“to everyone who has.” At first reading, this verse is unclear and seems very unfair. It seems to say that if a person has something they will get more, while if a person does not have anything, they will lose even what they have. Of course that would be unfair, and thankfully that is not what Jesus is teaching.
Jesus is teaching a very important lesson, and we can tell that because the Gospels record him teaching it five different times (Matt. 13:12; 25:29; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18, 19:26). In the context of Jesus’ teachings, it is clear that the reason a person “has” is that he used his time and resources wisely, while a person who does “not have” is in that position because he made unwise choices and/or lived an ungodly life. That is certainly the case here in Matthew, because the servant who “had” and to whom more would be given had used his time and ability wisely, while the servant who did “not have” was lazy and wicked. The New Living Testament is more paraphrastic than literal, but it gets the sense of the verse in its translation: “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”
It is also important to note that in all of the five times Jesus taught this lesson, he never explained what it was that anyone would “have.” Normally, we would think that Jesus would not just say, “to everyone who has…But from the one that does not have….” We ask, “has what? Does not have what?” But Jesus did not say, “to everyone who has money,” or “land,” or “servants,” or anything specific at all. Thus, Jesus left it open as to what a person could have. It could be money or material things, or it could be something immaterial such as “peace” or “joy.”
What is clear from the context and was clear in the culture of Jesus’ day, was that if a person “had” something it was almost always because of the good choices they had made. In contrast, if a person did not have, it was because of poor choices, and eventually they would lose even what little they had.
In our modern world it is common to think that if anyone has anything, they should share it with those who do not have. And while there are people today who “have” due to unrighteous circumstances, there are many more people who “have” because they worked hard, took proper risks, lived a godly life, and were blessed. Similarly, although some people today who “have not” are the victims of unfortunate circumstances, there are many people today who “have not” because they are not diligent to work hard, control their desires, and make godly choices. Thus, in many circumstances it is not right or godly to take from people who have and give to people who do not have. Yet the governments of the world do that all the time; and godly people should stand against that kind of taking and the mentality behind it as well. God did not design life so everyone would have the same things; He designed the earth to reward those people who work hard and make godly choices.
Jesus’ parable would upset many people today because Jesus does the opposite of what governments usually do: he takes from the lazy and ungodly person and gives to the diligent person. This parable of Jesus points out the way life really works when godly people are in charge, and the way it will be on the Day of Judgment, because on that Day the injustice of the world will disappear and the diligent and godly will be richly rewarded while the lazy and ungodly will get what they deserve, whether it be loss of rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-15) or dying unsaved and being cast into the Lake of Fire and being annihilated (Rev. 20:11-15). Thus, this parable serves as a warning to lazy people who want to live off the work that others do, and it is an encouragement to people who are diligent and godly, that even if somehow things don’t work out well in this life, they will in the next; so keep on being godly and diligent, there is a reward for it.