Matthew 25:14–30

Investing in the Kingdom

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

November 19, 2017

 

In the final of Jesus’ parables we’ll be considering for a time from Matthew’s Gospel,[1] Jesus is yet again addressing what the final arrival of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, will be like. In addition to this key topic, there are two themes this parable has in common with that of the Parable of the Ten Virgins we considered last week: First, the importance of being prepared for Christ’s return; and second, that it’s important that we be prepared even if Christ’s return doesn’t occur for “a long time” (verse 19).

So Jesus began by stating in verse 14 that the kingdom of heaven—if we go back to verse 1, we can see that’s what the “it” refers to—“will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.” Now as we work through this parable, it’s important that we keep in mind a point I mentioned last week as well—namely, that at least part of the reason Jesus was telling this parable to his disciples was for the sake of reassuring them, prior to his own impending crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, that he would return to them so they needn’t be concerned if that return was delayed for an unexpectedly long amount of time. That being the case, isn’t it appropriate and helpful for Jesus to use the analogy of “a man going on a journey” as a way of describing the time between his departure from and eventual return to earth? For in ascending to heaven he did indeed “[travel] from one place to another,” the very definition of a journey. But, again, this is a journey from which he will return to gather his own as he completes his work of redemption for and through them.

So before this man left on his journey, he “called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.” And this man’s wealth was extremely great. What the NIV has translated as “bags of gold,” is literally “talents” in the Greek.[2] And, as we’ve noted before,[3] a single talent was worth about twenty years of a day laborer’s wage. Again, by one calculation, the modern-day equivalence would be about $600,000 for one talent.[4] So the total wealth of this man consisted of one-hundred and sixty years worth of a day laborer’s wages or $4,800,000[5]—that’s a lot of talents! And this man chose to disburse these talents “according to [the] ability” of each of his three servants. So to the first he gave “five bags of gold,” to the second “two bags,” and to the last “one bag.” Having thus taken care of his assets, “Then he went on his journey” (verse 15).

Now, again, we need to keep in mind that one of the points being made in this parable is that the master may not return for a long time, verse 19. Using another analogy the apostle Peter noted that though “a day is like a thousand years” with the Lord and “a thousand years is like a day,”[6] for us these two “divine” days—or these two thousand years that have passed since Christ’s ascension to heaven—feels like an extremely long time. But it’s important for us to remember that even though Christ’s return has delayed for a long time, this doesn’t excuse us from complacency and not living our lives for him. Whether the cat is away for a minute, a month, or a millennium, the mice shouldn’t play because one never knows when the cat will return. So we need always to watch and be ready for as the second half of verse 19 states, when the master finally did return, he “settled accounts with them.”

And what quickly becomes evident in this parable is that the man who went off on his journey judged well the ability of each of his servants. For, verse 16, “The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.” So this first servant who had been entrusted with one hundred years’ worth of a day laborer’s wages—or $3,000,000—was able to double his master’s investment to two hundred years’ worth—or $6,000,000. So, too, did the second servant whose “two bags of gold gained two more.” So his forty years’ worth of wages—or $1,200,000—was doubled to eighty years’ worth—or $2,400,000. But the last servant who had been given one bag of gold didn’t do as well. Now though he was entrusted with a smaller amount than the first two servants, he still received a considerable amount of wealth to work with—twenty years’ worth of a day laborer’s wages or $600,000. But rather than put his master’s money to use, we’re told in verse 18 that he “dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”

Now as the parable continues what is also evident is that not only was each man accorded a portion of the master’s wealth according to his ability, but that each one was judged according to that very same ability. So upon being told by the first servant that his five talents had been doubled to ten, “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!’” (verse 21). So, too, upon being told by the second servant that his two talents had been doubled to four, “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!’” (verse 23).

But when the time came for the last servant to give account, though he answered in terms suggesting that he did what he did because he knew his master, what is strikingly evident is that he didn’t know his master at all. What he said about his master starting in verse 24 was, “Master,…I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you” (verse 25). In other words, perhaps out of a fear that he would end up making a poor investment and losing the money that had been entrusted to him, this servant chose instead to bury it so that at the very least his master would have his initial amount of money upon returning. Now I should add, too, that during this time it wasn’t unusual for people to bury their valuables as a means of keeping them safe. But the problem was that doing this with his master’s money not only didn’t increase the master’s wealth but, given that his master had been away for a long time, the very thing the servant feared would happen actually came to pass—namely, that the master’s money decreased in value just the same.

