“Well done good and faithful servant” is a statement, made by Jesus, that is quoted often — but many times out of context and with a wrong application. It has caused many Christians to look at their lives, question their worthiness, and wonder if they are a “good and faithful servant” and will hear “well done” or if Jesus will rebuke them as a “wicked and lazy servant.”
Before explaining this, let me say, that no Christian should have this concern. Bear with m as we examine the context and the meaning of what Jesus said to fully understand why a Christian will never hear, “you wicked and lazy servant.” This answer is longer than most, but it is vitally important that Christians understand the passage about the good and faithful servant and the wicked and lazy servant.
“Well Done Good and Faithful Servant”
Jesus spoke these words in a parable in Matthew chapter 25. In order to understand His words in context, we need to back up to chapter 24 of Matthew. Remember that there were no chapters and verses in the original manuscripts (chapters were added in the 13th century and verses in the 16th century). Therefore, it is important to read any passage of Scripture in the broader context, and with consideration of the historical setting and the message being presented at that time.
Note that in this chapter, Jesus was speaking privately to his 12 disciples (Mat 24:3). They had asked Jesus about when the end would come (Matt 24:3), and Jesus responded by:
- first warning them that they not be deceived (Matt 24:4-8)
- then telling of events that would reveal the coming end (Matt 24:9ff)
- and finally by warning them to be ready (Matt 24:44)
The closing passage (Matthew 24:32ff), is referred to as the parable of the fig tree and it is a prophecy about the nation of Israel. It is not about the Church. (For a fuller understanding read, Is God Fulfilling All Things? The Parable of the Fig Tree: Matt 24). The passage tells of events that will take place in the seventieth week of Daniel — the time that is commonly called the Tribulation. It is the time of Jacob’s (Israel’s) trouble, not the church’s trouble. Again, the foretold and yet future seventieth week of Daniel (Dan 9:24-27) is about Israel (Jer 30:7).
Understanding that chapter 24 of Matthew is about Israel, not the Church, take note that it closes with Jesus distinguishing between two very different servants:
- A faithful servant who is blessed and will be made to rule (Matt 24:45-47) and
- An evil servant who will be cut in two and will be given “his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Clearly, Jesus was telling of one servant being glorified (“blessed and…made to rule”) and the other being condemned (“weeping and gnashing of teeth” is always a descriptive phrase of the existence of those who have been condemned).
Now we move into chapter 25 (again, remember that there were no chapter breaks). This chapter is simply a continuation of Jesus’ words spoken privately to his 12 disciples in Matthew 24. Jesus begins with a warning:
Mat 25:13 “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.
Jesus continues to prophesy by speaking another parable. In any parable, we need to discern who the characters represent and what the application is for those hearing the parable. Just like Matthew 24, Matthew 25 is about Israel and the end times, not the Church. So let’s break down Matthew 25:14-35, which is commonly called the Parable of the Talents [all bracketed information is mine].
Mat 25:14-15 For the kingdom of heaven [the dwelling place of God in a physical realm] is like a man traveling to a far country [Jesus is that man. He came to earth, far from Heaven.], who called his own servants [God’s people, Israel] and delivered his goods to them [His words, His works, which would ultimately result in His saving grace]. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. [All are given talent, gifts.]
Two Faithful Servants
The parable continues by explaining in detail what each of the three servants did with their own gift.
Mat 25:16-18 “Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise, he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.”
Two servants received the gifts and put them to good use, multiplying their worth. The third did nothing with his gift.
Mat 25:19-23 “After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ 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.’
“He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’”
The third servant….
Mat 25:24-26 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant…'”
The Fear of Many
Many Christians express fear that they will not be as one of the first two servants and they will not hear, “well done…..” They fear that, instead, they will hear “you wicked and lazy servant.” Why do some Christians fear this? Because they believe they haven’t done enough. They haven’t served enough, evangelized enough, read the Bible enough, etc. This can’t be. Let’s continue.
What were the talents? It was the goods the man [Jesus] had delivered to His servants [Israel]. We defined the goods as that which Jesus brought from the far country [Heaven] and gave to Israel. The goods would be His words, His works, and ultimately His saving grace. (Matthew 25:14)
Now, understand that this parable was spoken to Israel under a different covenant. The Old Covenant was done away with and we now live under the New Covenant (Heb 8:13).
