The Responsibility Incumbent upon The Hearers
Mark 4:21-25, A Message by Pastor Eric Chang
Today, we continue our exposition of the word of God in Mk 4:21-25. This, as you will see, follows immediately on from the Parable of the Sower, which we expounded last time. And so we turn now to this passage in Mk 4:21-25 and we shall read it together. And I ask you to read it very thoughtfully so that, by the grace of God, you may be able to understand what he is saying.
And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushel, or under a bed, and not on a stand? For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear.” And he (that is, the Lord Jesus) said to them, “Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to him who has will more be given; and from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Now, I would like to read to you also the parallel passage in Lk 8:16-18 so that the words of the Lord Jesus may come to you in a very clear way. The Lord Jesus says here,
“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
The Church – The Light of the World
I have a vision of the church – the church as the light of the world. I wonder if you can see this vision: The church as the light of the world. Can you think about that for a moment? Try to conceive of this church as light in this whole world. Can you think of it, a church that is able to bring forth light to this whole world that walks in darkness? Can you see a church that radiates forth – in beauty, in brightness, in warmth, in holiness – the life of God? Can you picture in your mind a church that functions as light?
Look at these windows, how bright they are. When the sun sets tonight, it will be very dark outside; you will see no colors, no brightness, nothing. But now it is bright. The light floods in and brings everything – its cheer, its warmth, its beauty. If you take color photographs, you know that when the sun goes in, even if you have a very good color film in your camera, everything turns out rather colorless and dull. But let the sun come out, let the light shine, and everything shines with a new beauty. Can you picture the church as the light of the world that illuminates the world that sits in darkness? I have a vision of the church and for this vision I shall work that we can re-build the church, restore the church to what it should be.
The Light of the Glory of God
Now, nobody looking at the church today will remotely describe it as the light of the world. No. The world disregards it. The church ceases to function as light. I do not know what it functions as, but it ceases to function as light pouring forth the glory of God. What is the light but the glory of God, that people look and say, “Ah, I see that this is the glory of God!”? People looked at those humble fishermen and they said, “These people have been with Jesus; they shine with the glory of Jesus.” They took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus [Acts 4:13b]. I wonder when they look at you and me whether they can see something of the glory of God or not.
If they cannot see the glory of God in us, what do we function as? Jesus tells us that he saved us for one specific purpose, not just so that we can reserve our seat in heaven and let the world go to hell, but so that we may function in this world as light for him. He wants to clothe us with his glory. That is what the Apostle Paul says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” [Rom 13:14]. What happens when you put on the Lord Jesus Christ? Well, people see Jesus because you put him on. But who preaches such texts today? All we want to talk about is free salvation, like giving out sweets and lollipops to everybody, “You get to heaven; never mind if the world goes to hell.” We forgot that we have been saved in order to be light.
The Glory of God in Love
I still have a vision of the church as light. I intend to work towards this goal whatever happens, that the church may be rebuilt in these days until it shines once again as light in the world with the glory of God coming forth from it, the love of God radiating forth from it. Can you catch that vision? Where those who freeze in the cold of hatred are warmed by the love of God coming through us? When people who fellowship with you say, “I know there is something different about you, I don’t know what it is but I can only describe it as the glory of God coming through you,” then you are functioning as a Christian. Jesus saved us in order to be light. Can you catch that vision of the church?
The Glory of God in Holiness
I have had enough of the preaching that only talks about personal salvation, that only speaks of you saving your own skin, you getting to heaven. What kind of a salvation is this? “I don’t care what kind of a life you live, you are going to be saved anyway. You can sin as much as you like.” I tell you something, read Ephesians – God saved us that we might be holy unto him [Eph 1:3-4]. What is holiness but the glory of God shining through us? Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. That is what the Apostle Paul commanded the church, he didn’t just suggest it as another nice idea nor as an afterthought. For this purpose you were saved, in order that you may manifest his glory in the world. This is what he says in Eph 5:8, “…once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” You are light because Jesus has transformed your life from darkness to light.
Now, that is a gospel worth preaching: A gospel that can take darkness and change it into light. That is a gospel worth preaching! Who wants to preach any other kind of gospel? This gospel can take hatred and turn it into love; it can take a sinner and make him holy. Now, that is the gospel – darkness to light. What kind of a gospel is being preached in the churches today? I do not know what kind of gospel. Nothing seems to change. All that changes is your belief. Your life is the same before and after.
