Better Than Our Bitter Thoughts

The God of Surprising Goodness

What is the difference between those welcomed into heaven and those thrown into hell? Can we imagine a more relevant or urgent question? While depicting the final judgment in parable form, Jesus gives us a surprising answer: their thoughts.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us,” wrote A.W. Tozer (Knowledge of the Holy, 1). Jesus shows this true for the evil servant in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30). In the parable, Jesus gives us a glimpse into one difference between those welcomed into heaven and those thrown into judgment: their beliefs about God’s goodness. We get beneath actions into the psychology of the lost man, a window showing what squirmed beneath his disobedient life.

As we consider him, be asking yourself questions such as: What comes to mind when I think about God? Who do I assume he is? What does he love? What does he hate? What kind of Person governs the world? Is he good? Is he happy, blessed, disposed to give freely, or not? Beliefs about his goodness can lead to a useful life with heaven to follow or a worthless life with hell close behind.

At Journey’s End

The master finally returns from his long journey to meet with his three servants “and [settle] accounts with them” (Matthew 25:19). Before he left, he had entrusted them with his property, each according to his ability. He gave the ablest man five talents; the next, two talents; and to the last, he gave one. Jesus focuses the parable on their report of their stewardship in his absence. Had they been watchful for his return and about their master’s business (verse 13)?

“Beliefs about God’s goodness can lead to a useful life with heaven to follow or a worthless life with hell close behind.”

The first two report, rejoicing with their lord that, by their trading, they had each doubled what their master left them. Eyes then turn to the third servant. “He also who had received the one talent came forward” (verse 24).

Had he set off to the happy work like the first two servants? No. He buried the treasure in the backyard. But why? For the same reason as many today: he did not know the goodness of his master.

The God He Thought He Knew

Note the first words out of the servant’s mouth: “Master, I knew you to be a hard man.” What a different assessment from the first two, and what a strange conclusion given the facts we know. Do many masters entrust such valuable property to their servants’ keeping? Pharaoh withholds straw to make bricks, but this master hands over precious jewels from the vault. A talent is not a single coin; it is a treasure chest of precious wealth, twenty years of wages. The master hands him up to one million dollars in today’s wages — and simply leaves. Who is the servant to steward such wealth?

To account for this unbelievable opportunity, the servant twists the interpretation to excuse his thanklessness. “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” (Matthew 25:24). He thought he knew an exacting master, a groping master, a severe man about the bottom line.

His lord — seemingly generous beyond any master earth has ever seen — was really grasping, not giving; extracting, not investing; extorting, not enriching. We even hear an accusation of laziness against the master — he was one who didn’t get his own hands dirty. Don’t we sometimes project our own sins upon God, as this “slothful” servant did (verse 26)?

So, he saw his master as a giant fly, rubbing his greedy hands in anticipation of profit. Faceless were the slaves who built his house. Should this servant stoop to be ridden as a donkey? Was he an ox to tread grain? This master’s yoke was not easy, nor his burden light.

Finally, his wickedness curls up in the fetal position. “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (verse 25). Thus, he knew a God to be feared, but not obeyed. This man knew his master’s will and thought to lazily hide from the failure of trying in the failure of disobedience. He committed his talent to nature’s vault. Better for his master to lose benefit than go bankrupt. “Here, you have what is yours” (verse 25).

The God He Did Not Know

That was the God he thought he knew: a hard and severe master whose generosity was pretense for profit, a master who fed his cattle well. He did not know the master that animated the service of the other two servants.

1. He did not know the master eager to commend.

The passage stresses that the two faithful servants left “at once” to do their master’s work (verses 16–17). I imagine them going forward with excitement. Really, me? I get to serve my Lord in this way? And that same excitement brought them to show their master the fruit of faith-filled trading, as children with a Father: “Here are your five talents, master, and five more!”

And how does the master respond? With that fatherly twinkle of satisfaction in his eyes, he will not let them do one thing more without warming them with his pleasure: “Well done, my good and faithful servants!” (verses 21, 23).

2. He did not know the God who gives for keeps.

In the end, how false and foolish this servant’s meditations of the miserly God. Wonder with me: the master didn’t give the talents for his own profit, but for theirs. He gave for keeps. This Lord designed for loyal stewards to keep their talents and the increase.

The worthless servant learned this lesson the hard way: “Take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents” (Matthew 25:28). He doesn’t say, “Give to the servant who made me five talents.” The talents now belong to the servant, as confirmed in the next line: “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance” (verse 29). From before the journey, this master gave intending to make them rich. His joy — “Well done, good and faithful servant!” — was not in what he gained, but in what they gained. Is this your hard and stingy God?

3. He did not know the master who gives in order to give more.

“You have been faithful over a little,” he tells the good servants. “I will set you over much” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Do not let that humble word little pass by unnoticed. The five-talent servant gained another lifetime of value by his trading. Jesus calls this stewardship little compared to the much on its way.

Have you placed your life and all that you own upon the altar before God? Have you left family or fortune for the gospel? Have you despised your life in this world, looking to that country to come? Little your trading, great your promotion. Remain constant, as Joseph governing in prison: soon, you shall stand second-in-command in the new heavens and new earth; he will set you over much. Our greatest labor for Christ in this world is but the small beginnings to our real labor for Christ in the next.

4. He did not know the God of spacious joy.

What did the wicked servant think as he overheard the master’s final remark to the truehearted? “Enter into the joy of your Master” (verses 21, 23). The evil servant did not know that this Master’s joy was a country of happiness. He thought him a hard man, an unhappy man, but he is the happiest of all men. “Leave your joys behind and enter mine!” Or, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Here is a God to labor under. Here is a God to trust. Here is a God who can happify his servants forever.

He Hides a Smiling Face

If he only believed in the blessedness of this master’s heart, that the master really meant to reward and welcome him into his own joy upon his return, how things might have changed. The problem was not his master; the problem was his heart. The problem was not his abilities; the problem was his sloth. The master’s assessment proved him an evil, lazy, unreasonable servant (Matthew 25:26–27). In the end, he is cast into outer darkness. Sinners who spin lies get caught in webs.

So, my reader, what do you think of God? Does he give us serpents when we ask for bread? Is he watching with an eagle’s eye to strike you when you stumble? Is he stingy, heartless, selfish? Does he tax at high rates and offer mere rations to strengthen for tomorrow’s slavery? How does your life answer?

If we think high of him, he is higher. If we think well of him, he is better. If we think base of him, he shall not always correct us. Unjust beliefs that lead to unjust lives provoke his justice. “With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous” (Psalm 18:25–26).

Some of you do not serve him because you do not know him. Others have let hard and bitter circumstances deceive you into thinking he is hard and embittering. Business is not going as planned. You just received news that you lost the baby, again. Life should have been so different by now.

And the perfectly aimed question comes: Is this your good Master? O saints, Satan is asking God about some of you just now — “Does this ‘faithful servant’ really keep his integrity? Does he fear God for no reason? Touch his health, touch her fertility, touch his money, and they will curse you to your face.”

“Our greatest labor for Christ in this world is but the small beginnings to our real labor for Christ in the next.”

O saints, the Master is so good — above our deserts or imaginings — and he proved it for all time. How? By handing us his property, taking the long, faraway journey to Golgotha, and dying on the cross to pay our debts that we might keep his blessings. The Master not only gives his property to us — he offers himself for us. On the cross, Jesus lifted God’s goodness high above any of our earthly circumstances. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).


Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face. (William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”)