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The Parable Of The Unprofitable Servant

Introduction

The Parable Itself

 

Jesus teaches:

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far coun­try, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. (15) And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. (16) Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. (17) And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. (18) But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. (19) After a long time the lord of those servants com­eth, and reckoneth with them. (20) And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. (21) His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faith­ful servant: thou hast been faith­ful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (22) He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. (23) His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faith­ful servant; thou hast been faith­ful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. (24) Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed [sown]: (25) And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. (26) His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: (27) Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with interest. (28) Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. (29) For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abun­dance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. (30) And cast ye the unprofitable ser­vant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:14-30 KJV.)

A More Accurate Name

 

This parable could also be called the Parable of the Servant who Pro­duces Nothing. Non-productivity is the main point and the focus of Jesus’ most important warning. However, some­times we call it the Parable of the Tal­ents. A better label, and which is used sometimes, is the Parable of the Unprof­itable Servant. For this discussion, we will use that familiar label so as to keep the point of the parable in sharper focus. The term talents in the normal name “Parable of the Talents” has taken an unwarranted meaning that this is a para­ble of varying rewards based on varying talents or abilities. Such a notion is not the warning thrust of the parable. Thus, it is preferable to call this the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant. This way we will keep the focus on the warning issue in the parable: it is the consequence of failing to produce anything with what riches the master gave the servant.

Synopsis Of Parable Of The Unprofitable Servant

 

In this parable, Jesus talks about three servants who were each given some gold (or talents). Two invested wisely. One not at all. The latter had nothing to show for having been given the gold.

Was the unwise servant merely punished, but made it to heaven? No. In Matt. 25:14 et seq., Jesus says “now throw this useless [unprofitable KJV] servant into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:30 NIV.) Jesus in Matthew 13:42, 49-50 identifies this place of “weeping and gnashing” as the “fiery furnace” where the wicked are sent by the angels in the day of judg­ment.

This parable is straight-forward and easy to dissect. The three servants are said to be three servants of the Lord. One produces nothing with the treasures entrusted to him. Two produce varying amounts and receive varying rewards. The one who produces nothing receives no reward and is sent to hell.

Hence the warning of the story is very clear. A servant of the Lord Jesus must produce some fruit or otherwise he will be sent to hell. It is exactly as Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:19: “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” As Chrysostum (349-407 A.D.) explained, it is not only sinners who go to “outer darkness, but he also who does no good.” (Wordsworth:134.)

Finally, this parable also teaches that all Christians who are productive (in the way Jesus means) are rewarded in correspondence with the fruit they pro­duced.

This is probably the easiest of all the parables to dissect. Yet, because it so clearly contradicts the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace, it suffers twists and turns by commentators eager to bury its mean­ing. Let’s now turn to see how cheap grace teachers interpret this parable so as to solve their dilemma that the Lord clearly refutes their faith-alone gospel.

What is Outer Darkness Where There Is Weeping and Gnashing Of Teeth?

 

Advocates of the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace (e.g., Dillow and Charles Stanley) insist the place this servant is thrown outside in darkness is in heaven, not hell. This servant thrown in this place of “weeping and gnashing” sup­posedly remains saved. Jesus allegedly means this servant suffers merely a loss of rewards by being thrown outside.

For example, Charles Stanley insists that this “weeping and gnashing” which is “outside in darkness” is in heaven, not hell: “It certainly does not mean hell...It clearly refers to being thrown outside a building into the dark. There is no mention of pain, fire or worms.”1 

In arriving at such a conclusion, Stanley never discusses the Master’s words in Matthew 13:42 and 13:49-50. In them, Jesus twice calls the place of “weeping and gnashing” the “fiery fur­nace.” First, Jesus says in 13:42 this place is the “fiery furnace” where the angels at the time of final judgment throw those who were “ensnared” in sin. Lastly, Jesus says in 13:49-50 that this place of “weeping and gnashing” is the “fiery furnace” where the wicked are sent after separating them from the righ­teous.2 How can this place of weeping and gnashing be anything but a lost con­dition?

