Don Carson | The Parable of The Bag of Gold

– [Dr. D.A. Carson] In this second
session, instead of dealing with why Jesus told parables, and with a fairly complex
set of theological structures within the canon, I’m going to focus on
just one parable. It’s found in Matthew 25:14-30. It’s often called the
Parable of the Talents. And I should warn the few of you who may
have been here yesterday, for the three sermons that I preached here
yesterday, I should warn you that I’m going to overlap for about 10 minutes with
some things I said yesterday as well. But for those of you who weren’t here
yesterday, you’ll never know, will you? I’m reading from the 2011NIV. It has two or three surprising renderings
in it that may raise your eyebrows at first, but I’ll comment on them when we
get to the text in more detail. “Again,” 25:14, “it,” that is the kingdom
of heaven. “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven will be like
a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his
wealth to them. To one, he gave five bags of gold,
to another two bags, and to another one bag,
each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold
went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also the one with two bags of gold
gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went
off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money. After a long time, the master of those
servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold
brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with
five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 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.’
The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with
two bags of gold. See, I have gained two more.’ 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.’
Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a
hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not
scattered seed. So, I was afraid and went out and hid your
gold in the ground. See, here’s what belongs to you.’ His
master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant. So you knew that I harvest where I have
not sown and gathered 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. So take the bag of gold from him and give
it to the one who has 10 bags. For whoever has will be given more,
and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have,
even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside
into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” This is
the word of the Lord. Let us pray. So grant, we beseech you that the words of
my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts may be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. For Jesus’ sake, amen. I wonder how many different kinds of
waiting there are in the world. My son was born big and hungry. He is still big and hungry. When he was three or four,
whenever we got close to a meal time, he was mommy’s little shadow following her
absolutely everywhere she went, especially if it was anywhere near the
kitchen. But since my wife belonged to the old
school, which didn’t give endless little snacks before a meal fearing it might
spoil a child’s appetite, though I’m not sure you could ever spoil
his appetite, she didn’t provide any snacks before a meal. And so, Nicholas remain hungry and
followed her around. And she would say things like, “Nicholas,
it’s only 10 minutes. It’s only 10 minutes,” but try to convey
the notion of deferred gratification to a three or four-year-old. They have no idea what 10 minutes means. It just means, “I’m hungry,” and what they
want is something now. Meanwhile, at the same time,
I might well have been in my study, noting at my watch that lunch was just 10
minutes away. And I was desperate to finish writing a
paragraph that I’ve been struggling over for some time, and I finally had all
the pieces in my head. And knew what I was going to say,
and hoping for dear life that my favorite wife would not call lunchtime too soon. Because if I had to start over again
without having finished the paragraph, then it would take a lot longer to pick up
all the pieces again and put them in decent array. Same 10 minutes. For me, those minutes were flashing by. For starving Nicholas,
they were dragging on and on and on. Quite different kinds of waiting. There’s the waiting for the sun to go down
as you sit with your beloved, facing the west and watching the beauty,
and hoping it will never end. The waiting for the nausea of a round of
chemotherapy to end. Waiting for a beloved one to die. Waiting for the worst of the grief to pass
afterwards. Waiting for exam results. So many different kinds of waitings with
such different associations connected with them. So the question that is asked in
Matthew 24 and 25 is this, how do you wait for Jesus? In Matthew 24:1-35. Jesus gives us a whole lot of instruction
regarding his return. Now, those verses, as everyone knows,
are very condensed. How you put them together is disputed. The main lines of thought can easily be
discerned, but these are difficult verses. Nevertheless, we all recognize that they
have to do with Jesus’ return and the end of the age. But from 36 on, you’re no longer dealing
directly with the content of his return, but with instruction about how to wait for
that return. So from halfway through Chapter 24,
all the way through to Chapter 25, to the end of Chapter 25,
