The dictionary gives several meanings for the word "productive." The one that best describes this lesson's theme of productivity is, "able to create or manufacture; generative." Applying this definition to productivity in our spiritual lives brings out the thought that our lives as Christians should be creating, manufacturing, or generating something of eternal value.
If you have anyone in your group who is working in a management position, it might be interesting to discuss how productivity is assessed in the business world, where performance evaluations and employee reviews are a common procedure. In addition to job-related skills, these reviews typically will rate an employee on accuracy, judgment, innovation, cooperation, initiative, reliability, perseverance, stability, attendance, etc. What part do these characteristics play in spiritual productivity? Stress that, just as in a job situation, the review process of our spiritual productivity should be directed toward mouing us closer to our potential.
The students will be able to define spiritual productivity as that which yields benefits throughout eternity. Each student should be able to identify some of his own Godgiven abilities, and know that it is God's intention that those talents be used faithfully in service for Him.
Psalm 126:6; Matthew 13:22; 25:14-30; 1 Corinthians 3:5,6; Hebrews 2:3; 2 Timothy 2:4; 3:14; Galatians 6:8,9
Question 1 - The parable of the talents, in Matthew 25:14-30, deals with productivity. It centers on servants who are stewards of their master's goods while he is away on a long journey. After a time, the master returns with the expectation that his servants have gained an increase in the goods with which they were entrusted. Two servants had satisfied this expectation, while one had not. All were rewarded accordingly. In applying this parable to the present day, what do the master, his servants, and the talents represent? What expectations does God have for us in terms of spiritual productivity?
Response 1 - Like the servants, Christians await their Master's return from a temporary absence. The goods or talents with which we are entrusted are the abilities or aptitudes God has given to us. His expectation is that these be used for His glory, as He provides the opportunity. God has also given us the capacity to improve these abilities. It is our responsibility and privilege to be good stewards of whatever God has bestowed upon us.
Question 2 - In many lines of work, productivity is easily assessed. In a lumber mill, productivity is measured by the stacks of lumber. A carpet layer determines his output by the amount of carpet he has installed. A retailer looks at the cash register totals for the day. Spiritual productivity, however, is not ascertained by visible methods. If it were, Noah's preaching would have failed because only eight were saved on the ark. Of the multitudes that followed Jesus, only 500 were present to see Him ascend to Heaven. Of these, only 120 followed His instructions to tarry inJerusalem. Only eternity will reveal the magnitude of Jesus' productivity. What attribute brought about productivity in the parable of the talents? What attribute will determine your productivity at Jesus' return?
Response 2 - Faithfulness was the attribute that brought about productivity in the servants. Two of the servants were rewarded for being faithful, and one was punished for his lack of faithfulness. As Noah was faithful in following God's plan in his day, we are called to be faithful in ours. While our level of ability might differ one from another, our opportunity to be faithful in serving the Lord is the same. At Jesus' return, we will be considered productive if we have been faithful to serve God in the capacity that we are called to serve.
Question 3 - There appears to have been some discussion in the church at Corinth, relating to who was most successful in his ministry: Paul or Apollos. Paul addressed this issue in his epistle to the Corinthian church when he inquired, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:5,6). What does this Scripture suggest about the source of our productivity? Considering the Gospel work today, what part do we have in the increase?
Response 3 - The source of productivity is the Lord. Our ability to yield fruit in the Gospel is directly related to our attachment to its Source. Refer the students to John 15:4,5, a portion of which states, "without me ye can do nothing." Though we might not always see the increase, we have an integral part. Neither Paul nor Apollos sat back and watched as God evangelized the world. Just as they had a part to fill, so do we.
Question 4 - Three servants were given talents. A talent was a monetary unit. Assuming that these were talents of silver, each was worth over $2000. By comparison, an average worker of that generation would have earned just sixteen cents a day. Thus, one talent was of great value, for it would have taken a laborer over forty years to earn its equivalent. Christians are entrusted with something of significantly higher value than silver; we all have been blessed with an ability to be used for the furtherance of the Gospel message. The faithful servants were rewarded for the gain they had made by using the talents they had been given. In what ways can you use your talents and abilities to gain spiritually for the Lord?
