Prepare to Hear “Well Done”: Part 1
Topic: Expository Passage: Matthew 25:14-30
This story is often called “The Parable of the Talents.” It’s one of Jesus’ most famous parables, but it also sometimes gets misapplied in funny ways. For example this parable may remind you of a conflict with mom as a kid. All you wanted to do was play outside, but she told you that you had to practice the piano because God expects you to make the most of your talents and then she told you this story. You replied by asking her if she had actually been listening to you play because that’s not talent. Then she just told you to be quiet and practice. The child could have also corrected her definition of talent in the parable, because she misunderstood Jesus.
While this parable has at times been misapplied, it is full of significance. There’s a reason why it is such a well-known story. Because there are so many important applications to be made from this parable, we’re going to take 2 Sundays to walk through it.
Remember that in context Jesus has been using parables to urge us to prepare for his return. 24:42 sums up Jesus’ urgent message. We do not know when Jesus is coming, so we must always be ready to meet the Lord. Now with the “Parable of the Talents” Jesus transitions from urging us to be ready to describing how to be ready.
In the process he also paints a powerful picture of our coming day of accountability when we stand before the Lord. In particular Jesus’ beloved evaluation, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” originates in this parable, so it is full of encouragement and hope for those who serve faithfully. But Jesus also sounds an ominous warning for those who fail to prepare. As a result, the question which drives the parable is, “How should we prepare for our coming accountability?” Today, I want to focus on vv. 14–19 where Jesus begins to answer this question by articulating 3 truths. First he teaches in vv. 14–15 that…
I. God has given every Christian a stewardship (vv. 14–15).
The Characters: The parable begins by introducing us to four characters—the Master and his three slaves. The master is an incredibly wealthy He’s compassionate and caring, but he is also extremely demanding. It’s pretty obvious that he represents Jesus.
And when we think of the 3 slaves, we shouldn’t imagine the abusive, racial slavery of colonial America. Rather, as was common in Jesus’ day, these 3 men were educated and capable businessmen who will receive tremendous responsibility. Furthermore, the master respected and loved them so much that he was ready to generously to share his profits with them. He is still the master, but he doesn’t view these men as mere property.
Notice also that the 3 servants don’t represent the world at large, and neither do they represent true believers. Instead, they represent those who claim to be Jesus’ disciples.
I say that because all three have some kind of relationship to the master, and they are all given a stewardship. Therefore, Jesus is not thinking of the pagan world. However, the 3 slaves do not necessarily represent true believers, because the third slave will prove not to be a genuine Christian. This is especially clear in the judgment he receives in 30. This is clearly a reference to hell, not merely to some loss of reward for a true believer.
Notice also that his condemnation to hell is consistent with the judgments in the previous 2 parables. The Lord told the 5 foolish virgins in v. 12, “Assuredly I say to you, ‘I do not know you.” In other words, there is no true relationship. And then notice the judgment of the wicked servant in 24:51.
Therefore, when you look at the 3 parables together, it’s clear that Jesus intends to warn the hypocrite who lives among God’s people. He looks like a Christian, and he professes to be a Christian, but his heart is rebellious. As a result, he won’t merely miss out on a reward. He will miss heaven entirely, and endure God’s wrath. I’m emphasizing this, because it significantly raises the stakes for unfaithfulness in this parable. The cost is not merely a loss of reward. The cost of is hell.
And as I emphasized last week, Jesus is again warning us that there will be “wolves in sheep’s clothing” among the church. We should never just assume that everyone who looks like a Christian and talks like a Christian is truly a Christian. No what matters is that we have truly been born again.
And when one of these wolves exposes his true character by abandoning the faith or rebelling against Scripture (which has happened and will happen again), we shouldn’t be shocked, and we certainly shouldn’t think that God’s promise to keep his children has failed. We should grieve, but we shouldn’t be surprised, because our Lord warned us it would happen. So the characters represent Christ and professing Christendom. Notice as well…
The Occasion (for the parable): Verse 14 tells us that the master is “traveling to a far country,” and 19 will say that the master will only return “after a long time.” In the context of the OD, this clearly represents the time between Christ’s ascension to heaven after his resurrection and his second coming at the end of the age.
Therefore, Jesus is instructing us about how to live during the time between his first and second coming and specifically about how to prepare for his second coming. Just because our Master is out of sight, doesn’t mean he should be out of mind. He is coming, and we need to be ready. Notice also…
The Stewardship: Before the Master left on his journey, he entrusted one servant with 5 talents, one with 2, and one with 1. As I mentioned earlier, this is where we often misunderstand the parable, because talent doesn’t refer to an ability to play the piano, cook a meal, or tell a story. Rather, a talent was a weight measurement somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-100 lbs. Here it’s a measurement of gold, silver, or bronze.
