May 12, 2024

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to Matthew

Today, we encounter another parable from Jesus—the fourth in a series of parables teaching us how to spend our days as we wait for Jesus’ return. Much of the focus has been readiness. The certainty of Jesus’ coming and the uncertainty of when, should produce in us a desire to be always ready.

But today, we learn that readiness isn’t just hunkering down and waiting things out. Readiness isn’t just keeping what we’ve got until Jesus splits the clouds. No, readiness includes faithfulness to our Master. The point of today’s parable goes something like this: while Jesus is away, be faithful with all the privileges of his kingdom. Terrible consequences await those who do nothing. Let’s read Jesus’ words in verse 14…

14 For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.” 21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, “Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.” 23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” 26 But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Master and What He Entrusts to His Servants

Let’s take this parable in four parts. We’ll start with the master and what he entrusts to his servants. In verse 14, we encounter a man. He’s rich. He has servants. He’s got lots of property/possessions.[i] He’s also got a ton of money. Verse 15 mentions many talents. Our English word “talent” has sometimes given people the wrong idea here. This isn’t referring to natural abilities. A talent was a measure of weight for money. In 18:24, we learned that a talent of silver was worth 6,000 danarii. It’d take 20-25 years for the average person to earn just one talent. This man is loaded.

We also learn that he’s generous. He’s happy to entrust his servants with exorbitant amounts of his money. To one servant he gives five talents, to another two, and to another one. He’s also wise with what he entrusts them. Verse 15 says that he gives “to each according to his ability.” The point isn’t to say they earned it, but to say something about the Master. He knows what’s best and who can handle what. The master wisely assigns to each servant what he finds suitable for them.

But why is the master doing this? Why entrust his servants with such great wealth? Because he’s going on a journey, verse 14 says. While he’s away, he wants the servants to make use of his riches in a way that multiplies his investments (or grows his kingdom, so to speak). While away, he wants them to make good use of what he gives them. That’s why verse 19 speaks of a day when the master returns from his journey to settle accounts, to see what they’ve done with his riches. He’ll be gone for a long time. But what will these servants do with all that he entrusts them?

Now, given where we’ve been in Matthew, it’s not hard to begin seeing how Jesus is connecting the dots for his disciples. The wealthy master is Jesus, the Son of Man. He’s “going on a journey” and will return “after a long time.” This recalls what Jesus has been telling the disciples about himself. After he rises from the dead and ascends to heaven, there will be a delay before his return.

But throughout that delay, we now learn that Jesus entrusts his disciples with something special; and they have a duty to steward it well. But what do these talents represent? One could view the talents broadly. Maybe they symbolize a broad range of things the Lord entrusts to his people, and it’s our duty to steward all of them well.[ii] We could think of one’s possessions, spiritual gifts, family, vocation, and so on. Perhaps that’s the case; and later we can see where that broader picture might fit.

But a few clues lead me another direction.[iii] One is the way verse 14 begins: “for it will be like.” The word “for” links this parable with the previous one, which began this way: “the kingdom of heaven will be like.” The talents have something to do with the kingdom of heaven. Also, as I mentioned earlier, a talent was a ton of money. Jesus means to convey that however much each servant receives, what they have is worth a ton. The only other thing so valuable in Matthew’s gospel is the kingdom of heaven (e.g., consider the parable of the treasure in the field).

Then, in verse 29 we get this sentence about “to everyone who has will more be given.” Those same words appear in 13:12 in the midst of other parables about the kingdom of heaven. And just before that, in 13:11, Jesus tells us what he’s talking about: “To you [disciples] it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” So, here’s what I think Jesus is saying. While he’s away, be faithful with all the privileges of his kingdom.

In the immediate context, it’s the disciples who receive the privileges of Jesus’ kingdom. But through those same disciples, Jesus has given the privileges of his kingdom to us as well. We too can read this Gospel and come to know the riches of Jesus kingdom; and Jesus expects us to take these privileges and grow his kingdom. Question is, what are we doing with these privileges? Are you faithful with the privileges of his kingdom?

The Good and Faithful Servants

We’ll come back to that question later. For now, consider what each of the servants did with the master’s wealth. Let’s start with the good and faithful servants. Verse 16, “He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more.”