Response 4 - First, ask your students to identify some specific talents or abilities that can be consecrated to the Lord's service. Their answers will likely include musical talent, the skill to teach, an ability to communicate with others, and the gift of helping. Broaden these thoughts to include every Christian's responsibility of prayer, Bible study, and witnessing. Then help your students to see ways that these talents and responsibilities can be improved upon.
Question 5 - One of the servants dug a hole and hid his talent in the ground. When the lord came, he accused that servant of neglecting his responsibility to invest the money. He could have put it to the exchangers, which would have yielded at least a minimum increase. The servant was called "wicked" because he refused to properly care for his master's goods, despite the fact that he knew a day of reckoning would come. He was "slothful" because he neglected to put forth an effort to increase the goods, even though he had the ability (verse 15). Our productivity can be hindered also. Look up the following verses and write the hindrances they describe: Matthew 13:22; Hebrews 2:3; 2 Timothy 2:4.
Response 5 - Matthew 13:22 indicates we can be overcome by the cares of this world or by the deceitfulness of riches. Hebrews 2:3 shows us that we can be hampered by neglect. In 2 Timothy 2:4, we see that entanglements can retard our spiritual productivity.
Question 6 - The productivity of the faithful servants was not assessed by the master until he returned. Likewise, our spiritual productivity will not be fully known until Jesus returns. Nevertheless, evaluations need to be made from time to time while the Lord tarries. How do you think the faithful servants in the parable would have evaluated their productivity in the handling of their master's goods? How often would you suggest that your spiritual productivity be evaluated? How can it be done?
Response 6 - Though the system of evaluation is not clearly defined in the parable, the servants obviously had some method of accounting, because when their master returned, they knew how much they had gained. You may want to compare the servants' evaluation method to the students' looking at their monthly bank statement. However, while we might assess our financial standing on a monthly basis, our spiritual evaluation should take place on a daily basis. This should occur during personal devotions as well as each time we attend church. You may wish to make the point that if we keep our Master's interests first, we will become more productive than if we hold our own interests as our first priority.
Question 7 - In evaluating productivity, you will not always feel as though you are "turning the world upside down" by your efforts. After all, how does one assess the productivity of a thirty-minute morning devotional period? Very often, you see no tangible results. What encouragement can you offer to someone who feels that his or her efforts do not count for much? Verses that apply include Psalm 126:6; Galatians 6:8,9; and 2 Timothy 3:14. Can you think of others?
Response 7 - In discussing the Scriptures, remind the class that God does not operate based upon how we "feel." The important thing is to get on the road to Heaven and to stay there until the end. That will lend itself to a productive life. That is where we begin, but if we don't also take action, we will be burying our talents. Psalm 126:5,6 lets us know that the time of sowing might not always be joyful, but the day when we reap will come. Galatians 6:8 reminds us to sow to the Spirit. The gardener who sows one day does not see fruit the next, but he will in time if he is patient. In 2 Timothy 3:14 we find one simple duty we can do to add to our productivity: continuing in what we have learned. Review some things Christians have learned that lead to the spiritual success of themselves and of others. Timothy's teachers had led productive lives and made the goal. We also may know of faithful Gospel veterans who have made the goal, and we would do well to follow in their path.
Question 8 - Many people have a "things to do" list. There is a sense of accomplishment in reaching the end of a day and seeing a check mark beside each task on the list. How might a person's list change if he began to look at his productivity with more weight on eternal values and with less weight on temporal values?
Response 8 - The point should be made that true productivity is that which will last throughout eternity. That is not to suggest that daily temporal duties should be neglected. It does suggest that our spiritual productivity should not be sacrificed in order to gain that which will soon fade away. New Christians usually find the need to rearrange the priorities established before their conversion. Though we may not actually keep a spiritual "things-to-do" list, the point needs to be made that spiritual matters are a top priority.