Luke 19:11–27

Every Christian shares the duty of using their gifts and callings to advance the kingdom of God. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his expositional series in the gospel of Luke, expressing the privilege we have of being productive stewards to God’s glory.


Our Scripture this morning is taken from the Gospel According to Saint Luke. I will be reading from Luke 19:11–27. I would ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:

Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Therefore He said: “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’ But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us.’

“And so it was that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’

“Then another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief. For I feared you, because you are an austere man. You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’

“And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’ (But they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas.’) ‘For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me.’”

We have had the unspeakable privilege of hearing the very Word of almighty God, which carries the pure and unvarnished truth in every word as it comes to us from the supervision and superintendence of His divine Holy Spirit. Let us receive it as such and be seated. Let us pray.

Our Father, as we contemplate this parable from the lips of our Savior, we ask that You give us eyes to see and ears to hear what You are saying to us in this matter. We ask that our hearts may be open and our wills bent and inclined toward Thee, disposed to all things of Thy Word. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Religion and Politics

We have an axiom in the United States that goes something like, “Never discuss religion or politics.” That axiom was disregarded as the United States experienced the historic visit of Pope Francis to Washington, DC, New York City, and finally, Philadelphia. It was fascinating to watch the response of our nation’s leaders as they were forced to discuss religion and politics.

Both sides of the aisle in our nation’s capital were somewhat confounded, with ambivalent responses to the message of the pontiff. When he critiqued the evils of capitalism and the problems of global warming, one side of the aisle threw their hats into the air with great joy. At the same time, when Pope Francis spoke about the sanctity of life and marriage, their hats fell from heaven against their heads, while the other side of the aisle responded joyfully. We witnessed the response to this phenomenon on the news in the days following.

A Subtle Shift in Infallibility

During the 1960s, a strange theology emerged and enjoyed great popularity throughout Europe and especially South America. It went by the name liberation theology. Liberation theology came to us by theologians who sought to synthesize historic Christian theology and Marxist philosophy, which are strange bedfellows indeed.

Out of liberation theology came a new focus and interest in social justice. Liberation movements abounded from every quarter in our culture as we witnessed an attempt to marry principles of socialism with the doctrines of historic Christianity.

During that debate, some responded by saying: “Wait a minute. The Bible doesn’t have anything to say about politics. It has even less to say about economic structures. Therefore, the church should not be engaged or involved in any kind of discussion that would include matters of economics or political theory.”

In the same period, we saw a strange twist in how the doctrine of Scripture was understood in certain quarters. The historic creeds and confessions contain the affirmation that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. That understanding underwent a slight, but powerful, transformation, as it was rendered this way: the Bible is only infallible when it speaks of faith and morals. Do you see the subtlety of that shift?

On the one hand, the adjectival qualifier “only” meant to suggest that the sole infallible source of truth we have under heaven is the Bible, as it comes to us from God Himself. The shift, in contrast, was saying that the Bible is only infallible in certain distinct areas, such as faith and morals, but any time the Bible speaks of historical, scientific, political, or economic matters, it reveals its fallibility. Therefore, we are not required to submit to its teachings in these areas. It is a subtle shift indeed, but one that changes everything.

I submit to you that the Bible is infallible in every area since God is its author. He not only reveals to us His truth concerning faith and practice but included in that is our practice of political activity and economics. The statement revealed in Jesus’ parable of the minas, recorded for us by Luke, is loaded with political and economic significance.

The Bible is by no means silent about how kingdoms should rule and how economics should play out. We need to have ears to hear concerning what it teaches regarding these matters. No matter what Jesus speaks to, He speaks by His authority, and we need to give heed.

Tension between Economic Systems

The basic tension in the Pope’s comments had to do with conflicts between two systems of economics: socialism on the one hand and capitalism on the other. Before I say anything more, let me point out that socialism is not homogeneous or monolithic. There are many different types, varieties, and forms of socialism. The same can be said of capitalism.

I might add that of all the forms of socialism that have emerged in the history of civilization, the next one to be successful as an economic system will be the first. It is almost always propagated with humanitarianism, out of the deep and piercing concern for the well-being of those who are poor and oppressed. I will certainly bow to the intentions of those who seek to propagate such systems of economics and political theory. My concern is for their success, as it seems that the various forms of socialism have left the poor and oppressed worse off than ever. I also see that those who react negatively to systems of capitalism understand that capitalism can easily manifest itself in certain forms by evil motivations of greed, exploitation, and all kinds of mischief.

How are we to respond to these ethical considerations in light of Scripture? Let me suggest that the Bible teaches a form of capitalism. While there are many different forms of capitalism, the form set forth in sacred Scripture clearly protects the principles of private property and private ownership.