Did you catch that? “He went at once” or “immediately.” Verse 17 then begins, “so also”—the second one also went immediately. Both recognize their place as servants (or better: “slaves”). When the master entrusts you with a responsibility, you submit. You go at once to accomplish what he desires. And why wouldn’t they submit, given his generosity and wisdom? Why wouldn’t they labor well, given the great privileges they have in the master’s wealth? They’re happy in his work, even while their master is away.

These things drive their faithfulness. By staying faithful, we also learn that they improve their master’s money. Both make one-hundred percent gains—the one with five making five talents more, the one with two making two talents more. The point isn’t which servant made more, but whether both were faithful with what they were given.

Indeed, they were. Both servants receive the same commendation in verses 20-23. “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He then entrusts them with more privileges: “You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” When you’re faithful with the privileges of Jesus’ kingdom now, it will give way to greater ones. The smaller things we steward now have remarkable value. Even the servant with one talent is beyond wealthy. But just think—stewarding even those smaller things will pave the way to even greater riches when the kingdom comes in full.

One of those greater riches is what he adds next: “Enter into the joy of your master.” What is this joy? Surely it includes the joy of knowing the master’s smile and delight in his servant. Surely it includes the riches of his kingdom, some of which these servants have labored to multiply. The treasures laid up in heaven are now theirs to enjoy in full. Perhaps it also looks back to the wedding feast of verse 10, and the joys of that great messianic banquet, where we feast with the King himself.

But might Jesus also be pointing us to the very joy of God himself—the joy celebrated in Psalm 16:11, “in your presence [Lord] there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” When God’s kingdom finally covers the earth, there will be a joy to experience like no other. Every good thing that produces joy will be present in the Lord. The joy won’t be partial but full because God will satisfy us wholly. It won’t be mixed with sorrow but pure because God will wipe away all tears. It won’t be momentary and fading but forever because God will make all things new.

While Jesus is away, be faithful with the privileges of his kingdom; and this will become your joy too. Can you imagine the disciples reflecting on this parable of Jesus? He’s called them to endure radical costs for his name’s sake. He’s called them to take up their cross and to lose their lives. He’s called them to leave houses and brothers and sisters and children and lands. He’s called them to endure persecution and love others even when it hurts—all to advance the gospel. Here they have their assurance: the joy of the master is coming. What a sweet reminder for the good and faithful servant. What a sweet reminder for those of you exhausting yourselves in the Lord’s work. The joy of the Master will be worth every risk and sacrifice taken in the path of faithfulness.

The Wicked and Slothful Servant

At the same time, this parable is also a warning to the wicked and slothful servant—that’s who we need to consider next. Unlike the first two, who eagerly invest the master’s money, verse 18 shows how the third servant goes and digs in the ground and hides his master’s money. The language here recalls 5:14-15, where someone lights a lamp and then hides it under a basket. What use is that? Same here. What use is hiding the master’s money in the ground? It does no good.

At first, we don’t understand why the servant acts this way. But it soon becomes clear. He’s slothful, lazy. Notice, it’s not that he takes the master’s money and squanders it like the prodigal son—though that has its own problems. He also doesn’t keep it for himself. He returns the master’s money. He didn’t lose anything. What, then, is the problem? He did nothing. Instead of putting to good use the wealth of his master’s kingdom, he did absolutely nothing. That’s the problem.

Then, when it’s time to settle, he has the audacity to blame the master for his laziness. Verse 24: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what’s yours.” Really? A hard man? That’s language applied to the Egyptians and Pharoah elsewhere in Scripture—demanding they make just as many bricks but without giving them the materials to do it.

Is that what this master is like? No, we’ve already seen how the master is generous and wise. This man is a liar. Get this: he constructs a false view of his master to paint himself as the innocent victim and excuse his laziness. “It’s your fault that I buried the money. If you weren’t such hard man…” He even presents it like he’s the good guy. “I didn’t lose your money. Here, you have what’s yours.”

The master calls him on this baloney. Verse 26, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should’ve received what was my own with interest.” Did you catch the sarcasm? The master isn’t admitting that’s what he’s like. He lets the servant’s own words condemn him. Again, the problem is that he did nothing. He’s slothful.

The only other place this word appears outside the New Testament is Proverbs; and there it occurs twelve times. Like Proverbs 21:25, “The desire of the slothful kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.” Proverbs 22:13, “The slothful says, “There’s a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!”—again someone using fear to do nothing.