were given instructions on how to wait for Jesus. So half a chapter given to the return of
Christ, and a chapter and a half given to how to wait for the return of
Christ once you understand that Christ is returning. And a lot of this material is in parabolic
form, either parabolic in simple comparison or narrative parables. And it’s worth following the thrust of
this rather briefly before we come to our own. In each case, the next parable advances
the argument a bit. It picks up something of what the previous
parable or parables have said, and then shows us another nuance,
another element of what it means to wait for Jesus. So this is how you wait for Jesus. Number one, wait for the Lord Jesus as
those who do not wish to be surprised by their master’s return. Chapter 24:36-44, “But about that day or
hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the sun,
but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood,
people were eating, and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the
day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing about what would
happen until the flood came and took them all away.” This is how it will be at the coming of
the Son of Man. Now, notice the comparison between Noah’s
day and ours is not the degree of wickedness. The comparison is normalcy. It’s not that Jesus is denying the degrees
of wickedness in Noah’s day, it’s simply not his point here. The point is that in Noah’s day,
despite the fact that no one was building the boat, Noah was building the boat,
no one was believing that he was wise or sensible. He was just an eccentric, an idiot. And even though he is called a preacher of
righteousness in Hebrews, at the end of the day,
he was completely unbelieved. So, life continued with weddings,
and baby showers, and picnics, and summer holidays, and funerals. Life went on. And that’s what Jesus says it will be like
just before he returns. There will be a degree of normalcy. There will no doubt be wars and rumors of
wars, but those happen all the time in any case too. But there will also be normal things like
graduating, and having a baby, having a wedding, and birthday parties,
and family celebrations. The point is that we are to be ready for
the return of the Lord because there will not be the kinds of signs that will put a
question mark over normalcy. Normalcy will still prevail. And then lest we miss the point,
two men will be in the field one will be taken and the other left. In the nature of first century farming,
these are likely to have been either father and son or two brothers. And one is taken, whether taken away,
raptured, removed, or taken in judgment, it doesn’t really make any difference. The point here is the division between
them is absolute all the way down to the family level. One’s ready and one’s not. But it’s not just for the men. Two women will be grinding with a hand
mill, one will be taken and the other left. And the nature of the case,
these are likely to be two sisters or a mother-daughter. Instead of one of those great big mills
pulled around by an ox. Instead, this is a handmill with a base
rock, another rock on top with a hole in the middle into which you poured your
seed and a stick sticking out the side. The two women squat on the other side of
this mill, and one pulls the stick around 180 degrees and the other one pulls
it around the other 180 degrees, and the first one pulls around 180
degrees. You keep pouring in seed and you get your
flour coming out the bottom. And one is taken and the other is not. That’s how sudden, how quick,
how irreversible it will be. And the point is, therefore, be ready. Hence, Verse 42, “Therefore,
keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Wait for the Lord Jesus as stewards as
those who do not wish to be surprised by the master’s return. And then there’s even another analogy that
is outlined for us to make the same point. “Understand this, if the owner of the
house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch
and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready because the
Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Now, Jesus is not comparing the ethics of
the burglar with the ethics of the Son of Man. In an analogy, there are only certain
points that are parallel. This turns out to be an important
preparatory point for our own parable. Note it well. This is not
recommending burglary or presupposing that
burglary is a good thing, but one of the things that happens in a
burglary is that it happens when you’re unprepared for it. I’ve only been burglarized once,
and I wasn’t prepared. If I had been prepared,
I guarantee you it would have turned out a very different way. And that is the very nature of being
surprised by a burglary. So the suddenness of being burglarized
when you’re unprepared is likened to the suddenness of Jesus’ return. It’s unexpected. Therefore you need to be prepared all the
time. So that’s the first way to wait. Wait for the Lord Jesus as those who do
not wish to be surprised by the master’s return. Second, Verses 45 to 51,
wait for the Lord Jesus as stewards who must give an account of their service,
faithful or otherwise. Wait for the Lord Jesus as stewards who
must give an account of their service, faithful or otherwise. Verse 45, “Who then is the faithful and
wise servant whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household
to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose
