Jesus shared a parable that will help us understand something important about rewards.
He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’
There are a few things to notice here. The ten represent the total number of believers whom He calls servants. From the time the world began until the moment Jesus returns to inaugurate His kingdom there will be a host of people who have and will receive everlasting life by faith. These ten servants represent all believers throughout history.
The second thing to notice is that the nobleman gives a command and equal resources to carry out that command. He says, “Do business till I come.” They are to work continually until the nobleman returns. So if someone works only a short time or not at all, they would be displaying clear disobedience. This order is given to all ten servants without any caveats. No one gets more money than any other, and no one gets more expectations placed upon them than the others. They all get one mina-not a fortune but a reasonable sum of money, and they all get the same instructions. The playing field is completely fair and equal.
Jesus, in a similar manner, has placed an equal command upon all those who have believed in Him for everlasting life. Each saved person has an equal opportunity to work for Christ in his specific field of influence. Since it’s an even playing field, how a person responds is entirely up to them. As the story develops we meet more players in the cast. Jesus says:
“But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’
Jesus would soon be rejected by the majority of Jews in Jerusalem, but the Jews of Jerusalem were not the last to reject Jesus as Christ or Messiah. In fact, today much of the world still rejects Jesus. Unbelievers throughout the globe who would likely answer the coming of Jesus in the same way, "We will not have this man reign over us!" In fact, John tells us when Jesus returns to rule the earth, the armies of the world will be arrayed against him. Lining up tanks is a pretty clear message; they don’t want to be ruled by him. These rebellious subjects are those who reject Christ. Jesus goes on:
"And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
You would think that the first thing the newly appointed king would do is dispense with his enemies. Instead, he takes care of the affairs of his household before he turns his attention to domestic matters. He calls his servants in and has them give account. The parable continues:
Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’
Remember the king’s command, “Do business till I come.” Not only did this servant obey but he excelled. He was extremely profitable. The king calls him “good servant,” and he is the only one to get this title in the parable.
It's important to notice what the reward for his faithfulness is. He's given public recognition by the king and a county to rule. He gets ten cities to reign over. The reward of his well-done work was more work to do. The king rewards him with a really sweet job.
A mina wasn’t a fortune but was enough to start a small business, so finding out that a servant who had only managed a small account would become royalty is surprising. We should not miss the lesson, though. Jesus explains the principle as, “You were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.” It’s almost humorous in its abruptness.
It's like saying, “You made a few thousand bucks mowing lawns over the summer, which qualifies you to be the governor of Texas." Though it may seem like quite a leap, the truth is even more sublime. Jesus is teaching His listeners that there is a great reward for those who excel at the basics. All of this is to say, do well in small things, and you will be rewarded with big things when the king comes.
Let's see how the next servant does.
And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’
Remember that each servant started with an equal amount of money and opportunity. So the fact that this servant produced less profit with his time and effort is entirely the fault of the servant. Nonetheless, he still did reasonably well.
Notice that there is something missing from this exchange. The king did not call this servant "good" as he did with the first servant. That's why I like to call him the "reliable servant." He did an adequate enough job. Clearly, he could have done better, but he could have done worse as well. Figuratively, he is your average B student. He works hard enough, but from time to time you might find him cooling his heels.
His reward is smaller than the first servant's. His rulership, although sizable is half that of the previous appointment. Once again we see the same principle at play. Being faithful in whatever we are given to do will result in reward that exists at an order of magnitude greater than what we did to earn it. However, the quality and quantity of our work directly affect the amount of responsibility and reward we are given when Jesus returns. Jesus goes on. This is where it begins to hurt:
“Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. For I feared you, because you are a harsh man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’
First and foremost, this servant did not obey. Remember, the King told his servants to “Do business till I come." This servant did not do business at all. Instead, he hid the money in a handkerchief. “Handkerchief" is a generous translation. The word means a cloth used to wipe sweat from the face. He intentionally chose not to work for his master. He deliberately defied his king’s command. Why didn’t he obey the instructions to “Do business till I come?”
The way he viewed the king blocked him from doing any business with the money. The servant continued by saying, “For I feared you, because you are a harsh man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.”
Basically, he said that he didn't see the point. He thought the king would not allow him to benefit from his own work. All effort, from the servant's perspective, would be a waste since it would just go to benefit the king alone. Why would he work if the king was just going to steal the profits and throw them in the royal treasury? He believed the king, in his shrewdness, would take away whatever he earned. Thus this servant decided not to do business at all.
The third servant didn't work because he didn't believe in rewards. He was not motivated enough to get busy. His lack of belief in a king who would reward him sabotaged his ability to do anything valuable. Laziness appeared to him to be the most rewarding course of action.
This seems to be the place that many Christians find themselves today. Many are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They fear God enough not to abandon the title “Christian,” but they don’t believe in rewards and therefore don’t do many or any good works. What one believes about rewards is very important in terms of motivating the believer to work.
