EXThe Unprofitable ServantAdapted sermon by HH Ko
Our Lord Jesus was always telling stories. One of the stories He told near the end of His three-year ministry was about the qualities of a servant worthy of the kingdom of heaven. What makes us good servants and what makes us lousy ones?
THE TALENT PARABLE
The parable begins with a man, who was about to travel to a far country, entrusting three of his servants with his goods (Mt 25:14-30). If you think about it, this was an act of great trust.
One servant received five talents, another received two, and the third received one talent—each according to what he was able to manage.
Exactly how much is in a talent, anyway?
In fact, one talent is quite a handsome amount. According to Unger’s Expository Dictionary, one talent is equal to about 6,000 denarii, which is about 240 English pounds. So don’t think that one talent is not worth much.
The servant with the five talents, without saying anything, traded them and made five more. The servant with the two talents also went and earned two more talents. After a long time, the master came back to settle his accounts with them.
Settling meant that he would find out what they had done with his money. "Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them," said the first servant (v. 20).
"Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them," echoed the second servant (v. 22).
Satisfied with their earnings, the man gave both of them the same praise: "Well done, good and faithful servant[s]; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord" (v. 21, 23). According to the man, their earnings were only "a few things", in other words, it wasn’t very much.
The servant with the one talent, however, had a different plan. He took the money and, after having found a good place, dug a hole and hid it until the man returned.
GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS
If we refer to the Bible, what does "good" mean?
One time a person went up to Jesus and asked, "Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" Jesus replied, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God" (Mt 19:16-17).
When the Bible speaks of "good," it refers to God Himself, and no other can be of the same measure. The Lord did not praise the first two servants for having a business mind or for doing all the hard work.
Being able to make another five or another two talents was not the most important to Him. These two servants were praised because they had the characteristic of God for being good.
What about "faithful"? Revelation 19 records that Jesus’ name is "faithful." So, these two servants with the five and two talents possessed another characteristic of Jesus, and they were praised for this virtue.
The person who received the five talents actually had build a great wealth for his master. Even so, in the eyes of God, this was not much. We may think it is a lot, but in God’s eyes, it is only a small amount. What the Lord cares more about is the heart of His servants and not necessarily their ability or skill.
Because these two servants were good and faithful over a few things, the man declared that he would make them ruler over many things and said to them, "Enter into the joy of your lord" (v. 21). There aren’t many masters who are like this master.
After he tested them, he not only let them take care of more things but also welcomed them into his joy. That is to say, he would let them enjoy everything that he enjoyed. In modern terms, if you were the master and asked your servant to enjoy your joy, this could mean enjoying your possessions and wealth: he could use your car, your swimming pool, and your house.
Many times, we try to be polite by inviting houseguests to make themselves at home. But if they were to touch our safety deposit box, we would become nervous. In Jesus’ case, He asks us to enjoy everything that is His. Even if we were to touch His safety deposit box, He would give it to us freely.
It’s Not About the Work
This master was very open with what he had to share with his servants . This is indeed a parable of heaven, for who else on earth could be this generous?
Not only was the man generous, he also had a unique definition of equality. When the servant with the two talents reported his success, the man replied in the same way that he did with the five-talent servant. He also said, "Well done, good and faithful servant," praising him for having the attributes of the Lord Jesus.
Normally, someone who makes the most would be ranked first, and anyone making less than him would be ranked lower than him. This is how society works. But the man praised his servants equally, even though their loads were not.
When we do holy work, it is not about our talent or gift, though they help us do the work. What the man praised about the servants was their resemblance to God’s character. Likewise for us today, it is not about how much we do for Christ but how the work is accomplished through our Christ-like attributes and how we see things from His perspective.
Whether we are entrusted with five or two talents, we can share in the same joy of the Lord Jesus if we remain good and faithful towards Him.
THE ONE-TALENT SERVANT
Then came the last servant, who was given one talent. Like the previous two, he also acknowledged and referred to his master as "lord." He thought of himself as a very good servant because he was sure of what he knew about the master. This was a servant wise in his own eyes.
He said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man," and he even explained why his master was difficult, adding, "reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed" (v. 24).
According to him, his master made his servants work and took what was not his. It was the picture of a master who was beyond reason and difficult to be with. This servant made it seem as if he was being forced into this work and, being in that predicament, had no choice but to hide the one talent the master gave him.
From the servant’s perspective, we might actually believe his story—that he was justified in what he did because he said matter-of-factly, "Look, there you have what is yours." He wasn’t afraid because he felt he did the right thing.
Maybe he was waiting for his master’s approval. Maybe he thought the master would praise him and say, "You are a hero in your own right. Because you knew how to observe, and you did not just leave my talent anywhere."
But what did the master say? The master rebuked, "You wicked and lazy servant" (v. 26). "Wicked" actually refers to evil, which represents Satan. He accused this servant of having the heart of Satan.
This master was actually a good lord, but an evil person will only be able to see evil. We say that whatever glasses you wear is what you will see the world with. If you wear red sunglasses, you will see the world painted red. If you wear black glasses, all that you see is black.
This servant with the one talent wore the glasses of Satan. He saw a hard man who was beyond reason. So the master took the talent from him and gave it to the man with ten talents.
Jesus made this proclamation: "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away" (v. 29). This is the final judgment and, if found guilty, He will "cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness" and "there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (v. 30).
WHEN CAN WE CALL OURSELVES UNPROFITABLE?
In a different story, Jesus also told His disciples of another man who had sent his servant to hard work. When this servant came back, the master asked him to prepare supper, to get ready, and to wait on the master as he ate and drank. After all this, did the master thank the servant for doing his job? (Lk 17:7ff)
The master would not be expected to say, "Come, sit down and eat." The master knew that the servant would be hungry, and he told him to gird himself so that he could have more strength to do more work. And whatever would be left of the master’s supper, perhaps the servant could eat that. Even then, he should only call himself an unprofitable servant.
Similarly, the servants with the five and two talents did not say much when they were entrusted with their talents. They went and did their work quietly with diligence, so they were able to earn double what they had been given. Even after they finished their work, they simply reported what they had done.
Just the same for us, it is only after we have done our entire work can we afford to say, "We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do" (Lk 17:10).
If, before we start working, we call ourselves unprofitable servants, then we are no better than the servant with the one talent.
We need to recognize what the Lord has given us and the work that He has entrusted us with. We also need to examine our thoughts and our perspective to see if we have strayed from His instructions. Otherwise, we may fall into the same end as the unprofitable servant.
Before we do His work, we shouldn’t call ourselves useless. We can only try our very best to strive forward with the strength of God. Paul encouraged us:
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)
And when does the end goal come? Paul tells us that the end of his journey and his goal comes at his death, after which the Lord will deliver him and prepare him for the heavenly kingdom (2 Tim 4:6-18). In the same way, when we reach this same end, we can finally call ourselves unprofitable.