THE FAITHFUL SLAVE FEEDS THE HOUSEHOLD WHILE AWAITING THE RETURN OF THE MASTER
These exhortations to spiritual vigilance and alertness and faithful stewardship in anticipation of the return of Christ have application not only to the time of the Tribulation but also to those of us ministering now in the church age in anticipation of the imminent Rapture at an unknown point in time. The importance of taking seriously the responsibility of feeding the flock of God with the nourishment of the Word of God is clearly in view and the promised reward should be an encouragement to all engaged in such activity.
Ray Stedman: This parable is clearly for the instruction of those who are awaiting the Lord’s return. The master of the household is gone but he has entrusted certain work to his steward until he returns. That work is primarily a ministry to the rest of the household, and notably, “to give them their food at the proper time.” It is clearly addressed to the disciples and to those who will follow in their steps in the ministry of feeding and shepherding the church of Jesus Christ. Doubtless it includes any who have a ministry of teaching: pastors, evangelists, prophets, elders, Sunday School teachers, children’s workers and Bible class leaders. It takes in any who have gifts of teaching, whether exercised in a church building or in homes. It includes theological professors, editors of magazines, radio teachers, missionaries, youth workers, and many others.
Give Them Food!
Since this is the first parable in the series it probably points up the most essential element in the matter of watching. The wise servant is given one major and primary responsibility: to feed the household at the proper time. If this is rightly done, the household will keep watching; if it is neglected, the household will languish and starve, and will not be ready when the Lord returns.
The task, therefore, of any leader within the church is to unfold the message of the Bible. Every pastor should set a loaded table before his congregation, not only that they might eat and grow, but also that they might learn from him how to draw from the Scriptures for themselves the spiritual nourishment they need. The Bible is wonderfully adapted to this purpose: there is milk for the beginner, bread for the more advanced, and strong meat to challenge and feed the mature. It is so designed that when books of the Bible are taught through consecutively they will cover a wide variety of subjects and yet keep truth marvelously in balance.
Grant Osborne: The primary theme is the necessity of proper conduct insofar as no one knows when Christ will return. A secondary theme is the certainty of judgment for those who are not ready. When Christ appears, everyone will be accountable for how they are living at that time.
R. T. France: The readiness of the good slave consists not in sitting by the window watching for his master, but in getting on with the job he has been given, while the fault of the bad slave is in his assumption that the master will not be back soon and that therefore he will not be held to account. The eschatological themes of delay and imminence are thus interwoven, and applied to the question of the disciple’s responsibility during the time of waiting.
David Turner: The vivid imagery in 24:36–51 warns against such a preoccupation with the tasks and pleasures of daily life that it does not take into account the possibility of imminent divine judgment. Jesus’s disciples must be constantly aware that life as they know it could suddenly be terminated by Jesus’s coming. They must be like the dependable slave, not like Noah’s oblivious generation, the homeowner who does not expect a burglar, or the wicked slave. Disciples must not take up a nonchalant lifestyle that is inconsistent with Jesus’s unexpected coming.
Robert Gundry: In charge of the household, this slave could abuse his authority by beating his fellow slaves, who make up the rest of his master’s domestic help, and also by carousing with drunkards, who represent other false disciples. Together, they waste their resources on partying instead of sharing them with fellow slaves, who represent true disciples proclaiming the gospel, living openly according to Jesus’ teachings, and fleeing resultant persecution. The abuse and the carousing breed carelessness, so that the master’s coming—though delayed, and precisely because delayed—takes the slave in charge by surprise. “On a day” and “at an hour” denote the next shortest and very shortest units of time used by people then and therefore stress again the impossibility of knowing beforehand the exact time of the Son of Man’s coming. “Slice him in two” warns of horrible judgment for unbrotherly behavior, and “put his portion with the hypocrites” means that Jesus will judge as false those professing disciples who engage in such behavior. As false, their portion—that is, their inheritance—will be to spend eternity with the hypocrites, namely, the scholars and Pharisees of chapter 23, who are destined for “the judgment [consisting] of gehenna” (23:33). “Weeping” arises out of sorrow over this fate, and “gritting of teeth” arises out of the pain associated with it (compare the figures of being sliced in two and elsewhere of hellfire). “There” refers to gehenna, hell, as the place of punishment..
