Romans 11:22 says, “Behold the kindness and severity of God.” We see the kindness and severity of God to two faithful servants and one wicked and lazy servant. Read or listen to this chapter from Your Finances God’s Way to see the relationship to money.
Table of Contents
- The Kindness of God to Faithful Servants
- The Severity of God to a Wicked and Lazy Servant
- Faithful Servants Versus a Wicked and Lazy Servant
- The Extremes of the Kindness and Severity of God
Before I became a Christian, I believed in God. I wasn’t an atheist, but I hadn’t heard the gospel, repented of my sins, and put my faith in Jesus Christ. At that time, if you had asked me about God, I would’ve told you how good, gracious, loving, and kind He is. But I would not have told you how severe, holy, just, and righteous He is. When we describe God with some of His attributes but leave out others, we create a false god, or idol.
Instead, we must do what Romans 11:22 commands and “Behold the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you.” We see the kindness and severity of God on full display in the parable of the talents as He deals with the three servants. Let’s consider the first two servants, who were recipients of God’s kindness, and then the third servant, who was a recipient of His severity.
The Kindness of God to Faithful Servants
Because the first two servants had been “faithful over a few things,” it would make sense for the master to make them rulers over few things. Instead, he said he would “make [them] ruler over many things.” God is gracious. We will receive more from Him than we’ve done for Him.
It should encourage us that the master was pleased with the servants even though they had been “faithful [only] over a few things.” If we thought we had to be faithful over many things to please the Lord, we might feel like failures. Instead, God is pleased with faithfulness over only a few things if that’s all He’s given us.
In addition, the “few things” needn’t be big things. In Matthew 10:42, Jesus said, “Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” Talk about being faithful over little! What’s littler than giving someone a cup of water? With God, even the smallest acts will be rewarded.
When the master said, “I will make you ruler over many things,” he promoted those men. They went from being servants to rulers. The reward for serving the Lord is greater service in the future.
Bringing God Joy
I’m sure when we have marriages that reflect Christ and the church, when we raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and when children obey their parents, it brings God joy. Although there’s one thing in Scripture that seems to bring God more joy than anything else, and that’s people being saved. In Luke 15 are three well-known parables about salvation, and joy is the theme of each. In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, Jesus said,
When he has found [the lost sheep], he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninetynine just persons who need no repentance…When she has found [the lost coin], she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!” Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (verses 5-7, 9-10).
There’s joy in heaven not just over the salvation of hundreds or thousands, but “over one sinner.” And though the joy is in heaven, it’s “in the presence of the angels.” Who is in the presence of the angels? God! This is His joy. The parable of the prodigal son takes a different approach. Instead of using the words joy or rejoicing, it shows the Father’s joy at the lost son’s repentance:
The father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
And they began to be merry. Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing (verses 22-25).
This is great joy! We should keep in mind how our salvation makes the Lord feel. If ever we start to feel as though we’re just one of many Christians and, therefore, we’re insignificant to the Lord, we should turn to Luke 15 and read these parables.
Experiencing God’s Joy
Not only does our salvation bring the Master joy, we also get to share this joy with Him. In the parable of the talents, we might expect the master to say to the first and second servants, “Enter into heaven,” or “Enter into the joy of heaven,” but they were invited to “enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21 and 23). He invited the faithful servants to share in his joy with him. His joy is part of their reward, and God’s joy will be part of our reward.
The Bible mentions five crowns that are available to us as rewards: the imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-25), the crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19), the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8), the crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), and the crown of life (Revelation 2:10). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus repeatedly talked about rewards; the word occurs nine times between Matthew 5:11 and 7:17.1 As a pastor, one of the more common questions I’ve been asked is, “What do these rewards look like?” The parable of the talents reveals at least part of our reward is sharing in the Lord’s joy with Him.
The Severity of God to a Wicked and Lazy Servant
In the same way the first two servants reveal the master’s goodness, the wicked and lazy servant reveals his severity (Romans 11:22). We might not like to think about God’s severity. Some people even criticize it, saying something like, “What kind of God would…?” and then they list things they believe make God look bad: “…keep people out of heaven,” “…send people to hell,” “…punish them.” The answer to the question is, “The kind of God you should fear and serve!” Few places in Scripture demonstrate the need to do so more than the master’s dealing with the wicked and lazy servant.
The master was on a hot streak with the first two servants, but with the third servant we see the truth of Proverbs 20:6: “Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man?” This verse makes two points: First, it is easy to talk about being faithful. Second, it is hard to find faithful people.
