“ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’”
Loyalty. We see it in animals, like the dog that’ll travel a long distance to get back to her master, or like the married person who can never forget their spouse even long after that spouse died. In today’s passage Jesus tells a parable to help his followers realize they’d have to live a long while in this world without him. He implies he’ll be giving them a task. And the point is not so much to get the task done, but in doing it, to show their loyalty to him as their king. The teaching that Jesus is our King is familiar. But practically speaking, living with him as King of our personal lives can seem vague. In this study we want to learn what it means that Jesus is our King who’ll be coming back someday, and how this faith should direct our lives. May God speak to us through his living word today.
Verse 11 begins with the phrase, “While they were listening to this…” This phrase closely ties this passage to the previous one. Jesus had just gone to the house of Zacchaeus the chief tax collector. To everyone’s surprise, Jesus said that this man, too, was a son of Abraham, and one of the lost ones he came to seek and to save. It was at this time that Jesus gave the following parable.
Verse 11 also explains that one reason he gave this parable was to correct people’s wrong idea of his kingship and kingdom. The people were hoping for an immediate, earthly kingdom, whereas Jesus had always been talking about the heavenly kingdom. Jesus, the master of telling parables, used vivid imagery to help them understand the nature of his kingship and kingdom.
Let’s read verses 12–13. Here, the man of noble birth refers to Jesus; his going to a distant country, to his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven; and his coming back, to his second coming. There are also ten servants--ten being a complete number. It tells us that the parable is not only for the Twelve but for all the disciples of Jesus, including his disciples today. A “mina” was about three months’ wages for a common laborer. It can refer not only to money but also to all the gifts and blessings God gives us. They aren’t given just to spend on ourselves, but to use for his kingdom and his glory. The king’s words, “Put this money to work” have an interesting meaning. In Greek they literally mean, “Do business with this money.” In other words, “Make a profit for me with this money.”
There’s another important element of the parable. Read verse 14. The ten servants would have to live in a world hostile to their master and king. It would be hard to do business, representing him, when his subjects rejected him so strongly that they even sent a delegation ahead to prevent his coronation. These subjects represent the Jews, but they also represent all human beings. We all in our sinful nature reject God as our Creator and Sovereign Ruler. We reject his Son as King and Lord of our lives. We don’t want to have to answer to him or submit to him; we want to run our own lives. And even if we want to live as Jesus’ servants, we have to live in this world that's still hostile to him.
Verse 15a says, “He was made king, however, and returned home.” Despite popular opinion and preference, God made Jesus the King. And one day, God will send the Risen Jesus back to this world as King, ready or not, like it or not—"it’s gonna happen." What’ll happen when he returns? Verse 15b says, “Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.” When Jesus comes again, it will be the day of reckoning, and it comes first for his servants. He’s going to be asking us to give an account of what we’ve done with the resources and blessings given us. That’s a sobering thought. Jesus himself will be auditing us! As Christians we need to believe in his grace and live by his grace. But we also need to live in the awareness that one day we’ll have to give an account to him.
On the day of reckoning, the first servant came and said, “Sir, your mina has earned ten more” (16). No doubt he was proud of his accomplishment, for he voluntarily came forward to show what he’d earned. It’s amazing that this servant was able to produce a 1000% profit. It shows not merely his business acumen or ability but his loyalty to his master and king. Because he was so loyal, he was constantly thinking about how to make a profit for his master.
Let’s read verse 17. Here Jesus was teaching there’s a very special reward for those who live as his good servants. It has two aspects. First, it’s the approval of our King Jesus. His words, “Well done, my good servant!” will be the deepest source of satisfaction and comfort to those who’ve lived for him. As believers we should make it our goal to one day hear our King Jesus say to us personally, “Well done, my good servant!” The second aspect of his reward is to reign with him in his kingdom. The last half of verse 17 says, “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.” The ten cities represent a significant portion of the kingdom. The Bible promises that if we share in his sufferings, we’ll also share in his glory (Ro8:17), and that if we endure, we’ll also reign with him (2Ti2:12). He also described what this servant did with his mina as being “trustworthy in a very small matter.” Jesus said earlier, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (16:10). In his parable Jesus also mentions a second servant who earned five more minas and was rewarded with five cities (18–19). The point is not to compare the servants, but that Jesus’ rewards are fair—exactly what each servant deserves.
