Is God a Hard Taskmaster?

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In the parable of the talents[1], the master gives his servants different amounts of funding before he leaves on a long trip. The Master gave one servant 10 talents and another servant 5 talents. Both of them invested their talents and made more talents. The master gave a third servant only one talent, and that servant buried his one talent in the ground.

When the master came back and asked for an accounting, the servant who buried his only talent in the ground told the master that he knew his master was a “hard taskmaster” reaping where he did not sew and gathering where he scattered to seed. so, the Servant said he was afraid and hid the talent in the ground. The Master explodes at the response, calling the servant wicked and slothful, and He takes the one talent away from the servant, leaving him with nothing.

The Master’s response seems harsh – like a hard Taskmaster!

At other places in the Bible we see statements of God honoring the industrious and treating the slothful as wicked, but is God really a hard Taskmaster?

This parable is an allegory illustrating our relationship with God so gaining understanding of what Jesus is saying here is important.

The parable describes well that God gives different people different gifts in different measures and of different types. The implication is that God expects us to use those gifts and to multiply what he gives us. This is consistent with the very first instruction God gave Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply”[2]. God intended them, and us, to use what God gives (and blesses us with) to be fruitful and multiply. If we hold back, and keep what God has given us to ourselves, we are being “wicked and slothful”.

Notice, however, that the Master in the parable is not the one who calls him a hard Taskmaster. The slothful servant is the one who calls the Master a hard taskmaster.

It’s important to note that this description is a distortion of God’s character. Yes he gives us gifts and expects us to use them. Yes he holds us accountable for them. But Jesus clears away any distortion we might have when he urges us to take up His yoke because He says His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[3]

When God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, it was in the context of God blessing them. The gifts He gave them were blessings.

This isn’t to say that using the gifts God gives us isn’t work. Of course it is, but sloth is a sin. If we don’t use the talents God has given us industriously, not only do we fail to receive the benefit God intended for us, but we fail to accomplish the purpose for which God gave them to us. Jesus actually calls this “wicked”!

If the servant knew that God reaps where he doesn’t sew, the servant should have realized that he should sow so that God could reap. The sewing is the yolk and the burden that Jesus talks about – using what God has given us for the Lord and not for ourselves.

“Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being, for the Lord and not for men, you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.…”[4]

Yes God does have expectations for us, and those expectations are grounded in what he has given us. But, using those gifts God has given us isn’t hard. His yoke is easy. When we are gifted in something, it comes easier for us than it does for other people. We are blessed when we use those gifts, and we accomplish God’s purpose when we use them “for the Lord and not for men”.

The problem isn’t just that the servant has a distorted view of God. The issue is with the servant’s attitude. If the servant thought that he was given the talent only for his own benefit, the servant was wrong. The servant’s response to the Master, however, suggests that he didn’t think the talent was given to him for his own benefit. He knew that the Master reaps where he doesn’t sew. So what is the problem?

We often think (or act) as if the gifts we have are for our own benefit, even though we know that what we have we have been given by God. We often use what God has given us primarily for our own benefit – to gain attention, acclaim, money, popularity, etc. There is nothing necessarily wrong in reaping some benefit from the gifts that we are given. They are blessings to us, but, the blessings are collateral. They aren’t the primary reason we have them.

What I mean by that is that God gave us the gifts, not only for us to be blessed by them, but so that we would be fruitful and multiply – which is another way of saying that we have been given gifts by God to use them as He intended. He has given us those gifts for His purpose.

Gifts are given to us from God so that He may reap where he does not sew.

But, the servant says that he was afraid of losing the one talent he was giving so he buried it. He may have thought he was being frugal and smart to bury it, but he was actually being miserly and foolish. There certainly is risk in using those gifts God has given us, but God expects us to take the risk, and he promises to bless us if we do. Yes, we might lose something in the process, but fear of losing something in the process should not hold us back from using those gifts as God given us.

The risks are usually the things we want to hold on to anyway! Jesus says seek the kingdom of God first, and all these things will be added to you.[5] God has covered that risk! He insures that you will be taken care of if you seek Him first and put down your own yoke to take up His.

And what are the burdens that we carry that are heavier than the yoke and burden that Jesus asks us to carry? If we are doing the same thing for Jesus as we might be doing for ourselves, there must be nothing inherent in the work, itself, that is more heavy or difficult one way or the other.

Rather it is in the attitude. If we are doing it for ourselves, rather than doing it for God, the burden is heavy. We are afraid of what other people might think. We are afraid of criticism. We are afraid of failing. We are afraid of not being as good as we want ourselves to be. There are a thousand burdens that we take on when we are doing things for ourselves

When we use our gifts purely because God gave them to us and wants us to use them, we accomplish God’s purpose, we bless others and we receive blessing in return. All of those burdens we carry also go out the window. It doesn’t matter what others think as long as they are blessed. We aren’t doing it for ourselves so any criticisms are more easily dismissed. The reality is that others pick up on our motivations and are less likely to criticize us when we are doing things truly out of a spirit of service to God and to bless others.

That brings me back to the initial question: is God a hard Taskmaster?

God is a hard Taskmaster, but only if we do not have faith in His promise to bless us. If we think all God wants to do is to punish us, we will view Him as a hard Taskmaster. And, the thing is, we will be right! God will hold us accountable.

The ultimate issue is faith. Do we believe God’s promise that He wants to bless us?

We think he is a hard Taskmaster only if we do not believe his promise to bless us when we do the work He has given us to do. If we are afraid, we have not believed or trusted Him. We have not believed that God is love.[6] When we believe and trust and get to know God, His love casts out any fear we might have.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”[7]

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”[8]

We may have all kinds of hang ups, fears and quirks that may take years to work through. We may have limitations that threaten to hold us back – like Moses, who was not an eloquent speaker. We all have those things in our lives that God is working on in us. If we wait for them all to be ironed out, we will never unbury our gifts. The only thing God asks of us is obedience in faith. We can trust Him to do the rest.


[1] “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 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. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance.” (Matthew 25:14-30)

[2] “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;…’” (Genesis 1:27-19) Notice that God blessed them when he said “be fruitful and multiply”. God’s gifts are a blessing to us to be used for His purpose. Notice also the additional instruction to fill the earth and subdue it and rule over it. This sounds a lot like work. The work God gives us to do is His purpose for our lives.

[3] Matthew 11:28-30

[4] Colossians 3:23-24

[5] Matthew 6:33

[6] 1 John 4:8

[7] 1 John 4:18

[8] Hebrews 11:6

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