The parable in Matthew 25:14-30 seems unrealistic at first. Does it need another character I'll call the three talent man? This man has faith in God like the first two servants. He goes out in faith and invests his talents, but he loses it all. He gains no return. (Sometimes we feel this way.) How would he respond? How would the master respond?
This parable’s foundational point is that God is lavish and gracious. The parable starts with God, the Master, giving large sums of money to His servants. He invests in them. He has high hopes for them. This is parallel to real life where we are made in God’s image, placed in God’s world and blessed with His gifts.
Different people receive different talents and gifts. Whatever you have received, large or small in comparison to others, be faithful! To be faithful in this life means you will feel like you have to take risks. There is a place for caution in life but that is not the point of this parable either.
When you use your money in business there is always risk. You can bet on a venture where you may gain a handsome reward or lose it all. This feels true when we serve the Lord as well. We take the gifts He has given us: our money, a speaking gift or our time for instance. We make choices about where, when and how to invest them. Maybe we give money to a missionary. We may choose to start a conversation with a stranger in hopes of sharing the gospel. We may use vacation time to go on a mission trip to minister to the poor. All of these choices constitute an investment with God-given “talents.”
When we make such choices we want to see a return on investment. Spiritually speaking, we want there to be fruit! But do we have that guarantee?
Many of us have given to a cause that later turned out to be a bad idea. Some of us have tried to share the gospel with a stranger and ended up in a painfully awkward conversation that did not seem to further God’s cause at all. (Sometimes it can seem like we hurt the cause of Christ.) Others have chosen to go on a mission trip and come home wondering if they made any real impact.
For these reasons we can understand why in the parable one servant goes and buries his talent. He is afraid. He does not want to lose what has been given to him. It is sin, but it is understandable. We have all done it before in small ways at times.
When the Master returns, it is clear that He takes pleasure when His servants take risks with His investments. The first two servants prosper and they are rewarded. The Master is happy and invites them to share in His joy.
Why is He so happy? Ultimately they had to know and trust something about His character to take the risks. They had to know He was for them and wanted to bless them. He did not want them sitting on the sidelines in fear but rather to risk in hope. His goodness compels them to step out in faith.
The sin of the third servant shows he does not understand the character of the Master. He wrongly imputes to the Master a tyrannical mindset that sounds like the evil Egyptian Pharaoh of Moses’ day. “Less straw, more bricks!” His view of God is of a hard driving dictator who is overly demanding.
Rather this gracious Master essentially says, “If you would have taken the smallest of baby steps in the direction of faithfulness I would have been pleased!” At a minimum, the servant should have invested his talent in a bank and earned interest.
God is so gracious. He understands our fear and reluctance. He doesn’t crack the whip over our heads and demand that we work when we are cowering in fear. He does encourage us with His lavish gifts, generous attitude and gracious disposition to take steps of faith based on His good character.
Still this does not answer my question about a hypothetical servant who does trust God, who does risk it all like the first two servants, but then loses it all. Wouldn’t this make the parable more realistic and applicable to life as we live it? What if a Christian business man made a bold venture for the sake of God’s kingdom in the market right before 2008 and lost his shirt. How does such a character fit into this narrative?
This character isn’t in the parable because in the long run all Christian faithfulness will produce some fruitfulness, even if we never see it in this life. 1 Corinthians 3:14 promises this. John MacArthur rightly says, “all who are faithful will be fruitful to some degree.” This is an amazing promise from the Lord!
This is the real point of this parable. All Christian faithfulness will produce fruitfulness. This is God’s heart towards us. It is as if He says, “If you will be faithful for me in this life with all I’ve given you, though at times you’ll feel like you are taking crazy risks, there are truly no risks when you are serving me!”
In the long run, God promises to bless the work of our hands and bring some fruit from all of our faithfulness. That’s why there is no “three talent man.” In God’s kingdom there’s no such thing as a person who risks all and loses all.
All “risk” for God will be rewarded in the next life. Christ took the greatest “risk” of all time. He left the safety, security and satisfaction of heaven to suffer hell on our part so that we would never have to fear anything again. His love frees us to risk boldly!