Because these two ‘furnace’ pas­sages share implications undermining Stanley’s doctrine and he cannot explain them away, he was compelled by his out­look to ignore them.

For had Stanley discussed these verses, Jesus would refute faith alone. Rather than lose the Cheap Grace Gos­pel, Stanley preferred abandoning Jesus’ intention behind His warnings. Thus, Jesus and His meaning are sacrificed to the pyre of the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace. As Bonhoeffer said of the modern cheap grace gospel: “Jesus is misunder­stood anew, and again and again put to death.” (Bonhoeffer, Christ the Center (1960) at 39.)

Can this place of darkness outside really be in heaven? Stanley insists it can. He explains:

To be in the outer darkness is to be in the kingdom of God but outside the circle of men and women whose faithfulness on this earth earned them a special rank or position of authority. (Stanley, Eternal Securitysupra, at 126.)

But Stanley is again contradicting Scripture in his desperate attempt to hold onto the faith-alone gospel which this simple parable refutes.

For example, in Revelation 22:23, we hear of the New Jerusalem that needs no sun because the “glory” of God and Jesus are the “light” thereof. The New Jerusalem, importantly, is the picture of the kingdom of God. This is thus the same as heaven. Then Revelation says there shall be no “night” there. And there “shall no wise enter into it...[except] they who are written in the lamb’s book of life.” (Rev. 21:27.) This thus says only those written in the book of life can enter this city. And there is no darkness there. Stanley fails on his claim that there is darkness anywhere in heaven. God says there is no night there. Instead, God’s glory provides light throughout.

What about this place outside? Can this really mean inside heaven but out­side a ruling group of authority as Stan­ley claims? Clearly the answer is no.

Revelation 22:15 says “outside” are the “dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremon­gers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”

These outside are almost verbatim listed again in Revelation 21:8. Listen to their fate:

   But the fearful [cowards] and unbelieving, and the abomina­ble, and murderers, and whore­mongers, and sorcerers, and idolators, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8 KJV.)

   Likewise Revelation 20:15 says: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Then Revelation 20:10 says the lake of fire is a place of torment for Satan: “And the devil... was cast into the lake of fire...and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (KJV).

Thus, those outside in darkness in Revelation are going to hell’s fire.

 Furthermore, what could be more clear than Matthew 8:12 that outside heaven are those who suffer weeping and gnashing?

And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: (12) but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 8:11-12 ASV.)3

Those “sons of the kingdom” who have fallen into sin are thus thrown into “outer darkness” which is clearly outside the “kingdom of heaven.”4

 Thus, Jesus equates being thrust out of the kingdom of heaven with a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth in Matthew 8:11-12. In the kingdom of heaven is Abraham and all the prophets. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven must mean heaven. It is inescapable that the place of weeping and gnashing must be outside heaven. It can only be a place for those destined to hell.

Hence, honest evangelical scholars admit Jesus' point. For example, Russell in his dictionary writes: "The Greek noun [for gnashing] occurs repeatedly in the sayings of Jesus...concerning the remorseful gnashing of teeth by those w from heaven.”5

How do Stanley and Dillow in Reign of the Servant Kings deal with these countervailing passages in Mat­thew 8:11-12, and 13:42, 49-50? They ignore them. They never discuss them. In other words, the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace simply asserts a place of darkness outside where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth is in heaven. The only justification of this is that otherwise Jesus refutes the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace. These two authors love this other gospel even though it is con­trary to what Jesus taught. Hence, Jesus’ true gospel is ignored. No contrary evi­dence is admissible to test the Gospel of Cheap Grace. Why? Because the Mod­ern Gospel of Cheap Grace knows it has no substance if it were properly held up to Jesus’ words. Cheap grace proponents prefer a fable to the harsh reality of Jesus’ words.

To be absolutely precise in our analysis, let’s create a table summary of the verses at odds with Stanley and Dil­low to see what they both have over­looked:

TABLE 1. Place Outside In Darkness Where There Is Weeping And Gnashing Of Teeth: Is This Heaven Or Hell?