master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly, I tell you, he will put him in
charge of all his possessions.” Now, that is anticipating something of
what goes on in the Parable of the Talents too. Those who are faithful here are put in
charge of more later. You find that many of these parables are
linked. They anticipate forward,
or they begin to look backward. Truly I tell you, he will put him in
charge of all his possessions. “But supposing that servant is wicked and
says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to
beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards? The master of that servant will come on a
day when he does not expect him.” That’s harking back to the previous one. Do you see? Each parable picks up previous lessons and
then expands them a little further. “He will come at a time on a day when he
does not expect him at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a
place with the hypocrites where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In other words, wait for the Lord Jesus as
stewards who must give an account of their service, faithful or otherwise. Undoubtedly, this suggests that there will
be many ministers of the gospel, so called. People who are widely accepted as stewards
in charge of others, who nevertheless have been exploitative,
manipulative, unfaithful and who are rejected on the last day. They mishandled the truth. Jesus can speak of some who build poorly. The Apostle Paul can speak of some who
builds poorly in 1 Corinthians 3 as those who are saveth so as by fire. But all that they build is like wood, hay,
stubble, just burned up on the last day. Nothing to show for it. Some people build churches that way. They’re not real conversions. There’s not a real spirit unction. It’s all built on the power of
personality, and decent corporate singing, and smooth organization. But where the gospel actually takes hold,
you’re building something that goes into eternity. But it is possible to build with really
shoddy materials, or it’s possible to become manipulative, and cruel,
and exploitative. And God will hold people to account for
that sort of thing. Those who seem to be stewards,
because they are in charge, may turn out, on the last day, to be cast into outer
darkness, we’re told, where there’s weeping, and wailing,
and gnashing of teeth. In other words, we’re not just waiting. We’re waiting, even as we acknowledge that
we will have to give an account of our service. That’s how we are to wait. Wait for the Lord Jesus as stewards who
must give an account of their service, faithful or otherwise. Number three, wait for the Lord Jesus as
those who know the master’s coming may be long delayed. Wait for the Lord Jesus as those who know
the master’s coming may be long-delayed, 25:1-13. This, of course, is the
Parable of the Ten Virgins. And to understand this parable,
it is essential to know something of first-century wedding practices. It was not uncommon in village life in the
first century for a preliminary ceremony to take place in the bride’s home,
which would either be her older brother’s home, or her father’s home,
or the like. And this would be for the families,
the immediate kin, perhaps the closest friends. It would not be the official
seminary…seminary. You can see that I’ve been corrupted by my
past, ceremony. It would not be the official ceremony,
but it would be the sort of preliminary. And then once this preliminary was over,
there would be a procession through the streets. And those who were actually invited to the
ceremony proper would join in in the streets and eventually get to the groom’s
place. And the groom’s place was where the
ceremony proper began. And if the groom were pretty poor,
then it wouldn’t last more than a day. It would be outside the house and inside
the house and that sort of thing. If, on the other hand,
the groom were posh and had a little bit of money, then he might live in a gated
community, and his house might have a walled compound around it with a gate. And the ceremony, in this case,
might go on for an entire week. And it was the responsibility,
not of the bride’s parents to pay for things as in most weddings today,
but it was the responsibility instead of the groom,
which was why most men didn’t get married
until they were a little older. They had to put together enough money to
actually pull this off. So, this was all done at the groom’s
place. But because nobody wore wristwatches,
nobody was locking their computer onto an atomic clock to make sure that
they were right down to the last millisecond, therefore,
the time was more like what is sometimes referred to, in the continent of Africa,
as African time. I have some friends who don’t like the
expression. But if you’ve lived there long enough,
you understand what it means. And so, you might expect the procession
through the street to start at 7:00 at night or 8:00 at night after a nice
meal or whatever. But, in fact, it could go very much later,
and nobody’s going to be too surprised. So those who were supposed to join in in
the procession, they’re waiting along the route, and it gets dark. The sun’s going on down,
so they have their torches with them. And their torches are fed by little bags
of oil, and then they carry some extra oil in other little oil-proof pouches that
they use, or little flasks to fill up the torch so that the torch can keep burning. And it’s almost a badge of entry. Do you see? They belong to the procession. They’re waiting. They’re not crashing the party,