Unbelievers face the Great White Throne Judgment. It is a sentencing more than a trial, but if an unbeliever could defend himself, imagine if he said something like, “I didn’t serve You because I knew You were a God who judges people.” This is an absurd defense, because if he knew God judged people, then he had more reason to obey. But this is close to the excuse given by the wicked and lazy servant:
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, 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” (Matthew 25:24-29).
The Master Put a Hole in the Wicked and Lazy Servant’s Logic
The master put a hole in the servant’s logic. If he knew the master was “a hard man,” he should’ve taken his stewardship more seriously. The servant’s words backfired and sealed his fate. While the master’s joy was evident with the previous two servants, the third servant witnessed the opposite: indignation. Why? Part of the reason is contained in the words “you knew.” The servant knew the master was severe but was unfaithful anyway.
The wicked and lazy servant made two strong accusations. First, he said the master was cruel and expected more from his servants than he should: He was “a hard man.” Second, he said the master took what didn’t belong to him, reaping where he hadn’t sown, and gathering where he hadn’t scattered. In response, the master repeated the words that were true of him (“I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed”), but left out the words that weren’t true—“a hard man.” Up to this point, the master’s behavior showed him to be gracious and fair. He had given the servants the amounts they could handle, and he rewarded their efforts. But he did expect a return on his investment, and the application for us is that God gives us money and expects us to be faithful stewards who produce a return on His investment, which means using it for His glory.
We have the same expectation when we invest our own money. Imagine giving money to an investment manager. Your hope is that you will receive more than you gave him. It would be ridiculous if the investment manager said to you, “You’re such a difficult investor; I didn’t invest your money for you. Here—take back what you gave me.” You would be frustrated, and you might even say something like the master said: “You could have at least invested it in a savings account so that I would receive some interest!”
People Can Be Wicked Because of What They Don’t Do
What might we call an investment manager who acted like the third servant? Lazy! Although I doubt we would call him wicked. Typically, we think people are wicked because of sins they commit, such as murder, adultery, or theft. Surprisingly, the third servant was wicked—not because of what he did (commission), but because of what he didn’t do (omission). James 4:17 says, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” The sin of failing to do what God wants can be as serious as committing sins we think are wicked.
None of us do all the good God wants us to do, but if our lives are characterized by failing to do the good God wants, then we can be wicked in His eyes. Some people haven’t committed the sins that we think make them wicked, but if they’ve been unfaithful stewards throughout their lives, they’ll stand as condemned as those who have committed the most grievous sins.
Could our finances be one of the more common ways that we fail to do what God wants? Do we spend our money in ways that dishonor God? Spending money in immoral ways is a sin of commission. Do we fail to give in ways that would honor God? Failing to give when we should is a sin of omission.
The Master Expects Something
There are two sides to the master’s expectation that his money earn interest: one encouraging and the other sobering. Because the first two servants doubled their investment, it’s easy to think the master had high expectations and he would be pleased only if we produced a considerable amount. But when the third servant was judged, we discover the master would’ve been satisfied with interest alone—a low bar to reach. That’s encouraging.
Now for the sobering part: The third servant only received one talent. If anyone looked as though he could have gotten away without producing anything, it is him, yet God still expected something from him. This reveals that nobody can ever say, “I’m not talented. God hasn’t blessed me with any gifts to serve Him. If He gave me more, I’d be able to do more for Him, but because I have been given so little, I won’t even bother.” This excuse won’t work. The master doesn’t have high expectations, but he still has expectations.
This helps us understand why the master was and wasn’t upset. He wasn’t upset that the servant had only one talent. The master wouldn’t condemn him for having only what had been given to him; however, he was upset that the servant didn’t produce anything with the little he was given. The financial application for us is that God will never be upset at how little we have. But even when we have little, we have the opportunity to be faithful or unfaithful.
Is the Kindness and Severity of God Determined by Works?
In Matthew 25:30, the master said, “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The “outer darkness” is the farthest place away from the light. Because 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all,” we know the “outer darkness” is the farthest we can get from God. “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” speaks of the unending torment of hell. The worst suffering becomes more bearable when we know it will come to an end. But that’s not the case here. Hopelessness is the hell within hell because the inhabitants know their suffering will never end.
