Kingdom Parables

The Parable of the 3 Managers

Matthew 25:14-30

Teaching t22008


This morning we look at another parable (one of three in Matt.25) Jesus told about what will happen when he returns.  Let’s first read the parable a section at a time to make sure we understand it—and then we’ll consider its important lessons...


Read 25:14,15.  The master is going away on a long journey (25:19).  He has a lot of liquid assets (a “talent” was 15 years’ wages; 8 talents = $500,000).  So these servants are like estate-managers.  They are responsible to invest his assets the whole time he is gone so that his assets grow.

Read 25:16-18.  The first two managers get right to the task.  The idea is not that they made a killing on one big investment, and then sat idly on their return—but that they kept trading the whole time and each wound up doubling their master’s assets.  The third manager never invested any of the assets entrusted to him—he just hid the cash.

Read 25:19-23.  After a long time, the master returns and asks for a report on their management of his money.  He is extraordinarily generous in his response to the first two managers.  In that culture, they were legally slaves—so they were entitled to no commission, nothing.  But he praises them lavishly for their work, he gives them huge promotions, and he welcomes them into his joy.  In other words, he treats them like sons instead of managers!  (I suspect that they knew their master’s love and generosity before he left—that’s why they were so motivated to manage his assets well.)

But the third manager has a very different heart—read 25:24,25.  Not only is he wrong about his master’s heart (as the previous verses demonstrate), but he even blames the master for his direct disobedience.  “I knew you were such a terrible tyrant that you paralyzed me with fear.  Therefore, my failure to invest your money is your fault—I protected myself from you by hiding your money.  We’re even.”

Read 25:26,27.  The master exposes the manager’s explanation as a lie.  He didn’t bury the money because he was afraid of the master.  For one thing, the master had never acted like a terrible tyrant.  Furthermore, if this was his real motivation, the manager would certainly have invested in it the bank where it would have been safe and earned interest.  No, the real reason the manager buried the money was that he was wicked and lazy.  By burying the money, he avoided work (“lazy”), and (apparently) he hoped the master wouldn’t return so he could keep the money for himself (“wicked”).  That’s why the master takes the money away from him and casts his from his presence (and here Jesus goes beyond the parable to describe hell—read 25:28,30).  Now let’s identify three of the lessons this parableteaches us...


First, it teaches us that God is the Owner and we are all managers.  Of course, this is not the only relationship God desires to have with us.  He is also a Savior who wants to rescue us from our sins and fears.  And he is a Father who wants us to experience his love as sons and daughters.  But this Owner/manager relationship is real and foundational.  Everything we have—our natural talents, our place and time in history, our financial resources, our physical health and abilities, our opportunities, etc. has been “loaned” to us by God (Ps.24:1).  Not to acknowledge this is great folly (1Cor.4:7).  Our foundational privilege and responsibility during this life is to diligently and creatively invest his resources in ways that advance his interests.  And what are his interests?  That all people will see how good and real he is, so that they will want to want to do the same (1Pet. 2:12).

What a radically different perspective this is from our modern, hyper-individualistic American culture!  This perspective is foreign and offensive, because we view ourselves as autonomous owners, responsible only to ourselves and to advance our own individual interests. 

Second, it teaches us that God gives us both freedom and responsibility in our management.  He gives us considerable freedom in our management during this life.  He doesn’t hover over our shoulders and micro-manage.  He delegates valuable resources to us—and he lets us do with them whatever we wish.  But when Jesus returns, he will hold us totally responsible for our management of his resources—and his verdict will define us for all eternity.  We don’t like this, either—but it is the clear teaching of Scripture.  We should not be like little children engaging in magical thinking (“I can’t see you, so you can’t see me.”)  We should realize that God’s future verdict will stand regardless of our present beliefs about it.

Some will be praised by God, promoted, and be welcomed in to share the joy of God’s eternal kingdom.  This is wonderful beyond all imagination!  Especially since we have all revolted against God and violated his laws—and therefore deserve his condemnation.  But God has provided a way (which we’ll talk about soon) to forgive our guilt and welcome us into his kingdom.

Others will be exposed by God as thieves, dispossessed, and banished eternally from his kingdom.  “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” speak of the conscience regret that we could have chosen a different path—but now it is too late.

These are the only two outcomes—here and throughout the Bible.  And they are based on what we do with this life (contra reincarnation/purgatory).

Thirdly (and most importantly), the key to a favorable verdict is faith in God.  Jesus says this is the main point of the parable—but it’s easy to miss this.  Read 25:29.  What does it mean?  What is it that these managers did/did not have, that resulted in a verdict of abundance or dispossession?

Not: “To him who has resources, more resources will be given.  But to him who has no resources, even the resources he has shall be taken away.”  They all had resources, because God entrusted all of them with his resources.  Also, it makes no sense because if you have no resources, they can’t be taken away from you.  What we have/don’t have must therefore be different from what is added or taken away from us, and is the reason for something else being added or taken away from us.

What they did/did not have was faith in the master—he calls them “faithful,” and they are “good” because they are faith-ful.  They entrusted themselves to his faithfulness (“I will return”) and goodness (“I care about you”) enough to act on it.  That’s why he called the third manager “worthless”—because he did not fulfill this most basic purpose of his role.  So 25:29 means: “Whoever has faith in God, God will give abundant life in his kingdom.  But whoever refuses to have faith in God, God will banish from his kingdom.”  This is what the Bible says over and over again (read Heb.11:6; quote Jn.3:16).

Faith is the key.  The first two managers were not rewarded by the master because they earned it by their hard work.  They were rewarded because he was gracious, and because they trusted his goodness and faithfulness.  Their faith in him motivated their faithful service (EXPLAIN), and their faithfulness to him demonstrated their faith in him.

Conversely, the third manager was not rejected because he didn’t work hard enough.  He was rejected because he wanted to be his own master and slandered his master’s character in order to justify his actions.

That raises an obvious question: How do you get faith in God?  On one level, it is a simple choice to entrust yourself to God—so simple that children can do it.  But on another level, it is difficult because we have a deep and insidious aversion to faith in God.  That’s why the Bible emphasizes two important factors that are always present in biblical faith.

The first factor is admitting your need for God.  This is why Jesus speaks of being “poor in spirit” as almost a synonym for faith (Matt. 5:3).  To be poor in spirit means not just that you don’t have much (penes), but that you have nothing (ptochos)—that you are destitute and depend entirely on someone else’s charity.  We’re very resistant to admitting this kind of need, because we are pridefully self-sufficient.  Usually we must experience significant difficulty (EXAMPLES) before we become open to admitting this—and even then we can harden our hearts in determined independence or bitterness and cynicism.  God does not send these difficulties, but he can work powerfully through them to convince us of our need for him.

The second factor is exposure to the message about Jesus (Rom.10:17).  This message about Jesus—the beauty of his character, the profundity of his wisdom, the depth of his love for broken people, the uniqueness of his sacrifice for our sins, and especially the offer of complete forgiveness and spiritual life—has amazing power to attract you to him.  If you expose yourself to this message (by hearing teachings and reading the Bible), you will hear Jesus knocking on the door of your heart.  It is like a seed sown in soil softened by difficulty—with the power to germinate into a whole new life (1Pet.1:23)!

It is through these two factors that God summons us to come to him by entrusting ourselves to his Son Jesus.  Some experience difficulty first so that when they encounter the message about Jesus, they are hungry for it.  Others hear this message first—but recognize its value only after they have experienced some difficulty.  Is this where you are now—with both of these factors present?  How will you respond?