"His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'"
Sometimes it amazes me how much teaching can be packed into a single sentence of the Bible. Of course, it SHOULDN'T amaze me--it is, after all, the Word of the Almighty God, who alone is wise and good and faithful. And yet, I still come across verses that I had just glossed over before, and I find all sorts of wonderful things to learn. That is why it amazes me when people say they have read the Bible and "know what it says" after just that one reading. You could have the whole Bible memorized and still not truly know what it says! The words matter, to be sure, but more important still are the ideas and the wisdom to be found day after day when we return to God's Word.
So a couple of days ago I was discussing the verse above with a friend of mine, and it occurred to me that there was so much more there. We look at that verse above--actually, just the phrase "Well done, good and faithful servant"--and we think of it as a promise of how we shall be rewarded when we come before Jesus. We look at this parable of the talents and we think about the things God has given us and how we are to use them for His kingdom, and then we think, "Surely, Jesus will someday say to me, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'" As for me, I don't think we should settle for that. My late wife used to teach classes where she had the students work on "unpacking" ideas--i.e. digging deep into simple things to find the hidden implications. So let's "unpack" this seemingly simple verse.
We all ought to remember this parable of the kingdom of God. If not, then we should take a moment to review Matthew 25:14-30. The basic idea is that a man leaves his servants in charge of some of his money while he is away, and two of the servants make shrewd investments to increase the amount of money, but one servant just buries his allotted money in a field so it gains nothing. When the man returns from his journey, he is pleased at the two shrewd servants who gained much, and he is displeased with the one who did nothing with what he was given. Today's verse is what the man says to the first servant, and he says the exact same thing to the second servant. But the last servant--the one who did nothing with the treasure he was given--was cast "into the outer darkness" where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:30) Ouch!
So the man says to his servant "Well done." The Greek word here is simply "well" or "good," and the translation "well done" is inferred from what follows. Today we might say "Great!" or "Excellent!" It is a simple word of simple praise. Of course, considering that a master expects his servant to do the right things, the master might just have easily said, "You did what was expected." He didn't need to say the servant had done a good job. Nonetheless, the master goes outside his usual station and praises the servant for doing good.
"Good and faithful" is how the master describes his servant. Again, here's that Greek word for "good," and coupled with it is the word "faithful" or "trustworthy" or "true." The servant is good: he has done something that is good in the eyes of his master, something the master himself might have done. And the servant is faithful: he stayed loyal and true to the master in all things. The servant was given five talents (a large sum of money), and he not only returned those five but also ANOTHER five. He gave back to the master his own money PLUS the same as the master had given him. The master had faith in the servant to grow his treasury, and the servant was utterly faithful to that idea. Faith for faith!
But the relationship must be remembered, and so the man still calls him "servant." The servant is just that: a slave, an employee, an underling. The slave has little property but the clothes on his back, and when he is given the talents, he knows that the money is no more his than is the house where he works nor the fields that he may plow for his master. The servant exists in a relationship of humility and submission to his master, and even though he might have simply taken the money and ran away or perhaps squandered it on useless things, but instead he stayed and served his lord. A faithful servant indeed!
The master then addresses what the servant has done by saying "you were faithful over a few things." The master never told the servants what to do with the money, never said to them that they ought to grow his investment. He simply gave them the money to each "according to his own ability" (Matthew 25:15), knowing that each had the ability to do SOMETHING with what he was given. So in giving the first servant five talents, the man knew that his servant had the ability to put that five talents to use wisely. The servant was then faithful to that, showing the master that his faith was not misplaced.
Truly, five talents of gold or silver is not really a small amount at all. Today it would be tens of thousands of dollars! For a servant to be entrusted with that much money was kind of like Joseph being handed the keys to the granaries of Egypt. It was not a "few things"--at least, not in the eyes of the world. But in the eyes of the Lord Himself, He has given us just a little portion of His riches, trusting that we will each do according to our own abilities, and trusting that we will return His investment and faith in us.
Some may settle for hearing "Well done, good and faithful servant," but I think a few might better like the next reward: "I will make you ruler over many things." Five talents? That's just a drop in the bucket, truly a TINY thing next to the riches God has in store for us. Of course, Jesus is talking here about spiritual rewards, not physical riches. It is as if He is saying, "You have been faithful in your five-talent life, so let me give you a life of limitless riches, an eternal life at my side as my brother and not my servant."
"No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you."
When we return to our Lord with the fruit of our faith, He will reward us and make us lords with Him. Yes, we will still be servants in relationship to the Most High God, but we will no longer be servants of the world. Quite a promotion for a "good and faithful servant"!
And then we get perhaps the most wonderful blessing: "Enter into the joy of your lord." How does one enter into joy? One enters a place, a room, or perhaps one enters into a group. And the words in Greek really do say "enter into the joy" or "enter into the cheerfulness." And it is not just any joy, and certainly not a joy of our own making. No, it is the LORD'S joy we are to enter. His joy in us is great, and He invites us into it, beckons the faithful to dwell, to live within His joy.
The parable of the talents reminds us that we are servants of a great Master, that He has entrusted us with a treasure that is small to Him but great to us. What will we do with this treasure? Will we do good things, the kinds of things our Lord would do? God has placed a lot of trust in us, seemingly risking a lot to gain others for His kingdom. But our Lord knows our abilities, and He gives to each of us gifts of the Spirit according to His will and His grace. (Romans 12:6-8) We are to take those gifts and put them to use boldly, returning the investment of God's faith in us, living out His faith in our own faithfulness. He will praise us, but the riches are all His and the glory is truly all His. He will reward us with honor and a portion of His glory, and sovereignty in His name--for He will always be our Lord--and we will invite is to live within His joy. Just as those five talents are a pittance next to God's true riches, so the gladness we thought we had known in this life is as nothing compared to the joy of our Lord God.
"I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance."
The joy comes not from being the same as we have always been but from gaining souls for His kingdom, from taking this five-talent life and gaining ANOTHER five-talent life for Him--and another, and another, and... You get the idea.
Jesus has deposited five talents with us, a huge fortune of Spirit and life. Shall we truly do good with it? Shall we live up to the faith He has in us? Shall we be faithful to His wishes and His kingdom? Shall we be rewarded with even MORE? And shall we know and enter into that abundant love and glory and honor and praise and sheer excellence that is the joy of our Lord? If we are faithful to the trust God has placed in us to grow His kingdom, then "Well done, good and faithful servant" is just the beginning of what He has in store for us.
Almighty Father, what a wonderful trust You have placed in me, to give me abilities and riches with which to bring others to You. Your Word stands before me, a treasure in my hands, and I must use it wisely, invest Your gospel with many to gain much for You. All glory is Yours, as I am Your servant, ever Your devoted one, giving back to You what was never mine to begin with, and bringing others to You as well. Help me, Lord God, to take this five-talent life and make it a hundred-talent life for You and for Your kingdom. Amen.