It's important to remember that this servant was simply wrong. Clearly, everything including the servants themselves is owned by the king. However, at the first two appointments, the king did not take away the profits from his servants. Instead, he allowed them to keep the profits. At the end of the parable, the first servant is identified as "the one who has ten minas.” Also, Jesus says, “To everyone who has [more] will be given." The faithful servants were allowed to keep the profits and still have them at the end of Jesus’ parable. They would use the profits to continue the work the king had just given them.
The third servant was just flat wrong to believe that the king would not reward his work. Although, by being lazy, he ensured he would get no reward from the king. He becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way. Jesus continues with the parable:
And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was a harsh man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’
Notice that the king calls the one who's been unfaithful to him, "wicked servant." The king can legitimately call him "wicked" since the servant deliberately disobeyed his instructions. The king had commanded all of his servants, “Do business till I come." The king had not explained how profitable each servant had to be, only that they work continuously. This servant could have satisfied his master's instructions with minimum effort. He could have put the money in the bank and allowed it to accrue interest. He would not have been rewarded as much as the first or second servant, but he would have gotten some reward. However, even that was too much work for this lazy, disobedient servant. So, with all of this in mind, the king calls him a "wicked servant."
Although the servant has disobeyed and will have to suffer the consequences, apparently the consequences are not being cast out of the royal household. Although his reputation is singed and his pride destroyed, the wicked one remains a servant. He remains part of the house of the king. We know this because the king still calls him a servant, albeit a wicked one. Even in the next section when the king delivers his sentence to his enemies, the servant remains a servant.
It's easy to become concerned that disobedience could lead to a loss of salvation. However, losing salvation is not in view in this parable. Instead, a potential loss of reward is prominently on display. Jesus continues:
“And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.
Finally, we come to the conclusion of the wicked servant's story. His rebellion against his king has cost him even what he had. The mina, which he didn't make any use of, is taken away and given to the good servant. The king is interested in results. He apparently doesn't like to waste resources on servants who disobey.
Jesus gives the lesson through the words of the king. He says, “To everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” It seems that He’s acknowledging that this will seem harsh to some. The accusation made against the king has a kernel of truth from this perspective. While salvation is a free gift, reward has to be earned. Reward is given out based on merit. The wicked servant didn’t earn any reward. Believers who are completely disobedient during their mortal life will not earn reward in the kingdom.
Now that the king has returned, this servant would long to be part of the happy affairs of the royal court, yet he’s left on the outside. He’s still a servant, and part of the kingdom, but he’s woefully stripped of his royal duties. The wicked servant is not given a governorship of ten or five cities. No doubt he would love to receive a single city or possibly a neighborhood to manage. He’s not even given a bathroom floor to mop.
We see his loss, and if we are not careful, it could be our own when we stand before Christ. The New Testament is loaded with references to the believer's opportunity to reign with Christ. That's why it's safe to take this part of the parable quite literally. There will be those good servants who will be appointed to a high office in the Kingdom of God. There will be those who were reliable enough to work as middle managers in Christ's administration. Still, others will have proved their faithfulness so lacking that they are given no honorable task when Christ returns.
Jesus continues with this gruesome ending:
Bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’”
The wicked servant survives while the enemies of the king get slaughtered. It seems that Jesus is reminding us of the absolute nature of servanthood. The enemies, which represent unbelievers, are the only ones in danger of slaughter while all of the servants, regardless of their performance, remain alive. Though the wicked servant has acted pitifully, he survives and witnesses the destruction of those who rejected the rule. Even the “wicked servant” was saved.
If you've believed in Jesus for everlasting life, you are eternally secure. No matter how you live as a servant of the coming king, your eternal destiny is guaranteed. This parable reminds us it's your reward in the kingdom which is at stake, not your salvation. Your salvation is gained by faith alone in Christ alone, while your reward is earned by the hard work of obedience to Christ.
Let’s summarize the four groups we met in this parable.
Good Servant = Saved and greatly rewarded
Reliable Servant = Saved and rewarded
Wicked Servant = Saved only
Enemies = Not saved
We can distill the lesson down to a pretty simple point. The lesson for believers is this: It will pay to obey. If you are a believer, then you stand to gain great reward if you are obedient to Christ. If you are a believer and you are neglecting His instructions, then you may be setting yourself up for a huge loss when Jesus arrives to establish His kingdom. If you have believed in Jesus for everlasting life, but failure has marked your discipleship efforts ever since, take heart. Your salvation is not in jeopardy. However, it's time you get extra serious about your discipleship because you don't want to experience what other wicked servants will. You don't want to be a wicked servant. You want to be a good servant.
I’ll leave you with this little piece of poetry.
For those who’ve believed
salvation is received,
but if obedience is ignored
there will be no reward.