“Outside”

“Darkness”

“Weeping & Gnashing”

Jesus says it means:

Hell — “outside” are cowards and unbelievers who are to be thrown in “lake of fire.” (Rev. 22:15; 21:8; 20:15)

Hell — in New Jeru­salem, glory of God always present, giv­ing “light,” and no more “night.” (Rev. 22:23, 21:27.)

Hell — “fiery fur­nace” is place of “weeping and gnashing” that angels throw the ‘ensnared’ at end of time. (Matt. 13:42, 49,50.) Those “thrust out” into “outer darkness” from the “kingdom of heaven” will suf­fer “weeping and gnashing.” (Matt. 8:11-12; Luke 13:28).

Stan­ley-Dillow assert this is:

Heaven

Heaven

Heaven

Why is such a preposterous notion put forth by Stanley and Dillow that weeping and gnashing outside in dark­ness signifies heaven? Because in seven of the nine parables where Jesus warns of weeping and gnashing of teeth, Jesus is clearly warning Christians. Not hypo­crites. Not mere profess-ors. But real ser­vants. Real Christians. Among the seven are this Parable of the Unprofitable Ser­vant. The warning here is to a servant. Other parables are just as clear — some­times even clearer — that Christians are in view in these weeping and gnashing parables.

Numerous Other Weeping & Gnashing Parables Aimed At Christians

 

Dillow in Reign of the Servant Kings acknowledges that many parables of Jesus which discuss “weeping and gnashing of teeth” are aimed at Chris­tians. These parables typically threaten such grief on servants of His in the para­bles who are to be thrown “outside in darkness.” These servants’ errors were:

not having interest on their talents given by God. Matt. 25:14 ff. 

abusing fellow Christian servants. Luke 12:41 ff. Matt.24:48 ff.

failing to have charity to the brothers. Matt. 25:31 ff.

being once virgins who later let their oil burn out. Matt. 25:1 ff.

being once a “friend” who accepts the “call” and is even seated at the great banquet but when the time for exam­ination comes they lack a “proper robe.” Matt. 22:2 ff.

Stanley and Dillow both confess it is too obvious to deny that the above weeping and gnashing parables are Jesus’ threat to true Christians of this place for misbehavior.

The problem that Stanley and Dil­low are hoping to solve by insisting this place is in heaven is obvious. Otherwise, Jesus is warning Christians hell (weep­ing and gnashing outside in darkness) if they have the failings of the “unprofit­able servant. If they are an “abusive ser­vant.” If they are “goats” who call Him Lord but do not provide food, clothing and water to the brethren.

Why did Dillow and Stanley make this admission? Because of the over­whelming weight of textual evidence that the weeping and gnashing parables are aimed at true Christians. This is what forced Dillow and Stanley into the above preposterous assertion to save the gospel of cheap grace. They both amazingly insist a place outside in darkness where there is weeping and gnashing is inside heaven. Oh my! What man cannot make himself believe when he will not listen to all of Jesus’ words!

MacArthur Tries To Say The Servant Never Was A Christian Servant

 

Apparently lacking familiarity with this overwhelming weight of evidence that these weeping and gnashing para­bles apply to true Christians, MacArthur is going to insist this servant in the Para­ble of the Unprofitable Servant was never a true Christian. Why? Because MacArthur admits this servant was lost in the end. The weeping and gnashing outside in darkness is clearly a reference to judgment in hell. However, why should his fate in hell tell us this person was never a Christian? Because MacAr­thur knows the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace says a Christian can never become lost as long as they once truly believed. In other words, faith alone doctrine is used to block any meaning from Jesus that is to the contrary!

However, Jesus’ Gospel says that a servant who does not produce on God’s gold talents bestowed graciously on him is sent to hell and those servants who do produce are given proportionate rewards. Jesus must be wanting to warn servants to be productive in some manner. There is no textual reason to say the unproduc­tive servant is a nonbeliever while the other two are believers. It is only circular presupposition in the validity of the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace that is used to force such a reading on the text.

