Trent Matthews and Pastor Matthew Bixler recently returned from the Acts 29 Europe “Elect Exiles” conference in Belgrade, Serbia. It was a wonderful time of worship, making new friends, hearing about and celebrating how the gospel is changing lives across Europe, and exploring ways for Grace Church to continue to support our brothers and sisters overseas as well as send out our people to serve alongside them. The “Back from Belgrade” series is a collection of stories, reflections, and responses to what they heard and saw in Belgrade from May 7 – 9.
It has been about two months since Matthew and I attended the Acts 29 Europe conference in Belgrade, Serbia. As a whole, the trip was enriching and encouraging. We received some great teaching from Matt Chandler on 1 Peter and Steve Timmis on the importance of Gospel Centrality. We heard updates from pastors who have planted churches all over Europe, and got to pray for them on the spot. I met and conversed with people from Slovenia, Germany, Italy, Russia, Serbia, the UK and more. Getting to see Robin and Claire in person for the first time since November was such a treat. We also got lost in downtown Belgrade one night with some new friends from the UK (you can ask me about this story in person)!
Matthew has already explained a lot about the conference in his recent blog posts (1, 2, and 3), but I have been asked to share about some of my experiences as well. While there is no way that I could possibly fit all the ways I benefited from those three days into a short blog post, I want to share one lesson that was a great encouragement to me.
This being an Acts 29 conference, I was surprised that the most helpful thing I learned didn’t have much to do (directly) with church planting in a European context. It came from a short “Take-Away” session with Philip Moore, the director of A29 Europe. At my cohort table, we had an opportunity to discuss and dissect the Parable of the Talents with each other. Here is the passage:
The Parable of the Talents
“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.”
The Joy of the Master and the Third Servant’s Doom
Philip gave this question as a prompt for our conversation: How does the joy of my Master encourage, transform, and motivate me to invest my responsibilities, opportunities, gifts, and circumstances for the King?
It was in discussing this question that I saw two truths that I had never seen before in this parable. The first is this: how I see the Master has a direct influence on how I invest what he has given me. Notice how the third servant saw the master as a “hard man, reaping where [he] did not sow, and gathering where [he] scattered no seed.” His errant understanding of the master to be a hard man made him fearful to act—and thus was his doom. If he just saw the master and the joy that was to be offered him rightly, he would have invested like the first two!
This resonated so much with me because I often struggle to see the Lord rightly. Much of the time I see him as that hard man, who only makes demands on my life and waits for me to fail. Thus I go to bury my “talent”—all that he has given me—for fear of failure. What sweet news it is that God is not that kind of Master. In fact, he calls himself “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6; emphasis added). He delights in pouring out his mercy and grace. He overflows with love and faithfulness. He is not that hard man—one who only takes and demands from us. He is the one who invites us into the joy of knowing him. He freely gives himself to us in Christ. How I need to see the Lord rightly in this way!
No Wasted Investments
The other discovery that followed from our discussion was this: When Christians use their resources to invest in the Kingdom of God, they are guaranteed success. Let me explain this a little. Notice that the fault of the third servant was not that he went out to the marketplace and tried to increase the asset given to him, only to lose everything—it was that he did nothing at all. He buried that which the master gave him to use for his glory. The only other two examples given were those who invested what was given to them and received a successful return. There is no category in this parable for a servant who invested and failed. There is no fourth servant, who went out to the marketplace to trade and lost all he was given. I take this to mean that if you invest what the Lord has given you for his kingdom, you cannot fail. You will receive a return, whether you see it in this life or not. You will enter into his joy forever.
Now, I know what you’re thinking—“Guaranteed success? Trent, that’s crazy. Surely we all make mistakes and fail in our good works!” Yes, I agree, in part. Of course, we are imperfect investors. But God’s plans cannot be thwarted by our mistakes! His Word will not return to him void (Is. 55:11), and he makes all things work together for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28)—even bad things (Gen. 50:20). His Kingdom is unstoppable, and he invites us to participate and see the joy that is offered to us in obedience.
Blood-Bought, Guaranteed Return
To be clear, I am not talking about giving money to the church or the poor so that God will pay you back and make you rich. I’m talking about sacrifices for others, radical generosity, leaving comfort and security to take the gospel to unreached people. These are all things God will reward us for in the next life. It’s possible that we may never see these acts as “successful investments” in this life. Maybe you never saw that person you discipled come to Christ. Maybe that church plant you led never got traction and you had to call it quits after four years. None of it is wasted.
This was a great encouragement to me. It freed me up to look at all the Lord has given me—time, money, gifts, abilities, relationships, etc.—and invest it for his kingdom. There will be no wasted generosity, acts of love and kindness towards others, or risks taken for the Kingdom of God. Christ’s death on the cross has secured the success of his Kingdom and thus our success in investing in that Kingdom! We are then free to live in happy obedience to him—to lay up treasures in heaven instead of on earth, where everything will eventually be destroyed anyways (Matthew 6:19-20).
I hope this encourages you as much as it encouraged me. The Lord was gracious to teach this to me halfway around the world—with brothers and sisters from all over Europe. He is truly a good Master, and he is building his Church. Will you invest what he has entrusted to you for his kingdom?