they’re waiting as invited guests. But eventually, the procession comes,
and it’s already midnight, much later than everybody thought. Meanwhile, these virgins,
who have obviously been invited to the wedding party, have fallen asleep. There’s nothing of mischief in that. There is no hint in the text that this was
wicked on their part. What else do you expect them to do? This thing has gone on for a long time. Both the good virgins and the bad virgins,
both slept. That’s not part of the symbolism. Moreover, those who try to make the oil to
be symbolic of grace, or the gift of the Holy Spirit,
or sufficient good works, or the like, again, that’s not the point either. There’s no hint in the text to support
such symbolism. Rather, the whole point turns on one
detail. The wise ones have extra oil and
anticipate the possibility of long delay. The foolish ones don’t have extra oil,
and the long delay catches them out. So you know what happens. The foolish ones have to trot off into
town to get some more oil. All the shops are closed. It’s midnight, for goodness’ sake. So they knock up some poor shopkeeper,
waking him up, getting him out of bed and finally bang on his door enough that he
concedes, and he comes down, and he opens up the shop,
and he pours them out some oil. And then they go back to try to get in
line again, and they discover now that the entire party has gone into the walled
compound. The gates are shut, and they’re left out. What’s the point? Wait for the Lord Jesus,
as those who know the master’s coming may be long delayed. In other words, if you were dead certain,
and rightly dead certain that Christ were coming back in six months,
you would act very differently than if you were pretty certain he wasn’t coming back
for another 200 years. Even if you’re a devout and faithful
Christian, you will act differently. If he’s coming back in six months,
then the aim is to get as many people converted as possible,
and people living faithfully as unto the Lord before he comes back,
the judge of the living and the dead. If, on the other hand,
he’s not coming back for at least 200 years, then you’re going to begin to
think institutionally. How do you pass this on to the next
generation? Do we need some Bible colleges or
seminaries to help train people for the next generation of ministry? You begin to think institutionally. Do you see? And so there are lots of strands of
evidence in the New Testament that warn you that Christ’s coming may be long
delayed. A thousand years with the Lord is like a
day in His sight. Peter reminds us in his first epistle,
and so also here. Wait for the Lord Jesus as those who know
the master’s coming may be long delayed. We don’t know when he’s coming,
but we don’t know when he’s not. So, we have to be ready. But it may be long delayed. And then we come to our parable. And after our parable,
there’s one more that I’m not going to touch on now. I touched on it in one of the sessions
yesterday. So if you want to find out more about the
Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, then you can look at the series once it
circulates. For our purposes, however,
we come to what is often called the Parable of the Talents, Verses 14 to 30. Let me tell you what the point is,
and then we’ll unpack it in some detail. Wait for the Lord Jesus as slaves
commissioned to improve their master’s assets. Wait for the Lord Jesus as slaves
commissioned to improve their master’s assets. Now, there are several details in this
parable that we need to understand to make sense of the parable. The first concerns the word “talent.” This has traditionally been called the
Parable of the Talents because the Greek word used is talenton,
and it just seemed the easiest way to render that as talent. But anyone who has checked knows that a
talenton in Greek is a unit of weight, especially weight of measuring money. Some earlier NIV’s have, in the footnote,
“Worth more than $1,000.” With all due respect,
that’s called underestimation. A denarius was worth about one day’s pay
for a blue-collar worker. A talenton was the equivalent of 6,000
denarii, that is, about 20 years of wages for a working man. Now, what that looks like depends on where
you are in the country, but let’s say $800,000 to $1 million,
something of that order. A lot of money. And that’s if it’s silver. If it’s a talenton of gold,
then it is worth a lot more than that, millions, and millions, and millions. Each bag of gold is worth that amount of
money. And that’s why the NIV 2011 actually calls
this the Parable of the Bags of Gold. And that’s the way you need to understand
it in the context, that is, it’s a story about investing money and
acting responsibly with respect to it. Now, its application in life covers more
than money, but the story itself is of a talenton, not a talent. That’s the first thing that needs to be
understood. The second detail that needs to be
understood is that these are slaves, not servants. Now, the reason why we need to understand
that will become obvious in a few minutes. But you cannot make sense of this parable
if you think that these people to whom the money has been assigned are union workers
or personal servants. They are slaves, or else the story makes
no sense. But this no more justifies slavery
than the earlier parable about burglars justifies burglary. There is an appeal, in other words,
