Expanding the Limits
Earlier, I said that the Spirit does not lead us in areas where we have no talents. By that, I meant that He does not bestow any talents ex nihilo (from nothing) in the process of leading us. While we do not expect that human instructors create talent in students out of nothing, we must realize that the Spirit as instructor has a far more impressive resume, for He who hovered above the waters and advised the Father on the design of creation helped the earth and seas create all animal life. In the same way, in response to a Resonantly lived life, we can expect the Spirit to create in us the manifestation of gifts we could have had at birth, but were not actually given. Here is a quote from the first essay of this stage that I want to expand upon here:
Before I move on to examining Ecclesiastes, I want to urge my readers to not adopt the attitude of those neo-calvinists whose extreme, but mistaken, piety leads them to object to any idea that there is anything that a Christian, as a human, can do in cooperation with the Divine, much less exploit and leverage certain proclivities of the Divine to personal and communal advantage. I am aware of one individual who totally missed the monetary aspects of the term "earnest" that Paul used when describing the giving of the Holy Spirit to the believer. They regarded the presence of the Holy Spirit within them as something inert and inactive, like a sort of trophy to be put on the mantelpiece. Upon his conversion, John Bunyan's Christian was given a roll to attest to his being an authentic pilgrim. While Bunyan assured us that the roll was of some intermediate value because Christian sometimes read from it to comfort himself before he turned it in at the Heavenly Gates, this individual appeared to regard the presence of the Holy Spirit as being of no personal utility whatsoever. This is an appalling attitude that I speculate is due to being motivated by the same fears that motivated the servants who buried their talent or pound rather than to actively employ it so as to increase it.
The parables of the talents and the pounds are worth considering briefly in this context. In both cases the original owner of the sums of money involved entrusted them to his servants with the command to increase them. The parables do not specify how the servants employed their talents in detail, but it is safe to assume that some had some special skill and knowledge in some particular area or trade that they were competent in to employ the money entrusted to them in those areas. The masters in both parables did not, in the current parlance, "micromanage" their servants. Indeed, the master in the parable of the pounds was absent from the country, and that parable states that the environment in which the servants traded was actively hostile to their master. Gains were made by the majority, with the greater percentage gains attained by those who were given pounds. What should be noted is that the servants who did nothing with their talent or pound were severely rebuked for not putting the money in the bank so that it would draw interest. The natural interest rate of money is between 3 and 5 percent, and it is unlikely that the "exchangers" of those days would have had a greater return than 5 percent. That both masters would have been satisfied (if not pleased) with 5 percent when others were getting 100 percent, 500 percent, and 1000 percent, indicates that they were looking for increase, however slight. Their displeasure was reserved for those servants who did nothing.
The key take-away from the parables is that as the servants were entrusted with money by masters who expected an increase, so we who are entrusted with resources such as money and talents are expected to increase them. However, we should not believe, based on the details of both parables, that we are left solely to our own wits and skills. Though the details of each parable differ, the rebuke of the unprofitable servant in each parable was the same, focussing on their reluctance to admit their inadequacies to the point that they sought out those with greater skills than their own who could help them increase that which was entrusted to them. The methods by which they would get that increase was left unsaid because the decision of which methods to use was left to them as well.
If you have, by this time, concluded that the Holy Spirit within us would make such an excellent "exchanger", then you are correct. Both parables are quite explicit in the absence of the Masters, and expositors have correctly pointed out that, like the master in the parable of the pounds, Jesus has gone away to receive kingly power. However, we would be wrong to conclude, solely from the parables, that we have been left on our own, for Jesus himself, during the Last Supper, promised that he would send a Comforter, Counselor, and Advocate, to forever be with us and help us during his absence. Recall that these parables were told to his disciples shortly before the Last Supper, so that aspect of the Holy Spirit's work was yet to be revealed. That the Apostles were clueless as to the nature of the Spirit until Pentecost arrived, as are many bible expositors are today, is a good indication of the difficulty of the subject matter. Since the purpose of this Stage, Illumination, is to help the readers of this website increase their informational communications 'bandwidth' with the Holy Spirit within them to the point where such aid (i.e. wisdom and insight) can be solicited, received, and implemented with confidence, I will discuss the particular processes and protocols in later essays. The key take-away is to recognize that we, like the servant, are responsible to take our single pound or talent to our exchanger and cooperate.
However welcome the counseling aspects of the Holy Spirit are, I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the two parables apply to the Holy Spirit Himself. That is, the Scriptures not only treat the Spirit as being a Counselor, but also a valuable resource in His own right. While I am sure that there are some who would be offended at the thought of God being regarded as a 'thing', Paul was quite explicit in 2 Corinthians 1:22, 2 Corinthians 5:5, and Ephesians 1:13-14 that the Spirit be regarded as equal in value to a sum of money given to ensure the follow through of a later transaction. Should not Paul's use of the monetary metaphor tell us that the parables of the pounds and talents have something to say in that respect? The manifestation of the Spirit in the Gifts of the Spirit is not restricted either, for the obvious lesson to take away from 1 Corinthians 14 is that one is permitted to ask for allied Gifts of the Spirit, such as Interpretation of Tounges along with the gift of Speaking in Tounges, or for the Gift of Prophecy. It is my belief that the gift of Wisdom and the gift of Knowledge are allied gifts whose combined use would yield results greater than the sum of the parts. I ask my readers to re-read that quotation from an earlier essay that I cited earlier on this page, reread the linked bible passages, accept the obvious implications of the texts, and act on them.
