WHEN STUDYING THE PARABLES, or for that matter the miracles, it is always well to look for some clue as to the leading message and it will not usually be far to seek. In this instance the purpose of the parable is made perfectly clear at the very outset – we learn from v. 11 that the Lord told this story because He was near to Jerusalem and because the disciples thought the Kingdom of God should immediately appear. They were about to witness their Master’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and might jump to the conclusion that He would imme¬diately ascend His throne of glory and reign over Israel and the nations. It was to correct this wrong impression that He told the story of a nobleman going away to receive a kingdom- not from his citizens who hated him and would not have him, but from the Emperor in the metropolis. (It is quite possible that the Lord had in mind the case of Herod the Great, who, being opposed in Judea, went to Rome where he was declared King of the Jews). The disciples were thus being prepared for His rejection by Israel, and being warned that He must leave them to receive the kingdom from His Father and that there would be an interval before He returned in glory. The interval was to be filled with patient service in anticipation of His return.
So, without involving ourselves in question of prophetic interpretation, we may regard the parable as a parable of service, although we shall find its lesson to be an unexpected one. Before we go further, however, it might be as well to point out that in some quarters unbalanced stress is placed on service, as though this were the chief thing in the Christian life. The phrase “ Saved to serve “ has caught on, as catch phrases are intended to do, but although there is a measure of truth in it, it tends to obscure a more important truth. We need to treat catch phrases with caution – their aptness sometimes seems to invest them with an authority which it is almost heresy to question. Certain it is that God is more concerned with having us as sons than as servants, more concerned with character than activity. His purpose is to see us conformed to the image of His Son, and what we do is of value to Him only as it is a genuine expression of what we are. But still, this is a parable of service and that must be our subject.
THE SERVANT‘S TASK
First of all then, this nobleman called to him his ten personal attendants, who were in a close relationship to him and who must be clearly distinguished from the citizens. To each he gave the sum of one pound, which was to be used in business until he returned – they were to trade with a view to gaining other pounds. This parable is different in several important points from the parable of the talents, where the servants were given different sums. There the idea is that each individual has his own particular gifts and capacities, but here the idea is that every Christian (whatever his talents may be) is given the same opportunity to use his life in the interests of Christ.
These men could have been under no delusion as to the nature of their task – they had to work among citizens who hated their absent lord and so could not expect to be popular. In the same way, those who are resolved to live for Christ will find that their sphere of service is in an unsympathetic world, where they must be prepared to bear reproach for Christ’s sake. These men when tempted to discouragement would no doubt be nerved afresh by the thought that perhaps that very day their master would return. Similarly, the coming of Christ is the true hope of the believer and constantly held before him in the New Testament as a stimulus to faithfulness. They could not predict the date of his return nor expect any previous announcement; “ till I come “ (v. 13) had to be enough for them. Nor can we tell when the trump of God will be heard – it is for us to be ready lest He come and rind us idle.
THE SERVANT‘S JUDGMENT
Despite the opposition of the citizens, the nobleman did return invested with royal power, but before he turned his attention to the rebels he called before him those servants to whom he had entrusted the money, just as our Master when He comes will call us before His Judgment-Seat, at which our lives will be examined and our service tested, before He manifests Himself to His enemies. The question was – how much had every man gained by trading? How much have our lives counted for Christ, how many other lives have been won by our faithfulness? The first could say “ Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.” He attributed his success, not to his labours, but to the fact that he had been entrusted with a pound. He had nothing of his own--the pound was his master’s. Those who are most successful for Christ are those who do not regard their lives as their own, but say ‘ Lord, this life You gave me, to live for Thee.’ This first servant could use a strong word for “ gained “ suggesting consider¬able energy and zeal. The second servant was also successful but not to the same degree. He likewise owns that it was his lord’s pound, but the word he used for “ gained “ is a less forceful word – he had not been so zealous.
