill our vow of consecration?
This great expression of love from God required some payment. It required his most precious treasure, his beloved son. What a precious sacrifice this was. Jesus expressed the same love by giving his life for us. This same kind of sacrificial love must be found in the lives of his followers. Their lives belong to the Lord, and it must be used to serve God, the truth, and the brethren.
When we consecrate to the Lord, we promise to give everything to him and keep nothing back. We vowed to give everything to him: our time, energy and abilities. Our vow of consecration includes the promise to give up our earthly desires, ambitions and aims--we don't aspire to earthly goals in any sense. This is what our vow of sacrifice meant. Although we are freed from earthly things, these did not vanish away. On the contrary, they are now to be used in the Lord's service, for the truth and for his children.
Settlement of Accounts
In the parable of talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus gave a clear picture of how we must pay the Lord for all his good works for us and how we must fulfill our vow of consecration. "The kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey . . . After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them."
The talents entrusted to the servants were valuable to the lord; he had a right to require faithfulness from his servants when working with those talents. This lord expected all his servants to work enthusiastically according to their several abilities. He did not expect more than they could do. The one who used two talents faithfully was as honored as the one who used five. Upon his return the "lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
All the servants were given talents; none were left empty handed. All were responsible for what they had been given, though some had more, some less. But one servant proved unfaithful. He was not bad in the sense that he used his talent against his lord or his fellow servants. He simply did not use it at all; he hid his talent in the earth. This servant expected to be approved by the lord although he did not use his talent, had no interest and enthusiasm for his lord. He did not have evil thoughts against his master nor did he try to prevent others from using their talents. Yet he did not recognize his responsibility as a servant of the lord, nor did he show any interest in his work.
This was something the lord could not overlook. As an unfaithful and slothful servant he had violated a covenant . It was clearly impossible to give him more responsibility over the things of the master so he was cast into "outer darkness."
The parable should make us look at our activities and appraise our faithfulness in the Lord's service so we improve our behavior and remember our vow to him. The Lord expects activity in his service from those who confess to be his servants, according to their ability and opportunities. If you have one talent, don't hide it--use it. Do all you can in the great work to which you have consecrated your life. Those who have several talents should use them all faithfully. The Lord's approval goes only to those who are faithful. Each of us should ask ourselves, "Am I using my talents to increase the pleasures of this life, or to serve the Lord?"
What do the talents represent? They are everything we have after providing for the necessities of life--our job, family, and the like. These should be used actively in the service of the Lord.
To be God's child and a joint heir with Christ requires that we love and be active on behalf of the truth and the brethren. Few walk along this narrow way. Let us not worry about what others do; let us walk the way the Lord has shown us. Let those of us who run this race look to our own zeal and activity. If we hide our talents under worldly cares, burdens, and temporal ambitions, or waste our consecrated time in fleshly pleasures, we will surely be thrown into outer darkness like the wicked servant in the parable. It will not matter how great an intellectual understanding we may have had of the truth if we have not loved it so much that we have sacrificed what we have for it.
How faithful have we been in using our talents? How faithful will we be in the coming year? Let us use what we have for the glory of our Heavenly Father. The Lord has promised to reward our smallest efforts, even the use of just one talent, in the service of the truth and the brethren. A cup of water served to the brethren is not left without its reward (Matthew 10:42). "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 15:58)