to a certain social convention at the time in order to draw an analogy. We’ll see what that is in due course. But right through this parable,
you must think slaves or, in due course, you’ll get caught out,
and you won’t be able to make sense of it. So now let’s follow the line just a wee
bit. The Kingdom of Heaven will be like a man
going on a journey who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. “To one, he gave five bags of gold,
to another two bags, and to another one bag,
each according to his ability.” In other words, the master himself makes
an assessment of each slave’s potential. And here, it’s worth reminding ourselves
that slavery in the first century as an institution was a good deal more
complex than the slavery in this country. In this country, all black men and women
initially, and only black men and women initially, were slaves. There were no white slaves. And they had all become slaves, initially,
by being captured on the west coast of Africa, either by whites or by other
black tribes, who captured them and sold them to the whites and then transported
across the Atlantic. So slavery, in other words,
was inevitably tied to blackness. It was ethnocentric. It was tied to a particular race,
and it was all by capturing human beings and transporting them initially. But in the Roman world,
it wasn’t like that. In the Roman world, there were black
slaves from Africa, and there were black free men from Africa,
and there were black nobles from Africa. There were also Italian slaves and Italian
free men and Italian nobles. There were English slaves and English
nobles and English free men. There were Jewish slaves and Jewish free
men and Jewish nobles. So although slavery was statistically far,
far, far more common than it ever was in America, yet, nevertheless,
it was not ethnocentric the way it was in America. Moreover, slavery in the Roman world could
be brought about for many different reasons. Often, it was because of military
skirmishes, or the takeover of another parcel of land by the Roman legions,
and some of the people were captured and brought back as slaves. But sometimes it happened,
because there were no bankruptcy laws. There was no Chapter 11,
there was no Chapter 13. So if you borrow a whole lot of money
because the economy’s looking pretty good, and you’re going to invest it and make
some money, and then the economy goes belly up, and you lose it all,
you have no recourse but to sell yourself and perhaps your family as slaves. So, as a result thus,
some slaves were brought about because of economic hard times,
rather than because of military captivity, or a raiding party,
or something like that. That also meant that sometimes slaves were
very gifted and educated people. Now, many worked, of course,
many worked in the fields, or did the potatoes,
or cleaned the latrines or whatever. Slavery is never nice. And inevitably, slaves are going to do
most of the Joe jobs. It’s just the way it’s going to be. But, on the other hand,
if you are a business person, and really quite gifted and then lost the
money, maybe even through no fault of your own, and became a slave to
somebody, then you might actually become a slave who was your owner’s business
manager. And suddenly, you could have slaves who
had more education, more financial acumen than the masters themselves. And thus, in this parable,
the master is making an assessment of each slave’s ability, what could they do? How would they handle a million bucks? Or if it’s gold, how would they handle 20
million bucks in a bag of gold? Or 100 million? How would they handle that? I’ll make an assessment. And he distributes his wealth according to
his assessment of their individual abilities. Do you see? That’s the picture you must have in your
mind, and they’re slaves. Then we’re told he went on a journey. The man who had received five bags of gold
went at once, there’s a certain alert commitment to get going on this
assignment, and put his money to work and gained five bags more. Now, you must understand there was no
NASDAQ, there was no FTSE Index, there was no Dow, there was no
stock market. All of those things are much later
inventions. So when we are told he put the money to
work, this means that he had to go and buy a farm, or buy a fishing smack,
or buy a bakery, or make one and gradually hire people and get a business going. In other words, this was not somebody
sitting on the side investing in the right channels. But rather, this is putting the money to
work in investment, in building companies and structures. And if it’s the kind of money we’re
thinking of, millions, and millions, and millions, it’s not easy to invest
millions, and millions, and millions, and millions in a whole lot of little
companies. It’s not as if you have 100 million and
dump it all into Ford, or GM, or something like that. There are no businesses of that size. In ancient Israel, this would be picking
up a little company here, and a farm over there,
and a dairy herd over here, and so on. Do you see? And this would take a lot of hard work and
overseeing the whole thing, but that’s what he does. He sets out and with this money, well,
he puts it to work, and he gains five bags more. So, also, the one with two bags of gold
gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went
off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money. Now, that’s the setup for what happens
next. “After a long time,” what is this phrase
