The “Matthew Effect” (or “Matthew Principle”) is the economic and social principle that those who begin with an advantage will often gain a greater advantage, and those with little to no advantage will often lose what advantage they may have had. For instance, those with wealth generally have disposable income which they can invest and thereby create more wealth. Conversely, those with few financial resources must often use all they have to survive, and in times of need, may have to borrow money. The principle can be applied to social advantage as well as to financial advantage.
The term, “Matthew Effect” alludes to the fact that Jesus referenced this phenomenon twice in the book of Matthew, stating, “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Matthew 13:12, 25:29) Jesus is also recorded referencing this principle twice in Luke’s gospel and once in Mark’s as well.
In the initial instances in Matthew and Luke, and in the only instance in Mark, Jesus stated this principle after giving the Parable of the Sower and other related parables. In the Matthew version, Jesus actually pointed to the principle as the reason that He taught in parables:
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. (Matthew 13: 11-12)
When Jesus referenced this principle, He wasn’t speaking of financial wealth, but rather the wealth that comes from knowing, understanding, and keeping His teachings. Those who accept, understand, and keep His teachings will thereby increase in their understanding of His teachings. Those who only accept or understand a portion of His teachings will not only fail to further understand His teachings, but may lose what little understanding they currently possess.
The other two instances where Jesus references the Matthew Effect in the gospels of Matthew and Luke are found within the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Minas. In both of these parables, Jesus uses the financial understanding of this principle to point to the spiritual reality that His disciples must understand, accept, keep, and multiply His teachings.
Jesus taught that being His disciple can be understood in relation to His teachings. A disciple of a master is simply one who strives to live by their master’s teachings and example. Therefore, a disciple multiplies their master’s teachings by living them out and then by teaching others to do the same. A disciple of Jesus who accepts, understands, and keeps His teachings is able to further multiply and increase them by teaching other disciples of Jesus to do the same.
Therefore, I would argue that the talents and the minas in these two parables are the teachings of Jesus which He expects His disciples to multiply through accepting, understanding, and keeping them; and then of course, teaching more disciples to do the same.
As I have written previously, the ultimate goal of the gospel of Jesus is that believers render unto God the glory that He is due by being recreated into the image of God that we were originally created to be. Moreover, believers are only recreated into the image of God by being conformed into the image of Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) through imitating and obeying Him as His disciple (through the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit). Ultimately, disciples imitate and obey Jesus through knowing and keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example.
For more on this argument, download our free e-book primer here, or order the complete book, Recreated to Be Like God, here.
Furthermore, I would argue that there is a correlation between the Great Commission of Jesus to “Go make disciples […] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” which was given at His ascension (Matthew 28:19-20); and the beginning of the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11-13:
Jesus went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.”
Jesus is obviously referring to His future ascension (and return) in the introduction of this parable. Therefore, the Master’s command given to His servants (at His departure) to multiply what He has entrusted to them; would be the same command that Jesus gave to His disciples (at His ascension) to multiply more disciples who know and keep His words, teachings, commands, and example until His return:
Jesus said, “So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’”
I personally have a particular take on the Parable of the Minas and the Parable of the Talents because for most of my adult life I have not worked for a church, but I have worked in manufacturing. I would be hesitant to compare being and making disciples of Jesus to a business venture except for the fact that this is exactly what Jesus did in these two parables. The reality is that most average people work in settings where there is a production standard that must be meet. Therefore, most people understand the importance of doing a job in such a way that the expected outcome is accomplished in a timely manner. That is Jesus’ point in these two parables, there is an expected outcome which must be achieved by the servants by a certain point in time (which is unknown to them).
For the last several years I have specifically worked as a production supervisor. Not only have I been a production supervisor, but for the first two years, I supervised a 12-hour nightshift. The interesting thing about being a supervisor on nightshift is that for those 12 hours, you are the highest-ranking person in the plant. There were people I reported to, but for most of those 12 hours they were at home in their beds, and they didn’t appreciate me waking them up in the middle of the night to ask them questions about what I should do; they expected me to be able to make decisions on my own that ensured that the plant produced the expected amount of production in the expected amount of time.
I was like the servants in the parables. My superiors handed me the wealth of the factory and instructed me to manage and multiply that wealth over the next 12 hours until they returned in the morning. Every night I was making decisions that were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and every morning I was expected to give an account of what the plant had produced under my supervision.
In the Parable of the Minas, Jesus taught that one day He will return and will hold His disciples accountable for how they have multiplied His image (and therefore His glory) using His words, teachings, commands, and example:
“He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
[…] Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’”
As a result of the positive performance of our plant over the last few years, the company has increased production at that plant and even built a new plant in the area. The result is hundreds of new jobs in the area that will help the people who work them (and their families) have financially solid lives. Not only do we produce a good product, we produce good jobs. But both of those things are contingent on us properly managing our company’s wealth and resources.
