Do business till I come. (Luke 19:13)
The first command given to humanity was the broad responsibility to “subdue” and “have dominion” over Earth (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:4-8). Most of us understand that the core of that responsibility was, and is, to manage the resources of Earth as stewards on behalf of the Owner. Humanity has distorted and disobeyed that command from the very beginning.
The First Age after Creation
The great worldwide Flood of Noah’s day was a judgment against the first age of humanity, which had slowly corrupted until God saw that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). There were some people, however, who even during that awful time “did business” in the Lord’s name.
- By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain (Hebrews 11:4).
- By faith Enoch…had this testimony, that he pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).
- By faith Noah…prepared an ark for the saving of his household (Hebrews 11:7).
The Old Covenant and Israel
A few centuries after that horrible catastrophe, and with the Flood still fresh in their minds, the whole of humanity rebelled again at the Tower of Babel. God then “confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9). It is likely that the dispersed family of Noah’s son Shem were the only people still attempting to maintain the message of God after that point.
Even Abraham required a personal visit from God to get him going in the right direction (Genesis 12:1-3). Several times during his life, Abraham had to be corrected, redirected, encouraged, and reaffirmed. Doing business for the Lord is not easy, popular, or necessarily completely understood during the process of getting it right!
Mankind does not have a good obedience record. Over the next 2,000 years, God initiated, developed, and preserved the nation of Israel. Out of love, He protected and rescued them time and again from a pattern of rebellion and revival, all the while promising the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate fulfillment of His plan and purpose for Earth and humanity. Many times over those centuries, God sent prophets to remind and remonstrate. It almost seems like God left the rest of the world to fend for itself, concentrating His thoughts and messages almost exclusively on Israel.
His chosen nation didn’t listen. But there were a few in every generation who tried to obey and serve—a “remnant,” they were called. Some of them were kings or priests or prophets. Some were ordinary folks with nothing more than a heart of love for their Creator and a desire to be a part, however small, of God’s great eternal plan. Scripture provides a detailed narrative of these key players, but the summary of the faithful in the book of Hebrews succinctly tells of those…
who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:33-34, 37-40)
God has provided something better for us! We, the ultimate joint heirs of His kingdom, the twice-born, are enabled to see that command in the light of the New Testament last days.1 Much had changed over the millennia since Israel was founded. Not only had Israel failed to capitalize on the role that God had—and still has—in store for them, but when the Lord Jesus entered the world as the incarnate Messiah, He “came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).
The New Covenant and the Last Days
Knowing He must sacrifice Himself for the sins of the whole world, take His life back from the grave, and return to His Father for a season, the Lord Jesus gave two parables during His earthly ministry that address the concept of “doing business” during the New Testament era and the last days before His return. Both of them stress the responsibility for the Lord’s servants to take care of His estate (the Kingdom) and His business while He is away on a long journey.
Each of us are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), with the promise that God will “supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). The promises of care and supply are part of the necessary resources that enable us to subdue and have dominion over the planet while we who are the Lord’s servants occupy until He returns to finalize and implement all that has been planned “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
Luke 19:11-27 records Jesus’ response to those who were expecting Him to immediately establish God’s Kingdom on Earth. No, Jesus insisted, the process would be like a nobleman going away to receive a kingdom. The story begins with the nobleman instructing his servants to do business in his place until he returns. Before he left, he gave each servant a mina. (A Greek mna was equal to 100 Roman denarii. One denarius was given to each laborer for a day’s work. In another well-known story, two denarii were given to the innkeeper by the Good Samaritan.) Essentially, each of the nobleman’s servants was given an equal opportunity to accomplish business on behalf of the owner until he returned to resume his authority.
However, the citizens of the country hated the nobleman, no doubt making it quite difficult for the servants to conduct business on his behalf. Nonetheless, each servant was given the clear responsibility to do his best during the nobleman’s absence. The prominent focus is on individual initiative—the servant’s obedience. When the nobleman did return, he rewarded the servants according to how much investment return each had made with his money.
Two main points are made: The Lord gave rewards of authority in proportion to each servant’s investment effectiveness, and the Lord essentially impoverished the fearful ineffective servant and gave his mina to the most effective servant. One clear principle in this world is that the return on investment is directly proportional to the degree of risk. If we are too fearful to risk our “mina,” we may very well be impoverished in eternity. If we risk for the sake of the Lord’s Kingdom, though, we will be well rewarded.
Matthew 25:14-30 provides a similar illustration with a markedly different emphasis. In this story, the servants are given different amounts of money, “talents,” in recognition of their differing abilities. (One Greek talent was equal to 6,000 Roman denarii—nearly 20 years’ wages!) In contrast to the story of the single mina left to each of the ten servants, the man in Matthew who leaves on a journey to a far country seems to divide all of his great wealth among the key servants “to each according to his own ability” (Matthew 25:15).
Two of the three servants “went and traded” with the funds provided, but the third “went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.” However one evaluates this story, the emphasis is on individual opportunity and the expectation that “to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
At the heart of the story is the statement that the owner was gone a long time. There is no indication that the servants were to use this money for their personal needs, but instead it was evident that they were to invest it for the benefit of the owner. When the owner finally did return, the reward he issued was based on the use of the money, not the return. Since the initial amounts were granted on the basis of each servant’s known ability, the reckoning was made based on how well the servant used the opportunity available to him. The one unprofitable servant who knew better, but still did not use the Lord’s talent, was called wicked and lazy and was thrown into “outer darkness.” Could a worse judgment befall any person?
The Judgment of the Saints
It is very clear in the Scriptures that earthly wealth is not the criterion for the saints when they are called to account (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). The “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, [and] straw” mentioned in this passage are merely representative of the quality of deeds done—how they measure up to the eternal values of the Kingdom. The Creator already owns the “cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10) and will make a “new heaven and a new earth” from the fiery destruction of the old (Revelation 21:1; 2 Peter 3:13). God certainly does not need our wealth.
But He has made it possible for us to invest with His resources and earn a return on His wealth, with a reward distributed to us based on how well we use the resources He gives us. Those business opportunities are as wide and varied as the personalities and life positions of the millions of His chosen ones throughout all of Earth history.
Sometimes the investment is little more than a cup of cold water given in His name (Matthew 10:42). But more often than not, the “things done in the body” (2 Corinthians 5:10) involve our human talent, time, and treasure. Most of us do not have the privilege of being employed in an organized ministry like a church or other Kingdom mission like ICR, but each of us have a mina and talents that have been provided by the great Creator-Owner of this universe.
We must use them. In obedience we must attempt to invest our God-given treasures for the honor and benefit of the Creator, or we will be judged an “unprofitable” and “lazy” servant only fit for “outer darkness.” This command may have the feel of law to it, but it is surely grace; we have the privilege of freely serving our God as His redeemed remnant, preaching His gospel with all that we have to all who will hear. When we do use God’s gifts for the Kingdom’s benefit—both the spiritual gifts distributed among our churches and the earthly resources and opportunities made available in the Kingdom—then we will be granted eternal responsibilities and authorities in the “new heaven and the new earth.”
Our only opportunity to earn rewards during eternity is while we are alive “down here.” Perhaps it is time for us to consider how well our eternal “business” is doing.
- It is a common misconception that the “last days” only apply to the Tribulation period. The last days began with the coming of the Messiah; Christ ushered these days in with the New Covenant.
- Incarnation of Christ: “He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Peter 1:20).
- Day of Pentecost: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
- Contempt for God in the last days: “Knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts” (2 Peter 3:3).
- Opposition to the gospel in the last days: “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have co me, by which we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.