doing? It’s harking back to the previous parable. It’s reminding you that the master’s
return may be long delayed. Do you see? We don’t know. But in, each case, each parable harks back
and picks up one or more points from the previous parables. “After a long delay, after a long time,
the master of those servants returned, the master of those slaves returned and
settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold
brought the other five. “Master, he said, “you entrusted me with
five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.” Do you not detect a certain gentle pride
in his success? He’s worked hard. He’s doubled the capital. And there’s a certain pride in his
success, slave or no. But the really astonishing thing is what
the master says. There are two elements of what the master
says that are utterly astonishing. They break all notions of slavery. “Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful with a few things,
I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” So when you move outside the parabolic
world, this is suggesting then that when Jesus returns, those who have been
faithful with a few things here, over there are going to have much more
work and much more responsibility. Indeed, the language is stunning. This is a talenton, at least of silver,
maybe of gold. This man has been entrusted with millions,
and millions, and millions, and millions, and millions, and millions. And now the master refers to it,
“You’ve been entrusted with a few scraps,” which suggests the unimaginable wealth of
this master. And now I’m going to give you a real job. “You’ve only had 100 million to work with,
now I’m going to give you a real job,” which ought to remind us that the images
of what resurrection existence in the new heaven and the new earth will be like are
very varied. We are not to reduce existence in the new
heaven and the new earth to sitting on puffy clouds in white nightgowns
strumming harps. Sometimes it’s pictured as 10,000 times
10,000 around the throne and spectacular orchestral arrangements,
singing the praises of Him who sits on the throne and the lamb. Sometimes it’s pictured as rest. Sometimes here it’s pictured as work in
which presumably you’re growing, and investing, and training,
and building toward the future. I see no reason to think of the new
heavens and the new earth as being static and flat. I wonder how much we’ll grow in the first
billion years or so. And then there are other pictures that
anticipate the new heaven and the new earth as belonging to a city with the
water of the throne of God coming out, providing eternal life to all who drink
from it with the trees of life on both sides of the river. And regularly, we see that it’s
resurrection existence with a resurrection body like Christ’s resurrection body. Do you see? The images are right at the very edge of
our periphery of understanding and envisioning. But don’t forget this component of that
vision, hard work, but fun, responsibility, joy, pleasure. And if we take Revelation 21 and 22
seriously, no tiredness, no fatigue, no sin, no jealousy, no one-upmanship,
people working hard and enjoying it. But the second element of what the master
says to the slave is perhaps even more startling. He says, “Come and share your master’s
happiness.” That’s just not what masters say to
slaves. Doesn’t matter whether it’s American
slaves, or Roman slaves, or slaves in ancient China,
or anywhere else. There’s not a major civilization in the
world that hasn’t had slaves until the 19th century. And, in all of them,
the master does not say to slaves, “Come and share your master’s happiness.” What he says is, “I’ve just got home,
fix me my supper. Bring me my slippers. You can have your supper after you’ve
served me.” Isn’t that what the slaves say? The slaves go and fetch. They do what they’re supposed to do. They serve the master. The master’s happiness is preeminent. Their job is to make the master happy. But not with this master,
this master says, “Come and share your master’s happiness.” There there’s a different dynamic. For, in truth, in the New Testament,
Christians are regularly conceived of as slaves of Christ. In the New Testament,
you’re either a slave to sin or you’re a slave to Christ. You’re either a slave to yourself or
you’re a slave to Christ. But the irony is that when you’re a slave
to Christ, you become truly a free person. If the son shall make you free,
then you are free indeed. But the same apostle who writes that
insists that we are slaves, slaves to Christ. In fact, slavery to Christ is one of the
most common images in the Pauline letters for genuine devotion to Christ,
for faithful discipleship to Christ. And most of our English translations
duck it and use servant instead precisely because slavery has such bad associations
in American history that we soften it and use the word servant instead. I can understand why they do that. But the word is still slave. Every time you find doulos and your Greek
New Testament, it means slave and nothing else. Never has meant anything else,
never will mean anything else. It means slave. And, in this parable,
as we’ll see in a moment, you can’t change it to servant,
it won’t make sense. Just hang in there. So the second slave comes,
he has been entrusted with huge amount, but not quite as much as the first
according to the master’s assessment of his ability. He comes and he says the same thing. The parable is structured somewhat