Why did Jesus talk about these rewards? When people don’t appreciate what we do, we get discouraged. When we’re criticized, we get hurt. But Jesus sees what we’re doing. It should both encourage and warn us: in light of his coming back and asking us what we did, everything we do matters. No "whatevs."Jesus wants us to believe his rewards are true, and live before him.
Finally Jesus mentions a third servant. Read verses 20–21. What’s wrong with this servant? He’s too smart for his own good. Basically, he’s got a crooked view of his master. He called him “a hard man.” He complained that the master would get the profits, not him. Though he’s a servant, he’s not really willing to serve his master. He has no love for him, no loyalty to him. He’d lived focusing on serving himself. He did just the bare minimum with his mina for his master—preserving it--so he wouldn’t get blamed. It’s good at least he didn’t spend the money. But just giving it back as it was, wasn’t acceptable. Read verse 22. The master called him a “wicked servant.” The master didn’t even argue about his weird thinking about him. But he did point out one other flaw in his thinking, even if he were a really “hard man.” Read verse 23. If this servant had had any interest in doing what was right, he would've at least tried to earn interest on the money. What happened? Read verses 24–26. Jesus was teaching an important principle. He takes away from those who’re crooked, and gives more to those who really love and serve him. Read verse 27. This is what Jesus will do with those who lived rebelliously against him. Not pretty. No more grace.
So what we want to think about today is: How did the first servant do what he did? What made him a good and trustworthy servant? It must have been the grace he received from his master. He treasured what his master did for him, and he really wanted to please him. How can we be good and trustworthy servants of Jesus our King? We need to treasure his grace. As we treasure his grace, we stay loyal to him and serve him eagerly and wholeheartedly, even in the world that's hostile to him. If we don’t have a clear grasp of his grace in our lives, if we’re self-righteous or self-centered, we’ll serve him less. Once, Jesus was at a Pharisee’s house, and a sinful woman came in and anointed him. Jesus told the Pharisee: “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (7:44–47). Love and loyalty to Jesus come from experiencing his grace.
This parable of the minas is closely connected with the story of the wealthy chief tax collector Zacchaeus. Though Jesus showed him great grace, he also taught in this parable not to pursue wealth selfishly or use it only for ourselves, but use it to serve Jesus our King. If Jesus is really our King, then we make him Lord even of our bank account; we want to use our all for his glory and his work. Jesus is also using Zacchaeus as a good example. When he worked for Rome as a tax collector, he worked really hard. He did business on behalf of Rome among the Jews, who really didn’t want Caesar as their king. And even in that hostile environment, Zacchaeus had made a tremendous profit. We need to learn from a person like Zacchaeus how to serve Jesus, even in a resistant, hostile world. No excuses. Jesus said earlier, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (16:8b–9). Are we doing that?
Recently I’ve been reading about the Student Volunteer Movement. At the turn of the century, American university students got inspired to serve Jesus and make him known among the nations by going as missionaries. Both young men and young women were ready to give their lives to expand his kingdom. They wanted to learn from people in the American business world and apply their principles to working for Jesus and his kingdom. It wasn’t perfect by any means. But thousands gave up comfortable lives after college and went out as missionaries. Through them, many who’d never heard of Jesus received his grace and were changed. Many of these young American missionaries even died serving Jesus their King in the hard places of the world. To human eyes their sacrifices seemed small, but to Jesus, they were like the seed of his kingdom.
Recently I saw American Sniper. It’s based on the true story of a man named Chris Kyle, who joins the Navy Seals and goes to fight four tours in Iraq. His wife with two young children doesn’t like him making that much sacrifice. People in Iraq are trying to kill him. Even one of his buddies loses confidence in what they’re fighting for. But Chris Kyle was always loyal to God, country and family. He used his gift as a sharpshooter for the sake of his country and fellow Navy seals. Even when he quit fighting in Iraq, he kept serving wounded veterans back home in Texas. Nothing changed him at his core: his loyalty is heart moving. I wondered, “Am I serving Jesus with that kind of loyalty?”
Let’s read verse 17 again. Let’s pray we can believe Jesus’ coming again, and his reward. Let’s pray we can focus on having loyalty to Jesus our King because of his grace, and use what he gives us to serve him and his kingdom.