01 The Unprofitable Servant

“And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine … And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 25:25; 30

Matthew chapter 25 is the “excuse” chapter of the Bible. This chapter is devoted to parables about missed opportunities and the excuses people use to explain their failure to take advantage of those opportunities. Do you know what the definition of a good excuse is? For many a good excuse is one you can use more than once. But the excuses of Matthew chapter 25 do not dismiss the failure to act in a way that is pleasing to God. The three main excuses of Matthew 25 are:

  • Inconvenience – Ten virgins
  • Fear – Talents
  • Insensitivity – Failure to serve others (sheep and goats)


  • Inconvenience does not excuse a lack of preparation. The five foolish virgins were unable to enter the wedding feast.
  • The fear of failure did not excuse the unprofitable servant’s unwillingness to use that which the master trusted him with.
  • And insensitivity, unawareness, and preoccupation did not excuse the failure to minister to others.

The purpose of these three parables:

  • The ten virgins teach us to be prepared at all times to meet the divine Bridegroom. The rapture will not wait.
  • The parable of the talents teaches us to use the good gifts the Lord has placed at our disposal. The day of reckoning will not be forgotten.
  • The parable of the sheep and goats teaches us to be aware of others and willing to minister. Our responsibility to others will not be dismissed.

The Goods Distributed

“For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.” Matt 25:14-15

Important kingdom concepts are always on display in the kingdom parables. Any time you read the “kingdom of heaven” you should zero in on the single concept on display in the parable. This parable concerns the “goods” that the master entrusts to his servants and their responsibility to their benefactor.

First please notice that the goods were not distributed evenly. There were eight talents to distribute. Therefore each servant should have been given 2 2/3 talents, correct? But no! He lined up those three servants and gave to the first five, to the second two, and to the last servant he gave one talent. It matters not how much money was represented by a talent. The important thing to know is that the money was not distributed evenly.

What went into how the master distributed the goods? There are those who would say this was unfair, yet the master knew things about these three that others might not know. Notice the master bestowed his goods to the servants, “according to [their] several ability” (vs15). The master had been around these three servants and observed how they handled responsibility. He knew they were not evenly matched in their ability and willingness to respond to responsibility. The goods were distributed according to past performance.

I can just imagine that dude at the bottom of the pecking order muttering to himself: “Yeah! The master just likes those other guys more than me. It isn’t fair how he shows favoritism toward them and I always get the leftovers. If the master were impartial, he would have given us all the same amount.” Is this not how the world thinks?

But notice that all three servants had the same opportunity; they just didn’t have the same amount of capital. The master didn’t become the master by being a dummy. He understood commerce. All three servants had the same opportunity to earn profit in the marketplace. All three servants did not have the same amount of capital because all three had not previously demonstrated the same business savvy. Why should the master risk a greater loss by giving servants who had demonstrated unequal drive an equal amount of capital? What would be “fair” about that? Should the master not consider his family and his heirs who stood to lose if he did not invest his resources wisely?

Here is something that those who harbor jealousy and resentment toward others often miss: One earns greater responsibility by faithfully discharging responsibility at the current level.

“He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” Luke 16:10

The one talent servant is often unable to see beyond the single talent in his hand and his resentment of the two other servants who are trusted with more.

The Day of Reckoning

“After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.” Matt 25:19

These servants had been with the master for some time. They understood the principles of business under which he operated. They knew that he was in business to earn profit. They knew that the master was interested in long-term yields on his investments. They had studied these principles of free market capitalism and saw them work when applied by their lord.

The first servant:

“And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Matt 25:20-21

If you want to understand the reason for the uneven distribution of goods, it is found here as well as verse15. How did the master evaluate the “several abilities” of his three servants? The answer is in verse 20 and 21. The master evaluated the abilities of his servants by past performance. Greater responsibility is earned in the real world. There are no race or gender quotas in the real world. In the real world, people are not rewarded solely on the basis of tenure, but rather on performance. Men artificially create things such as quotas and tenure as a basis for reward. But these principles don’t work in the reality of the marketplace. These are humanistic philosophies and are in direct opposition to kingdom principles.

The second servant:

“He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” Matt 25:22-23

Again, greater responsibility is earned through faithfully discharging duty at one’s current level. Giving one greater responsibility in spite of failure at their current level would not be “fair.” In fact, promoting and rewarding failure encourages more of the same. And yet this is exactly what our humanistic world does in the interest of fairness.

The final servant:

“Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.” Matt 25:24-25

No profit at all here. This was a failed investment. The principle was not lost, but the potential return was forfeited because the capital was never invested.

Now for those who feel the master was unfair in the distribution of his goods, let us extrapolate these numbers. Here is the business formula behind the uneven distribution of the master’s goods based on past performance, which proved to be an accurate way to gauge future returns.

  • Servant1  5 + 5 = 10
  • Servant2  2 + 2 = 4
  • Servant1  1 + 0 = 1
  • The total investment plus return is 15 talents

If the goods were divided evenly:

  • Servant1  2.66 + 2.66 = 5.32
  • Servant2  2.66 + 2.66 = 5.32
  • Servant3  2.66 + 0 = 2.66
  • An equal distribution would have resulted in a total of 13.3 total talents

Now, who was fair? Would it have been fair for the master to be willing to risk his estate losing 1.7 talents just so the one talent servant could feel the master had been fair? Would it have been just for the master to put aside the needs of his dependents and heirs so a slothful servant would feel good about himself? When one rewards failure, one encourages more of the same.

No Profit Due to Failure to Invest

“His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.” Matt 25:26-27

The reason the third servant gave for failure was fear. Many are paralyzed by the fear of failure. And yet to succumb to this fear is to breed a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you fail to act because you are afraid of failure you will fail because of your fear. But the master’s evaluation brushed aside the excuse of the fear of failure. The fear of failure is no excuse for failing to act in the interests of God’s kingdom.

Do you think the master knew his servant? The master recognized an excuse when he heard one. He knew what was in the servant’s heart. He called him “wicked and slothful.” The servant was wicked because he acted in jealousy and anger at what was perceived as unfair treatment at the hands of the master. The servant was “slothful” because he refused to act in the interest of one who trusted him and depended upon him. Burying what was invested in him was not acting in the interest of the master. He let his own pettiness override his responsibility.

Many times people in the kingdom of heaven behave in the same way. They are unwilling to invest of themselves in others. They act out of pettiness to the detriment of the Lord’s interest. They refuse to use the good gifts God has entrusted in them to benefit His kingdom. But there is a day of reckoning coming.

Please notice the difference between God’s economy and man’s idea of equity.

“Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Matt 25:28-29

Did you notice that God is a free market capitalist? Men think that the morally upright way to do things is to take from those that have and give to those who have not. God says to take from those that have not and give to those who have. Men want to punish achievement and reward slothfulness. God will punish slothfulness and reward industry.

The fear of failure is often just a front to disguise feelings of jealousy and laziness. You are not responsible for the gifts that are entrusted to others. You are responsible for the good gifts the Lord has entrusted to you. We must put pettiness aside and act in the interest of our Master.

If you will earn a profit on the good gifts God has placed in your care, you must make an investment in others. This means learning to relate to others in the marketplace of ideas. God rewards those willing to take chances and stretch their gifts to further His kingdom. Those who do not are called “unprofitable” and will end up outside God’s favor.

© 2008 Nevin Bass. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced for the purpose of resale without written permission.

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