What’s the result? The servant loses everything. In verse 28, the master takes the talent from him and gives it to the one who has ten. Verse 29 then explains, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” At great risk to ourselves, he expects us to put the treasures of his kingdom to good use. But for those who risk nothing to grow the kingdom, for those who do nothing with the privileges of Jesus’ kingdom, even the privileges that he’s come to experience will be taken away.

But the servant doesn’t only lose the talent, the things he was entrusted with. He also loses a place in the master’s kingdom. In verse 30, the master casts the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Unlike the other servants, he doesn’t enter the joy of his master. He’s excluded forever.

The Point: Faithfulness

What’s the point? The point is faithfulness. While Jesus is away, be faithful with all the privileges of his kingdom. Terrible consequences await those who do nothing.

In some ways, this parable illustrates what we find elsewhere in Scripture. Consider 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.[iv] Paul is trying to persuade Christians to stop boasting in one leader over the other. Instead, he says this:

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it’s a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

Scholars sometimes try to pit Paul against Jesus. But this is one more example that shows how much their teachings are one and the same. If we use Paul’s language, Jesus is calling his disciples to be good stewards of the mysteries of God. The same applies to us. As servants of Christ, we must be good stewards of the mysteries of God.

Across history, Jesus’ parable has shaped how the church thinks about sin. There are two basic ways we sin. One type of sin is more obvious—what we’d call sins of commission. We sin by doing what we ought not to do. We can often spot these more readily: God says don’t lie and we lie; God says honor your father and mother, and we dishonor them instead. But more subtle (and sometimes sneaky) are sins of omission. This is when we sin by not doing what we ought: God says love your neighbor, but you do nothing; God says make disciples, but you do nothing.

Our parable illustrates what sins of omission look like. The third servant ought to have maximized the use of his master’s money. But he does nothing instead. Perhaps Jesus’ parable has exposed sins of omission in you today. This parable has caused me to take a long look at my own habits and patterns: are there ways that I am not staying faithful with the privileges of Jesus’ kingdom?

If you stand convicted, don’t ignore the Spirit’s work in you. Repent, and look again to Christ as your forgiveness and as your freedom to do as you ought. Jesus always did what he ought; and part of that included going to the cross to die for us—to die for our sins of commission and our sins of omission. He also rose again to liberate us and awaken a faith that’s busy investing in God’s kingdom.

We should also find ourselves warned by this parable. Watch out that you do not construct a belief system to hide or excuse laziness. That’s what the worthless servant does here. That’s what the slothful man does in Proverbs. What might these false beliefs sound like? “God knows; so why bother praying.” “God is sovereign, he’ll save whom he wants; so it doesn’t matter if I evangelize.” “God wouldn’t call me to that, because it’s not safe.” “God’ll forgive me, so why take the risk.” Or even more subtle, “How could God forgive me? Guess I’m forever useless now.”

On and on we could go with false beliefs that excuse laziness. Be warned. The third servant loses everything. Instead, act on the truth. Act on the truth about yourself. You are the Lord’s slave. He is your Master. He bought you with the price—the price of his own precious blood on the cross. You are not your own. You belong to a new Master. Whatever the Master entrusts to you, be faithful with it.

Act on the truth about your Master. He is rich. He will supply all you need for whatever task. He is also wise. He knows your ability. He will entrust you with what’s fitting. He is not overbearing and harsh. Remember, this same Master said earlier in Matthew that he is gentle and lowly in heart. His yoke is easy and his burden light.

Act also on the truth about his kingdom. It’s an extreme privilege that he would entrust us with anything in his kingdom. Five, two, one, a half—whatever he gives us is a blessing. Whatever he gives us is of great worth and value. We deserve nothing of his kingdom, but he’s happy to share it with us. Consider too the final joy waiting for faithful servants. Can you imagine the Lord’s smile: “Well done, good and faithful servant”?* Let these truths replace the lies that produce laziness. Meditate on these truths and let them produce faithfulness.

Speaking of faithfulness, let’s return to the question I asked earlier: what are you doing with the privileges of Jesus’ kingdom? Some of you might be thinking, “I feel like I’m just getting started. It wasn’t too long ago that I came to know Jesus. My knowledge of the kingdom feels small.” Others might think, “I’ve been with Jesus for a while now, but I just don’t understand the depth of the kingdom like these other folks. They seem so mighty in the Scriptures and full of the Spirit in ways that I’m not.”

