Is God a Hard Taskmaster?

Do we believe and trust God’s promise that He wants to bless us?

Depositphotos Image ID: 10941070 Copyright: magann

In the parable of the talents[1], Jesus says a master gave his servants different amounts of funding before he left 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 sow and gathering where he scattered no seed. So, the servant said he was afraid and hid the talent in the ground.

The master got angry at the servant’s response, calling him wicked and slothful. Then the master took the one talent away from the servant, leaving him with nothing.

Stop and think about this parable for a bit. The servant who only received one talent was afraid the master was a hard taskmaster, and it seems he was! Is this supposed to be a parable of what God is like?

Is that what God is really like?

At other places in the Bible we see statements of God honoring the industrious and treating the slothful as wicked. It seems God desires us to be industrious, but is God really the hard taskmaster in the parable?

This parable is an allegory. A parable is meant to convey some truth to us, often about our relationship with God, so gaining understanding of what Jesus is saying here is important.

The parable of the talents seems to affirm that God gives people natural abilities in different measures. Such a thought is antithetical to post-modern sensibilities. In our post modern world, we aren’t just content with equal opportunities; we want strict equality across the board.

Though we often gloss over the reality that people are not all created equal in talent in polite and politically correct ways, we know that people have different talents of different types and different measures.  Some people are born with musical talent like Beethoven, and some people are born without limbs. But the difference in talents isn’t the focus of the parable.

The implication of the parable is that God expects us to use whatever abilities we have to multiply what He has given us. God doesn’t expect the person with one talent to produce the same return as the person with ten talents, but God expects us to use the talents He gives us well.

This idea of using what God has given us to produce more is consistent with the very first instruction God gave Adam and Eve: to “be fruitful and multiply”[2]. God intends us, to use what God gives us (and blesses us with) to be fruitful and multiply. If we hold back, and fail to develop what He has given us and squander it, we are being “wicked and slothful”.

But, does that make God a hard taskmaster?

Back to the initial question: notice that the master doesn’t call himself a hard taskmaster. The slothful servant is the one who calls him a hard taskmaster, and he calls the master a hard taskmaster before even learning of the consequence of his actions. In fact, the slothful servant assumes God is a hard taskmaster from the beginning.

We are naturally to assume that the master in the parable is like God who gives us gifts and expects us to use them. The fact that the slothful servant is the one who called God a hard taskmaster, however, is meant to clue us into something.

The slothful servant is wicked. He doesn’t have a right or healthy view of God. The servant’s description of the master is a distortion of the master’s character.

God is not vindictive, or arbitrary, or unreasonable. God desires to bless us. The slothful servant, however, doubts God and distrusts Him.

What we have is not from ourselves. God has given us what we have, and it is good. If He has given us these good things, why should we not trust Him?

But, a person might say, why is God unfair in giving out the talents unequally?

I don’t ultimately know the answer to that, but Jesus gives us some incite:

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48)

Because the things we have come from God, and are not our own, we have some “responsibility” to God to use those gifts for God and for other people. (Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.) Those with fewer talents have are not held to the same standards as those who have more. Those who have more are held to a higher standard.

God does hold us accountable for what He has give us, but it isn’t a burden to us. Jesus clears away any distortion in our understanding about this accountability when he urges us to take up His yoke because 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 God gave them were blessings, not burdens to be shunned.

This isn’t to say that using the gifts God gives us isn’t work. Of course there is work involved, 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. Both the blessings and the purpose are tied together, and they are frustrated by our failure to be industrious with those blessings.

Making good use of the things God has given us is so important to God that He calls not making good use of our talents wicked! This is because God’s nature is to create and bless, and we are made in His image.

If the servant knew that God reaps where he doesn’t sow, the servant should have realized that he should sow so that God could reap. The sowing is the yoke and the burden that Jesus talks about. The sowing is using our talents generously with thanksgiving and gratitude in our hearts to God and, thereby, accomplishing God’s purpose with them.

“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. 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”.

So why did he bury the talent God gave him instead of using it to gain more?

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 sow. 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 everything we have is from God. We often use what God has given us primarily for our own benefit – for pleasure, gain attention, acclaim, money, popularity, etc.

There is nothing necessarily wrong in reaping some benefit from the gifts that we are given. (The ox feeds on the grain he grinds.) They are blessings to us (the ox treading the grain), but the blessings are collateral. They aren’t the primary reason we have the talents we have been given.

What I mean by that is that God gave us 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 sow. He entrusts us with the sowing. In that way, He invites us to participate in His creative work.

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 in the first place. God rewards efforts, not results. God is the one who reaps (where He doesn’t sow). We are the ones who sow, leaving the reaping to God.

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 assures us that we will be taken care of if we seek Him first, put down our own yoke to take up His yoke.

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 that we might be doing for ourselves, there is nothing inherent in the work, itself, that is more heavy or difficult, one way or the other.

The difference is in the attitude. If we are doing whatever we are doing 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 blessings 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. If we aren’t doing it for ourselves, criticisms are more easily dismissed.

In reality, others pick up on our motivations and are less likely to criticize us when we are doing things selflessly and generously for the love of God and love of people.

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 Him that He is good and desires to reward those who seek Him. 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 and trust God’s promise that He wants to bless us?

We think God is a hard Taskmaster only if we don’t trust Him and 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.” 1 John 4:18

“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.” Hebrews 11:6

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

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