Jesus told the story of a man who went away and gave three servants money to work with while he was gone (Matt. 25: 14-30). The idea is that each servant differed in his ability to handle the money so they each got a different amount to work with. But, they were all required to produce gain from the amount they were given. All three of the servants had value but they had different talents and abilities.
All through the Bible, we are taught that man (in the collective sense – men and women) gets his dignity from being created in the image of God. So every human being has value in the eyes of God. This is the reason for laws which protect people from being killed or mistreated.
The problem is when we confuse the difference between a person’s value and their talent.
Two errors that result from this confusion:
- We assign different value to people based on their abilities.
- We make the assumption that because we are all of the same value, then we should all have the same abilities.
It seems to me that Western culture leans more toward the first error. We put talented people on a pedestal. As evidence of this, I would point to the tendency of actors and musicians who have achieved notoriety for their craft, then think themselves able to make pronouncements in the public arena on subjects they know little about or have greatly simplified to the point of misunderstanding.
When the second mistake is made, it is thought that no-one should have more resources than another. In socialistic societies, it becomes the government’s responsibility to be a bulldozer to level the economic landscape.
But, when we maintain the correct distinction between talent and value, we understand that people will have differing abilities and as a result, different accomplishments. From the Christian perspective, we understand that it is God who has given varying abilities to people for purposes that he does not always reveal to us.
For example, while I consider myself of equal value to Bill Gates, it is readily apparent that Mr. Gates has abilities that I do not possess. I do not have the vision or the talent to create a computer operating system. Mr. Gates has been well paid for creating something that has proven to be a benefit to society. I would not be able to write this blog post were it not for the invention of the personal computer.
This also applies to the church. God has given different gifts and abilities to members of the church. The discussion in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 through 14 centers on the Corinthians misunderstanding of this. They valued the “supernatural” gifts above all others and put those who possessed such gives on a higher standing than the rest of the church. Paul wrote the letter to them as a correction to this error.
A proper understanding of value vs. talent also frees us up from jealousy.
Not only should we be freed from jealousy by this understanding. We should also be freed up to celebrate the diversity within the church. We can celebrate the God who gives men and women the ability to teach and to lead. We can celebrate the God who gives talent to those who lead us in musical worship. We can celebrate the God who allows some to gain notoriety while others of us remain unknown to the larger world.
Every person is valuable in the sight of God, but we are not equally talented. Let us make this distinction clearly and avoid the errors that result from confusing talent and value.