As a result of our performance on nightshift, I was promoted to supervise a dayshift at the new plant. However, when I moved to dayshift, I was replaced by another supervisor who failed to properly manage the shift and the resources of the company. He had the intelligence to do the job but lacked the motivation to do it well. Ultimately it cost that person their job. The stakes were too high to allow him to continue to mismanage the production of the plant at night. The sad reality was, after just a year on night shift, he would have been up for a promotion to dayshift, if he had done a satisfactory job.
Jesus taught in the Parable of the Minas that He will also judge those who consider themselves to be His disciples but fail to use His teachings to multiply His image (and therefore His glory):
“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’”
To fail to keep the Great Commission is to be the servant who buried His Master’s possessions (His words, teachings, commands, and example) under whatever excuse he could find under which to bury them, because he was unwilling to fully devote himself to the task his master had given him. Unfortunately, we have buried Jesus’ teachings under everything possible; buildings, traditions, rituals, programs, projects, entertainment, hobbies, jobs, vacations, etc.
But if Jesus returned today, what excuse would we give Him for not multiplying His image and glory?
What excuse could we possibly give?
More importantly, would we still expect to be allowed into His kingdom after giving those excuses?
Was the disobedient servant allowed into the kingdom? In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:30, he is thrown into “the outer darkness [where] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Why? Because he refused to do what was needed in order to render unto God the glory that He is due. Why should God allow such a disobedient servant into His kingdom?
My fear is that many believers think that they are heading to a heaven that doesn’t really exist.
Due to some bad theology, many have come to believe that paradise (heaven) is simply a reward for living a good life in this world. However, Scripture makes it clear that paradise is ultimately the perfectly recreated earth where those who have submitted to being recreated into the perfect image of God will dwell and reign in that state for all eternity. (Revelation 21:1, 22:1-5)
Why would Jesus allow someone who refused to be recreated into His image and refused to help others be recreated into His image enter that place? Why would He punish the obedient servants with the presence of disobedient ones? Why would He reward their blatant disobedience?
Perhaps a better question would be, why would a disobedient servant even want to go there if they have no desire to be recreated into the image of Jesus? After all, that’s the whole point of the paradise.
The most likely answer is that they just don’t want to go to hell.
Right about now, some might accuse me of teaching salvation by works, but remember that I stated previously that disciples of Jesus imitate and obey Him only “through the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.” It can’t be salvation by works if the works are not done in our own power. Moreover, as Paul wrote:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
The whole point of our salvation is that we are recreated into the image of Jesus to do the works of the image of Jesus/God that we were originally created to be. As James wrote clearly, faith is only proven by the works it produces (James 2: 17, 26). Failure to produce the works of imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple is proof of a lack of faith and a true belief in Jesus.
As I stated previously, I would be hesitant to use a business venture as an allegory for the church and the kingdom of God if Jesus had not already done so. Therefore, as His disciple I humbly offer my own parable that might help us understand why it is so important for us to be and make disciples of Jesus:
The church is supposed to be a factory reproducing the image and glory of God. As believers, we are to take that with which Jesus has entrusted us; His words, teachings, commands, and example, along with the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit; and we are to use them to be and make disciples of Jesus who are recreated into His image through imitating and obeying Him.
The owner of the factory has left for an unknown period, leaving us in charge of managing His wealth and possessions. His directions to us are this–to produce as many copies of Him as we can before He returns. When He returns, He will reward the faithful based on their multiplication factor. He will punish the unfaithful based on their lack of multiplication.
It might seem mercenary or unloving to compare the kingdom of God to a factory, but what could be more loving than producing people who act and love like Jesus?
I’m left with these questions, “Why would we not want to be recreated into the image of Jesus and/or help others to be recreated into His image? Isn’t being recreated into the image of Jesus the best thing that could happen to us and to the people that we meet each day? Isn’t being recreated into the image of Jesus the best thing for your families and communities?”
I once worked as a contractor at the same company where I currently work. I wasn’t directly involved in production, and was somewhat of a spectator. At one point, the company replaced its accounting/inventory software with a new program. Long story short, something went wrong and it shut down all of production. After a couple of weeks of not producing anything, the plant manager pulled everyone into a meeting and declared that no matter what, they were going to start production back. I watched from my ring-side seat as they pulled out office personnel, gave them a clipboard and a pen and had them begin to manually track the inventory in order to get production going again.
The harsh reality is that we now find ourselves in a similar situation in the church. Something has gone wrong, and we are not producing disciples of Jesus who know and keep His commands and as a result, are not conformed to His image. We need to do whatever we need to do, even if it is completely different from what we were previously doing, in order to get production going again.
Had the plant manager not done whatever was needed to be done to get production going again, it could have cost most, if not all of us, our jobs. The great lie in the church today is that we will not suffer the consequences of not producing that which we were tasked to produce. If you still believe that, please reread the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Minas and consider the seriousness of what Jesus taught.
If, however, you have been convinced that the church needs to do whatever it needs to do in order to start producing disciples of Jesus who imitate and obey Him, please start by downloading the free e-book primer here, or ordering the full-length book, Recreated to Be Like God, here. You will also want to check out our other free resources and books, to help you on your journey.