Giving the Master a Complete Account: The Parable of the Talents (Matthew Sermon 132 of 151)
July 25, 2010 | Andrew Davis
We come this morning to an awesome parable, the parable of the talents. We come to this parable, and then the sheep and the goats account at the end of Matthew 25. Matthew 24 and 25 are two chapters given by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Mount of Olives to get His church ready for the Second Coming of Jesus and to get the church ready for Judgment Day. We've seen so many things, but as we look at the parable of the talents, and then after that at the sheep and the goats parable, something struck me this morning, and that is the seriousness of sins of omission, of leaving undone what God wants us to do. This wicked lazy servant did nothing, that's all. He actually did a little something, but he didn't do what he was supposed to do. He left it undone. In the sheep and the goats parable, the goats are characterized by inactivity, "I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty, you gave me nothing to drink," and so on.
Anybody who knows me knows that one of my favorite movies is, "It's a Wonderful Life." I've seen it 15-20 times. I quote it in everyday life because there are just so many things that can be covered by a line from that movie. In the movie, there's a man who's suicidal, he's desperate, he hates his life, he doesn't like the everyday humdrum regular existence he's had, and then he runs into a tremendous financial trial. He wants to kill himself by throwing himself off a bridge, and along comes his guardian angel, Clarence. I am not vouching for the theology of the movie at all. But Clarence gives him a great gift. He says at one point, "George, you've been given a great gift, a chance to see what the world would have been like without you." Bedford Falls, this tidy little community, this beautiful little place, is turned into a mini Las Vegas with all kinds of open sin going on. It's a wild and wicked kind of place. The end result is that George is ennobled, he realizes that the life he's lived has been well worth living. His life has made a tremendous impact on his wife, his children, his extended family, and the community through his acts of service. It was indeed a wonderful life; it was worth living.
I've wondered what the opposite would look like on Judgment Day. The Lord is omniscient, He knows not only what was, what is, and what will be, but He also knows what might have been. What would it be like for you to sit with Jesus and have Him show you your life if you had been fully faithful to Him, to show you what your family would have looked like, what your church would have looked like, what your community would have looked like, the people you met along the way, the people you traveled with, to be able to track down maybe one of their lives, if you had actually opened your mouth and shared the gospel with them, and what would have happened if at that point, they had heard the gospel from you and came to faith in Christ. You would see what things might have been avoided. I can't imagine the pain of actually sitting through that. I actually wrestled inside myself back and forth, “Should I begin the sermon this way. I don't want to begin with a downer. I mean, frankly, two of the servants are very faithful, aren't they? Well done, good and faithful servant.” As a matter of fact, that statement is so profound and so powerful, I'm going to devote a whole sermon next week to Matthew 25: 21, 23. So in fairness to me, you're getting the whole sermon on two verses, not just on one, but it's the same verse, "Well done, good and faithful servant, you've been faithful with a few things. I'll put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your Master." We're going to talk about that next week, the rewards that wait us, but still, there's a seriousness here to this parable, isn't there? Jesus is not telling a light-hearted, frothy story here. It ends up with the wicked lazy servant being cast into Hell, and so there is a seriousness to the issue of stewardship.
Aspects of Stewardship
As I think about stewardship, there are two questions that are in front of me, there's a kind of a detailed everything comprehensive nature stewardship question, and then there's a focus stewardship question. So, in one sense, I want to ask, what am I not a steward of? What do I have that I didn't receive? If I did receive it, am I not a steward of it? Hasn't the Lord entrusted every blessing in my life so that I can do something with it for His glory? Every minute of time, every physical ability and skill, every relationship, every possession, every dollar, every providential so-called chance encounter, all of these things are matters of stewardship. I want to be faithful to everything. I don't want to feel overwhelmed. I don't want to anticipate like the wicked and lazy servant that we're going to a hard master who's unjust and evil. Not at all, He's gracious, Jesus is the kind of master that's going to reward even a cup of cold water given to one of His servants. Those people will never lose their reward, that's how generous and gracious Jesus is. But on the other side, I don't want to miss anything, do you? I don't want to waste my life, I want to live for Jesus, and so I want to look at everything in a stewardship light, and we're going to talk about that today.
Isn't there also a sense that some things are more important than others, and maybe one thing more important than anything? In the end, I ask, “What is this church a steward of that's more valuable than anything else.” I have to think it's the ministry of reconciliation, the gospel of Jesus Christ, isn't it? That we are entrusted with the gospel, we are entrusted with the only power of God there is for the salvation of lost people around us. That responsibility has been given to us, and we are to be out and about with it. It's the greatest stewardship that we have as a church, and I want to be faithful, don't you? I want to lead people to Christ. I want to be able to say, “Here am I and the children you have given me,” to God like it says in the scriptures. I want to be able to point to sons and daughters, and grandsons and granddaughters. I want my sons and daughters to be faithful spiritual sons and daughters and they lead people to Christ. I want to be part of a vast spiritual family.