Let’s hear MacArthur’s argument to see this exposed.

John MacArthur in his Study Bible (1997) attempts to spin this passage in a way that does not conflict with the Mod­ern Cheap Grace Gospel. He says that the three servants are “professing” believers. (Page 1441). That is not accu­rate. There is a purpose in MacArthur’s misdescription. MacArthur wants to say later that the unproductive servant was never a true believer but was merely pro­fessing to believe. Therefore, MacArthur is planting a false seed that we should think this ‘servant’ was always lost. However, Jesus gave all three the same designation: servants.

Next, MacArthur concedes that the master in the story is Christ.

With these premises set forth, let’s return to the servant versus professing believer issue. Why would Jesus call someone a servant who professes to believe but is not a believer? Wouldn’t Jesus call him an unbeliever? This way we would know the unbelief is why he was unproductive. By calling him a ser­vant, Jesus is making us think that he was not true to his calling as a servant rather that he was not true to his belief as a Christian. Jesus used the wrong ter­minology if he had the meaning that MacArthur is obviously trying to draw us to accept.

Next,    MacArthur says the parable is about “faithfulness,” and even says the “parable suggests that all who are faith­ful will be fruitful to some degree.” This is a non-sequitur. This conclusion relies upon concluding the first servant is not a true believer. Yet, MacArthur never has proven that is textually possible.

Meanwhile, this claim that the para­ble is about faithfulness allows MacAr­thur to perform another slight of hand. Having interjected the word ‘faithful’ in his spin, which at first he uses to mean loyal, MacArthur next switches this so it means ‘full of faith.’ MacArthur con­cludes: “the fruitless man is unmasked as a hypocrite and utterly destroyed.” MacArthur had previously laid this unsubstantiated groundwork to suggest Jesus was saying the unprofitable servant lacked true faith. With that foundation, MacArthur now is deducing a fruitless person necessarily means he has been exposed as a non-believer. A hypocrite. He supposedly merely professed faith, but he was not faithful in the sense of not being full of faith. Hence, MacArthur wants us to think the servant was never a believer.

   Do Christians really not recognize what MacArthur has done? Our long conditioning to the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace just accepts this. We never critically examine arguments. This is because we too are hunting for support for our preconceived views of faith alone. We want the easy way. Indepen­dent critical thought which questions that assumption is dissuaded. If the result of reading Jesus’ words literally defects from the cheap grace gospel, the reaction is not curiosity and self-examination. Instead, it results in twisting and turning Jesus’ words. What MacArthur has done is itself shocking: he has stripped the passage of its true meaning and given us a substitute meaning that satisfies pre­suppositions about the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace. It is then seen as com­patible with faith alone — the very doc­trine the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant directly refutes.

Conclusion

In the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant, Jesus gave three servants differ­ent treasures of the kingdom to use pro­ductively. Two do so and one does not. The one who does nothing is condemned to hell. It is that simple.

The Parable of the Unprofitable Servant is not about professing faith and lacking fruit thereby, leading to your exposure as a false believer. The parable is not about a false professor somehow tricking God into giving him some trea­sure of heaven to waste. That doctrinal construct is highly belabored and strained. Such a view is simply a mental overlay solely designed to hold onto the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace. To hold onto faith-alone doctrine. Its intent is obvious: it wants to justify rejecting Jesus’ words whenever on their face they refute the faith alone paradigm.

Instead, this parable is one of the most blatant contradictions of cheap grace from the lips of Jesus. For Jesus says, as He does in many other passages, that the fruitless Christian will not be saved. This is in the Metaphor of the Vine (John 15:1-6); the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:8 ff.); the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, etc. It fits precisely the non-parabolic and direct statement of our Lord in Matthew 7:19:

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. (Matt 7:19.)

The servant with no good fruit on his talent is eventually cast into the fire of hell.

Could Jesus be any more blunt in a parable?