William Barclay: Rejection is based on failure in duty, and reward is based on fidelity. The servant who fulfilled his duty faithfully was given a still greater place; and the servant who failed was severely dealt with. The inevitable conclusion is that, when he comes, Jesus Christ can find us employed in no better and greater task than in doing our duty.
Stu Weber: In light of the future reality of hardship and ultimate salvation, we must stay ready for Christ’s return (and his rewards) at all times by loving obedience.
Jeffrey Crabtree: The household, then, belongs to the Lord. Jesus is the master. He assigns ministry responsibilities to His servants. He expects effective time management. He rewards long-term faithfulness and He punishes hypocrisy and laziness. Each of His servants must keep serving Him the whole time He is away and be serving Him when He returns (Tit. 2:11-14; Lk. 21:34-36). Jesus spoke this parable not to the ungodly but to His disciples about their responsibility to faithful service. He expected them to stay busy doing the task He assigned them until He comes for them (Lk. 12:47-48; Nolland 1000). He also expected them to teach this obligation to all disciples (28:20).
William Hendriksen: The lesson of the parable, therefore, is this “Be and remain actively loyal to the Master, sensibly and joyfully carrying out the task assigned by him, in the interest of those who are precious to him.”
I. (:45) CHARACTERIZATION OF A MODEL SLAVE
A. Two Primary Attributes
“Who then is the faithful”
“and sensible slave”
R C Sproul: We are either slaves of God or slaves of sin. Nobody is autonomous. We are not our own. We have been bought with a price. Jesus raises the question of fidelity – one who can be trusted; one who is consistent in allegiance to his owner. The wise slave works with insight. Responsible to provide the food and provide it on time.
Bibleone.net: The word translated faithful is the Greek word pistos and comes from the root Greek word peitho, which means “worthy of belief, trust, or confidence.” It speaks of a person who is trustworthy and consistent in the performance of his duty to God and to others. . .
The word “wise” here is the Greek word phronimos, which comes from the Greek root word phroneo meaning “to think or have a mindset.” The activity represented by this word involves the “soul” (a person’s will, affections, and conscience); a word that always refers to a person’s “life.”
Wisdom from God is to be prized above all earthly gain (Proverbs 3:13, 14; 8:11) and can only be appropriated by the study and comprehension of God’s Word.
Grant Osborne: The number of slaves a person owned was a sign of status in the ancient world. Slaves were often highly educated and were doctors, teachers, accountants, and workers for every function in a home. Wealthy homes would have dozens of slaves, some whose job was little more than doing the mistress’s hair or folding napkins for dinner parties. Slaves were allowed to own property, earn wages, and even purchase their freedom.
The theme of this parable is the search for a “faithful and wise” leader who can be trusted as a head slave. Both are discipleship terms, with “faithful” (πιστός) found again in 25:21, 23 of the “good and faithful slaves” who used their “talents” for the benefit of their master, and “wise” (φρόνιμος, meaning “prudent, discerning”) used in 7:24; 10:16 as a wisdom term for understanding the situation and doing what the master commands (cf. 25:2, 4, 8, 9).
B. Primary Responsibility of Stewardship and Governance
“whom his master put in charge of his household”
Leon Morris: He does not owe his position to his own deliberate choice: his master has appointed him over his household. But being there, he is responsible. It is his task to be sure that the members get their food, and get it at the proper time.
C. Primary Function of Providing Proper and Timely Nourishment
“to give them their food at the proper time?”
II. (:46-47) CASE OF THE FAITHFUL SLAVE
A. (:46) His Actions
“Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.”
B. (:47) His Reward
“Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.”
Warren Wiersbe: Jesus did not amplify the truth here, but from other Scriptures we learn that one reward for obedient service will be ministry in the kingdom that He will establish on earth (Luke 19:11ff.). The reward for obedient service is the capacity for greater service. Not to have a place of ministry in His kingdom would, to me, be a tremendous loss.
The Bible Says: One of the primary rewards Jesus seeks to give those who are faithful in this life and with this creation is to reign with Him over the earth in the next life and in the new creation, in love, service, and harmony (Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:11). The servant kings of the new creation will bring their glory into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:24).
Jesus promised, “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21). The word for “overcome” in that verse is the Greek word, “nikao.” It means “to conquer” or “to win the victory.”
