Each of us has something to give. We can give our money and our time to charity, be a friend to someone who is sick or lonely, do volunteer work, or be a peacemaker, teacher or minister. We may give unselfishly of our time to our spouse, children or parents. We may choose a service-oriented occupation, or we may just do our everyday jobs with integrity and respect for others.
The apostle Paul phrased it this way:
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (NIV, Romans 12:5-8)
In His Parable of the Talents, Jesus taught that we must use our gifts wisely. A talent was a very large sum of money, about 80 pounds (36 kg) of silver. Before leaving on a journey, a wealthy man entrusted his fortune to his servants for the time he would be away. Two of the servants used the money wisely to earn income for their master. However, the third servant did not put the money to good use, and the master was very displeased. Here is the parable:
"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
"The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
"Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
"'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (NIV, Matthew 25:14-30)
The master represents God in this parable, and the servants represent us. The English word talent, meaning our natural abilities, is derived from this parable. That is fitting because the lesson of the parable is that we must use our talents and abilities, as well as our wealth, in God's service. If we do not use our gifts wisely, God will consider us to be wicked and lazy like the third man in the parable.
It would seem that the more we give to others, the poorer we become, but just the opposite is true! Service to others brings meaning and fulfillment to our lives in a way that wealth, power, possessions and self-centered pursuits can never match. As Jesus said,
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (TNIV, Luke 6:38)
Related passages: Leviticus 19:18, Proverbs 12:11, 14:23, 28:8, Ecclesiastes 2:26, Matthew 20:25-28, 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-28, 16:10-13, 19:11-27, Acts 20:35, Romans 12:11, 13:9-10, 1 Corinthians 1:24-30, 14:12, Galatians 5:13-14, 6:9, 1 Peter 4:8-10, 2 Peter 1:5-7, Hebrews 6:10-12, James 1:22-27.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
Paul went on to mention some gifts that were given to the early Christians for the purpose of building up the Church:
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (NRSV, 1 Corinthians 12:8-11)
In his description of The Final Judgment, Jesus made it crystal clear that we will be judged on our response to the needs of others. He also listed some other examples of using our time and money wisely:
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (TNIV, Matthew 25:31-46)
It does not matter whether we have been given great talents, abilities and wealth, or very little. What matters to God is whether we make good use of what we have been given, whether large or small:
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. (NRSV, Luke 12:48)
Jesus made the same point in a different way when he spoke to His disciples about a poor widow's charitable offering:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything - all she had to live on." (TNIV, Mark 12:41-44)
Related passages: Luke 20:45-47, 21:1-4, John 9:40-41, 15:22, Acts 3:6, 9:36, 13:1-3, 1 Corinthians 3:7-9, 7:7, 12:27-31, 13:8-13, Ephesians 4:10-12, James 1:17-18, 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1, 5:17, 2 Timothy 2:24, 4:1-2.
Here are just a few of many ways to use the gifts God has given us:
What Does the Bible Say About Generosity and Duty to the Poor?
What does the Bible say about Money and Wealth?
1 Ratings of charity organizations can be found at Charity Navigator, and the Better Business Bureau.