Those sentiments are understandable. But you should find yourself encouraged here: it’s not about how much you have, but what you do with the things you do have. What privileges of the kingdom has Jesus entrusted to you? Have you come to know how even before we messed things up, the Father, Son, and Spirit set forth a plan to save us? Or is it all the pictures you keep finding spanning the Old Testament, each one pointing forward to an ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King? Have you also learned of Jesus humble incarnation where he identified with us in every way, yet without sin.

There’s also Christ’s perfect life and sufferings. He overcomes Satan’s temptations, meets the Law’s penal and positive requirements, and then lays down his life as a lamb. Has he taught you how, in his death, he atones for sins, redeems from the curse, satisfies God’s wrath, liberates from slavery, forgives, reconciles, and secures our place in the kingdom? What are you doing with that knowledge? Who are you telling?

What else has Jesus entrusted to you? Knowledge of his resurrection, where he delivers us from death, silences the devil’s threats, and promises future vindication for his people. Does that knowledge embolden you? Of his present reign, we’ve also learned how he sends the Holy Spirit, calls sinners to himself, adopts children through faith, makes us holy, and intercedes on our behalf, because he knows we need grace.

And don’t forget his final return. He’s coming to glorify the saints, judge the wicked, right all wrongs, wipe away every tear, and make all things new. Has he entrusted you with these things? What are you doing with them? Do they become in your mouth a source of encouragement to others?

He’s also given you fellowship with the Father in prayer. What do you do with the reality? Are you driven to pray? He’s gifted you with brothers and sisters in the faith? What sorts of privileges do you enjoy in belonging to this church—rich fellowship, the regular teaching of God’s word, wise counsel, generous giving, good theology put to music? What about spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of the church? Aren’t they part of the privileges in Jesus’ kingdom? How are you using your gifts to promote the kingdom of Jesus. What has he shown you about his mission to advance the gospel to all nations? Are you aware that he’s saving people from all tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations? What are you doing with that? Are you burying that privilege in the ground? Or are you participating in the growth of your Master’s kingdom?

Brothers and sisters, we have an abundance of kingdom privileges. What are you doing with these privileges? We can’t just sit on these things. Terrible consequences await those who do nothing with these privileges.

I wonder if any of you have heard these lines before: Only one life, ’twill soon be past / Only what’s done for Christ will last. They come from a poem by Charles Thomas Studd. England was his home. He grew up to become a star cricket player. But while studying at Cambridge, a message from the missionary Hudson Taylor soon changed his plans. Charles joined the missionary efforts in China for numerous years.

He also had a wealthy father, who left Charles a large inheritance. Charles gave that inheritance money to the missionary work in China. He also used it to advance the gospel in southern India and, at the age of 50, to begin missionary endeavors in the heart of Africa. Before his death in 1931, Charles sent a letter back home with these words: “As I believe I am now nearing my departure from this world, I have but a few things to rejoice in…One, that God called me to China and I went in spite of utmost opposition from all my loved ones. Two, that I joyfully acted as Christ told that rich young man to act. Three, that I deliberately at the call of God…gave up my life for this work…My only joys therefore are that when God has given me a work to do, I have not refused it.”[v]

How are you stewarding the riches of his kingdom? When it comes time to meet Jesus, will you rejoice in the fruits of your Master’s investment? Only one life, ’twill soon be past / Only what’s done for Christ will last. We don’t know when Jesus will return, beloved. But we do know that while he’s away, we have work to do. He’s trusted us with some precious responsibilities to advance his kingdom; and one day he’ll return to settle up. While Jesus is away, be faithful with all the privileges of his kingdom; and you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your master.”

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[i] Cf. Matt 24:47 “possessions” in the ESV.

[ii] “[I]t is probably more broadly intended to refer to the various resources that the Lord entrusts to his people.” David Wenham, The Parables of Jesus (Downers Grove: IVP, 1989), 84-85. “Perhaps [Jesus] chose the talent…symbolism because of its capacity for varied application.” D. A. Carson, Matthew, EBC, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 580.

[iii] After noticing the parallels between Matt 25:29 and Matt 13:11-12, I found the following study most helpful in developing the contextual connections: Ben Chenoweth, “Identifying the Talents: Contextual Clues for the Interpretation of the Parable of the Talents,” Tyndale Bulletin 56.1 (2005), 61-72.

[iv] Chenoweth, “Talents,” 71.

[v] Norman Grubb, C. T. Studd: Cricketer and Pioneer (Fort Washington: CLC, 1933), 203.

other sermons in this series