But you know wanting and doing, they're just two different things. I don't want to live a life of sins of omission, and therefore, I want this parable to have its full impact on me and on you. I want us to feel its weight, and I want a response to this, if we need to, to repent if we've not been fully faithful. D.L. Moody was driven by a statement he heard early in his Christian life, "The world has yet to see what God can do through a man fully devoted to Him." The issue is fullness of devotion. Can I give everything to Jesus? Romans 7 holds me back, I never give everything to Jesus, but I want to. I want to fight the good fight of faith, and I want to see what God can do through me more fully devoted than I've ever been before. If that's the outcome of this sermon, then it'll be a successful sermon.
We're looking at stewardship this morning, so let's dig in and look at the details of the parable. I propose today to just go through it line by line and talk about it briefly, and then apply it. Next week, I'm going to just zero in on the rewards. We're not going to talk about it much at all today, but I think the reward, the three-fold reward that the Lord offers in that one verse is so staggering and so overwhelming that I would find it greatly motivational to have as much of that as possible. Let's look at verse 14 and 15, as the stewardship is initiated. Verse 14 says, "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey who called his servants and entrusted his property to them." So, what will be like a man going on a journey? It's the context, His second coming and the circumstances around that will be like this parable. That's what He's saying. He is leaving. He's going to come back, "It's going to be like this when I come back." That's what he's saying, the Second Coming of Christ. I believe that verse 14 is probably the most comprehensive single verse on the essentials of stewardship in the Bible. All the basic ingredients are here and in verse 15. First of all, you have a master, somebody in authority, an owner, and then you have servants who are owned by the master and accountable to Him. You have a journey, this is a key issue in these stewardship parables, is that the master isn't standing over your shoulder. He's not right there, he's away, he's apart from you, in some sense, you’ve got to do it on your own, although we know from the vine and the branches, we never do anything apart from Jesus, but you've got to have faith. So, the master's away, and the steward's on his own, and he's got to be faithful. The property is entrusted to him throughout the account. It's understood that everything belongs to the master, not to the servants, and it is committed to the servants to be managed in the master's absence.
Finally, there is accountability. There's a time in which the master returns and says, "Now, what did you do?" Those are all the basic ingredients of stewardship, and this concept of stewardship is vital in our relationship with Christ, it shows up again and again in His parables. For example, you have the parable of the vineyard. The owner of the vineyard entrusts his vineyard to some tenant farmers, and he goes away. Then he sends his servants to the tenant farmers to get his share of the crop at harvest time. It’s the same concept there, stewardship.
Then you have the parable of the 10,000 talents in Matthew 18, which is essentially about forgiveness, but again, it begins this way, “The king wants to settle accounts with his servants and a man comes in who owes him 10,000 talents.” Again, the basic concept. In Luke 16, the parable of the unrighteous steward in which the man is found to be a bad steward, and he's going to get fired. The key to the parable is he doesn't get fired right away, so he's got a window of opportunity in which he's managing his master's stuff, and what does he do? He very shrewdly calls in people who owe his master a bunch of money and cuts their debt in half or knock 25% off. The master comes in and praises his shrewdness. Why is he doing it? So, he can curry favor with these individuals so that when he loses his job, he'll have a place to eat and stay. We'll come back to it later in the sermon, but it's a parable of stewardship.
Then there's the parable of the ten minas. It’s similar to the parable of the talents here, but a little different. In Luke 19, a king gives to each of his servants the same amount, in that case each one gets a mina, which is a little more than a pound of gold. Then the king returns and calls them to account for what they did with the investment. Here Christ is preparing His disciples for their time of accountability before Him. The unique element of this parable is there's a variety of what's entrusted. To one, he gave five talents of money, to another, two talents, and to another, one talent, each according to his ability, then he goes on his journey. The master knows his servants well, he knows what they're capable of. He's assessed their abilities, probably based on past performance and they don't all get the same thing entrusted to them. This is a key issue with stewardship. God doesn't measure you on where you begin, and He doesn't measure you on where you end, He measures you in your faithfulness as you travel from beginning to end. Some people start with tremendous disadvantages, and they make incredible progress to achieve levels that we would be tempted to sniff at. But God knows very well the struggles they went through to get to that level, and so not everybody gets the same thing. In one sense, dear founders of our country, all men are not created equal. We don't all have the same capabilities, we don't all have the same opportunities to influence for Christ, but different abilities.
What is a talent? It's 75 pounds. I think in this case, it's silver. One commentator put it as much as 17 years of wages for a daily wage earner. So, the one with the five talents had, if that's true, upwards of 85 years of wages, basically a lifetime of money. Two talents would be about 34 years of wages. If that calculation is true, even one talent is a significant amount of money. In verses 16 and 17, we see the elements of good stewardship put on display. Verse 16 says, "The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his master's money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more." First of all, you see no procrastination at all. Again, procrastination comes up here, that devastating sin of putting off to tomorrow what you ought to be doing today. Jesus tells us these two servants, the good servants, immediately go out and they work. Jesus says, “Don't put off to tomorrow.” Just like the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins, there's going to come a time where you won't be able to get what you need for Judgment Day, it's over. So, do it today. Be ready today. These servants seized the day immediately.
The second element of the stewardship is labor, hard work. They worked hard. They are contrasted with the other servant who's called lazy, so they're good servants because they're hard workers. Thirdly, notice there's total focus. It doesn't come across as much in the translation, but the Greek expression is literally the one who had received the five talents “worked in them.” What that means is the talents were the focus of his efforts. Every day, he said, "What can I do with these talents? What can I do with this money that the master has entrusted?" He's thinking about it. It's a focus. We are not big enough to be in charge of the universe. We are entrusted with a narrow-defined field that we are to work. There's a focus here, and so also the one with the two talents, he works in the two talents. Good stewardship involves a focus on what God has entrusted to you and not getting distracted with other things.
Fourthly, we see skill and foresight. To put the talents to work involves tremendous financial skill, foresight, knowledge of wise investments, there's a money analogy here. The servant with the five talents had a huge responsibility, and he manages it well, skillfully, he does well. He's courageous, he's not afraid of failures. He's out trading with his master's money, he's choosing wisely where to invest the money, and the one with the two talents does the same, though not with the same scope. We see fruitfulness here as a result. Investment experts speak of the ROI, which is return on investment. Well, these guys did great, 100% return on investment, they doubled their master's investment.
The fact of the matter is that growth is what Jesus is getting at, He wants the thing improved, He wants it developed, He wants a harvest, He wants fruit, He wants something back as a result of what you mingled into it. From the very beginning, friends, it's been this way. God blessed Adam and Eve and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth and subdue it. Here's this world I give you. Here's all these different kinds of seeds with the crops, corn and tomatoes and cucumbers and all these different things, just make it happen.” He wanted fruit back, so He's not looking for a static situation, but dynamic growth of what He's entrusted. The Lord doesn't need any of this from us. The Lord is not short in power, He's not looking for hired help here. He's being gracious to us. He is including us so that our lives are worth living. The years that we spend from the time we come to faith in Christ on are not wasted, but they're beneficial, they're fruitful, they're good. God is so good to us, and He wants us to get involved in His work. So, we see beautifully, I think, good stewardship.
We also see bad stewardship in verse 18, “But the man who had received the one talent went off. He dug a hole in the ground, and he hid his master's money." No one can tell for sure what this man's motives were, he clearly has a very dark and negative view of his master, doesn't he? I think this is a key issue. The more you know your master, Jesus, the more fruitful you're going to be, the more you just know His love for you, and how gracious He's going to be on Judgment Day to reward any faithful service, the more optimistic you are about that whole exchange. The more you sense his love, the more you know his love and feel it, the more you're going to do for Jesus. Conversely, if you're living in craven fear, the dark negative view of God and think, "Nothing I do is ever going to be good enough for Him. Why even bother?" God's not saying that to you. That's the language of the devil. This man clearly has a very negative view of his master, he doesn't want to be ashamed and have to tell his master when he gets back that he lost the talent, so he does a little amount of work, not a lot, but a little. He goes off and he digs a hole in the ground and hides his master's money, safe and sound. But nothing happens with it. It's just there, it's unproductive. When the master returns, he's going to get it back, but nothing happened with it.
The things that Jesus has entrusted to us have tremendous growth potential, they’re just bursting with vitality. They're just bursting with energy and just waiting to be released, just put them in the soil and add water and watch what happens. It's powerful. God wants something back for those things. He wants return on investment. In verse 19, "After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them." Again, this is the essence of stewardship, this accountability. The Greek implies a kind of an accurate logbook, a record book, and what you did as recorded in the book, is gone over by the master. “What did you do? This is what I entrusted. What did you do with it? How did it go? Why did you do it that way?” It's Judgment Day, friends.
Again, notice that verse 19 implies a long time between the first and second coming of Jesus. This is the third time now we've had that sense. In Matthew 24:48, "Suppose that servant is wicked, and he says to himself, 'My master's staying away a long time,' and then he begins to beat his fellow servants and eat and drink with drunkards." In the parable of the virgins, it says, "The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep." It's the third time that Jesus is giving us a very strong hint that it's going to be a long time between His first and second coming. A long time as it seems to us. You know with the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day, but it's been 2000 years now since Jesus left.
During that long delay between the first and second comings of Christ, the whole issue for the church will be faithful stewardship of the gospel and of spiritual gifts and time and money, and children, and everything else the Lord entrusted to you. After the time is up, Christ comes and settles accounts. Look at the rewards for faithful service. We will not touch on this much because we're devoting a whole sermon to it next week, God willing. It says, "The man who had entrusted 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, you good and faithful servant. You've been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.' So also, the man with the two talents came, 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents, see, I have gained two more.' His master applied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You've been faithful with a few things. I'll put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.'"
These servants come and give very succinct reports of their activities. I think one of the essences of stewardship is to know what He gave you. Wouldn't that be something to sit down and just make a catalog of everything God has given you? God has given us so much material possessions, money, opportunities, gifts, talents, education, just... We have been lavishly supplied. This man comes back, and he knows exactly what the master gave him. "You gave me five talents." Then comes one of the most famous lines in the Gospel of Matthew, "Well done, good and faithful servant." I heard so many times how somebody says their ambition is that God would say this to them on Judgment Day. It's a good ambition.
We also see punishments for a faithless servant, verses 24 through 30, "And the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I know that you're a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So, I was afraid, and I 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 that talent away from him and give it to the man who has the 10 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.'"
This is a very strong, devastating exposure of a man who lived his life in selfishness, cowardice, faithlessness and fruitlessness. Notice as I already mentioned, his hard assessment of his master, "You're a hard man." The word is used of harsh circumstances like a hard, bitter wind, like a nor'easter that blows and brings a cold storm. "That's the kind of master you are. It's the kind of man you are. You hard master. You're also unjust, you gather where you have not scattered seed, you harvest what you didn't work for, so you're harsh and you're unjust. Here's my excuse anyway, I was afraid. Fear took me over. I just was afraid to be out there doing what I needed to do, I guess, and so I hid what was yours in the ground." Here is a very strong and fascinating statement, “Behold, here is what belongs to you." He gives it back, right?
Do you know all of your talents and abilities, that's just the clothing you're wearing, it isn't you. It's on loan from Jesus, and you're going to give it back some day. It's not yours. He entrusted it to you. One of the key verses on this in the Bible is Romans 11:36, "For from Him and through Him... " and back to him is the way I think of it... "are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." That means everything you have came from Him. He's sustaining it now, and someday it's going back to Him and you're going to give Him an account. It all goes back to God. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, "The dust returns to the ground it came from, the spirit returns to God who gave it." Everything you have in your life, all your money, talents and skills, your advantages, your education, your possessions, everything you pride yourself on, your exquisite athletic ability, your marvelous, good looks, your hair, all of it came from God. Those providential occurrences throughout your life, they're just entrusted to you, everything. It all goes back to God.
Now then comes his master's judgment, words of disgrace, not praise, "You wicked, lazy servant." The exact opposite of “good and faithful servant”, I think. Then he restates the servant's insulting assessment, "So you knew that I was a hard man, harvesting where I have not sown and gathering where I have not scattered seed. That's what you knew about me? Well, let me give you some advice that's now too late for you. What you should have done is you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers so that when I returned, I would have gotten something back for it.” Then the sovereign action of the master, "Take away from him that talent and give it to the one with the 10 talents." He's the king, he can do anything he wants, it's his money. And why? "Because everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.” More on that next week. The most faithful servants in this world will be given the most responsibility in the next world. I'm going to talk about that next more next week, but that's what's going on here. He will have an abundance. "And whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him," and then these words of condemnation, "throw that worthless servant outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Some of the clearest descriptions of hell are in Matthew 24 and 25, and they're worth the study.
How can we apply this parable to ourselves? First of all, let's just have a sense of how great our stewardship is. Remember that we have a master, we have someone in authority over us, an owner. Our master is Jesus Christ, He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, and He's the ruler of all. We are servants, we are not our own. We are bought at a price. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says, "He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them." He went on a journey, He ascended up to Heaven, so like I said, He's not standing over your shoulder. We need faith, strong faith to be good stewards. Let's not forget any of our gifts. Let's say, "Lord, what have You entrusted to me? What do I have?" I have a spouse, I have some children, I have a house, I have some other possessions, I have some spiritual blessings. I'm accountable for these things, and at the end, I'm going to stand in front of Jesus, and I'm going to give Him an account for the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight, everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account [Hebrews 4:13]. We've got to be faithful with our time. “This is the day the Lord has made…” That means it's His, “We will rejoice and be glad in it.” How about we also be faithful in it too. Let's rejoice and be glad, and let's be faithful. Let's redeem the time for the days are evil, as it says in Ephesians 5.
Redeeming the time. I look on it like I'm an action hero. Wake up in the morning. The day has been kidnapped. I have to go rescue the day. If I don't rescue it, it's lost. I've got to go redeem the day. You know what I'm talking about. If you kick back, you relax, whatever, the day is gone, and then the next day is gone, and then the years are gone, and then all those good things you wanted to do, you never did them. So, let's redeem the time because the days are evil [Ephesians 5]. Let's go get it. We are stewards of our bodies, let's be faithful, let's be faithful to take care of our bodies. Don't overeat, get exercise, be in it for the long haul, so you can be maximally energetic and fruitful in this life. I don't believe you're going to extend your life one day, all the days ordained are written, but I want a quality of life. I want to be able to be energetic. Let's take care of our bodies. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you which you received from God? You're not your own, you are bought at a price.
You're also a steward of your family relationships. What about your marriage? It's entrusted to you from God. I get to perform a marriage later today, a wedding at Duke Chapel. The couple is going to make pledges and promises to each other. Meeting with them in counseling, I wanted to give them what I know they already have, a sense of the great gift that God has given them in each other. I need to be a wise steward of that marriage relationship with my wife and my children too. You don't know how long you have or how long we have our children, but we need to pour the gospel into our children and get them ready for Judgment Day.
We need to be stewards of our money and our possessions. I've got a bigger vision of stewardship here today than just money, but money's part of it, isn't it? The fact is you have your money in your possession for just a short time, that's why I like that parable, that quirky parable of the unrighteous steward. He's not saying, "Hey look, be a slimy operator so you can get fired." That's not the point of the parable. The point is, you have what you have for a short time, a window of opportunity, make the most of it. You can't take it with you, but you can send it on ahead, so be good stewards of your money and use it for the kingdom. One of the biggest lies Satan tells you about your money is that if you give it away for Jesus, you'll never see it again. That is a lie. It's if you try to hold on to it, you'll never see it again, it's if you give it away, you'll see it for all eternity.
You're a steward of your spiritual gifts. If you've been given a gift of teaching, then teach, the gift of administration, then lead and minister. Do what the Lord has called you to do according to the patterns of scripture. Each one of us has a role to play in the body of Christ. Let's play it. Don't waste your spiritual gifts. If your gift is hospitality, have more people over than you've been having over. If your gift is evangelism, then share more faithfully than you've ever done before. If your gift is intercessory prayer, then spend more time with more fervency than you've ever done before. That's what the parable of the talents is about.
Finally, we are entrusted with the gospel, it's the greatest stewardship we have. Proclaim it. I'm mindful of my stewardship of this pulpit and the fact that there could be people listening to me right now who aren't saved. If you're not ready to stand before God and give Him a minute account of your stewardship, because you're not one of His servants, you're in danger of judgment. I just tenderly warn you to flee to Christ, because Judgment Day is coming for all of us. If you're lost, if you don't have Christ as your Savior, hell stands in front of you, it's your danger, and you underestimate it. So, I urge you, flee to Christ, flee to the cross, his bloodshed on the cross is enough for all of your sins and for mine too. If you just repent and trust in Him, you will be forgiven. Dear friends, we as believers, we have been entrusted with the gospel. It is the power of God for salvation. Let's proclaim it faithfully.
We're coming now to a time of celebration of the Lord's supper, so it's a solemn ordinance, a joyful one, a chance that we have to think ahead to the second coming of Jesus Christ, when we will give Him an account and when He will welcome us. After Judgment Day and after He wipes every tear from our eyes, we will get to sit down at table with Jesus. I'd like to ask that you take this time and begin reflecting on yourself. If you're not a Christian, if you have not come to faith in Christ and testified to that by water baptism as a believer, please don't come to the table. The Bible says you'd be eating and drinking judgment on yourself. If you're a Christian and you need to do business with God, repent, but come to the table. It's for sinners, not for perfect people.