artificially on purpose. And what he does is double the amount as
the first one, doubled the amount, but it’s a smaller amount,
which shows that there’s extra difficulty in doubling the amount when it’s a huge
amount. Do you see? So we were right in seeing that part of
the challenge was, how do you invest profitably so much money as all of this? This man has a smaller amount,
but still a fantastic amount of money for the first century. “See, you entrusted me with two bags of
gold, I have gained two more.” He’s doubled the amount. And his master replies to him with exactly
the same words as used in addressing the first, and still with the same two
shocking themes, “Well done, good and faithful slave. You have been faithful with a few things,
I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Then the man who had received one bag of
gold came, “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man,
harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered
seed. So I was afraid, and went out and hid your
gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” Now, if you think of this man as a servant
who can resign his post if he wants to and take employment somewhere else,
or a union laborer who has the right to withdraw his work, he has the right,
then what he says, in fact, has a certain kind of sense to it. You begin to have a certain kind of
sympathy for him. The charge leveled by this man against the
master is that the master is exploitative, grasping, and using the labor of others
for his own advantage, perhaps even putting the man in an
invidious position. Supposing this man takes the $1 million if
it’s silver, or maybe $15 or $20 million if its gold, and invests it and proves to
be successful? Who owns it when he’s finished? The master. He gets nothing from it. He doesn’t own any of it. Supposing instead, he invests it,
and then the market goes belly up? You have two or three years of drought in
an agricultural economy. What happens then? Well, then he’s got nothing to show for
it. He’s lost the capital. And if he fails, in some sense,
he’s still held accountable. So he thinks to himself,
“I withdraw my labor. I withdraw my services. I’ll just bury it in the ground.” So we begin to feel a certain amount of
sympathy for him. But what he overlooks is that in this
story, he’s not a union laborer or a servant. He’s a slave. Again, this does not justify slavery as an
institution, but it’s the only thing that makes sense of the analogy. As a slave, he is supposed to do what he’s
told. He has been entrusted with this money and
committed, commanded to actually invest it in a certain way. That is what he is supposed to do. And the slave master has the right
actually to execute him if it turns out that he is unfaithful or runs away. Now, again, this is no more justifying
slavery than the earlier parable justified burglary. But nevertheless, that’s the analogy that
is used. That is the relationship,
the nature of the relationship between the master and the slave. It turns out that this master is an
astonishingly generous master. Look what he does with the first two. But this man is, in fact,
wicked and lazy, because he does not obey as he ought as a slave. He does not take any risks or any chance. He does not look after his master’s
assets. That’s his job. His job is to improve his master’s assets. That’s what he is there for. That’s what he exists for. So the master replies, “You wicked,
lazy slave. If your reasoning were right,” he says to
the slave, “if your reasoning were right, and you know that I harvest where I have
not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed, doesn’t it follow that,
at very least, you should have put the money in the bank so that you could have
at least gained interest? If, in fact, you really are being
motivated primarily by terror that I might come down too hard on you,
then at least you should have gained some interest from this money.” But the evidence of where this man’s heart
is, is that he buries the money in the ground so that the master gets not one
penny more, not one penny less. The slave calls this equitable. And, in fact, it just covers up his own
wickedness, and laziness, and disobedience as a slave. “So take the bag of gold from him and give
it to the one who has 10 bags. I can trust him with more. He knows what to do with things. He knows how to improve my assets.” For whoever has will be given more and
they will have an abundance, that is, has more in this business of multiplying
my assets, has a track record of multiplying my assets, he’ll be
given more, and trusted with more. But whoever does not have,
even what they have will be taken from them and throw that worthless slave
outside into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. So what’s the point? Wait for the Lord Jesus as slaves
commissioned to improve their master’s assets. Now, let’s tease this out just a wee bit
experientially before we conclude. How do we wait for Jesus? Our task while we wait is to improve the
master’s assets, not our own. I don’t see how else you can take this
parable. This is the role of a slave,
and we’re slaves of Christ. Our job? Well, how much we will be entrusted with
may vary quite a lot. Some people are entrusted with the kind
of personality or education, with the kind of gifts of oratory,
of unction, of living in a certain time and place where blessing abounds,
and others instead are entrusted with the kind of perseverance that will make them