Well we know how this story ends. Rather than commending this servant as he did the other two for their “good and faithful” service and rewarding their behavior not only with a promise to be granted further responsibility but also with an invitation to “Come and share your master’s happiness!,” this servant was punished by his master. Starting in verse 26 we read, “26 …You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers,[7] so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.” And isn’t it interesting that the master didn’t say that the servant should have doubled his money as did the other two; no, it would have been enough had he simply allowed his master’s money to receive interest—which, since what the servant had been entrusted with was the equivalent of twenty years’ wages or $600,000, would have still resulted in a respectable payoff. And the fact that the master would have been content had the servant simply allowed his money to gain interest indicates that when the servant referred to his master as “a hard man,” he was surely mistaken for, in fact, his master would have been understanding even if this servant had done the minimal amount of work by simply allowing his master’s investment to gain interest. But because this servant had been so derelict in his duties and had buried his master’s money, not only was this money taken away from him and handed over to the servant who had invested most wisely, but he was also cast out of the master’s home. And since this is a parable about the kingdom of God, we can assume that he was kept from entering this kingdom for his dereliction of duty. So rather than have the protection, care, and joy of his master, he would be left to his own devices, in the darkness, where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And the language Jesus uses here couldn’t be stronger for “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is how hell is spoken of and described—six times in Matthew and once in Luke.[8]

So since it’s clear from this parable that there are serious consequences to not investing our Master’s talents properly, we need to try and figure out the heart of its message, namely, how can we invest well in God’s kingdom? For don’t we all desire to be invited to “come and share” in our Master’s happiness even as the first two servants were? Don’t we all long to hear our Lord say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”?

Well, let’s start with the obvious. The point in the parable isn’t that God is going to give all of us ridiculously large amounts of money to invest. In other words much as we might like him to, he isn’t going to give us anywhere between $600,000 to $3,000,000. That would be a misapplication of this parable. But scholars have noted that our current definition of “talent” as indicating “an ability or gift,” or “a natural endowment or special ability,” has been derived from this parable.[9] And we should be careful not to conclude that we haven’t been given any gifts for God is a generous gift-giver. Even the one among us who has been given what we might consider to be the “least” gift, has nonetheless been given something very valuable—again, consider that the servant who had been entrusted with only one talent was still given $600,000. So, again, the parable makes clear that God is lavish in meting out talents.

In fact Scripture makes clear first, that the Holy Spirit gives gifts as he wills or determines so whatever talent we have ultimately comes from God; second that he gives gifts to each one; and third, that he gives gifts to each one for the common good.[10] This reality is what stands behind the body analogy used in Scripture about us, Christ’s church. For Christ is our head[11] and we are his body, made up of many parts in order that that body might function as God intended.[12] So we must never conclude that we haven’t any gifts or that we have nothing to contribute for precisely the opposite is true: unless we are all using our gifts, the church, Christ’s body, will be unable to function as he intended. Unless we are all using our gifts, we as Christ’s body will be unable to bring about the realities of his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Now if we accept that we’ve all been given natural or special abilities by God, we’re still left with the question of determining what it means to use these to invest in God’s kingdom for Jesus’ parable provides no specifics as to what “putting one’s talent to work” looks like. We’re merely told that the two servants who had been commended with their respective talents had put the master’s money to work (vv. 16, 17) resulting in doubling his gain (vv. 20, 22). Even so, there are some lessons we can draw from this parable regarding our talents. First, talents are intended to be used, not buried, for how can we benefit the body of Christ unless we serve one another with whatever abilities God has given us? And second, since “putting money to work” is never defined, not only will each of our talents differ but how we put them to use will also differ. But given that we are Christ’s body, intended to function together as one, I think it’s safe to say that using our talents for the Kingdom requires that we invest in one another’s lives, doing what we can to love, serve, and care for each other.

But, too, we need to be careful not to lose our focus. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in worrying about what our talents or gifts may or may not be that we lose sight of the fact that out investment should be in Christ; our focus should be on our King who is also our treasure. As Paul reminds us,

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”[13]

We are all but jars of clay, entrusted with the treasure of Christ by his Holy Spirit who indwells us, that we might seek to point each other and all people to Christ. So for us to invest in God’s kingdom means that we use whatever gifts we have—in word, in music, in prayer, in deeds, in cooking, in listening to one another, in caring for one another, in kindness, in gentleness, in humility, in laughter, in tears, in compassion, in forgiveness, in mercy—to point others to Christ. And since our gifts come from God in the first place, when we use our gifts all glory goes to him, not us. For ultimately the greatest thing God has entrusted us with is his Holy Spirit who ever reminds us of the love and sacrifice of Christ and the kindness and compassion of our heavenly Father. And we are called to share this love and kindness with those with whom we’ve been entrusted—with those who are a part of our lives—by means of the abilities and gifts he’s given us. For ever since Christ ascended to heaven and sent us his Spirit, he has been on a journey—but he will return. And until he returns we need to ask ourselves, how can we best serve him? What kinds of activities can we do so that this earthly kingdom might be made to reflect his heavenly one?