Light Cannot be Overcome by Darkness
Are you light in the world wherever you go? Do you shine? Do people look at you, and say “Wow, that’s a Christian!”? What I see are Christians who are constantly overcome by the darkness; they are defeated. If somebody says something unkind to you, you become bitter. Now, take a candle, even a weak little candle, a small little candle, a birthday candle if you like – so skinny, so small, a tiny little light – put it in a room and see whether this massive darkness all around it can put out that light. Can it? You see, that thing is so small, the room is so big, but the darkness cannot put the light out. There is no way the darkness can put it out. Light in its nature cannot be crushed by darkness; it cannot be put out by darkness. The darkness is conquered by the light. Even if the light is that weak, it will still not be crushed by darkness.
But I find that we, as Christians, are being conquered by the world all the time. If somebody is unkind to you, what happens? Your face becomes first green, and then purple, and then blue, and the color gets darker all the time until it gets black even. So what happens? We have the light in us but it is overcome by darkness?! The Apostle Paul says, “Overcome evil with good; do not be overcome by evil.” [cf. Rom 12:21] Do not let the darkness overpower you. If somebody is unkind to you, that’s the time to let the light shine even more brightly. The darker the surrounding is, the more the light stands out. What is the use of moaning to say, “You know, in my college nobody is a Christian”? Hallelujah! If nobody is a Christian, then never do they need you more there. What is the use of moaning to say, “In my office I’m the only Christian”? Praise God! If they were all Christians there, what would they need you for? If this room were full of lights, what would we need another light here for? We do not need another light. We have got plenty enough lights here. But if this room has no lights, how precious is that one light that shines!
And is it that every time somebody sniggers at you, your light goes out? Or if some fellow Christian (in ignorance) ridicules you, are you so offended? Do you say, “I can take it from a non-Christian but not from a fellow Christian! Finished!” So your light goes out, it’s switched off?
Light does not switch off because of darkness. Whether it is the darkness in a fellow Christian or darkness in the non-Christian, it is all darkness, it does not matter. My light should not go off because of darkness. It is precisely the darkness that challenges the light to shine, to give forth its light.
I wish we could catch the vision in these last days, in the gathering gloom, as we are rapidly coming towards (even the non-Christians know this) the end of an age. Everybody is predicting disaster all around. It is not only the Christians who say that. It is the non-Christians who are saying that over-population is going to kill the world, pollution is going to kill the world, and so on – everything is going to kill the world. Okay, let them say that. The point here is that they observe that we are at the end of an age. Human history is in decline. This is the time for the church to shine. Can you catch a vision of that?
You may say, “Well, it is rather useless. Look at us; we are such a small bunch of people. The world is so big and we are so small; the challenge is impossible. We are simply overwhelmed by the vastness of the task.” That is true. We are a very small bunch of people in a very big world. But is that cause that we should not shine?
You know, when I was a little boy, I lived in the war, the Sino-Japanese War. I still remember many things of that war even though I was small. And I noticed that every time the bombers came across Shanghai, we got bombed. First we got bombed by the Japanese, then we got bombed by the Americans – we got bombed by everybody. That is the fate of civilians in war. But one thing happens when the bombers come, do you know what? You have to have blackouts. They cut out all lights. The power station closes down and everybody sits in darkness. Why? So that when the bombers come, they have no targets because they cannot see any lights. When they look down, they see everything is black. Where are they going to drop their bombs? They cannot pick out a target. And do you know that anybody who so much as lights up a cigarette will be shot! You say, “Now, that’s ridiculous.” It is not ridiculous. The cigarette light is so small but a bomber crew several thousand feet up can pick out a cigarette light in the midst of total darkness. It’s because the total darkness makes that tiny little light stand out! It is remarkable, isn’t it? And if you put a candle there, that is all a bomber needs; that is all it needs. It will pick it out from the darkness. You see, that little light stands out from the darkness.
We may be very little, but what does it matter? We are here to shine, and we are going to do our job, and we are going to function. I am very challenged by this thought. We are called – weak and small as we are, our light may only be as that of a birthday candle, so small – to give forth the light that we have. Now, this is the point of this passage that we are going to study.
How Can We Become Light?
And so we come to this passage because this passage is going to answer some questions. How do we function as light? How can we become light and function as light? And how may our light increase? You say, “You mean all that is in there?” Praise God, it is all in there. That is the riches of God’s word. Now, maybe you have looked at this passage many times before and you have said, “I can’t see a thing. I don’t even understand what it’s talking about.” Well, what is this passage talking about? We are going to look at it under three headings.
