The parable of the faithful and evil servants admonishes us to be faithful and wise in carrying out responsibilities and relationships with our fellow servants, our brothers in the body of Christ.
A faithful person is trustworthy, scrupulous, honest, upright, and truthful. Without specifically stating it, Christ is saying that we have to be keeping the first of the two great commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37).
In this context "wise" means judicious, prudent, sensible, showing sound judgment. It suggests an understanding of people and situations, showing unusual discernment and judgment in dealing with them. Just as Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:6 about being self-controlled, Christ's use of "wise" indicates an exercising of restraint, using sound, practical wisdom and discretion, and acting in good sense and godly rationality. In short, Christ means exercising love. He tells us that we should be faithful in keeping the second of the two great commandments: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).
Since this parable applies to everyone, Christ admonishes us to lead in a way that unites and inspires others to be faithful. We do this by giving them the truth, a good example, and encouragement. In this way, we become wise and faithful stewards of the trust God has given us.
In these verses, Christ strongly links belief with behavior in both examples. If we believe in His return, we will not live as we would like carnally. It is as simple as that. If we really believe He will return soon, this parable shows that our belief will regulate our lives, keeping us from extremes of conduct.
This faithful attitude is opposed to that of the scornful servant, who says his master delays His coming and beats his fellows. His conduct turns for the worse as he eats and drinks with the drunkards. From the description Christ provides, the evil servant's attitude is arrogant, violent, self-indulgent, gluttonous, and hypocritical. Because he believes he has plenty of time to square his relationship with God, his conduct becomes evil.
In summary, whoever is entrusted with duties must perform them faithfully, prepared at all times to account for what he has done. The key words in this parable are faithful, wise, and ready.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
In this instance, Christ speaks of two individuals, both servants of God. God finds one to be wicked, the other wise. Note the fifty-fifty split in the context of judging. Christ judges the two servants, blessing the faithful one by setting him over His possessions, cursing the wicked one by cutting him in twain—the ultimate two-part division!
The wicked servant finds himself “with the hypocrites” because, all the while, he has led a double life, pretending to serve God while actually laboring at cross-purposes to God by abusing God's other servants. Like Satan, he has disguised himself as a minister of God (II Corinthians 11:12-15). As a result, he has scattered God's people rather than gathered them (Luke 11:23). Unlike the wise servant, “who walk[ed] not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4), the wicked servant walked according to his own desires (II Peter 3:3-4; Jude 16-19), all the while feigning faithfulness to God and His work. The wicked servant, like all hypocrites, has led a mock life, one of pretense.
Christ's teachings segue nicely into Matthew 25, where the central theme is the reality of God's judgment and how that reality should affect our thinking—and action. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the ten virgins represent the entirety of God's people as they go out to meet the bridegroom (verse 1). Their even-split is clear: “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” (verse 2).
Their destinies were vastly different, though, as the wise were ready for the bridegroom, the foolish were not. Upon the latter “the door was shut” (verse 10). Here, the blessing and the curse is ever so poignantly expressed. We are left with the feeling that the five foolish ones were never true followers of Christ, having failed to renounce all (Luke 14:33). Christ tells them, “I do not know you” (verse 12).
Again, in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Christ mentions two (not three) groups, distinguished by their members' attitudes toward obedience. One group is comprised of those who fulfill their responsibilities by actively growing their talents, no matter how many (or few) God originally gave them. The other group contains those who refuse to grow their talents.
Considering these various examples in overview, we can identify a few commonalities. In them all, we recognize that God is judging, usually in an end-time context. Evaluating a unified group, He detects some type of essential disunion. The unity is superficial, more apparent than real in terms of the level of commitment and obedience He seeks. As a result of this evaluation, God divides the group into two parts—sometimes overtly a fifty-fifty split.
The destinies of individuals in these two new groups differ vastly. One part is blessed, the other cursed. The Scriptures bear no salient indication of a period of church unity at the end. All this is consistent with Paul's comments in I Corinthians 11:19 that “there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident.”
These examples also illustrate another commonality: More often than not, God's judgment involves an element of surprise, even bewilderment, catching us off-guard—sometimes tragically so. The line of division He creates may be unfamiliar to us, unexpected. His judgment is not what we might expect, or the lines of division are unfamiliar to us. The wicked servant was not looking for the return of the master. The foolish virgins did not expect to run low of oil.
That is all to say that God's judgment is usually athwart ours. His act of division is, in fact, one of reconfiguration along lines that can be quite different to what we are accustomed.
Unity and Division: The Blessing and a Curse (Part Two)
The attitude of the evil servant is contrary to the command to be ready. His severe treatment of the other servants is similar to the description of false leaders who ravage the congregation (Acts 20:29-30). Similarly, the dramatic portrayal of the servant's punishment, "cut him in two," stresses the seriousness of his evasion of responsibility. The original statement in Aramaic was probably "he was cut off," which has two implications: to be executed or exiled for sin. With respect to the church, it means being disfellowshipped from associating with church members because of flagrant sin. Luke 12:42-46 emphasizes our responsibility for those placed under our care. On the other hand, verses 47-48 focus on our response to our Master's command.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:49: