In this sermon, Greg Ho, preaches on the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25. From the passage, Greg Ho explains what the talent represents and how God is more concerned with what a person does with what he receives than how much a person accomplishes. Greg Ho further clarifies that Christians should think and act like the first two slaves in the parable and avoid the thinking and inaction of the third slave which dishonored God and ultimately doomed the slave to destruction. In conclusion, Greg Ho admonishes Christians to think soberly about God’s return on investment.
Before we start this morning, let’s go to the Lord in prayer. Father, as we study Your Word this morning, I pray that Your Spirit would move here among us to convict our hearts and even to save souls. Help us to be attentive to Your Word and wipe away the distractions as we mine for the treasures we find there. In Your Son’s Name, we pray Amen.
For thirty years, one of the men who pioneered technology behind computerized stock trading stood at the pinnacle of Wall Street as one of the true giants of the investment management world. And he owned a firm that managed more than sixty billion dollars of investor money. He had a seemingly foolproof strategy for beating the stock market that was so successful that many happily invested their entire life savings with him. But almost exactly ten years ago today, in June 2009, Bernie Madoff was sentenced to one hundred and fifty years in prison for running the largest and most notorious Ponzi scheme in U.S. history. It was all a lie.
The shocking truth was that there was never any investment to begin with. All the money he got from his investors, he simply deposited in his banking account. And instead of investing it, Bernie Madoff spent his clients’ money on posh Manhattan residences, expensive yachts, custom designer suits, and many other luxuries. The spectacular returns that he was showing were all lies. And instead of becoming a master of investing, he was a master at faking financial statements, and temporarily fooling regulators, auditors, and investors alike. But like ever fraudster, there is a day of reckoning. And in the end, it was his own two sons that turned him in and one of them actually committed suicide soon after. It’s clear to us that Bernie Madoff was a fraud who betrayed everyone who trust him and destroying the lives of thousands.
But what we’ll see today is that you also, my friends, have been entrusted with an investment from God. And in exactly the same way, there will be a day of reckoning when God will ask, “Where is my return on my investment?” And what God has invested in us, you ask and what returns does he expect from us? To answer that, I want you to turn with me to Matthew 25:14-30. In the pew Bibles, it’s page 987.
While you are getting there, I want to tell you a little bit about this parable to tell you some of the background of this text. Here we find Jesus a few days away from the cross and He has just a few last teachings for his disciples, which He gives in the form of parables, short, memorable stories. They are fictional illustrations that convey a spiritual meaning. The parable I want to look at today is famously known as the Parable of the Talents. This parable is imbedded in this series where Jesus is describing what the Kingdom of God will look like, which follows His resurrection and departure and before His second coming. He is basically describing our time.
Let me tell you a little bit about the parable that precedes the one we are looking at, which has some bearing on how we interpret the parable we are in today. Immediately before this one, is the Parable of the Ten Virgins. There are ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the bridegroom to come pick them up to go to the wedding party. The bridegroom is greatly delayed and the bridesmaids are waiting for a long time. But when the bridegroom finally shows up, only five out of the ten are ready. But the five who were not ready were left behind.
The point of the parable is that in the church age, before Christ comes back, there will be people in the church who look like Christians. But on the inside, they lack saving faith. There will be false believers in the church, and that is a chilling message for us.
But if you were a disciple and you are listening to Jesus tell His parables, your next question might be, “How do I tell them apart?” Is there any way to know the genuine from the frauds. That is the point of our parable this morning. Jesus will tell us what sets apart the true believers from the frauds. And Jesus’ answer to this makes me uncomfortable because it forces me to evaluate my life according to the Scriptures. I think it might make some of you uncomfortable as well. But my prayer this morning is that you might humble yourselves before this text, no matter how difficult it may be.
Let’s read Matthew 25:14-30:
For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In order to give some structure to our narrative, I’ve broken up the parable into 3 acts which we’ll look at in order. Act 1 will be from verses 14-15, and I’ve entitled this “The Master Entrusts.” Let’s read Matthew 25:14 again:
For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
Now Jesus’ parables are metaphorical and this man who goes on a journey is clearly representing Himself. Jesus in just a few days will die on the cross, be resurrected, and go on a journey to depart for Heaven. The slaves are those who are in the professing church, and who are waiting for Jesus’ return. That’s you and me.
And the word slave is an accurate and Biblical way of describing our relationship with Jesus. This description is frequently used in the Bible. We are Jesus’ slaves because we have been bought with a price. That price was the blood of Jesus Christ. Each slave represents people in the visible church, but that’s not everything that is saved.
It’s just like the parable of the ten virgins where there were five ready and five not ready. These are people in the church, and could even be in our room today. The set up is that the Master is going on a long journey, but is leaving his wealth with his slaves. We can see this in Matthew 25:15:
To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
You may ask what a talent represents. In the vernacular of the age, it was a measure of weight. In this case it was in the weight of a precious metal, like silver or gold. Each represents about 75-100 pounds of silver or gold. This is an enormous amount of wealth, and it represents what a normal person would make working twenty years of wages. If you do the math from what we make today, then a single talent would be in the ballpark of a million dollars. So think that even the person who got only one talent, got a million bucks! This is an enormous sum of money.
Notice that the master is not giving these out in equal measure, but in proportions to the slaves’ abilities. In this parable, each slave has a different level of ability, and is a steward over an amount of talents that is proportional to that ability. This is not just a parable about money, and the context of this parable seems strange if it is indeed talking about money. It is best to understand the abilities here as the sum total of all the blessing that God has given you and me on this Earth.
Think through with me what these things are. These could be powers, privileges, and possessions. First, let’s talk about powers which could include the traditional meaning of the word talent. The English word talent was coined from this very parable. If you look up the word talent in a dictionary, it refers you to Matthew 25. Some of you are great at mechanical things, computers, music, art, writing, languages, or even the ability to make friends easily. Some of you can be born leaders with great personalities, or maybe you are great with kids. And of course we know that once we become Christians, we are given spiritual gifts as well. We each must thing about the talents that God gave us.
Secondly, we have privileges, the things we are born into. These include family connections, friends, and the love and nurturing of mothers. They can also be a supportive spouse and communities we are part of, health, physical strength, intelligence, personalities, and genetic makeup. We can also consider the country and time period we were born in, and the church we belong to. Think with me what are your own privileges from God.
And finally, we have possessions given from God. James 1:17 says:
Every good thing and perfect is from above.
These are physical blessings like money, homes, and vehicles, but also free time. Think through what are the powers, privileges, and possessions that God has given you. These things are unequally given out, and Jesus makes no apology for that. In our culture, the topic of the day is about privilege all the time and how unfair it is. I want you to notice that the lots given here are unequal as well and the slaves had no control over what they got, right? What they started out with was whatever God’s pleasure was to give.
Our culture seems to be concerned with what start out with. We will see in this parable that God is not nearly as concerned with what we start out with as what we do with that. Let’s see that from act 2 in our narrative. Remember that act one was that “The Master Entrusts.” Act 2 is verses 16-18 and is entitled “The Slaves Work.” Verse 16 says:
Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.
Clearly all the slaves know the scoop. They know that the master isn’t giving this money for the salves to spend on themselves. They get it to invest it. It’s still the master’s money and while he’s gone, the clear expectation is that his slaves would work hard and use their powers, privileges, and possessions to yield a return on the investment. Notice what the first slave does. It says that he immediately got to work.
An old pastor of mine used to say that delayed obedience is disobedience. But it is not so with this slave! This slave didn’t drag his feet or complain, he just got to work. Ask yourself this, when do you think this slave stopped working? Do you think that he just kind of placed a bet on the horse race or found the unicorn stalk and just kicked back until the master returned? Of course not, that would have been a perfect recipe for losing it all.
Instead, the text says that he traded and started businesses. Leveraging his five million in C capital, he bought his own businesses and set up the logistics, supply chain, assembly lines, hired employees, managed them, created value and marketing plans. This is not easy work, it’s a lot! This was a faithful slave working hard over a long period of time. The slave leveraged His God given powers and possessions to work hard from the moment his master left to the moment he returned. The result of his hard work is that he managed to double them master’s money from five talents to ten. That’s a hundred percent return for the master.
Let’s look at what the second slave did in verse 17, which says:
In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.
This slave went in the same manner, and immediately, eagerly, and faithfully doubled his master’s money from two million to four million. He had the same amount of hard work as the first slave over the same long period of time. And I want you to note carefully what this second slave didn’t do. He didn’t whine and complain that he received less than the first slave. He didn’t strike and demand that the first slave give him some of his money in the interest of fairness. This slave accepted the will of the master and simply got to work.
When we bring this back to our world, we have to ask this question. What would doubling our money look like for us and what is the return that Jesus is looking for? I think it’s actually very simple to understand. Jesus Himself comes right out and tells us what He wants before He leaves. He says in Matthew 28:19:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.
That is the return that Jesus is looking for. He wants you to make disciples; it’s not money He is looking for. That’s the Master’s order to us, that we are to enlarge His Kingdom by making disciples. In this verse Jesus told us that there are two ways to enlarge His Kingdom. You can enlarge it’s breadth and evangelize and bring people in or you can enlarge the depth by teaching and growing the disciples that are already there.
So what does this look like in practice? Well of course first you should be sharing the gospel, ideally you should be discipling people on an individual basis. And mothers, as it is Mother’s Day, are called to do this with their own children. Have you been doing that?
The second thing you can do is to serve in the church because discipleship and evangelism after all is what we do here as a team. By serving in the church, you participate as an important part of the church’s overall mission of evangelism and discipleship. God sees all of that.
For example, those who serve in the nursery are enabling other people to be in the service to be discipled and hear the gospel without distraction. Those who host home groups, set up chairs, or prepare food are providing a venue in which evangelism and discipleship can take place. So my point is that whether you evangelize, disciple, or serve in the church, if you faithfully put in hard work over a long period of time, you yield a return for your Master. That’s the kind of return He is looking for.
But now we have to look at the third slave in verse 18:
But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
The first thing to notice from this text is that the third slave went away whereas the others immediately got to work. This most likely means that he went away from the other disciples. It’s like that the first two disciples were working together, helping each other, and trading ideas. After all they shared the same master and the same passions and goals. But the third slave isn’t interested in that; instead he buries his master’s money and walks away.
So then who does this slave represent? This would be the professing Christian who does not participate in the Great Commission in any meaningful way. He’s taken the powers, privileges, and possessions that God has given him and buried it in the ground for all the good that it does Jesus. This is a person that says the right things and calls Jesus Lord and Master. But the truth is that he is not interested in serving his master at all. Looking at his life you might observe that the bulk of his time, energy, and interests really goes towards his own pursuits, leisure, and entertainment. He’s checked out. The question is will he get away with it. We’ll see in the next act.
In the first act, we see that the Master entrusts. In the second act we see that the slaves get to work. And in this last act, I’ve called it “The Master Returns.” Matthew 25:19-20 says:
Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’
See the master is back and he wants his money. He wants to see whether his investment has paid off. So the first slave comes up and acknowledges the source of his blessing. He rightfully understands that his talents were entrusted to him by the master, so that he could do his work. We can see the excitement in his words, as he delivers a good return to his master. This slave has worked hard, his conscience is clear, he’s fought the good fight and finished the race. The master looks at him and says to the slave the words every Christian longs to hear, it says in verse 23:
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Why does the master call the slave good? Because he loved the master and demonstrated his love through his immediate and faithful weakness. And his concern all the time that the master was away was for the master’s interests. He was faithful because he did this consistently over a long period of time. So let me ask you now, by this definition can you expect to hear the words, “Well done good and faithful slave?”
I think in our culture we have been lulled into thinking that our God demands little of us and has low expectations. We are not often told that God requires from us hard work and continual devotion. It’s not just in your private battle against sin and in your personal study of the word, but in working with the powers, privileges, and possessions that the Master has given to you to yield a return.