The Ten Commandments, at least in two of them, are directly concerned with protecting private ownership, as they prohibit all forms of theft and stealing. They also protect those who have private property from the insidious evil of covetousness and jealousy, where people begin to be motivated by envy and covetousness of other people’s property. God takes as dim a view of envy and jealousy as He does greed and avarice. So, how do we sort these things out?

Creatures of Industry

It is hard to speak briefly about the broad categories of socialism and capitalism because they differ in so many fine points. It is sometimes difficult to see where socialism ends and communism begins. One thing these schools of thought have in common, as in all forms of Marxism, is a concern for economic equality and the redistribution of wealth so that there will be a greater balance between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

Sacred Scripture reveals that God has a tremendous concern for the poor. He sets forth laws to protect the poor, particularly those who are poor as a direct result of catastrophes that have determined their existence, such as farmers who have experienced a drought or people who have disabilities and are not able to physically labor because of their health. The Bible speaks of God’s passionate concern for the well-being of the poor because of calamity.

The tendency in our culture is often to assume that if someone is poor, it is because he is lazy and slothful, so he simply gets what he deserves. We hear that poverty is a consequence of idleness and laziness. The Bible does not teach that at all, though it does acknowledge that some are poor as a direct result of laziness and slothfulness, which is why the Bible condemns sloth and laziness while calling us to industry and diligence in our labor.

As Marx rightly understood, we have been made as creatures called to labor. We are often defined in terms of what we do. When I meet somebody for the first time, I ask them their name, then I ask, “Where do you live?” and the next question is usually, “What do you do?” Marx understood that we are defined not only as Homo sapiens, but also as Homo faber. How we work, in so many cases, defines who we are.

Even before the fall, God created man and woman to be engaged in industry under His authority and for His glory. It is an error to assume that the only reason people are poor is because they are lazy, and it is equally erroneous to assume that the only reason people are poor is because other people are greedy. Sometimes, people are poor by catastrophe. Sometimes, people are poor because they just will not work.

My economics professor in college was a large man. During the first lesson he gave in his economics class, he walked in the room, got up on his desk, and stood there. We were wondering whether the desk was strong enough to support him. He said, “The first rule of economics is this: you’ve got to work.” That was a lecture no one ever forgot.

When God called us to be human, He called us to be creatures of industry. It is interesting that throughout sacred Scripture, we see the principle of the kingdom of God emphasizing the productivity of wise labor.

Stewardship Capitalism

When I talk about capitalism, I make an important qualifier: biblical capitalism is what we call “stewardship capitalism.” Stewardship capitalism does not depend upon the government to take one person’s income and distribute it to another person. That is not the role or purpose of government.

As we know, the evils of greed and exploitation can be a result of rapacious kinds of labor. We are held accountable to God for our stewardship, and our capitalism is governed by the law of God. Just as private property is protected by the law of God, so the acquisition of that private property is governed by the law of God.

I say all this by way of introduction to the parable we have before us this morning. Jesus was at the house of Zacchaeus, and presumably this parable was spoken in the town of Jericho. Let us look briefly at the parable itself.

The Story of Archelaus

“Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem,” namely in Jericho, “and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. Therefore He said: ‘A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.’”

Most commentators agree that this parable probably had in view a historical event that took place thirty years earlier in the Jewish nation’s history. In 4 BC, King Herod died shortly before the annual celebration of the Jewish Passover. When he died, he divided his kingdom among his four sons, each of whom received one-fourth of the kingdom and were called tetrarchs.

The son that received Judea, among other areas, was Archelaus. He inherited his authority over this territory from his father. Archelaus was one of the most hated and despised rulers of the Jews during their entire history. Just months after Archelaus’ father died, at the celebration of the Passover in Jerusalem, Archelaus slaughtered three thousand Jewish worshipers in such a bloodbath that many worshipers fled the city of Jerusalem and ceased their celebration of the Passover.

For Archelaus to be formally crowned king of the territory, he had to go to Rome and have the Roman emperor approve his authority by anointing him king. Archelaus went to Rome for that purpose, and a delegation of roughly fifty Jewish authorities also went to Rome to plead against his appointment, saying: “He’s a wicked man, a brutal man. He has slaughtered his own people. Please, Caesar, do not confirm him as king.”

The emperor did not confirm Archelaus as king but did allow him to retain his title as tetrarch. He returned to his territory where he ruled until AD 6, a period of ten years, after which he was deposed because of his brutality and the people’s petitions to get rid of him. At that time, Rome appointed governors such as Pontius Pilate to govern its people.