The first thing we notice here in this passage is that verse in Mk 4:21, or Lk 8:16 (either, it does not matter). We can look at the Luke passage for the moment. Lk 8:16 reads like this:
“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a vessel, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, that those who enter may see the light.”
Now, what is all this saying? First, observe this. Let me give you the key thought of this passage which will make it easier for you to follow. There are three things in this passage and they are all related to each other. First, the lighting of the lamp. Second, that this lamp once lighted, is to shine out without hindrance, not to let anything hinder it. Thirdly, the more it shines, the brighter it gets; the less it shines, it will end up losing even the light that it has got. It is very clear, very easy to understand.
Let me repeat that. Firstly, a light has been lit; it is the lighting of the lamp. That is a statement of fact – a light has been lit. No matter how small, how weak, the light has been lit. As we say in Chinese ‘????????’ — a spark has been lit, but that can burn the entire field. Just a spark will burn the entire ‘?’ — the whole field, the whole prairie; the whole ground can be burnt down by one spark.
The second thing is that once it has been lit, it must not be allowed to be hindered. This second point studies what causes the light not to shine forth. Why does the church not shine?
And the third point then is, the more you shine, the brighter you will get; the less you shine, you will end up even losing the light you have got.
You see, the scriptural thoughts are very clear; there is nothing confusing about it. Now, once I have given you the key, of course if you read this passage again, it should be very easy to understand. Without the key, you might look at it and not understand what it says. Now, let us take these points together very briefly.
A Light has been Lit
Firstly, a light has been lit. Who lit it? God lit it. God kindled a light. He kindled a fire in the world through the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus says, “I am come to cast fire upon the earth.” [cf. Lk 12:49]. He lit a light. That light is now burning. It is ever so weak, but it burns. And all throughout history, it keeps on burning. No matter how many attempts have been made to put it out, no matter how many failures on the part of the light, the light still burns, ever so weakly, but it burns. Thanks be to God for that. Let us take courage in the fact that it is still burning, and it will continue to burn because the Lord Jesus promised that all the powers of hell, all the darkness together, will not succeed in putting that light out.
Now, the question is this. In this passage, we will notice that this light here, in this context, in fact refers to the word of God. We notice, as we looked at Matthew 5, that it refers also to the church of God. This same passage is used in various contexts. How shall we understand this? It is very easy to understand because they are all related to each other. It is the word of God that makes us to become the light of the world. So the sequence of thoughts is very plain and very clear in Scripture, that is, once you see it. Let me give it to you in this order. How can we become a light? Well, first of all, God’s word is a lamp to us. Ps 119:105 – “Thy word is a lamp to our feet, a light to our path.” God’s word is that by which the fire will be kindled in our hearts. Just as we read in l Pet 1:23, putting it in another picture, that we are born again by the word of God. That light of life is kindled in us by the word of God. So, the first step is that God’s word is a light. But God’s word is not just that which we find here in print. God’s word comes to us in the life and teaching of Jesus – not just his teaching but also his life. Thanks be to God for the Lord Jesus.
Today, we have lots of teachers who can talk with their mouths, but if you examine their lives, their lives do not quite match up to their words. God forgive us when we preach his word and our lives say one thing and our mouths say something else. We are seen to be hypocrites because the two do not match. It is easy to say nice-sounding words, but when you look at the life, you do not see the light there. But for the Lord Jesus, not just his teaching is the word of God but his life is the word of God. His life illuminates his teaching. So Jn 8:12 says, “I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness.” So, God’s word is the light, both as the Living Word in the Lord Jesus and as the written word that we have in his teaching and in the Scriptures. That is why the Apostle Paul says in Col 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your heart richly.” So, God’s word is the light, be it in Jesus or be it in the written word that we have before us. From this, we go to the second stage.
Our heart is the light to our person. This, I am saying as a paraphrase to the Lord’s teaching in Lk 11:34-36, “Your eye is the lamp to your body” which I have expounded before when I expounded Mt 6:22 onwards. Here, it means the heart is the eye to the whole person, the light of the whole person, just as the physical eye is the light to the body. Now, if you are blind, you are in darkness; you cannot see where you are going. Your eye is the light of your body which helps you to see where you are going. It lets in the light so that you do not fall into a ditch, so that you do not bang your face against a pillar, or walk into the wall. Your eye is the light of the body. In the same way, your heart is the light of your soul, the light of your person.
So, remember again the first point, that God’s word is the light to our person. But that light has to reach into us through our hearts, which is the light of our soul. And finally, as a result of this, our person becomes the light of the world. So, the third stage is the person becomes the light of the world.
