First, God is sovereign, not the gifts or the talents. The Giver, not the gift, determines how—or even if—the gift is to be put into service. The truth is that God gifts every believer. But the fact that one man has a talent for boxing does not mean that God wants him to become a professional boxer. The fact that another has a gift for making money does not mean that God has not called him to be a preacher. Scripture is filled with examples that counter the supposition that talent is destiny. On the one hand are the examples of those who did not appear to have the talents requisite for the service to which God called them. It would seem (and Moses certainly believed) that leadership of a great nation would require superior skills of communication, which he apparently lacked: “I am not eloquent . . . I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Ex. 4:10). But God was not concerned with Moses’s natural abilities: “And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (vv. 11, 12). Amos had a similar testimony after God called him to be His prophet: “I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit” (Amos 7:14). If (apparent) gifts are sovereign, neither Moses nor Amos would have become servants of the Lord because they did not possess (in their own eyes, at least) the talents requisite for what God was calling them to do. On the other hand are the examples of those whose most obvious talents had to be forsaken in order to do what God required of them. As a member of the Sanhedrin, Paul had recognized skills in governance, skills which he would later use only in much humbler circumstances among the churches. Peter and several other disciples were talented fisherman. They were called to abandon their natural talents in order to become fishers of men. Matthew’s talent was that of making money as a publican through skillful means both honest and dishonest. When God called him to be a disciple, he forsook that skill. Apparently, the Lord never again allowed him to employ his natural ability in any way. He would have been the natural choice to be the treasurer of the twelve; instead, that office went to Judas. God is sovereign, not His gifts.
Second, God is sovereign, not the receiver of the gifts and talents. When we analyze our gifts and decide how to serve on that basis, we fall prey to at least two errors. First is the error of assumption: we assume we are capable of accurately recognizing our gifts. We may not perceive that we have a more useful “hidden” talent. Or we may think we are better at something than we really are. Second is the error of presumption: we presume that God wants us to use our talents in a particular way, or even at all. One of the tenets of the faith is that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross in order to follow Him. That sometimes means that we must abandon our comfort zone, forsake what we feel we are good at, leave what we naturally enjoy, and lean on His power and strength in order to glorify Him. Natural talents can tend to be used to glorify the recipient rather than the Giver. God is sovereign; we are not.
Does this mean that talents are merely a useless temptation or serve no obvious purpose, like some so-called vestigial organ? Of course not. But we must remember that we are the servants of the Lord, and not the servants of our talents, nor their master, for that matter. Blessed is the man or woman who will truly yield as clay to the hand of the Potter to be shaped and used as God sees fit and for His glory alone. Often that involves using the talents the Lord has bestowed on us. But sometimes He may choose to glorify Himself by asking us to submit to His sovereign will, to shelve some natural talent, and to labor in some more fruitful service.
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