Surviving Poor Performance
We sometimes sing, energetically, “I want to be a worker for the Lord,” yet, we may not produce good work as the Lord’s workers. Jesus knew the need for workers, because the fields were “white unto the harvest” (John 4:35). He told parables about caretakers in a vineyard (Mark 12:1-11), or servants given great sums of money to multiply for their master (Matthew 25:14-30), or servants given a small amount, for the same purpose (Luke 19:12-27).
In the case of those servants who were given “Talents” (large sums), one was given five Talents, another was given two, and another was given one. The servant with five Talents gained a commendable five more. The one with two talents doubled his smaller sum, also, and was commended. But, the one with only one talent buried it in the earth, so that it would not lose any of its value for his strict master.
The Parable of the Pounds (or Minas) is slightly different in detail, but teaches a similar lesson. Each of ten servants was given a Mina, a minuscule sum, compared to a Talent. However, one of the servants gained ten Minas for his Master. Another servant gained five. Again, the third, in fear of his Lord, hid his Mina, in order to preserve it. In both parables, the servants who failed were severely punished.
These parables are subject to much speculation, but it is reasonable to assume that the story could have had a different point. The servants with the least responsibility might have succeeded to earn a profit for the Lord. Their gains might have matched their ability, like the others. In the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:13-20), the soil that produced thirtyfold, instead of sixtyfold, or a hundredfold, was still a commendable producer of fruit.
But then, we read this challenging passage from the Apostle Paul. “...no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:11 15).
If a worker for the Lord does not build an edifice on the “foundation” using materials that can withstand a testing fire, but uses combustible material represented by “wood, hay, or straw,” Paul says he will suffer a regrettable loss, though he himself will be saved. This seems to say that a worker’s work may not endure, but he will survive, because he worked. However, it would be best to strive for durable quality in our work, rather than trust for our survival only through the act of working.