This slave did phenomenally well and we see that the master will give him two rewards. The first reward is a promotion in the next world. Your reward in the eternal Kingdom of Heaven will be a greater level of responsibility. If you are wondering how work in Heaven is a reward, let me tell you that it will be because God is a creative God and you are a creative being who is made to work. But it won’t be the frustrating, dangerous, or tedious work of here on Earth. It will be an engaging, creative, satisfying, productive, exciting work that will give your life deep purpose and fulfillment. And the more of that type work you do, the more joyful you will be. The more faithful you are here on Earth, the more you will receive in the life to come.
Five million dollars is a lot to pretty much any one of us. But the master dismisses that as a few things and declares that the slave will be put in charge of many things, huge amounts of responsibility and joy. The second reward we see is that he tells his slave to enter into the joy of his master.
This reward is to to share in the joy of the Master. You need to understand how shocking of a sentence this is. You don’t just say this to a slave. A reasonable reward to a slave might be new clothes, a few extra days off, etc. The slave is just doing his job. But the master here throws open the doors of his mansion and tells the slave to enter freely. All he has is the slave’s and says to him, “Relax on the couch, put your feet up on the furniture, eat the food in the fridge. All of my joy is now your joy.”
You think that God is the most joyful Being in the universe; just think about how that joy can be yours. No sane master would do this, just give his slave his entire fortune. This reward is wildly out of proportion to what the slave actually provided for the master right? Five million is a lot to us but is comparably nothing for the master. And for the slave’s faithfulness, the master gives him billions. This is actually describing Heaven.
Now let’s look at the second servant’s reward, in verse 22:
Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’
It’s the same thing happening here. Remember that the slave is bringing less talents than the first slave. The first slave brought in five million dollars whereas this slave is only bringing two million. Is the master going to be angry? Let’s see what it says in verse 23:
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
Now did you notice the difference between the second slave’s reward and the first one? There is no difference between the rewards because God doesn’t have unreasonable expectations, just high ones. He fully knows what He gave you to start. And He is only asking for results from you in proportion to the initial investment.
So it boils down to this; if you’re the two talent guy, you don’t have to compare yourself to the five talent guy. If you’re faithful with what you got, then you will get the exact same reward as Pastor Babij or John MacArthur, or whoever you look up to as the heroes of the faith. Similarly, if you are the five talent guy you’d better not compare yourself against the two talent guy and declare that you’re doing pretty well. You’d better deliver those five talents for God because Luke 12:48 says:
For everyone who has been given much, much has been required.
God expects from each of us a return proportional to what He has given us individually. To put it another way, we can say “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s not from the Bible, that’s from SpiderMan. That one’s for free.
Okay but what about the one talent slave? Well maybe he should just get a pass since he didn’t start out with much. In verse 24 it says:
And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
Okay so this is not a good start for the slave. He kind knows he is in trouble and he has seen that the other two slaves deliver their returns in comparison to what he says. Here are the rationalizations. First he calls his master a hard man, a demanding, unreasonable, unrewarding, harsh, and unyielding man. The kind of man that mistreats his workers. This slave accuses the master of unjustly profiting on the back of others. This master sits idly by as others do all the work and then swoops in at the last moment to take all the profit.
I think we’re hearing an incredible amount of resentment in these words. The slave is asking why he should spend his time and life, and risking it, to enlarge the master’s kingdom. This slave has forgotten the love and the generosity of the master. On top of that, he has forgotten his own identity of a slave that was bought with a price. What good is a slave that won’t work? But he continues in verse 25:
‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
The slave was afraid, which means he has no love for his master. 1 John 4:18 says:
Perfect love casts out fear.
The slave tells the master that it is his fault he has no return. If only the master weren’t such a hard, unyielding, unreasonable man. He is so bold as to say to him, “You’re the one who owes me the apology.”
I think the slave thought the master would accept him anyway; he presumed on the kindness of the master. There is no hint of an actual apology here anyway. It’s all excuses, bitterness, and insults. Let’s see how the master responds in verse 26-27:
But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.’
This is exactly the opposite of being good and faithful. The slave has no love for the master and he is lazy because while the other slaves were working hard, this one just sat off to the side. Maybe the one talent slave saw the five and two talent slaves off to the side working hard and just said, “They got this, I’ll leave it to the pros. Why tire myself out if they are willing to do the work.”