Before the Cross
Prior to Jesus’ payment for the sins of mankind, God redemptive relationship was through His people Israel under a very different covenant. Before the cross, sin was atoned for with the blood of animals and atonement had to be made over and over again. After the cross, sin was completely paid for by Jesus’ pure blood. “It is finished,” Jesus proclaimed (John 19:30).
After the Cross
No Christian will ever hear, “You wicked and lazy servant…” because in reading further we read of very specific consequences for this wicked and lazy servant. Jesus said:
Mat 25:30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is clearly a condemnation of a soul to Hell to spend eternity apart from God. This cannot be about a Christian for Jesus has promised to all whom He saves that they will have eternal life (Read: What is eternal security/assurance of salvation?).
Therefore, no Christian should fear to hear, “you wicked and lazy servant.” No Christian will ever hear that.
But will all Christians hear, “well done, good and faithful servant?”
Context: A Different Time, A Different Message
- In context, the words Jesus spoke were spoken to the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant.
- In context, Jesus was teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven, a kingdom at hand at that time, but a kingdom yet to come during the time we live (a reference to the Millennial Kingdom that is future).
- In context, Jesus is judging those who serve Him during a different time.
We’ve addressed #1, so let’s look at 2 and 3.
#2 Jesus Teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven
The Kingdom of Heaven does not exist on the earth at this time in which we live. It is a literal, physical kingdom that was at hand (nearby) when Jesus walked the earth. Had Israel received their Messiah, shortly after Jesus would have set up His Kingdom on earth. They did not and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth is yet to come. However, there is a spiritual kingdom that exists now — the Kingdom of God.
Rom 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink [a physical kingdom]; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit [a spiritual kingdom].
Jesus is the King of this kingdom and He reigns, spiritually, in the hearts of all believers. All believers are united in this Kingdom by the indwelling and sealing of the Holy Spirit. But this is not the Kingdom of Heaven. It will come when Jesus returns to earth, and, in that kingdom, talents (gifts) will be given to those who serve the King. How they use those gifts will demonstrate their faith in the King, their love for the King, and their trust in His will and ways. Those who multiply their gifts demonstrate a relationship of knowing and trusting King Jesus. Those who hide their gifts are those who said:
…“Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid…” (Mat 25:24-25a)
It’s clear in these verses that the unfaithful servant doesn’t know King Jesus, let alone trust or love Him, and so he “went and hid [the] talent in the ground.” (Matt 25:25)
#3 Jesus as Judge
It should be remembered that all people were born to serve God, but God gives each a choice. Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 are telling how people will be judged for their works of serving Him. The faithful servants will be rewarded and the unfaithful condemned. The faithful will receive Heaven, the unfaithful will receive Hell.
Jesus answered the unfaithful servant, calling him “wicked and lazy” and saying “you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming, I would have received back my own with interest.” (Mat 25:26-27) The “wicked and lazy servant” had not, in any way, multiplied the Lord’s gift to him. This reveals that he had no faith in Jesus. He did not know Him and had no desire to serve Him. Therefore, that which was given to him will be taken away (Matt 28).
In application, the faithful servants were rewarded with increase and abundance. Those people knew, loved, and served Jesus. In contrast, the “wicked and lazy” servant will be cast into outer darkness (Matt 25:30). They will be judged and found wanting.
Mat 25:29-30 ‘For to everyone who has [Faith=knowledge, belief, and trust], more will be given, and he will have abundance [saving grace and eternal life]; but from him who does not have [Faith in Jesus. This lack of faith was demonstrated by the servant not knowing who Jesus is: “Lord, I knew you to be a hard man…”], even what he [the unfaithful servant] has will be taken away [all earthly gifts, including physical life taken away].
“‘And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Without Jesus, and His saving grace, the ultimate end of man is eternal condemnation. Because this unfaithful servant, who was called “wicked and lazy” is cast into outer darkness, this cannot be a Christian. Jesus will not cast anyone away who belongs to Him (Read: What is eternal security/assurance of salvation?).
This closes the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants. But the chapter doesn’t end there.
Watch for next week’s Got Questions? We’ll address the sheep and the goats of Matthew 25
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