Monday, May 23, 2016

Talents or Minas, It Don't Matter

For nearly two years, I have been managing my father’s affairs. I make decisions concerning both the type of care and the medical treatments he receives. I pay his bills and choose how to invest his money. I am somewhat amazed at the breadth of the authority given to me by our family’s legal documents. Even though I have the power to use this money almost as though it was my money, it isn’t my money. It is my father’s money. My relationship to his money is fiduciary in nature. This means I must manage my father’s affairs for his benefit, not for my benefit. In addition, I believe that I should manage his money as he and my mother would have managed their money if they were both alive and competent. As a result of this decision, I take fewer risks with my father’s money than I do with my own money. I have the authority to pay myself a salary for these sometimes time consuming and emotionally stressful tasks, but I haven’t done that. It just doesn’t seem right. After all, it is my father’s money.

What is generally called the Parable of the Talents appears twice in the New Testament. There are slight differences in Luke’s telling of the story and that offered by Matthew, as they were given at different times and in different locations. However, they both tell the story of a nobleman who goes off on a long journey. In Matthew, the master gives three of his servants varying amounts of money to invest in his absence. In this version the servants receive 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent respectively. A talent is a serious sum, worth perhaps $500,000 in today’s money. In the other version each of ten servants receives a much smaller investment, ten minas. There are 60 minas to a talent, so we are talking, maybe $83,000. When the master returns, he asks for an accounting of his investments. The servants who have used their master’s money wisely, either doubling the net worth of their holdings or in one case increasing the amount by 50% receive praise and rewards. The servants who have not increased the master’s money in his absence are cursed and punished.

How long was the journey? No time is given, but in today’s world where the return on equities over long time periods is roughly 7%, the Rule of 72 tells us we might be talking ten years. The time necessary to double your money is the rate of return multiplied by the number of years required to equal 72. In the ancient world, long journeys were measured in years.

In the Bible, we are instructed that the money we have been given by God to manage on his behalf isn’t our money. It is our Father’s money. Instead of using the term, fiduciary relationship, Christians typically use the stewardship metaphor. In the middle ages, a nobleman had a steward, a trusted servant who possessed Power of Attorney over the nobleman’s financial affairs. Due to the importance of this position, the steward received a generous salary. Typically he would be the second richest man in the realm after the nobleman in charge. As my investments grew, I reached a point where I realized God hadn’t trusted me with all this money so I could waste it on loose women, fast cars, and cocaine. I had been given significant responsibility and someday I would have to answer for how I managed my Father’s money. It was a sobering realization.

I am responsible for investing and increasing the money that has been entrusted to my care, by my heavenly Father. I am also responsible for distributing this money in a sensible manner, both in this world and after my passing to those who will follow in my footsteps.

Obviously the first place I give is to my local church. If you don’t want to give to your church, you should probably find another church. I also support three other ministries on a regular basis. In each case I know who and what is involved and how they are using the money. I have a great deal of confidence that the men who are expending these funds are using them wisely and well.

Lending or giving money to individuals is a lot harder than giving to a well understood ministry. In some instances helping can hurt. As a young Christian, I watched my church attempt to help an individual who suffered from mental illness. For some time he played the leadership like a fiddle. Eventually, they realized that helping this man with money wasn’t improving the situation. While he was still treated like a brother, the gravy train ended. I don’t remember what happened in this particular case, but over time I have discovered that these people tend to move from church to church looking for handouts, as they recite their tale of woe. At one point in our marriage, we gave a small amount of money to a friend with substance abuse problems. A few months later she asked for what at that time seemed a rather large loan for car repairs. I told my wife we would never see that money again. We agreed that if we made the loan and it wasn’t repaid, this person would never get another dime from our checkbook. Needless to say, we never saw a penny, but this person did try and hit us up for more money on at least two subsequent occasions.

On the other hand, I have found that a well timed gift or interest free loan can really change a life. It is a great joy to know that something you have done pulled one of God’s children out of a mud hole and put them back on a paved road leading to greater success and an opportunity to become a blessing to others who you will never meet in this world.

Whether you currently have been given one mina or one hundred talents by the Master, you are responsible for how you manage His money in this world. While this is a fiduciary relationship, for the Master’s benefit, not your benefit, He has given me authority to pay myself a salary for these sometimes time consuming and emotionally stressful tasks.

He is generous and He is good.

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