Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
- I Peter 4:10
God has given each one of us unique abilities, talents, and gifts. The question is, how do we put them to work?
The Purpose of Gifts and Talents
We talked about discovering your gifts and talents earlier when we discussed personal vision, the first of five mental models for thinking biblically about faith, work, and economics. Gifts and talents are the second mental model. This model involves understanding your comparative advantage, but also how we begin to effectively apply these God given capabilities in our everyday lives. Ken Boa writes:
God has entrusted us with certain resources, gifts and abilities. Our responsibility is to live by that trust by managing these things well, according to his design and desire.
In the quote above, Boa suggests that as Christians we must use our gifts and talents according to God’s “design and desire.” We are called to be a virtuous people in all that we do.
Unfortunately, far too many Christians go to work with the idea that their talents exist simply for them to make a lot of money so they can retire. God gave you talents to benefit others, not yourself. And God gave other people talents that benefit you.
Today’s popular culture teaches that the ends justify the means, a message of “I can do whatever I need to in order to get what I want.” This is certainly not a new concept. At the end of the book of Judges we read that “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Yet, as Christians we must reject this false strategy and embrace the teaching of Scripture that establishes a moral law that guides all our actions.
Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines the moral law as, “the revealed will of God as to human conduct, binding on all men to the end of time. It was promulgated at Sinai. It is perfect (Psalm 19:7), perpetual (Matt. 5:17-18), holy (Romans 7:12), good, spiritual, and exceeding broad (Psalm 119:96).”
Jesus summarized the moral law this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40).
Yet the New Testament tells us that we are not to live legalistic lives. How are we to understand this?
Gifts, Talents, and Virtue
The Apostle Paul explains in his letters that legalism stems not from what you do, but from why you do it. Legalism is present any time we try to make others or ourselves ethical through conformity to the rules.
This is a trap far too many of us fall into. The only way out of this dilemma is to rediscover the biblical idea of virtue.
God’s character is the source of the biblical idea of virtue. The Holy Spirit is the cause of virtue in the believer, and Christians have Christ to look to as the model of virtue.
Virtue is developed in the context of the spiritual life as God, through the Holy Spirit, writes his laws on our hearts (II Corinthians 3:3, Hebrews 8:10). As this happens in our lives, we stop obeying the law in an attempt to make ourselves righteous. We begin to obey because we love the one who made us righteous. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa Theologica that:
The proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue.
Although forgotten today, this idea of virtue is not new in our country. The founders understood it well. It was public virtue that allowed them to found our republic. And they believed that this public virtue was the sum of private virtue established from the moral and religious beliefs of its citizens.
In 1776, John Adams wrote in a letter to Mercy Warren, saying,
Public virtue cannot exist in a Nation without private, and public virtue is the only Foundation of Republics.
The first step in correctly using our gifts and talents is understanding that they are to be used within the context of a moral and virtuous life. I’ll develop this idea further in my next article.