The master owns up to what the slave said. He does reap where he does not sow, and gathers where he scatters no seed. That is how the master works. That is how the Kingdom of God grows. The harvest of disciples is won entirely through us who evangelize, disciple and serve in the church. Jesus isn’t here in person doing those things, He has delegated that task to you.
But here is the real problem. It’s not that the slave was afraid, it’s that he was not nearly afraid enough. Because if he was truly afraid, the slave would have at least put the money in the bank. He wouldn’t have had to do anything because it just sits there. And the master would have at least had some interest. The slave’s problem isn’t fear, it is wickedness, selfishness, and laziness. We see that this is the heart of every false professing Christian.
Now what will the master do with such a person? Just like in the other slaves’ cases, he gives out two punishments. In verse 28-29 it says:
‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.’
Do you see how this is the opposite from what happened to the first two servants? They were given unimaginable wealth on top of what they have. On the other hand, what little this guy had was taken away. This is the counterintuitive and almost disturbing truth of how the Kingdom of God works. Those who are faithful have shown themselves to be faithful, receive rewards and responsibilities in this life and the next. And remember that responsibilities in this context means joy. But to the lazy and wicked, they will not have any responsibility or fulfillment in the life to come at all. Look at the second punishment in verse 30:
Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I don’t think the slave expected this. This is hell. This is how Matthew describes hell: a place of conscious, eternal torment, filled only with sorrow, regret, and pain. The wicked slave, despite calling the Lord Master, was never really saved. A slave who won’t work isn’t a slave at all. And from Jesus’ own mouth, the slave that won’t work is considered worthless.
I just want to pause a second and make sure that you understand we aren’t talking about working our way to salvation. Getting into God’s Kingdom is only through grace and faith in Jesus Christ. But it’s also true that those who are truly saved will be changed. They will changed from being slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness. If you’re not that, you’re either one or the other. And if you’re not slaves of righteousness, Jesus says your worthless.
So how can we tell a true believer from a false one? True Christians will serve their Master, working faithfully and well according to their giftedness, powers, privileges, and possessions. They will make disciples and build God’s Kingdom. This is why the church here should never be lacking for people to serve. We should never have trouble staffing the kids’ ministries, getting rides for people, or in the kitchen. These are your opportunities, oh slaves of Christ, to yield a return for your Master!
So what about you? Be honest with yourself. A few minutes ago I asked you to think about where your powers, privileges, and possessions are. And now I want you to honestly assess what is God’s return on an investment in you. There’s one last thing I want to show you this morning.
Some of you might be asking why Jesus is so concerned with His investment performance. I want to show you something that might shed some light on that. Look again at Matthew 25:14. Look at the word entrusts. Turn back to Matthew 11:27, which says:
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
That phrase for handed over is the same as the word for entrusts. It was the Father that first entrusted Jesus and then He turns around and entrusts that to us. Now it’s not over. We saw at the end that Christ will come calling for what He entrusted to us, He’s going to come for His return. Now turn to 1 Corinthians 5:24, where it says:
Then comes the end when he hands over the Kingdom to the God and Father.
So I want you to see the progression here. The Father entrusts all things to Christ. Christ is then entrusting this to you. You yield a return, return it to Christ, and then Christ hands it over to His Father as a gift. Today is Mother’s Day and maybe some of the kids made a card for their mother. We do that because we want to show our mothers how much we love and appreciate them. Would we want to give our mothers a gift that is worn out and tattered and broken? Of course not, we want to give them the best of what we can produce because that is what they deserve.
See that Jesus is preparing a gift too, one for His Father. He is letting you participate in the making of that gift. He’s giving you a part in that and He wants you to make the best gift for His Father that we can make. Those of us that do so faithfully will one day hear the words, “Well done good and faithful slave.”
Let’s pray. Father as we close today we acknowledge that we are slaves of Jesus Christ. But of course we can only rightly call ourselves slaves of Christ if we work to serve Christ and His interests. There will be a time in the future where we will be called to steward what God invested in us. I pray that we will all be able to give you a hundred percent return on Your investment in us. While we look forward eagerly to Your return, help us to know what it means to serve You faithfully with all our hearts, even here at Calvary to yield for You a harvest of disciples. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.