Starting Small, Ending Big
I want to end this essay with a note of encouragement to those who feel that their personal gifts and talents are either small, unworthy of the Spirit's attention, useless, or non-existent. We serve a God who delights in the humble ones as His most precious sons and daughters. Rather than reference the simple proof of God's humble nature I gave earlier in this essay, or repeat my discussion on the value of humility, I will draw some obvious lessons from the Parables of the Pounds and Talents. In doing so, I will not look at each one individually as many expositors have done. Nor will I repeat my discussion of their mutual similarities. Rather, I will contrast them against each other directly.
The import of what I will say will not be obvious unless we first run the numbers to get come context. While the value of a talent or pound is rather uncertain, the base unit of value in those times was the shekel (pronounced "sheeee kell" if you want to impress a conservative Rabbi). A talent was 3000 shekels. A shekel was roughly 10 grams of gold, so a talent of gold weighed 30,000 grams or about a million dollars when gold exceeds $1037 a troy ounce (which was close to its closing price on October 6, 2009). A pound was 300 grams, which would make it worth $10000, or 30 shekels. Thus, a pound was one hundreth the value of a talent.
Let's compare the two parables, and see which one more faithfully reflects the character of the Living God. The Master of the pounds gives them to ten servants but the one distributing the talents restricts his assignments to less than a third that number, implying a wider broadcast of gifts that are more modest, which fits reality more. The Master of the pounds gives a single one to each of the ten servants, while the one giving the talents distributes them unequally. Since God is no respecter of persons, the Master distributing the pounds is closer to this aspect of God than the one distributing the talents. The departure of the Master in the parable of the pounds to receive a kingdom also mirrors the current status of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior more faithfully than the one who distributed the talents but whose whereabouts is unspecified between distribution and re-acquisition. Certainly the world occupied by those who received the pounds is more hostile, and thus more similar to our present circumstances, than the one in which the talents were distributed. Certainly the hundred-fold greater sum at the command of those who got the talents commanded more respect and servility from the world than the ones who received the pounds, also reflecting the brutal reality that large investors have a leg up in our world over the small ones (like us). Yet, despite these disadvantages, those working with their pounds got much greater yields than those who only were able to double their talents. When the accounting was made, those who doubled their talents were only promised rulership "over many things" based on their faithfulness in "few things". In contrast, those who increased their pounds five-fold and ten-fold were awarded five and ten cities respectively to govern, showing that the reward for faithfulness in the relatively small things brought rewards that were not just numerically greater in value, but greater in quality, nature, and category. Those who were faithful with their talents were only promised rulership over greater quantity. In other words, the grace shown in the rewards given by the Master who gave the pounds outstrips the grace shown by the one who gave the talents, and thus better embodies the extravagant God who gives lavish rewards to those who are faithful in the little things while living in a hostile world. Finally, and most significantly, the two masters differ dramatically in the way they reward their unfaithful servants. While that entrusted to the unfaithful servants was stripped from both of them and given to their most successful peer, the Master who distributed the talents orders that the unfaithful servant be cast out of his service to undergo intense suffering, while the one who gave the pounds shows greater mercy on his unfaithful servant by retaining him in his service and presence, reserving his wrath for those who resisted his authority and made life hard for his servants. Need I point out which master more faithfully reflects the God of Mercy that we serve?
Based on the above, I must disagree with those commentators who, out of a mistaken reverence, teach that the talents represents the Gifts of the Spirit given to the few, while the pounds represents those natural talents common to all men. I rather insist on the reverse, backing up my claim with the practical results that I document in "The Symbiotic Refinery" that show how the vanishingly small effect of the Spirit moving on our neurons to bring about conviction of sin to lead the sinner to belief and salvation can be leveraged into multiple significant capabilities with hardly any increase in its effect. Starting with the single pound of "conviction of sin", I document "suppression of compulsions", "courage to smack cockroaches barehanded", "envision new software architectures", and "manipulation of the Immune system" (H1N1? Phhhht!). Granted, I haven't gotten really serious about "appetite control", but maybe I should if only to "bag" my fifth capability. And I am somewhat uncertain if vastly improved levels of "peace", "joy", and "kindness" count as one or three, since it is not obvious whether the Fruit of the Spirit counts as a single capability with multiple facets or a highly prioritized set of co-related individual ones.