The only other servant noticed, had nothing to show for the pound entrusted to him. True, he had kept it safe – he had run no risks with it. He had moreover kept it clean – laid up in a napkin. Is not thus suggestive of Christians who are content if their lives are kept respect¬able and clean, but who remain unconcerned as whether their lives are useful! They are more concerned with getting through life comfortably than adventuring anything for Christ. The other servants had need of the sweat cloth to wipe away the sweat of toil from their brows, but this man had no intention of perspiring in the cause of his master – the napkin could be put to a nicer use. What was the secret of his failure ? His explanation seems very lame and was probably only an excuse, but if we are to accept it, it betrays a complete failure to understand his master’s heart or purpose – he was the very reverse of austere and unjust, as we shall see. And is not this the true explanation of failure to serve Christ with devotion ? To know Christ is to love Him, and to love Him is to serve Him with delight.
A SERVANT‘S WICKEDNESS
However we may explain it, the fact remains that this man was called a wicked servant. Yet what wicked thing had he done ? It was rather what he had not clone. It is very doubtful whether ease-loving Christians would be likely to view their attitude as wickedness, but these words should warn them of the shame which will be theirs at the Judgment-Seat of Christ. Before we leave this man we must notice that, although he received no reward, he was deprived of his pound and severely rebuked – he did not share the fate of the rebellious citizens. He had nothing to show that he had ever been entrusted with a pound, but he was allowed to enjoy his master’s kingdom as a subject, even though denied the privilege of reigning with him. He had saved his pound but in saving it he had lost it. His colleagues had let their pounds go, but in doing so had saved them and gained more. How true it is that “ Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it “!
THE MASTER‘S OBJECT
But the question 1 want to ask is “ What was the nobleman’s object in giving each servant a pound and telling them to trade with it ?” The most natural answer would be “ So that he might profit by their labour “; but this is obviously wrong. A man who at the start could employ no less than ten personal servants, and who owned a city, would not be much enriched even if every servant had gained ten pounds. Moreover, when he came back with a kingdom, one-hundred pounds would mean even less. Of course this was a very little thing – he plainly says so, “ thou hast been faithful in a very little.” In any case they were allowed to keep what they had gained, so the matter is put beyond any doubt. He did not profit from their labours. What then was his object ? Well – he was a nobleman in every sense of the word. Far from being an austere and unreasonable man, he appreciated his servants and realized that their position had never been very comfortable in a scene where he was hated. Bat he knew that he was to receive a kingdom, that his enemies would be destroyed and that his reign would be undisputed. But exaltation would not change him – he would love his servants still and would want them to share his glory as they had shared his reproach. So lie gave them the opportunity of proving their loyalty to him, and by their faithfulness in a li I tie matter to prove their fitness to be entrusted with greater matters, so that he could justly reward them by giving them positions of honour in his kingdom. But these men were never tempted to imagine that their little efforts had helped to secure the kingdom for him. What then do we think is the object of Christ calling us to His service ? Is it so that He will be enriched by our labours? Do we, as we are sometimes told we do, extend the kingdom of Christ ? That Kingdom depends no more upon us than the nobleman’s kingdom depended on his servants. As he received it from the Emperor in the metropolis, so Christ was greeted on His arrival in heaven with “ Sit on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool “ and the issue has never been in doubt.
Certainly our Lord graciously makes use of our feeble endeavours, but He has quite another idea in calling us. He loves us and wants us to share His glory. But He is just, too, and the privilege of reigning with Him must be the reward of faithfulness. Every believer is in the kingdom of God’s Son and will rejoice in His reign, but to reign with Him, to enjoy a position of honour, will be a reward distinct from salvation, and the privilege of those who make faithful use of their lives. But just as ten cities bore no comparison with ten pounds, so the reward of the saints will far outweigh the value of any service they render. We arc called to dedicate our lives not because the Saviour wants to benefit, but because He wants us to benefit. How wretched then is a grudging spirit – how distasteful must such service be. To live for Him in a hostile world is not a task tyrannically imposed upon unwilling slaves, but a golden opportunity offered to us by a Master intent upon our glory.
“And when He comes in bright array And leads the conquering line, It will be glory then to say That He’s a friend of mine.”
Glory ! Yes. And it will be, an easy thing to say in that great day, but glory will go to those who, when the Saviour was despised and rejected, were prepared to say ‘ I am a friend of His and I intend to live for Him.” J. H. L.