Text: Matthew 25:14-30
Introduction: Kevin Miller is a pastor from Wheaton, Illinois. A little while ago he posted a question to his “friends” on Facebook. He asked, “What makes it hard for you to minister to and serve other people?” Here are some of the answers that were given: (1) “Ministry is hard when it doesn’t fit into my schedule or plan. Like when I want to go for a walk or take a long bath, but my aging parent needs me to sort their meds, run an errand, or simply be with them.” (2) “It’s hard when their need seems endless. I don’t want to risk serving because I may get sucked in. Being swallowed up in ministry and not getting to be the “me” I think I am or should be.” (3) “There is such limited energy leftafter a demanding workday meeting our basic responsibilities (whether with young kids or in the corporate world). How do you balance the need for rest and self-care with ministry to others?” and (4) “What makes it hard to minister to others? Others.”Hmmm. Allow me to summarize their answers. What they said was: Ministry doesn’t always fit into my schedule or plan;the need can seem endless; we only have so much energy; People can be difficult and demanding. Most of us can probably relate to these objections. If you have ministered to someone even a few times, you know that it is seldom easy or convenient. Still, there is something about humbly serving others that rings true with us. I would suggest that it is the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:26-28, “…whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”In the Kingdom of Heaven, greatness is measured by our Christ-likeness. And humble service of God and ministry to others may testify to our place in the Kingdom as much as anything else we do.
Six weeks ago, we began a new study called “Seven Habits of a Healthy and Holy Christian.” We have already covered the first six. They include (1)Prayer(2)Faith(3) Meditating on God’s Word(4)Dependence Upon the Holy Spirit(5)Worship and (6)Forgiving Others. Today I want to look at the final habit that I’ll mention in this series about healthy and holy believers. It is ministry to others which of course flows directly out of our love for and service to God.
In Ephesians 4:12, Paul says that the job of church leaders is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry (i.e. service – the Greek word diakonias can be translated either way).” This means that in a very real sense not only are pastors called into the ministry, but so are the rest of us. And it is my job to help equip and motivate you to want to serve the Lord by ministering to others. So, this morning, I have chosen a well-known story told by Jesus found in Matthew 25:14-30 to help make the case that God expects everyone who calls himself a Christian to use his gifts, talents and resources to serve Him and minister to others. It is called the Parable of the Talents. Our Lord spoke parables as a way to illustrate spiritual principles of how things work in His Kingdom. In a few moments I’m going to share some observations about the parable, but before I do, allow me to give a little explanation regarding a few of the key terms. (1)Master– this is the one whom the servants are expected to obey; (2)Servant– this was a trusted household servant who lived in subjection to his master; (3)Talent– this was a measurement of weight usually for precious metals like gold and silver– our Lord uses the term as a figure of speechfor the gifts and abilities we have received from God that He intends us to use in ministry.
Now let me share some observations about the parable and then we’ll wrap up this message with some applications:
- The master was the sole owner of all the talents (Matthew 25:14 — For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them hisproperty). Jesus begins by saying that the kingdom of heavenis like a man about to go on a journey. It’s clear in this parable that the man was wealthy, owning an estate that included slaves, many possessionsand a significant amount of gold and silver. Because it all belonged to him, he had the right to do with it whatever he pleased. Now remember that Jesus is telling a parable here that is meant to illustrate His expectation for those who refer to Him as Lord. The Bible tells us that God(who exits eternally in three persons – Father, Son and Spirit) owns everything and everyone so that there is nothing that exists that is not His possession(Psalm 24:1 – The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it – NIV; Psalm 50:12b — … the world is mine, and all that is in it).There is nothing that exists that isn’t, when you get right down to it, God’s possession. This is important perspective for us to bear in mind because of what the master does next with some of his wealth.
- The master put each slave in charge of a portion of his estate(Matthew 25:15 — To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away). In ancient times, it was not uncommon for a prosperous person to have special slaves who oversaw his household and managed his business affairs. In some cases, the servants were even better educated and more highly skilled than their master. Here in this parable three such slaves are appointed by their master to invest(manage and increase) his assets in his absence. Note that…
- Each one was given at least one talent. In fact, the first received five, the second was given charge of two and the third of one. How much money was this? It depends on how you figure it. Some argue that a talent was equal to sixty denarii. One denarii was the average wage for a day laborer. If that’s the case, then the total was around $39,000. If, however, the talent used is a measurement of weight that is applied to gold, one commentator estimates the total as high as $1,977,600 in today’s dollars for all eight. Either way, they were each entrusted with a lot of responsibility to properly care for their master’s estate.
- Each man received his talent according to his ability. The master did not base his decision on whom he loved more, but on the ability of each to properly manage his resources.Not everyone shares the same level of competence when it comes to certain responsibilities and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that God loves any of us more. In the kingdom of Christ, we are all equally valued(Galatians 3:28). It’s just that we are not all equally gifted… and if you consider yourself one of the gifted people, don’t forget … to whom much is givenmuch is required.
- Each man was given sufficient time to put his talent to work to grow the master’s estate. The master soon left on his journey and was gone for a long time. In his absence each servant/minister had ample opportunity to prove his faithfulness by growing his owner’s estate. Note that each one had the right stuff, the right ability and the right amount of time to get the job done. Application: The spiritual principle here is that Jesus (our master) always provides all that we need to accomplish the duties (ministry) He’s assigned to us. He will never call you to a ministry and then fail to supply all you need to do the job. (The master was the sole owner; he put each slave in charge of a portion of his estate.)