Frederick Lisco (1791-1866), a German evangelical minister in Berlin, explains it likewise, citing Calvin in sup­port. The servant who is lost is the one who did not use the treasure given by the Lord in a “conscientious and faithful” manner. (Lisco, The Parables of Jesus (Philadelphia: Daniels & Smith, 1850) at 197.) The other two servants knew the “obligation under which they lie to serve” their Lord, but only “if they acted agreeably to the will of the Lord.” Id. Calvin says that Jesus gives the parable to believers to “stir themselves up to the work of a pure and holy life.” Id., at 202. Also, Lisco emphasizes it was not the “sinful” use of the talent, but instead the “slothful indifference” toward it that caused the unprofitable servant to suffer his fate. Id., at 198. God calls him a “wicked and slothful servant.” Id., at 200. His fate is clear. He is brought to the “final judgment” which involves the “strictest justice.” Id., at 201. The sloth­ful servant for his “negligence and short­coming” will suffer “everlasting pain.” Id. This proves the “necessity and impor­tance of works of love....” Id., at 202.

Hence, Jesus’ warning to those who trust in faith alone to their detriment (by not having completed works to show at judgment) is unmistakable. Your doc­trine is false.

Will you have any excuse for hav­ing no fruit on the talents of gold God gives you? Will you be able to argue you could believe no works were necessary to be saved?

At the final judgment seat, you will not be able to point fingers at John MacArthur, Stanley, Dillow or Paul, and blame them. Jesus was too blunt in the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant as well as in Matthew 7:19. Jesus will grill you on why you did not take His words in their plain sense. You will have no answer. He told you all along He was your “Sole Teacher.” (Matt. 23:8-11.) And your sole teacher told you that the unprofitable servant goes to hell. There will be no more excuses then. ‘He who has ears to hear let him hear.’

 

1.   Charles Stanley, Eternal Security: Can You Be Suresupra, at 125.

2.   Stanley’s claim also disregards God’s consistent message that in heaven there is “no more sorrow, nor crying.” (Rev. 21:4; see also, Isaiah 25:8 “God will wipe away tears from all faces”; Rev. 7:17.)

3.   The parallel in Luke 13:28 (NKJV) is slightly different: “There will be weep­ing and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”

4.   Notice that these “sons of the king­dom” are in “heaven” when thrown “outside” heaven. Jesus says they are “thrust out” of the “kingdom of heaven.” (Cf. Luke 13:28 in footnote 3 supra.) Jesus is thus rejecting eternal security. This is clear here as well as by comparing this to the wedding guest who is thrust outside of heaven in the Parable of the Wedding Garment. (Matt. 22:1-13.) Jesus calls the wed­ding guest a “friend” who has accepted the invitation, and makes it all the way to the banquet. Yet, just before the cel­ebration begins, it is noted the “friend” is lacking a “proper robe.” Jesus says this “friend” is then thrust outside in darkness, thus excluded from what obviously is heaven. This “friend” who accepted the invitation but otherwise made no preparations to be ready was to be torn apart in a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Thus, sons of the kingdom in Matthew 8:11-12 can mean Christians because Chris­tians can be removed from the banquet-exam inside heaven. This supports regarding “sons of the kingdom” in Matthew 8:12 as a stock phrase of Jesus to mean saved individuals, including Christians. Further proof is that the “good seed” in the Parable of the Tares in Matthew 13:38 are like­wise “sons of the kingdom.” At the judgment, in that parable, those who are such sons (and have obviously not fallen into condemnation) are pre­served in the final judgment. Now note once more that in Matthew 8:12, these same “sons of the kingdom” (hoi huioi tes basileias) are thrown into this “outer darkness” because they have fallen into sin or teach lawless doc­trine. Thus, repeatedly Jesus describes “sons of the kingdom” as including believers who are thrust outside of heaven for various faults.

5.   Emmet Russell, “Gnash, Gnashing of Teeth,”The Zondervan Pictorial Ency­clopedia of the Bible (Ed. Merrill C. Tenney) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975) at 2:735.