The two faithful servants had works and were invited into heaven. The unfaithful servant had no works and was cast into hell. This makes it look as though the first two servants were saved by works, and the third servant was unsaved because he had no works. How do we explain this when Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”? The solution is we aren’t saved by works, but works are one of the evidences of being saved. James 2:17 and 20 state that faith without works is dead. A dead faith doesn’t produce works. Living faith, on the other hand, is a saving faith that produces works.
Christians use what God has given them to serve Him (produce works), even if only in small ways. If people believe they’re Christians but produce no works, they’re deceived about their salvation. The absence of works reveals their faith is dead and they are unsaved.
We’re wrong if we think Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches that we don’t need to have works. These might be the two most well-known verses in the Bible about salvation being by grace through faith apart from works, but the next verse says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Works are the evidence of salvation because they reveal we are “His workmanship.” Conversely, the lack of good works reveals we are not “His workmanship” and will be cast into hell. The third servant reveals this truth.
Faithful Servants Versus a Wicked and Lazy Servant
Matthew’s Gospel contains many contrasting pairs, such as
- sheep versus wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15-20)
- a house built on the rock versus a house built on sand (Matthew 7:24-27)
- wheat versus tares (Matthew 13:24-30)
- a forgiven servant versus an unforgiving servant (Matthew 23:18-35)
- a wise servant versus an evil servant (Matthew 24:45-51)
- foolish virgins versus wise virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)
The parable of the talents features another pair: faithful servants versus an unfaithful wicked and lazy servant. In each of these pairs, the counterfeit looks like the genuine— that is, wolves in sheep’s clothing look like sheep, the house on the sand looks like the house on the rock, tares look like wheat.
First John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” These people looked saved—they looked like genuine Christians until “they went out.” It was only going out that revealed “they were not of us.” If they had not gone out—perhaps they remained in the church until they died—they would’ve looked like Christians until they stood before the Lord and heard the words of Matthew 25:30. Just as the storms revealed the one house to be built on sand, and just as the virgins were revealed to be foolish when the door was shut, the third servant’s unfaithfulness was revealed when he was judged and found to have no works.
Use or Possibly Lose What God’s Given You
The master said, “So take the talent from [the unfaithful wicked and lazy servant], and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:28-29). Jesus said something similar earlier: “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him” (Matthew 13:12). God does not waste words in Scripture. If He’s going to take up precious space saying the same thing more than once, it’s for a reason. He does not use highlighting, italics, underlining, or bold for emphasis, but He does repeat Himself to ensure we don’t miss a point He wants to make.
God doesn’t want us to miss the principle that we must use what He has given us or it might be taken away. That is what happened with the unfaithful wicked and lazy servant: He didn’t use what God gave him, and it was taken from him.
When I was an elementary schoolteacher, at the beginning of each year I distributed a responsibility to each of my students: passing out papers, collecting papers, line leaders, opening the door, taking the lunch money to the office. As the year progressed, some students showed themselves to be unfaithful. No matter how many warnings they were given, the situation didn’t improve. Finally, I had to take away their responsibility and give it to a faithful student who already had a responsibility. By the end of the year, I had two extremes in the classroom: some students had an “abundance” of responsibilities, and others ended up with no responsibilities because they had been taken away. Whatever talent God has given us might be taken away if we don’t use it.
The Extremes of the Kindness and Severity of God
Unfaithful servants (unbelievers) and faithful servants (believers) also experience the extremes of the kindness and severity of God as shown by the parable. Take your mind back to the verse at the beginning: “Behold the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you” (Romans 11:22). This verse was played out with the three servants:
- The unfaithful wicked and lazy servant lost everything. His talent was taken from him, and then he was cast into hell, where he would suffer for eternity. For unbelievers, it is punishment upon punishment as they experience the extremes of God’s severity.
- The faithful servants gained everything. They were commended by the master, invited to experience his joy with him, promoted from servants over little to rulers over much, and recipients of the unfaithful servant’s talent. More was given to them until they “[had] an abundance.” For believers, it is blessing upon blessing as we experience the extremes of God’s kindness (Romans 11:22).
As Christians, we inherit eternal life. This alone is tremendous, but we also receive other immeasurable blessings. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
Thinking of all God has done for us, and all He has in store for us, what more reason could we have to be good stewards of our finances? Let this be your motivation. We are faithful with our money not because we must be to be saved, but because we want to be because we are saved. We manage our finances well not out of obligation, but out of appreciation; not out of indebtedness, but out of gratefulness.
- “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12); “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (5:46); “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (6:1); “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6:2-6); “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6:16-18).