- The master always intended to return and settle accounts with His servants. This created a sense of urgency for two of them. They wanted to prove their faithfulness. Matthew tell us that theman who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. Good for them! They didn’t idly sit by and do nothing. That got right to work and reaped a great harvest as a result! But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them). These three household slaves were trusted stewards of their master’s wealth. It is clear from the text that each one anticipated a day of reckoning when he returned from his journey. We know this because of the actions they took as soon as they received the talents. Two workedto increase their master’s estate. The third man, however, was terrified of mishandling his talent, so he did nothing except bury it so as at minimize any risk of somehow losing that portion of his master’s wealth. Though their actions were very different, each did something, presumably in an effort to show that they could be trusted. Why was this so important to them? Because they knew that no excuse would be accepted. Illustration: Sweetingsays, “Excuses only satisfy the people who make them.” While this is certainly true, we all have to admit that some excuses are pretty amusing. Here are five actual excuses offered by employees for why they couldn’t make it to work: (1) If it is all the same to you I won’t be coming in to work. The voices in my head told me to clean all my guns today. (2) When I got up this morning I took two laxatives in addition to some antidepressant medicine. Now I can’t leave the bathroom, but I feel really good about it. (3) My dog ate my car keys. I’m waiting to get them back. (4) I can’t come to work because my stigmata is acting up again. (5) I can’t come to work today because I plan to stalk my previous boss who fired me for missing too many days on my last job. Application: While these excuses are kind of funny, any excuses offered to our Lord about neglecting His gifts and responsibilities and failing to use them for His purposes and glory will not provoke any laughter.
- The master rewarded faithfulness and punished wickedness and slothfulness in his servants. When he finally returned, he summoned his servants to settle his accounts with them. If they were faithful they would be rewarded. If not, they would suffer his righteous anger over their mismanagement of his estate.
- Two of the slaves were rewarded for their faithfulness(Matthew 25:20-24 — And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master). Because they used what their master provided for the benefit of His kingdom, each one received a commendation(well done good and faithful servants), increased responsibility(you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much) and the privilege of sharing in the joy of their master(enter into my joy).
- The third slave was condemned because he was unfaithful. He believed that his owner was a severe taskmaster and lived in terror of him. This is the reason he gave for burying the talent entrusted to him. In saying these things, it is clear that his relationship to the master was very different from the other two. He imagines his owner as unjust(reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed). The master counters, “You wicked and slothful servant. You knew(a false assumption)that I reaped where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then (if you thought that about me)you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.” As a result of proving himself to be unfaithful, he lost what he had as it was taken from him and given to one who had ten. Then the wicked and worthless servant was cast into the outer darkness in the place where they will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- The Lord has entrusted to each of us some abilities and gifts that He expects to be used to serve Him and minister to others. Like the three slaves, each of us has been given the resources, the ability and the time to do kingdom work and serve God’s purposes for our lives (See 2 Corinthians 9:8).
- While many may claim to follow Christ, faith is proven to be genuine by our service to the Lord. Anyone can profess to believe in Jesus, but true, authenticate Christian faith is demonstrated in our love for and obedience to Him. This is not to say that we are saved by anything but faith in Christ, still it does clearly point out that those who are faithful servants in His household demonstrate it by building up His kingdom.
- When Jesus returns it will be a day of great celebration for His faithful servants/ministers, and a day of great terror for everyone else. This parable makes it clear that two of the slaves can expect to enter into their master’s joy, but one is destined for destruction. So, don’t take service to God and ministry in His name lightly. It is one of the indicators that we belong to Him.
Conclusion: As we wrap this up, let me encourage you to continue to be faithful stewards, and use the gifts and abilities that God has entrusted to you in the ministry which God has entrusted to you. If, however, you choose to be anything but a faithful servant of the Kingdom of Heaven, know that you will be held accountable.Listen to this story from an area pastor:In April of 2008, I had to drive to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for work, so I went to Enterprise to rent a car. They gave me a big, brand-new, comfy Chrysler 300 to drive—and I loved it! In fact, I enjoyed feeling large and in charge so much that I blew right past the first tollbooth. You see, I’m not used to stopping for tollbooths, because I have an I-PASS in my own car—a little device that signals I’ve already prepaid my tolls. After passing the first tollbooth, I thought about it: Oh! This car doesn’t have an I-PASS!But just as I started to worry about it, I thought, ‘This car belongs to the rental-car company—not me. So, they’re probably responsible for any tolls. That must be what your rental money goes toward covering.’ When I got on 294, I drove past another toll, thinking, ‘Even if I am responsible for the tolls, there’s only a few between here and Indiana—maybe $4 round trip. I’m sure there’s some threshold where they don’t even bother sending you a bill for the tolls. I mean, it wouldn’t be worth their time to send me a bill for only $4. Nothing’s going to happen!’ After I returned home from my business trip, a month or two went by. Nothing happened—and I knew nothing ever would. But then, in October, I received a piece of mail that read: “Notice of Toll Violation.” It turned out that I was partially right. The Tollway Authority wouldn’t bother sending me a bill for my measly $3.90 in tolls. But when you add in a $20 fine for every one of the five toll booths I drove past, they didbother sending me a bill for $103.90! I about had a heart attack. They had me dead to rights. They had a photo of my rental car’s license plate. They even knew the exact lane number I was in. The fact that months had gone by and nothing had happened didn’t mean that nothing was ever going to happen. Sooner or later our past catches up to us. This is true both in the here and now and will also be the case in the final judgment. That’s why the Lord gave us this parable. He doesn’t want anyone to be misinformed about Kingdom norms. The best way to identify true followers of Christ is to observe the character of Christ in them. Here in Matthew 25, that means selfless, humble ministry to God and others.To avoid future judgment, those whom He calls wicked and worthless must turn from their self-centered ways to Christ and start faithfully using what He has entrusted to them for His purposes and glory. It is what sets true Christians apart from mere pretenders.