This story was well-known in Jericho, where Archelaus had built an aqueduct and an elaborate palace for his residence in Judea. Every Jew in Jericho was familiar with the story. Jesus ironically picked up on it to talk about someone the people hated going to a far country, where he would be anointed king, as his father had determined.

The Principle of Stewardship

Luke tells us at the beginning of the parable that Jesus spoke this parable because the people thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. In parallel terms to Archelaus’ visit to Rome, Jesus said He was going to go into a far country, He was the nobleman knowing that the Father would appoint Him king, but not right away. There would be an interim between His departure to the far country and His commission as king.

In that interim, Jesus spoke in terms of stewardship, and I might say stewardship capitalism. He spelled out the parable in this way: “So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business till I come.’” He was calling his servants to be profitable servants, that they may increase the money entrusted to them.

This is the principle of stewardship: God owns everything. His capital is on loan to us, but the idea is that while our Lord is gone, He has given talents to each of His servants. Originally, the term talent was a monetary unit, and linguistically in our vocabulary it has come to mean an ability or gift by which we are able to carry out our livelihood. The talents (as Matthew calls them) or minas (as Luke calls them) were entrusted to each servant, and while the master was away, each servant was expected to multiply the talents or gifts for which they were responsible.

“And so it was,” we are told, “that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.”

The first servant came and said, “Master, your mina has earned ten minas,” and the king said: “Well done. Great job. You’ve taken my one mina and you’ve turned it into ten. I’m going to give you authority over ten cities. I’m going to bless you because you’ve been productive. You have used your gifts and talents in a productive way.”

Then the next servant came, and he said, “Master, I’ve turned one mina into five minas.” The master said: “Good job. It’s half as good as the first one, but it’s still a good job. You’ve increased it by a quotient of five times, so you now will have reign over five cities.”

What about the next servant? He came, saying: “Master, here is your mina. You gave me one mina. I didn’t lose it. I didn’t waste it. I didn’t consume it. I kept it safe. I dug a hole and buried it in the ground to make sure that nothing was lost.”

This was not the prodigal son who wasted his wealth in profligate living. This was the wicked servant who was so intimidated by competition or the fear of loss that he hid his mina in a handkerchief. He said: “I was afraid of you. You’re an austere man. I’ve seen how bloody you can be, and I wanted to make sure not to lose anything of what you’ve entrusted to me.” So, the master said: “Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You were not productive. Out of your fear, you didn’t produce anything, and I trusted you to grow my kingdom.”

Be Faithful to Your Calling

When I was a beginning college professor, I had a class full of students, and I gave their first examination. More than one student replied to me on their exam: “Dear Professor, I’ve done poorly on my exam. I didn’t study the night before. Instead, I was engaged in evangelism. As a result, I’ve done poorly, and I pray that you will have mercy upon me.”

I wrote on their papers: “I’m glad you’re saved. I’m glad you love the Lord. I hope you understand that justification is by faith alone. Your works contribute nothing to your salvation, but in my class, justification is by works alone. I’m glad you care for evangelism, but I’m sad that you neglected your studies, which is your calling right now. You are supposed to be preparing for ministry and you failed to do that. I’m glad for the state of your soul, but your grade is an F.” They were wicked servants because they did not do what God had called them to do at that time.

We live in a culture with an astronomical number of people fighting a losing battle to credit card debt. They are spending more money than they are taking in. That is not just foolish, it is evil according to God. In stewardship principles, we are to live on less than what we make and be producing more goods with our goods.

The basic lesson of capitalism is that your money works for you while you sleep, because instead of wasteful consumption you invest in industry. That is the economic return, but we are considering something greater than the economic concern: the spiritual dynamic of the kingdom of God, which is based on the same principle of production.

D. James Kennedy had a passion for evangelism. He used to tell his students, “If you are in ministry, find every way you can to multiply ministry. Use the radio, television, books, whatever you can do to make the message wider and stronger. Whatever you do as a Christian in the service of Christ, do with all your might and strength, that you might multiply your ministry.”

Every Christian is given a ministry. Every Christian is given a gift by God, and God expects every Christian to be productive in an honest, compassionate, righteous way, and diligent way. That is my job. That is your job.

Jesus was saying, at the last day, when the Master returns, those who were not faithful and not productive will receive His judgment. That is what Matthew was talking about when he said: “Depart from me. I’ve given you everything that you have, and you buried it in the ground. You put it under a basket and didn’t produce.”

As Christians, it is our duty and privilege to do everything in our power to increase the ministry of the gospel of the kingdom of God.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.