Jesus won victory over temptation and death through learning obedience, even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:8-9; Hebrews 5:8). As the master of the house asks, who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household, so too does Jesus ask Himself who should share His throne, and rule over His kingdom. Answer: The one who is serving Jesus faithfully when He returns.
What is it that those who rule over His household will be doing in His kingdom? To give them their food at the proper time. And what is Jesus looking for to judge whether a servant is faithful and sensible? It is a slave or servant who is already feeding His people. One who is investing in His flock. Those whom the master finds so doing when he comes will be the one who is blessed by the master. It is likely here that Jesus’s reference to feeding His people is a corollary to His instruction in the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20a). As Jesus made clear, spiritual food is of greater value than physical food (John 4:32-34, 6:27, 6:55).
The servants who are faithfully feeding the flock on the earth will be blessed with an incredible reward. Jesus will put him in charge of all his possessions, to reign with Him in His kingdom. This metaphor is parallel with Revelation 3:21, where Jesus promised He would share His throne with those who overcome. It makes sense. Jesus wants rulers of the New Earth who have proven they are willing to serve. There will be no tyrants in the Kingdom that is to come. Only kings who, like Jesus, learned to serve (Matthew 20:28).
III. (:48-51) CASE OF THE WICKED SLAVE
A. (:48-49) His Actions
- (:48) Wicked Mindset (Carelessness)
“But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’”
How do you work when no supervisor is watching you?
Grant Osborne: The key to the use of the parable here is χρονίζει, which means to “delay, stay away a long time,” or even “fail to come” (BAGD, 887; EDNT, 3:487). This is why Jesus tells this parable, for it speaks to the issue of the “delay of the parousia” (1 Thess 4:15–16; 2 Pet 3:4), vastly overstated by many critical scholars but still a problem for the early church.
All the apostles (Paul included) expected Jesus to return soon, and when he did not, it certainly caused consternation. If anyone had told Matthew or Paul that Jesus would not return for at least two thousand years, they might well have called that person a false prophet! Knowing this, Jesus is warning the church about false reactions to that delay.
R. T. France: The point within the story is that the period of absence provides the second slave with an opportunity to indulge his selfish irresponsibility at the expense of his fellow-slaves.39 He can think only of the present, not of the inevitable end of that opportunity when his master returns.
Homer Kent: His defection is both doctrinal (my lord delayeth his coming) and ethical (smite his fellowservants, eat and drink with the drunken). He mistakes the uncertainty of the time of coming for a certainty that it will not be soon.
- (:49a) Wicked Mistreatment of Others (Cruelty)
“and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves”
Donald Hagner: Since the master is delayed, the wicked servant takes advantage of his absence, violates the commands of his master, and acts irresponsibly. . . That the time remains unknown should have motivational power for ethical living in the present.
- (:49b) Wicked Indulgent Lifestyle (Carousing)
“and eat and drink with drunkards;”
B. (:50-51) His Retribution
- (:50) Unexpected Accountability
“the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him
and at an hour which he does not know,”
Leon Morris: Jesus is underlining the truth that delay does not mean cancellation. The master may have been away for longer than this particular servant expected, but that did not mean that he would never come back. The application to the coming of the Son of man is obvious.
- (:51) Unrelenting Punishment
a. Physical Dismemberment
“and shall cut him in pieces”
b. Placement with Hypocritical Jewish Religious Leaders
“and assign him a place with the hypocrites;”
R. T. France: “Hypocrites” is surprising in this context, since the slave’s action was blatant rather than hypocritical, but after the repeated use of the word in ch. 23 we may perhaps understand it here as a general term for those who place themselves outside the will of God (the Lucan parallel is “the unbelievers”). If the same term can be used for the unfaithful disciple as for the failed Jewish leadership, the Christian reader is warned that merely belonging to the disciple community is not in itself a guarantee of ultimate salvation.
Leon Morris: This man who pretended to be a capable overseer of a whole household and who proved to be inefficent and interested only in his own self-indulgence belongs with them.
c. Painful Suffering in Hell
“weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth.”
John MacArthur: weeping and gnashing of teeth is mentioned five times at least in the book of Matthew, and each time is a way to describe the terrible, unrelieved, unconsolable pain of eternal hell.