Depending on the metal and the price of that metal, the value of a talent could vary, but even by conservative estimates, each talent would be worth somewhere between $300,000 and $800,000. As a result, the three slaves were each entrusted with a large stewardship, especially the first slave who was entrusted with five talents.
Therefore, this is not like giving your kids $20 at an amusement park and telling them to use it wisely. Rather, this would be more like a millionaire entrusting his fortune to an experienced financial investor. This is a big responsibility.
And the implication in context is that God has given each of us ministry opportunities that are of great value. Christ has called you to serve in the church. He has called you to do good works of kindness. He has called you to share the gospel and set a pattern of godliness for others. If you are a Christian, you have a ministry stewardship. And this stewardship is not like a couple $1 bills crumpled up in your pocket; it is a precious responsibility.
So if you are going to apply this parable well, you need to ask yourself, “What ministry has God called me to do?” And then recognize that this stewardship is not a minor issue of life. No, Jesus compares it to God entrusting to you an investment worth millions of dollars.
The Ability: So returning to the parable, the master gave these servants a huge responsibility. You don’t entrust that kind of money to just anyone. But in v. 15 Jesus imbeds an important word of encouragement for them and for us. Specifically, the Master entrusted the talents based on the slaves’ ability. In other words, he knew that these men were fully capable of managing the investment well. He knew that they had the business sense to invest the money well and to make a good return.
This ought to serve as great encouragement to us, because, yes, God has entrusted all of us with a tremendous ministry stewardship, but he doesn’t ask you to be Billy Graham or D. L. Moody. Instead, he simply calls you to be a good steward of the giftedness and opportunities he has given you. And he never asks more than you are able to give. But when he calls you to serve, he does so knowing that by his grace you have the ability to do it.
This is so important, because we let fear keep us from ministry far too often. How many times have you listened to us announce a ministry opportunity and thought, “I could never do that”? For example, maybe you’ve done that with Summer One-to-One. You’ve told yourself, “That would be really good, but I could never ask someone, and I could never lead a Bible study.”
And sometimes that’s true—you just aren’t gifted to do some things. But oftentimes, it’s just fear, or an excuse to avoid stepping outside your comfort zone. As a result, you fail to be a good steward of God’s gifts and a lot of important ministry remains undone.
Folks, sitting on the sideline is not okay. 1 Peter 4:10 commands us, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” If you are a Christian God commands you to minister. And praise the Lord that you can, because he has gifted you and your stewardship is according to your ability and his grace. So the first truth is that God has given every Christian a stewardship. The 2nd truth is…
II. We are responsible to make the most of our stewardship (vv. 16–18).
Verses 16–18 each describe how one of the servants responded to his stewardship. First…
The gifted servant eagerly fulfilled his stewardship (v. 16). The NKJV attaches “immediately” to the master in v. 15, but most believe that it actually describes how this servant attacked his work. Therefore, v. 16 emphasizes the 1st servant’s diligence. He went to work “immediately,” and he worked eagerly to make the most of the stewardship he had received.
We can assume he researched business ventures and investing accordingly. He was determined to make the most of his ability and of the stewardship he had received. And he proved that he was up to the task, because he was wildly successful. He doubled the master’s money.
Remember, we’re not talking about small gains; we’re talking about potentially millions of dollars of income. How’d you like to have a financial advisor that gets you a 100% return! Then v. 17 tells us that…
The less gifted servant worked just as eagerly (v. 17). The second servant didn’t have as much ability as the first servant, so he wasn’t given nearly as large of a stewardship. But rather than pouting about either of these things, he embraced his stewardship, and he worked just as hard to please his master and to make him a profit. And he also made the most of his opportunity. He also doubled the stewardship he had received.
I think it’s fascinating that Jesus includes this second servant in the parable. After all, there are only 2 servants in the first parable of the OD, and there are only 2 groups of virgins in the second parable. So why does Jesus include 3 servants in this one? In particular, what distinguishes the second servant from the first?
It’s clearly not that he is less godly, because he works just as hard, and he also doubles his return. This is a very godly individual, and v. 23 says that he will receive the same commendation as the first servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
So the only thing that sets him apart is that he has less ability. Therefore, Jesus includes him in the parable to encourage Christians who aren’t as gifted that God is just as pleased with a less gifted servant who is faithful as he is with a more gifted servant who has more fruit.
So maybe you get discouraged at times about your lack of ability to serve. You aren’t very smart, or well spoken. You don’t have a big personality or much of a theological education. Maybe you are elderly and physically limited, so you feel relatively worthless to advance Christ’s work.
What a blessing it is to know that God sees your limitations, and he understands what you can and can’t do. He doesn’t expect you to be something you can’t be. All he asks is that you faithfully do what he has gifted and called you to do.
