The Only Bad Investment

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells a story about three servants. Each was entrusted with a huge sum of money – twenty, forty, and one hundred years’ worth of wages. We’re talking about millions of dollars! Now, the man who left the money with the servants went on a journey, and when he returned, the ones with 40 and 100 years’ worth of wages doubled the value of what had been given to them. The man is very pleased with them! The servant who was given (just!) 20 years’ worth of wages did nothing with what was given to him, and the man was very furious with this servant.

What standard of judgment does the man (Jesus) use for the servants’ investment strategies? Is it based on the merits of their outcomes or the measure of their faithfulness or both?

My problem with the Parable of the Talents

I’m frustrated with Jesus about this parable. The positive examples doubled what was given to them. That sounds a tad unrealistic, right?

Further, Jesus doesn’t include what we would expect. For example, a servant who is given 100 years wages, invests it, and only brings back only 30% or 70% or 120%. A net loss or smaller return is not an example in the story. What would have been the man’s response to that situation? Would he be upset? Disappointed? Or, would he be glad a faithful, well-meaning attempt was made? Would he still say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”

You probably haven’t doubled everything you’ve been given. At least by the way you measure it.

You probably haven’t only sat on what you’ve been given to keep from losing it–though I’m sure many do.

Aren’t you curious now? We’re left wondering about what the most likely scenario is.

The one we live everyday.

God is a grand gift giver. He doesn’t give the same gifts to everyone, but he does give to everyone, and according to this parable, he expects a return.

So what kind of return am I getting on what God has given me? And more importantly, is God pleased with the return?

I’m not only talking about finances, and neither is Jesus. Think of what you’ve been given. He’s intentionally placed us in our city, our neighborhood, and our families. We have money to manage, talents to use and grow, education, capacities, networks of people, resources, assets, and time.

Does your return look like the servants who doubled what they were given or like the servant who did nothing? If you’re like me, you’re probably not like any of the servants in the parable.

A new encouragement to consider

So what should we make of Jesus’ decision not to give us the example we want? It could change how we make decisions about what we’ve been given.

I’ve concluded that Jesus’ decision not to include that scenario means that if I am investing what God has given me toward what God desires, God will grow that investment in God’s favor every time.

The only bad investment is the one that is never made.

In other words, an unproductive faithful servant is an impossibility as far as Jesus and his Kingdom are concerned because no matter what the servant does faithfully, Jesus makes it productive.

We know this is true when we consider other areas of Scripture. Perhaps the economic language of the Parable of the Talents throws us off a bit. Consider the principle above in light of John 15 and Gal. 5:22-23.

  • Those who remain in the vine (Jesus, in John 15) will produce fruit. They produce fruit because they abide or live in Christ. It is not that we try to produce fruit to prove that we are in Christ; fruit comes naturally out of our union with Christ.
  • Similarly, the fruit of the Spirit is a result of our faith, our commitment, our surrender to Christ (Gal. 5:22-23).

Theologically, at least three important truths inform this principle and keep us away from the prosperity gospel:

  1. We work for God and his purposes, not our own (Col 3:23-24).
  2. The return is about Kingdom outcomes that bring shalom not financial wealth.
  3. Jesus determines the outcomes and ensures they happen; we don’t do either.

Said another way, the Parable of the Talents is the story of a successful business owner providing capital to his employees and rightfully expecting a return. It’s how our employers treat us today. The employee that decided to play it safe (for whatever reason) is the one Jesus has a problem with. That servant did nothing to further the man’s purposes, even something as little as putting it in a savings account to gain interest.

None of the servants could have known what the result of their laboring would be, and neither can we. But, we can be faithful, active investors.

Faithful, active investors always get a good return.

The servants that made faithful, well-stewarded investments got a huge return.

Some takeaways for us to consider:

  1. Jesus would rather me take a risk than wait for the perfect risk.
  2. Jesus asks me to work hard to invest well and then trust him to make my work productive toward his purposes
  3. The kind of fruit/return Jesus wants is probably not the same as what I would want or expect

When I invest faithfully what God has given to me, I believe and trust that Jesus will ensure a good return–the kind of return that brings foretastes of heaven to earth, that makes my city a more flourishing place, that changes me.

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