So, we see that from God’s word we become the light of the world through this very clear step-by-step process, revealed to us in the word of God. First, God’s word comes, that light has been lit; Jesus has come into the world. Then that light comes into my person through my heart, and as a result of that light coming into me, I become light. Remember Eph. 5:8, once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. So we can see the first point here, a light has been lit. That is what we see in this passage.
(2) The Light Must Not be Hidden
But secondly, when God has lit a light, he does not mean that light to be hidden, he does not mean that light to be covered. When God has put light into you and made you a light, he does not mean that this light should now be covered. Oh no! So, how does that light become covered? It is not he who covers us, but we who cover ourselves. When I was preaching on Matthew 5, I expounded this in some detail so I shall not stop here long on this point.
Here, we see several things that do cover us that are mentioned. Luke mentions the vessel; when you light the light, you do not cover it with a vessel. Mark mentions a bushel; when you light a light, you do not cover it with a bushel. And both Mark and Luke mention the bed; when you have lit a light, you do not put it under the bed. What is this saying to us? Oh, it is beautiful. As I have said, I have expounded this before so I shall just mention it to you in summary. It is to say, do not let the world get on top of you. If you let the world get on top of you, your light will not shine anymore. Notice, these things literally get on top of the light – covered with a vessel, covered with a bushel, covered with a bed, i.e. under the bed, it is covered by the bed. These things get on top of you. They get on top of you and your light cannot shine anymore. Have you let the world get on top of you?
The Bushel and the Vessel – The Necessities of Life
What does a bushel mean? That, I have mentioned in the previous message on Matthew 5. A bushel was meant to carry grain. It contains grain; it is a measure for grain. Grain means… What? It means wheat, it means barley, it means corn. It means food, in other words. If you let your concern for food – for how to earn your living – get on top of you, you are going to let your light be put out. It’s no wonder the church does not shine today! What do we have in the church? We have people whose concern is so divided. They are concerned with the world; they are concerned with making their way in the world, getting more money. The world has got into the church today; the church is a very worldly church. Many of you who have been to a church will very soon know how worldly the church is. When the Christians talk, they talk about their business successes, they talk about this and that. You see what occupies their interests. The world is on top of them, the bushel has covered their light. This is not how God meant it to be. God is saying, “I did not light a light for you to put a bushel on it!”
The second thing that conceals the light is, as we saw, the vessel in Lk 8:16. What is a vessel? A vessel is what contains liquid. The bushel contains dry matter; it is a dry measure. And the vessel contains liquid. Liquid is very important. You have got to drink. So, food and drink – the basics of life. That is why in the whole of Matthew 6, the Lord Jesus is so concerned we do not become anxious about our life – our physical life – what you shall eat, what you shall drink, what you will put on, about your job, your studies. All these things are so important to you, and you are going to let the light be put out if you let the world get on top of you.
The Bed – Marriage
What about the bed? Well, we know the bed. The bed in the Bible symbolizes marriage – “…the bed undefiled” in Heb 13:4. Of course, you can also think of it as ease, as comfort and so forth, but also marriage. How often has marriage got on top of people and put the light out? Well, it is because when a person gets married, they begin to get preoccupied with their family, his wife / her husband, the children, the house, the car, all these things. When you are alone, life is easy, isn’t it? You eat a sandwich and you’re done with it. But now, you have got children to think about, you have got to think about your father-in-law, and so on.
“My mother-in-law is coming to visit us, everybody is coming, and they have to be impressed with my new house now. When I was alone, I lived in a small little hovel, it did not matter. But now my relatives are coming, I have to impress them…How’s my car, eh? Shiny? Good? It is the latest model! So they can think, ‘Oh, my son-in-law, my daughter-in-law, they are such a success in the world.’ And they’ll say, ‘See how God has blessed me!’”
Remember this, God has blessed not only you; non-Christians also do not do too badly. They too are well-preoccupied with the world. And so what has happened is we let the bed get on top of us.
But there is another way the bed can get on top of us. We find that when two people get married, personality differences begin to grate on each other. We see the sharp corners of each other’s characters – one sticks into the ribs here, the other one in the throat, the other becomes a pain in the neck. Oh boy! Marriage problems begin to arise and then each is at the other’s throat. The bed really starts getting on top of it. Oh! The marriage breeds all kinds of problems! And the light, what happens to the light? The light has gone out; it has gone under the bed. Have you ever heard of anybody putting a candle under the bed? Well, that is what happens. It all got on top of you.