So don’t waste your time comparing yourself to someone with greater gifts. No embrace your stewardship and your opportunity. Be encouraged that you can do what God has called you to do, because he never asks too much.
And then work hard to fulfill your stewardship. Again, the fact that the 2nd servant had less ability, didn’t affect his effort at all. He worked just as hard as the 1st servant, and you can do that too. You can’t control your gifts, but you can always control your effort. You can’t force your way into being the most talented servant in the church, but you can choose to outwork So work hard like the 2nd servant and make the most of your stewardship. Then v. 18 tells us that…
The wicked servant selfishly disobeyed his master (v. 18). Unfortunately, the third servant didn’t show the same diligence as the first 2 servants.
Granted, this man didn’t have the same ability, and he wasn’t given as large of a stewardship. But he still had a full talent to invest, so he was still given a sizeable opportunity to make a profit for the Master. As well, the Master knew that he had the ability to make a profit with this talent and that was what he demanded. But the servant disobeyed his master, and he simply dug a hole and hid the money.
The question is why? The servant explains in 24–25. We’ll develop this more next time, but essentially he was afraid of how he would be punished if he lost the money. As a result, he decided, “Why risk my skin to make my master rich?” In other words, “If I lose the money, it’s going to be my loss. If I make my money, I won’t see any of it.” So he selfishly ignored the master’s command and buried the talent.
But the master was not pleased. In v. 26 he calls the servant “wicked and lazy.” This is because he servant didn’t love or honor his master, even though he was the master. Instead, he was just in it for himself; therefore, he did what he thought was in his best interest and disobeyed the master.
Sadly, we sometimes have a similar attitude toward the ministry. We may not say it out loud, but our biggest concern is, “What’s in it for me,” not “What will best serve my master.” As a result many people never seem to have time, or they always have an excuse not to get involved. And when it’s time to make big life decisions about career, financial planning, or where they will live, the Great Commission does not even factor into the decision.
I want to be clear that I’m not saying that you should say yes to everything or that ministry is your only Christian duty. You have to know your legitimate limits, and saying yes to one good thing can at times mean saying no to something more important, so be wise.
But at the same time, our selfish hearts can be very creative when it comes to making up lame excuses. So if you are constantly running away from ministry rather than toward it, it might be that you have selfishly established your priorities in conflict with God’s priorities.
Christian, don’t lazily bury your ministry stewardship under a pile of excuses. Instead, be like the first 2 slaves. Aggressively and wholeheartedly make the most of your stewardship. Connect with people so you can encourage them. Sacrificially meet needs. Be a bold and courageous witness.
And let’s make sure we don’t miss the sharp edge to Jesus’ words. Notice that this man’s laziness didn’t just cost him a reward. Rather, it revealed a wicked heart, and it resulted in severe judgment. So the clear implication is that the unfruitful professing Christian may not even be a Christian.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow. After all there are a lot of professing Christians who just sit on the sidelines. They look pretty good, but they have no drive for ministry. They never have time to serve a brother or to share the gospel. And they never have money to give to the church or to meet a need. But we just give them a pass, because, “You know the saying…’20% of the people do 80% of the work,’” as if that’s how it’s supposed to be. But Jesus warns that their selfish priorities may reveal an unbelieving heart.
So ask yourself what stewardship has God entrusted to you for this stage of life? What has he gifted and called you to do at Life Point? What ministry do you have to your family? Who has God put around you at work or in your neighborhood that you should be reaching with the gospel?
If you aren’t sure, let’s talk, or just start trying things, and see what God does. And then attack it with the energy and passion of the first 2 slaves. Make the most of your stewardship. And then the third and final truth we’ll quickly cover today is in v. 19.
III. Christ will return to hold us accountable (v. 19).
It’s not clear in our English versions, but the verbs in v. 19 set it off from the rest of the parable as an especially significant turn in the story. So the whole parable turns on the fact that after a long journey, the Master finally returned to settle accounts.
Jesus is referring to the fact that he will come again and hold each of us accountable for our lives. Every person whether saved or unsaved, small or great, righteous or wicked, will stand before the Lord and give an account.
I want to emphasize that our works will have no ultimate bearing on whether or not we make it to heaven. We are saved by grace and grace alone. So if you think that you can do enough works to earn heaven, understand that Titus 3:5 states very clearly, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” The only way you will reach heaven some day is through putting your faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
That being said, whenever the Bible talks about the judgment, it emphasizes that we will be judged by our works—not as the basis of salvation but as the proof of salvation and as the basis of our reward. Christ will evaluate how you fulfilled your stewardship.
And Jesus emphasizes here that this day will surely come, and the obvious implication is that I need to be ready. So in light of this, “How should we prepare for our coming accountability?” Very simply, we must make the most of our God-given stewardship. So Christian identify what that stewardship is. And then throw your whole heart into that stewardship, so that by God’s grace, you can one day hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”