Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

What Does 'to Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required' Mean?

  • Aaron Berry Contributing Writer
  • 2020 21 Apr
What Does 'to Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required' Mean?

...From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.Luke 12:48

If you’ve been around church for any length of time, you’ve most likely heard this phrase. If you’re into superheroes, you’ve probably heard the famous line from Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

While these two phrases aren’t synonymous, they both speak to a common principle: we are responsible with only what we have been given. And the more you have been given, the greater the responsibility.

No, none of us are responsible for any superhero abilities, but each child of God has been given, not only physical blessings, but also spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3, 2 Peter 1:3).

As we await his return, we are responsible to make the most of the time and resources we have. We have no right do use these blessings for our own advantage. We are stewards of what we have as we wait for our Savior’s return.

What Is the Context around This Scripture?

Luke 12:48 is in the context of Jesus’ instructions to his disciples regarding their responsibilities after Jesus returns to the Father in Heaven. As an illustration, he talks about a servant/master relationship. Servants are to “stay dressed for action” (Luke 12:35) and stay “awake” (Luke 12:37).

Then the apostle Peter asks if the parable is for the disciples or for all people. Instead of directly answering his question, Jesus expounds on his illustration more by asking the question, “who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time?” (Luke 12:42).

Those servants who faithfully steward the gifts entrusted to them will be rewarded upon the master’s return. Those who squander the time (Luke 12:45) will be held responsible for their casual treatment of their master’s resources.

Even those who “plead” ignorance aren’t full without responsibility (Luke 12:48).

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Who Is the Author of Luke 12:48?

This passage (and the larger book) is written by—you guessed it—Luke. Although he wasn’t an apostle who was with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, this gentile physician and associate of the Apostle Paul recorded both the events surrounding Jesus’ life and death and also the formation and spread of the early church in the book of Acts.

His opening to the Gospel of Luke gives insight into his approach: “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-3).

Luke’s purpose in this Gospel is to provide certainty regarding the teaching and life of Jesus. Passages like Luke 12:48, therefore, are meant to instill confidence in our hearts regarding what Jesus Christ desires from his followers during his absence. 

How Do Various Bible Translations Phrase This Verse?

Every now and then, certain phrases from Scripture remain largely unchanged. “To whom much has been given, much shall be required” is one of those phrases. Some English versions change the word order here or there, but not significantly.

The NIV does replace “required” with “demanded,” which might convey the meaning more clearly to the English reader. In other words, “required” is not referring to a specific list of “requirements” we are to do, but rather to the fact that we will be held accountable for what we have been given.

The more we have been given, the more we are accountable for.

It also highlights the fact that we as Christians don’t really have the option regarding how we use our gifts. It is a “demand” by our Master to use our gifts for his glory. 

How Is This Phrase Applied or Misunderstood Today?

For New Testament believers today, the most direct application of this principle is related to life in the church. Scripture states that each believer is given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:3; Ephesians 4:7), meant for the mutual edification and growth of the church. We are to use our gifts faithfully (Romans 12:6-8), being good “caretakers” of those gifts. To use our spiritual gifts for selfish reasons would be poor stewardship.

But even beyond our spiritual gifts in the church, there isn’t a single thing in our lives that escapes this principle because absolutely everything we have is a gift from God. 1 Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?"

My finances, my family, my house, my time, my heartbeat, and my talents are all gracious gifts from a gracious God.

One way someone might misunderstand this principle is by concluding that those with less have less responsibility—that they don’t have to be as responsible with what they do have. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Whether you have been entrusted with little or much, our commitment to faithful stewardship remains the same. The only thing that changes is not how responsible we should be, but rather, how much we are responsible for. This idea is clarified in a helpful parallel passage below.

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Scripture Verses Related to Luke 12:48

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells “The Parable of the Talents.” In this story, three servants are given responsibility by their master for three different sums of money: five talents, two talents, and one talent. The amount to each servant was decided “according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15).

The servants with five talents and two talents took the money, invested and traded, and returned double the amount to the master upon his return. The servant with one talent, instead of investing, buried his in the ground. The servants entrusted with the five and two talents were commended, while the servant with the one talent was sternly rebuked and punished.

Jesus ends the parable with a familiar-sounding phrase: “For everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29).

Notice that servants with the five talents and two talents, although they had different amounts, approached their task with the same level of commitment. Although the amounts were different, their stewardship and faithfulness were the same.

It doesn’t matter if you have been given much or little. The master was just as pleased with the servant with two talents as he was with the servant with five talents. God isn’t concerned with how much or how little you have, he is concerned with what you are doing with what you have been given.

There is a wonderful message of comfort here: God will never hold you accountable for what he has not given you. Simply focus on what you have been given and be faithful in that, rather than wonder why you haven’t been given more.

A Prayer for Discerning What Is Required

Dear Heavenly Father,

Everything I have is a gift from you. I know that, because of my sin, I deserve nothing more than separation from you for all eternity. Yet, in your graciousness, you have poured out your blessings on me.

Thank you for entrusting these gifts to me. Give me the faithfulness necessary to use these gifts for your glory. Help me to use my time and talents, not for my own enjoyment or benefit, for the good of others.

In Jesus Name, Amen.

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Aaron Berry is a co-author for the Pursuing the Pursuer Blog. You can read more articles from Aaron and his colleagues by subscribing to their blog or following them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Aaron currently resides in Allen Park, MI with his wife and two children, where he serves in his local church and recently completed an MDiv degree at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.