So here we find the second thing in this passage. Nobody who lights a lamp puts it under a bed or under a bushel or under a vessel, but he puts it on a lampstand so that it can shine, so that everyone who comes into the house can see the light. So, we see this second point that is so important.
Why, though God has lit a lamp in the world, does the light not shine? Because the church has let the world get on top of it. The world dominates the church. I go to many churches and I see the world has dominated the church. Who are the elders of the church? Big businessmen. A local boss, a general manager, a director of this and that, he becomes elder of the church. Who is the church committee? All these guys who have money, they tell the pastor what to do.
“We don’t like your message. No, no, no. If you don’t tone down your message, we’ll kick you out. But if you do what we tell you, you will find in next week’s pay-packet a pay rise. Now, just be a good boy, listen to us.”
I know a good man who refused to become a pastor of a church in Hong Kong. I asked him why. He said, “Because I don’t want all these businessmen telling me how to preach the Gospel. I preach the Gospel as God wants me to preach it. I’m not going to have the world tell me how I preach the Gospel.” There are few people like this and these are the people who get chucked out of the church.
Now, if you want to be a ‘good’ pastor in Hong Kong, you learn how to pat the rich guys on the back. Do not rub them the wrong way, just pat them on the back and they will all be your friends. Make sure you smile nicely and next time your paycheck gets bigger. The world gets on top of the church. And these pastors, as though they have learnt no lesson (because to them it is important to bring the world into the church) appoint all the important people in society. As I have said before, if you are only a shoemaker, if you are the local shopkeeper, you do not hope to become an elder in the church. No, no, no, you do not qualify. The qualification is to be big in the world, and then you can get in. If you are a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, do not worry, sooner or later you will become an elder in the church. Just hang around long enough and just put enough money in the offering. If you do not do any of these things, there’s no way. No way.
Alas! Is it not true? You know I speak the truth. We have all been in churches; we have all served in them. We thank God for those churches where this is not the case. We thank God for those churches where the world has not dominated the churches. But how many are there?
(3) Be Careful that Light is Not Taken Away
Now, let us press on to the third and final point. Here, what do we see in this third point? It says this in Lk 8:18,
“Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
Now, v. 17 says there,
“For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light.”
This is a word of judgment. If you let the light be covered, let me tell you, God is going to judge. This verse as you look at how it is used in the New Testament, is a verse of judgment. In the Judgment, everything will come to light. Your sins, your failings, my failings, all will come to light; nothing is hidden that will not come to light. If the church does not expose the sins of the world, God will expose the sins of the church. Judgment will begin, the Apostle Peter said, at the house of God [cf. 1 Pet 4:17]. God is a God of justice. He will deal with the church. If the church does not shine, does not reveal the light, does not uncover the darkness, God will uncover the church. Just as he dealt with Israel, so he will deal with us. May the Lord be gracious to us!
But then what is the principle of shining or not shining? There it is, all in v. 18. Take heed – the Lord Jesus says these words as a word of warning. Take heed, watch, be careful how you hear, because God’s words (as I said to you in the previous messages) come to you either as a word of grace and salvation, or a word of judgment and condemnation. You are the one who will decide what it is going to be to you – if God’s word is going to come to you as light or if it is going to come to you as judgment. That is what he says here, “Take heed how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and him that has not, even what he has will be taken away.” The whole responsibility here is placed upon us. Whether you have more or less – notice what this passage says – is up to you. “To him who has will more be given, to him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
Now, let us think about this for a moment. So important is this passage that the Lord Jesus has given us two whole parables to illustrate this point:
The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25 concludes at v. 29 with the same words as we have here. What does it say in Matthew 25, the Parable of the Talents? I think you are familiar with that. A master gave talents to his servants as he left. And then when he returned, he asked the servants to give an account of what they did with the talents. And what did they do? One servant increased the talents that he had, the second one also did the same though he had less talents. But the other one did absolutely nothing with the talent that he had. The result was that even that one that he had was taken away and he lost even what he had. This we find in Mt 25:28-29.
In the Parable of the Pounds in Lk 19:26, we see the same again. The Lord does not leave us guessing at what he means. He tells us in plain language what he means. He is saying [paraphrase], “I have given to you this talent or this pound; this is given to you as a free gift of grace; you didn’t earn it, I gave it to you. But just because it is a free gift of grace does not mean you can do with it what you like.” Oh no, you are going to account to him for what you did with it.
