John D. Rockefeller was the richest person in history. Born in 1839, Rockefeller was motivated at a young age to earn money to assist his family. He went to school to learn bookkeeping and later built an oil refinery. Soon after, he founded the Standard Oil Company which later dominated the industry and at one point controlled ninety percent of all U.S. oil. Upon his death in 1937, Rockefeller’s net worth (adjusted for inflation) was almost $340 billion.
When Rockefeller’s attorney was asked how much fortune was left behind after Rockefeller’s death, his attorney replied, “all of it.”
Rockefeller took none of his fortune to the afterlife. His possessions and money served him in this life only; they were of no use to him as he crossed the bridge to eternity. (As a side note, John D. Rockefeller was an incredibly generous man, donating a significant portion of his fortune to charity. He also founded many universities and assistance programs.)
Rockefeller’s story is frequently used as an illustration against materialism. As Christians we’re continually told not to measure our lives by net worth or assets. Jesus Himself warns us repeatedly of the dangers of covetousness. Consider the following story in Luke chapter twelve:
Jesus and His followers are outside teaching a large crowd. A man in the crowd interrupts the lesson to ask Jesus to convince his brother to share his inheritance with him. Perhaps the man’s parents died and left their estate to his brother instead of to him. Maybe his brother received the inheritance by another means. We don’t know – all we know is this man desires a piece of his brother’s pie.
Jesus looks at the man and replies, “Who made Me judge and arbitrator over you? Listen, be on your guard against greed. Your life is more than your belongings.”
Jesus continues to tell the following story: “One year, a rich farmer yielded a hugely abundant crop. He didn’t know what to do with the extra produce, so he decided to bulldoze his existing storage barns and build bigger ones. Then, instead of working hard the following years, his plan was to rest and enjoy life while eating his extra produce.
However, that very night God said to the rich farmer, ‘You fool! This very night your life will end. Then who will get your surplus harvest?’
At the conclusion of His story, Jesus looks at His followers and soberly says, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich towards God.”
As Christians, our lives are not defined by possessions. So what defines our lives?
Our lives are defined by how we invest God’s gifts, not by our earthly possessions. The lives of all believers in Heaven will be reviewed at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Our actions, not possessions, will be the basis for judgment. Every Christian will receive payment for what they did instead of what they owned (Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10.) Our works will be tested for quality, and if they prove genuine we will receive a reward. If not, we will receive nothing (1 Corinthians 3:11-15.) Heavenly rewards will not be given based on our material possessions, but on how well we used our gifts.
In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus narrates the Parable of the Talents as a way to describe how a believer should wisely invest their gifts. In the story, a rich man went on a long journey, but before leaving he gave three servants a portion of his estate. To the first servant he gave five talents, which was a standard unit of measurement to calculate the weight of precious metals. Scholars estimate one talent is valued anywhere between $1,000 to $30,000 in today’s dollars. To the second servant he gave two talents, and to the third he gave one.
After the rich man left on his journey, the first and second servants went to town and invested their talents. They received an 100% return on their investment; the first servant made five additional talents, and the second made two. The third servant, however, buried his talent and made no return at all.
Upon his return, the rich man reviewed the accounts of all three servants. While he was very pleased with the returns earned by the first two servants, he was disappointed with the third servant’s unwillingness to invest the talent he was given. He ordered the talent be taken from him and given to the first servant, who by now had ten talents. In his displeasure, the rich man told the third servant, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 25:29)
The Parable of the Talents can be compared to the believer’s appointment at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Jesus has dispensed gifts to all believers, and He expects them to be invested wisely. Those who invest wisely receive a return; those who don’t invest receive no return. His divine gifts weren’t given capriciously; they were given with Godly purpose. Burying, or wasting, those gifts in futility will reap Godly judgment.
In the Parable of the Talents, the rich man distributed money. What does God distribute to us?
According to Romans 12:6-8, God gave every believer at least one gift of the Spirit. All believers are divinely bestowed with a special talent – or perhaps multiple talents – for the purpose of building up the Church (1 Corinthians 12:7.) Remember, the Church is not a particular building; it is all Christians. The reason God left us here after our salvation is to strengthen the Church and bring others to salvation. Once you were saved, you were given at least one of these talents or strengths (compiled from 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, 28; Romans 12:7-8; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:11):
- Teaching and/or speaking
- Speaking tongues
- Interpreting tongues
If you’re a believer, you truly need to know your gifts because you will be judged by how you invest them. God imparted them so you could fulfill your purpose. His job for you is revealed by which gifts He has given you. If you desire to know your Godly purpose, discover your gifting. You can do so by taking an online Spiritual gift test, such as the one at http://www.spiritualgiftstest.com.
Join us next week as we further study the measure of our lives, and how to successfully live in a material-driven world.