Degrees of Punishment: Interpreting the Parable of Faithful and Unfaithful Slaves (Luke 12:41-48), Part 4

hell2Risk Aversion in the Churches of Christ

This parable, read with the Parable of the Talents, is a fearful lesson both individually and corporately.

Let’s talk about the Churches of Christ as a body. One of the characteristics of my fellowship is fear of making a mistake. I can’t begin to count the classes I’ve been in where we debated the rightness of this or that issue. The conclusion was nearly always, “Since we’re not certain that God has authorized this particular practice, the safe thing to do is nothing. We should avoid this practice to be sure we don’t give offense to God.”

I know of a church that had many thousands of dollars (many talents) in the bank. The elders couldn’t think of a single authorized thing to do with the money. And so they stopped issuing financial statements to the members, for fear that the members would stop giving. They just put the money in the bank. Really.

But in the Parable of the Talents, the person damned is the person who was too afraid of the master to put his money (a literal talent is a sum of money) at risk in an investment. Remember these words well:

(Matt. 25:27 ESV)  27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.

Jesus in speaking in the First Century. There was no FDIC insuring bank deposits. There was no Federal Reserve. Investing even with the bankers involved risk — real risk. To invest, as the others did, to earn 100% return on the money must have been a truly risky investment. And the master (God!) was angry with the manager who refused to take a risk.

But wouldn’t the master be upset if the money was lost on an unfortunate investment? No. Remember, the master is God. He’s not going to run out of money! He is happy to take the risk in order to gain the reward.

When we claim to be smarter and wiser than God, and figure that since God was silent we ought to fill the uncertainty with a rule, and the rule just happens to always be “You can’t do that,” well, our biases are showing — and our thinking is strongly biased against risk and therefore against a profit.

Jesus himself plainly condemned adding commandments to the word of God —

(Matt. 15:8-9 ESV)  8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;  9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

To add a commandment to God’s word is to miss the heart of God.

(Col. 2:20-23 ESV)  20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used) — according to human precepts and teachings?  23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion [KJV: “will worship”] and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. 

What does Paul condemn as “self-made religion” or “will worship” (KJV)? “Human precepts and teachings.” Submitting to man-made regulations that prohibit enjoyment of God’s good Creation. Making up rules to impose on your fellow church member!

How “safe” is it to fill a gap with a prohibition? How safe is it to announce a rule that’s an inference from an inference from an inference — and hence far more from man’s wisdom than God’s?

Jesus could certainly have condemned some among the Jews for refusing to honor plainly taught commands. He did this in some cases. But he also made a particular point to condemn those who inferred commands not really in the scripture — and he condemned them in no uncertain terms.

Safety is not found in binding doubtful rules. Safety is found in the grace of God through faith in Jesus.

Is it any surprise that our numbers are in decline? Well, if we’re investing God’s talents at a loss anyway, we’d may as well do what he commands — take a chance and maybe we’ll produce a return that will please God. The present approach is not working. Indeed, God declares our risk-averse mindset damning.

You might ask, if we risk God’s wrath for ignoring a rule that he makes and also for imposing a rule that he doesn’t impose, then surely most will be damned! How can we get all the rules right?

Well, by being better students of the word and submitting to what is actually said rather than what it’s our notes from preacher school. For example, maybe we preach on these texts, taking every word seriously —

(Gal. 5:5-6 ESV)  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

(Gal. 5:13-26 ESV)  13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.  16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,  21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.  26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

(Rom. 13:8-10 ESV)  8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

And there are countless similar passages that we routinely ignore in our “gospel” preaching. You see, when you understand the “rules” and “commandments” as Paul teaches, it’s not hard to know right from wrong. It just run so contrary to our traditions that we struggle to believe that is could be this simple and this freeing.


About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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6 Responses to Degrees of Punishment: Interpreting the Parable of Faithful and Unfaithful Slaves (Luke 12:41-48), Part 4

  1. The greatest gift is salvation. Shall we bury it or share it?

  2. Larry Cheek says:

    This unprofitable servant was not instructed how and what to do with the Talent, but we have been instructed what to do with the valued gift from Jesus. Anything less then following his instructions to share is direct disobedience of his commands. We really do not have a choice if we desire to not be dealt with like the unprofitable servant.

  3. Dwight says:

    I think God may condemn inaction more than well-intended, but wrong action. One is faithlessness, but the other is done out of faith by an imperfect person. “To see to do good and do not do it, to him it is sin.”
    And then there is making up rules or conditions as if you are God to impose on others. The Pharisees did this, while doing nothing for those around them. They were not only unprofitable, but robbing God.

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Dwight wrote,

    I think God may condemn inaction more than well-intended, but wrong action.

    Totally agree. It’s the nature of grace that there’s a safety net for those who try and fail.

    (1 Cor. 3:9-15 ESV) 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

    V. 15 seems to say that even if I do a poor job of building a church as a missionary, and if the church does not survive the Second Coming, I’ll still be saved. Hence, there’s no penalty for trying even if you mess up — so long as you build on the foundation of Jesus.

    Many a missionary and church planter has tried only to fail despite his or her best efforts. God will not punish such failures.

  5. Jay Guin says:


    You’re right that there are no specific instructions in the parable of the talents. But the parallel parable of the minas in Luke has this —

    (Lk. 19:13 ESV) 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’

    Vague but specific enough to condemn doing nothing. Interesting that the unprofitable servant who took no chances was condemned in both cases.

  6. Larry Cheek says:

    As Jay has shown, no one could dare to (sit on their fanny, not follow instructions) and expect to not reap consequences which the would not desire.

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