Granted, these manifestations are incredibly modest, amounting only to the Spirit stimulating neurotransmitter secretions in selected neurons. However, these manifestations liberate people whose lives are bound by equally modest-seeming blockages whose consequences are out of proportion to their causes. I met a 14 year old girl online in a 3D social network who I will call Layla. It did not take long to determine she was a Christian who was a member of a relatively strict but active church belonging to the pentecostal tradition. She acknowledged the manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit in the Sunday church services and looked forward to seeing them in others, but had come to envy their bliss and freedom. However, she was afflicted with a painful shyness that kept her from going forward to ask for the gifts and receive them. Reminding her that the people around her would be happy, not derisive, if she went forward did not help her. Led by the Spirit, I attacked her problem from a different direction. I asked her if she had felt conviction of her sins and the need of Jesus when she was saved, and got a sense of peace after she accepted Him. When she acknowledged that she had, I asked her why her shyness had not prevented her from going forward then. The long pause before her response of "I dunno!" told me that mental connections were being made that she had not made before. I told her that her sense of conviction of sin, her peace after accepting Jesus, and the disappearance of her shyness at that time, were all the sole work of the Holy Spirit miraculously intervening in her physical brain. I assured her that what the Spirit had done before, He could do again. I told her not to commit to "going forward" the next Sunday, or any Sunday morning. Rather, she was to wait for the Spirit to say to her "Go forward", in the same way He "told" her when she got saved to "Go forward," and to commit to going when she heard/felt him moving. In short, when He said "GO!", just GO. She thought about it, and agreed to do so.
All the above happened on a Thursday. I met her next the following Tuesday, when she told me she wished she could meet me in real life so she could give me a big hug: she did as I instructed that Sunday, waited for the Holy Spirit to speak, and definitely "heard" an inner voice/feeling say "GO!", and she went, her painful shyness gone. Remarkably, she did not mention what Gift she got, but was overjoyed about the replacement of her intense shyness with a courage she had never felt before. When I casually mentioned that the Spirit would help her shyness in school, suspecting that it wasn't limited to crippling her in Church on Sundays, she remarked that she had noticed it had not raised its head that Monday, and was surprising everyone around her with her new-found boldness to not only ask questions in class, but to witness about what had happened to her. A bit puzzled, and maybe a little peeved that the Spirit had stolen a march on me, I mentioned that the Spirit would also help her in her artistic efforts and asked what she was good in. She said she was very good at drawing, so I told her to expect an improvement in that area. In response, she said she had just finished a drawing in art class that very day, and had been wondering why it looked so much better, but now she knew why. I wisely decided to give up, seeing how the Spirit was leading her to all truth on His own just fine without my help.
Two books have been written by Paul Coughlin on developing courage in Christians, and I do not want to minimize his work and efforts. However, it seems to me that there is something really significant happening when a handful of sentences spoken into a 14 year old's situation erased in a matter of days what Christian men are still struggling with after reading two books on the subject. I do not claim credit for anything beyond typing in those sentences because I am wise enough to know the difference in potential between a man pushing and the Spirit leading.
The key to generating that "difference in potential" lies in a deliberate, calculated exercise of the values of the Spirit-as-Instructor that I discussed earlier in this essay. In talking about the nature and origin of the feelings and thoughts Layla felt at conversion by ascribing them to a direct, intimate, and deliberate manipulation of her brain by the Holy Spirit, I was correcting less-true truths with more-true truths. Her acceptance of those truer truths was subsequently validated by the Holy Spirit Who moved because His actions on her behalf would not be misinterpreted or mis-ascribed to those less-true truths that she believed. That is, because she moved toward truer-truths, the Spirit of Truth moved to endorse that movement toward truer-truth. Not surprisingly, the truth I was getting her to accept was that the Holy Spirit would move to support that very truth. Her admitting her fears and her ignorance of the way the Spirit moves was a manifestation of her humility that permitted her to accept the more-true truth that I was presenting. Finally, by telling her to "GO" when the Spirit said "GO" (and more importantly, not to go when the Spirit was not saying "GO!"), I made her accept and act on the value of cooperation. Her embrace of the three values was itself a cooperative act that invited the Spirit to work in her more effectively, without the threat of a mis-interpretation. In every effective heresy of Christianity there is a measure of truth that is embraced to encourage the belief in the lies being presented. The truth that made Gnosticism effective was the truth that moving toward greater truth would be beneficial and reap rewards from God (value of truth). The lies were that only a few could understand that truth (denial of humility), and the denial of the literal indwelling of God in the physical body of the believer (denial of cooperation).
The skill to generate that "difference in potential" is what I invite you to learn with me as I write these essays. In doing so, I intentionally and calculatedly invoke He of whom I write on your behalf as much as I intentionally sought to trigger His interaction with Layla when I "spoke" to her about Him. He will just as certainly guide you to a knowledge of how to communicate with him and obtain the blessings of your union with Christ effected through him as He helped her, and it is my hope that He will guide you to a knowledge of how to share it as He guided me.
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