He gives us eternal life. But do not think that because you have got eternal life, you can go carry on and do what you like. You are going to explain to him what you did with that life. When he gives you light, he wants to know, “What did you do with the light that I gave you?” He gives us a talent, he gives us a pound, and we are going to answer to him.
Now, either we increase the talent or the pound that has been given to us – which is the whole point of these parables – or else, if we do not increase it, even that which we have, we lose. And what happened to those servants that had their talent taken away or their pound taken away? You read it for yourself; I do not care what kind of doctrine you hold. They were thrown into the outer darkness [Mt 25:30]. They perished in outer darkness even though they were servants of God. That may not sound nice. I do not care what kind of doctrine you hold, but there is the Scripture for you to read, not what I have to say. Think carefully.
With Grace Comes Responsibility
So, the first point I would like you to think on this section is this: the relation of grace to responsibility. I want to spend one or two minutes on this because there is so much misunderstanding and ignorance about this point. Today, the notion is that grace is given to you, and it is up to you what you do with it. Oh no, it is not up to you in the sense that you may disregard it, or that it is yours to keep regardless of what you do with it. Not at all! The Lord has made it so plain to us that it is willful blindness to disregard the Lord’s teaching. You see, in the Scripture, the relationship of grace and responsibility is made very plain to us.
The relationship of grace and responsibility is a major scriptural thing. For example, in 2 Tim. 1:6, the Apostle Paul says to Timothy, to a servant of God, “Stir up the gift of God that is within you” [NKJ]. The Revised Standard Version has “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” Now notice, a gift of God had been given to Timothy but it seems that he had let it die down, and the Apostle Paul is saying to him, “Rekindle it.” You see, the gift of God does not automatically do a job; you have got to do something with the gift of God. It is so important to understand this. God may have given you a gift, but if you do not use it (remember the Lord’s teaching), you will lose it.
The same thing is true of salvation. Salvation is a gift of God [cf Eph 2:8]. But the Apostle Paul says in Phil 2:12, work out your salvation and work it out with fear and trembling. Why “fear and trembling” if there is no danger of it being lost? Why fear and tremble? It is God who is at work [v. 13], but we too have to work at it. You see, salvation is God’s gift but we have to work it out. We preach one part of the truth today in the churches but we do not preach the other part.
This could not be put more clearly than how the Apostle Peter put it in l Pet 4:10; that we, as Christians, are to be good stewards of God’s varied grace. Now notice, grace is a free gift to you but you have got to be a good steward. What does a steward do? A steward is somebody who looks after something, who takes care of something, who manages something. Grace is given to us not just so that we can stick it in our pocket and say, “Oh that’s it, that’s the end of the matter.” Oh no, grace is given to you so that you do something with it.
Use it or Lose it
And if you do not do something with it, there are two parables to remind you of that in the Lord’s teaching, The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, and the Parable of the Pounds in Luke 19, each warning that if you do not use that free gift of grace, it will be taken away from you. These are the same words here in this passage, “to him that has shall more be given, to him that has not….” Like that servant in the Parable of the Talents, he used the talents and more was given to him. The other person did not use it and he lost even what he had. Is not the meaning very plain? Is there anything difficult to understand? Is this a matter of complicated interpretation? To the mind that is open to the light of God, who does not want to twist the truth around, this language is very plain to understand. It requires no gimmicks, no logical acrobatics; it is all there very plain to understand. God’s grace is given to us, the Apostle Peter says, that we may be stewards of it. Now, this is all very easy to understand.
Think of it, even in the physical life, this is true, very true. Did you ask for the life you have now? Did you ask to be born into this world? No. The life that you have now, that you are able to live today, that you are able to study, that you are able to look at the sunshine, enjoy the flowers… – did you earn that life? No. That life was given to you as a gift. I have this life in me as a gift, but it does not mean that because I have this gift of life in me, I will automatically be all right. Of course not! The life is given to me as a gift, but I have to do something with it. Now, you understand this perfectly well. That is why you study; that is why you jog to keep your body in shape; that is why you work with your mind to improve the quality of your mind; that is why you learn to worship to improve the quality of your spiritual life. You know that even though life is given to you as a gift, it is not up to you to sit back. You know that if you do not cultivate this life, you will decline physically, you will decline mentally, and you will decline spiritually. Life is something that will either grow or it will die. It is up to you to be a steward of it, to manage it. In fact, the word ‘steward’ is precisely the word that is being used in the Parables of the Pounds and the Talents. Is it not perfectly easy to understand? Life is not automatically developing; life either grows or it dies. It declines, or it waxes from strength to strength. This is perfectly easy to understand.