If we use our gifts to reflect his kingdom and values we will be like the first two servants who were eager to please their master. They did their work even though their master delayed a long time in returning. And for this they were commended by their master who favorably approved of their work, telling each servant three things. First, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” The master was pleased with how these servants had behaved during his long absence. Second, “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” Though we sometimes think of life in heaven as being about fluffy white clouds and angels with wings, this parable about what the kingdom of heaven is like begs to differ. For it’s clear that not only does the service we do on earth matter, but our service and work will continue in heaven. If we’re faithful with a few things now, we will be entrusted with many things then. And third, the master says to each of these good and faithful servants, “Come and share your master’s happiness!” (verses 21, 23). And this reminds us that our work, our service, is intended to be joyful. It brings joy to God and it should bring joy to us as well. These points are made evident as well in what the Master says to the third servant who was deemed to be wicked and lazy (verse 26) and whose talent was taken away (verse 28) with the explanation, “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance.” So, negatively, not only will we lose our gifts if we don’t use them but, positively, this parable reminds us that there is joy in knowing and loving and serving others. And to use our talents in serving others is to use our talents in serving God—a point that will be made even more vividly in next week’s passage.

So dear sisters and brothers, let us do what we can to invest in God’s kingdom. For our Savior and Lord, Christ Jesus, has gone on a journey and though we cannot know when he will return, we can rest assured that he will return one day. And if we wonder and worry about why he has delayed, in the passage I mentioned earlier by Peter,[14] the broader context reminds us,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.

So let us be patient. Let us do what we can to share the truth of Christ and his love to those around us that they might not perish but come to repentance. Let us by Christ’s Spirit encourage and care for each other. For I am convinced that if we do what we can to love our Lord with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength and our neighbors as ourselves, whenever Christ does return we will hear him say, “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!”

Let us pray.

 

[1] A similar parable may be found in Luke 19:11–27: 11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.[about 3 months’ wages] ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’ 14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ 15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. 16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’ 17 “‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’ 18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’ 19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’ 20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ 24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ 25 “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ 26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”

[2] τάλαντον,n

[3] Sermon preached on September 10, 2017, “Infinite Forgiveness,” on Matthew 18:21–35, the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.

[4] Crossway ESV Study Bible note on Matthew 18:24: “In approximate modern equivalents, if a laborer earns $15 per hour, at 2,000 hours per year he would earn $30,000 per year, and a talent would equal $600,000 (USD).”

[5] Five talents plus two talents plus one talent = eight talents times twenty x $600,000 = $4,800,000.

[6] 2 Peter 3:8: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

[7] The reference to bankers is a modern equivalence of an ancient practice for during this time, banks didn’t exist but, as noted by the Crossway ESV Study Bible: “…in the OT [sic], Israelites were forbidden from charging interest to other Israelites (Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:25–37; Deut. 23:19), but it was permissible to charge interest on money loaned to Gentiles (Deut. 23:20).” Exodus 22:25: If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest.; Leviticus 25:35–37: If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. 36 Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. 37 You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.; Deuteronomy 23:19–20: 19 Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.

[8] In addition to this passage, it is found in: Matthew 13:42, 49–50: 42 They will throw them [the weeds] into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.; Matthew 22:13: “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him [the guest who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes] hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’; Matthew 24:51: He will cut him [the wicked servant] to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.; Luke 13:28: “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.” Also note the similarity between “blazing furnace” (Matthew 13:50) and “the fiery lake” at the final judgment in Revelation 19:20: But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.; Revelation 20:14: Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death

[9] Zondervan NIV Study Bible as well as The ESV Reformation Study Bible notes, respectively, on Matthew 25:15.

[10] Though I’ve changed the order as stated by Paul (vv. 11, and 7, respectively), each of these points is indicated in I Corinthians 12:7–11:Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

[11] Colossians 1:18: And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

[12] The entire twelfth chapter of I Corinthians addresses this theme, but see especially verses 12-14, 27: 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many…. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.; See also Romans 12:3–8:For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.; Colossians 1:24: Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

[13] 2 Corinthians 4:4–7.

[14] 2 Peter 3:8–10.

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