Q&A: All or Nothing

All or Nothing

Question

A friend of mine quoted from the New Testament a phrase that was saying more or less the following: "Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." Where does this phrase appear, and what does it mean?

Answer

This teaching comes from Jesus. In the New Testament, he said something like this on three occasions: in his teaching surrounding the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:12; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18), in his parable of the talents (Matt. 25:29), and in his parable of the minas (Luke 19:26). These last two are essentially the same parable, but with significant variation in the details.

The idea you have paraphrased is fairly difficult to understand outside the context of these parables, as it seems to imply that God will take away blessing from some people simply because they don't have very many blessings already, and that he will give blessings to others simply because these others already have many blessings. But this is not really what Jesus is saying. In the context of the parables, the meaning is that those who are faithful to God in this life will be rewarded with abundant covenant blessings when the kingdom of God is restored in full, whereas those who are unfaithful will be punished with covenant curses. What those in the parables either lack or have is faith in and fidelity to God, and what God will give or take away is covenant blessings.

In the agricultural parable of the sower, the metaphor works as follows: Some people receive the gospel of the kingdom of God with faithfulness, and respond by believing and by doing good works. They have "faith" and "fruit," and they will be given covenant blessings. Others do not receive the gospel with faithfulness and do not do good works. These have no or insufficient faith, and no real fruit. Their opportunity for faith and repentance will be taken away, and they will fall under the covenant curses.

In the parables of the talents and minas, the metaphor works this way: Everyone within the covenant community is presented with the opportunity to demonstrate faithfulness and covenant fidelity, and during this time they all enjoy certain covenant blessings. Some respond appropriately, and some do not. Those who are faithful will be rewarded with further covenant blessings. Those who are not faithful will have their existing covenant blessings revoked, and will be punished with covenant curses.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.