martyrs for the cause of the truth, or will serve, as my dad did,
in a small corner in a small part of the world, unknown and largely uncared
for by others, but each according to his ability as the Lord assigns him his place
and assigns him what he’s got to invest and the charge is to be faithful and
improve the master’s assets with what the Lord gives you. That’s the charge. Your job as you wait for Jesus is to wait
for Jesus as slaves committed to improving the master’s assets. Second, presupposed in the parable then is
that Jesus’ followers, his slaves, joyfully recognize their roles and
responsibilities. Their conduct is different from that of
other slaves. If it is not different,
they cannot be genuine slaves. They are going to be like the false
steward who is exploitative, who does not take his responsibility in
the second parable seriously and becomes exploitative, and manipulative,
and so on. And they may turn out to be false slaves
who were cast out on the last day. Or they may simply say, “Well,
whatever has been given to me, it’s the Lord’s. I’m not going to do anything with it for
him. I’m just going to live my own life,” like
the third slave here. No, no, no. Presupposed in the parable is that Jesus’
true followers, his slaves, joyfully recognize their roles,
and may even exercise a certain kind of godly, quiet pride on the last day as
they say to the master, “See, this is what you gave me. This is what, in your grace,
I brought forth. You gave me 5 bags of gold,
I’ve got 10 now. You gave me a Christian home and a
Christian church. You know, I’m not the world’s best
evangelist, but there are these six people over here who are Christians
because of my witness. I offer this to you. I’ve tried to improve your assets. Do you see? Third, the foolish virgins failed from
thinking their part was too easy. So, they made no provision. The wicked slave here fails for thinking
his part is too hard, and he doesn’t try. But above all, number four,
are waiting for the Lord Jesus’ return is never merely passive. Just waiting for time to pass until he
shows up. We have an obligation to improve Jesus’
assets. Now, what this looks like will vary
enormously from person to person. You move outside the parabolic world,
and we’re no longer talking about God giving us 20 million bucks or something
like that to invest. He may give some of us some money to
invest, and then the question does arise, all right. What do we do with the money that God
gives us? One remembers Charles Wesley’s advice,
“Earn as much as you can, give away as much as you can.” But we can infer what some of this will
look like just from Matthew’s theology, let alone from the rest of the
New Testament. For example, in Chapter 10,
we already have a training mission, preparing people to preach the gospel,
extend the kingdom, and the book ends with a great commission,
to make disciples of all the nations. How do you improve the master’s assets? You evangelize, you plant churches,
you make disciples, you teach the truth, you teach the gospel. Do you do you see? That’s what you do to improve the master’s
assets. But also, it depends on a life that is
transformed to reread the Sermon on the Mount, and there are norms for how
you live under the kingdom. The kingdom brings with it the structure
and ethics of eternity already brought back into time so that we love our
neighbors as ourselves. We even love those who hate us and
despitefully use us, and we are going to be like God Himself,
who sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust. So, we will be even-handed with respect to
those who like us and those who don’t like us. We will even improve the Lord’s assets by
reflecting something of the Lord’s character in our own lives. We will be laying up treasures in heaven. We will be anticipating the master’s,
“Well done, good and faithful slave,” on the last day, living in the light of
eternity, hungering for his approval and blessing, not the approval and
blessing of our ministerial peers. This parable does not tell us everything
about how we improve the master’s assets. What it does do is set forth the fact that
that is what God expects of us. And then out of that deep commitment,
we will find ways to assess all that the Lord has put into our hands and trusted to
us as we try to think through what it means to be a faithful slave of Jesus,
improving his assets as we wait for his return. The ultimate goal is sharing in this
master’s happiness, gaining his approval, and thus actually receiving more
responsibility in the presence of God in the consummated kingdom. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Let us pray.

Comments 5

  • DOULOS, I double dog dare ya.

  • Quick, sudden and irreversible!!
    " And at midnight a cry was heard; Behold the bridegroom is coming, go out to meet him."Matthew 25:6✔️
    " It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye….." 1 Corinthians 15:52✔️✝️

  • Parable of the talents explained:
    The One who received 5 Talents is Christ who received the Church
    Those who received the 3 Talents are those who received Christ
    Those who have one talent and dug it in the earth are those who have placed their faith in the flesh.

  • Don Carson has the mark of the beast as do all the preachers of this wicked generation.

  • As always you have blessed me Don. Thank you from SE Australia.

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