The same is true if God gives to you his own life; it is God’s quality of life. Now, remember one thing. The physical life we have comes from God, and so does the spiritual life. When you read in Genesis, it was God who breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life. We have physical life as a gift from God and we are stewards of the physical life. We have the spiritual life as a gift from God too. If you understand the one, do you not understand the other? The spiritual life does not automatically develop. It will decline if it is not looked after, if it is not cultivated. That is why Paul says, “Strive after holiness.” [cf 1 Tim 6:11, Heb 12:14] The spiritual life does not automatically arrive. You have to strive for it. That is why Paul himself uses the picture of cultivation. He speaks of his having sown a seed, and Apollos waters, God gives the increase [1 Cor 3:6]. But there has to be a watering and there has to be the sowing of seed. There will be nothing to give an increase to if there is no sowing and there is no watering. There will not even be a plant for God to give an increase to. Is this not plain to us?
But now, once we understand the principle of this, understand this most important spiritual principle. You are responsible for the spiritual life – that life of God, the eternal life – that God has given to you. And I am responsible for the life that God has given to me. What I will do with it, I have got to answer to God. And since God has given that to me, he can also take it away. Remember that. What he gives, he can take. The Lord has given; the Lord has taken [cf Job 1:21].
What makes you think that what he gives he cannot take, if you prove unfaithful? That is another strange piece of logic that I do not understand. Some people imagine that what God gives he cannot take again. The Lord has given and the Lord can take, as freely as that. He gave the pounds and the talents to these stewards and he also took from the one that was unfaithful. Be careful how you live. He says, “Take heed how you hear [cf. Lk 8:18], watch and pray that you don’t fall into temptation.” [cf. Mt 26:41].
But once we see this side of the matter, we also see the other side of the matter because these truths are all inter-connected. If you neglect the one, you will neglect the other. Once you see that life is given to you as a trust, you will also see that unless you keep using it, it will decline. Now, this principle is very easy to understand. We understand it in the physical world; let us understand it also in the spiritual world. If you have good health, what happens? You exercise some more, you have better health; if you exercise some more, it gets even better. If you have some strength and you use that strength, you get even stronger. If you have a little bit of strength, you can lift a one-pound weight. And if you keep lifting that one-pound weight, after a while you find you can lift a ten-pound weight. So you keep lifting the ten-pound weight, what do you find happens? After a while you can lift a hundred-pound weight. And if you keep practicing, you will be lifting two hundred pounds, three hundred pounds. But can you go straight to lifting three hundred pounds? No, you cannot even get it off the ground. You will be struggling, your tongue will be hanging out and you cannot lift it off the ground. No, you cannot. But you start with one pound, then you go on to ten pounds, and after a while you go to a hundred pounds. And one of these days, you find three hundred pounds can be done. In the same way, “to him that has will more be given”; the more you use it, the more you’ve got; the more you use the talent that God has given to you, the more you will have.
The same thing is true with the intellect. Is it not true in the world as well? It is so easy to understand. You try solving a mathematical problem. At first you struggle, you bungle. Notice a child; he can hardly add three and five together. “Three plus five…one, two, three, four…”, you sit there waiting for him to add up. “One, two, three, four…nine!” You say, “No, no, no, not nine. Start again.” “One, two, three…seven!” [You say,] “No, no, no, not seven.” You think to yourself, “How is this person ever going to get it?” But this same person, who, when he was a child, could not put five and three together, becomes a mathematical genius! One day he can solve complicated problems with square roots and you-name-it – the whole thing, the whole thing! He knows how to handle it all. That same child who could not add can now solve complicated mathematical problems! Now, you think of it. I am sure that people like E. and J., these mathematicians here, can recollect the day when their mothers asked them how much is five and three, and they said, “Eight... no, no, seven… no, nine.” It is all guesswork. Sometimes I ask Y. how much is….? Sometimes she gets the number by sheer guesswork; other times it is all wrong. But then as time goes on, look at this, they can solve mathematical problems! How? It’s because he who keeps using it improves.
This is a law in every area. It is true in finance, it is true in everything. That is why there is the saying in economics, oftentimes you will find ‘the rich grow richer, the poor get poorer’. It is often the case. For a person who has $100,000, his interest alone will be $9,000 a year, right? And those of us struggling can hardly get $9,000. This fellow just twiddles his fingers and he has got $9,000 because he has already got it – ‘to him that has, more is given’. The fellow who has got a million dollars in the bank, assuming an interest rate of 9%, gets $90,000 a year for doing nothing, absolutely nothing – ‘to him that has, more is given’.
And the poor guy who has not got it, what does he do? He lives on Chargex (Credit Card), like me. At the end of the month, you get a bill coming in. You see, since you have not got the cash, you pull out the Chargex. Actually I do not use Chargex because I am aware that ‘to him that has not, even what he has got he will lose’. So you be careful. Chargex is actually working on this dangerous principle because when you cannot pay back, you will lose everything you have got. Do you notice when you apply for a Chargex, they ask you, “Have you got a house? How much is your house worth? How much longer do you have to pay for the mortgage? Have you got a car? How much is your car worth?” You say, “Why are you asking all these questions? I am applying for a Chargex card.” Sure, that is why they are asking you the questions. It’s so that if you do not pay back their money, they will come and take your car, they will take your house, they will take everything you have got. That is why they do not mind lending you money because they are going to collect all your possessions so that to him that has not to pay back his debt, even what he has got he will lose. It is very easy to understand. What is so difficult about understanding Scripture? Just think about it. It is true to life; that is what it is. It’s so straightforward and easy to understand.
And when we understand these things in the world, I say to you again, can you not understand it in the spiritual life? God has given to you life, eternal life, his own life, and he says, “Now, I want you to shine.” He gave you the light of life, now shine in the world. If you do not use it, if you put it under a bushel, if you let the world get on top of you, then you are going to lose what you have got. He is going to say, “I didn’t give you a light to put under the bushel, did I? I didn’t give you a light so you can put it under your bed. Since you are not going to use the light, since you neglect the light, I’m taking it away.” Did you not read these very same words there in Revelation [2:5]? “I will remove your candlestick from its place,” he warns the church, “I will take your light away.” That is what it means. “If you don’t shine for me, I’ll take it away. I gave you the light of life so that you will shine.”
I am sorry for those people who have been told that they were saved so that no matter what kind of a life they live, they are going to get to heaven. I am so sorry for them because God never said anything like that. He gave us the light to shine.
The More You Shine, the Brighter You Will Get!
Now, here is the beauty of it – the more you shine, the brighter you get. That is what we find there in the parallel passage in Mark. Is that not beautiful? The more you shine, the brighter you get; to him who gives will more be given. Mk 4:24, And he said to them, “Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you”. You see, this is the same principle which comes actually before v. 25, “For to him who has….” v. 25 in Mark is explaining v. 24. That is why you have ‘for to him who has’, to warn us that it is a dynamic concept, which means this: the more you give, the more you will get; if you do not give, you will end up with nothing.
Have you noticed the nature of light? The nature of light is to shine forth; it gives all the time. The light is radiating forth all the time. You say, “Well, if I keep giving, I am going to end up with nothing.” Don’t you worry! The principle of light is the more you give, the more you get. Oh, it is wonderful! It is true in the spiritual life in every sense. You can never give so that God is outrun by you. It is so wonderful. Whether it is in giving to the Lord of your money, or of your time, or of your energy, or of your life, the measure with which you give will be the measure that you get. As you use the new life that God has given to you – you use it to the maximum extent even though the light that you have is so little – you will find it getting brighter.
Now, every person here is a light, not just me. You are light, every one of you. God has given to you the light of life. If you are a Christian, you are the light. Make sure it shines, brothers and sisters. Make sure it shines, because the more you shine – in your college, in your home, in your place of work – the brighter it gets. And do not let the darkness overcome it; just let it shine. Overcome the darkness with the light. And the more you shine, the brighter you will get. We may be a very small light right now, but the more we live in a total commitment to him, the brighter will the light shine. But bear in mind this: if you don’t shine, if your light is darkness, then how great will that darkness be! [Mt 6:23] So, I hope that we will take hold of these important spiritual principles.
God’s Gift of Life and Light – the Responsibility upon Us
As I said at the beginning, I mentioned that I have this vision of the church. God has given us the light as the gift of his own free grace. We have been given his own life as a gift of grace. He is saying, “I’ve given it to you. Now, see that you don’t let anything cover it. See that you don’t let the world get on top of it. Rather, give out the light, keep giving it out, and the measure you give will be the measure you get, so that to him that has will more be given. You will grow from strength to strength.”
Let me say one thing in closing. In the Christian life, nothing stands still. Nothing stands still because that is the principle of life. Life never stands still. It either advances or it decreases; it gets brighter or it gets dimmer. There is no such thing in the spiritual life as standing still. That responsibility is upon you, and because you have that responsibility, you will need to depend more upon the grace of God to fulfill it.
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church