Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. — Matthew 25:30

When I was a boy growing up in the church, I would frequently hear preachers use the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as a part of their sermons, especially if they were preaching on the subject of eternal damnation. Every time I heard the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” I wondered, What does that phrase mean? What is weeping and gnashing of teeth?

The answer to this question is found in the story of the master who gave talents to three of his servants. As we already saw in yesterday’s Sparkling Gem, Jesus called the lazy servant in that parable a “wicked and slothful servant.” The words “wicked and slothful” both come from the single Greek word okneros. This word means lazy or idle. It carries the idea of a person who has a do-nothing, lethargic, lackadaisical, apathetic, indifferent, lukewarm attitude toward life.

Jesus used this parable to teach those of us who are His followers what He expects of us. The master in the parable vividly illustrates Jesus’ sentiments toward people who have great potential but who are too lazy to get up, get out of the house, and do something to develop the potential that has been entrusted to them. Friend, we need to pay careful attention to the message in this parable, because how Jesus sees things is how we must see things!

Notice that the master in this parable said, “Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents” (v. 28). This would be the response of any employer who discovered a time-waster on his staff. Rather than throw away more time waiting for an unprofitable, non-productive person to get with the program, a smart employer will take his responsibility from him and give it to someone he knows can get the job done right!

Jesus continued, “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (v. 29). Here again we find a powerful truth: Those who are good performers and whom the boss can trust to get things done will always have a very full plate of responsibility. The employer trusts this employee’s ability and appreciates his willingness to do whatever necessary to complete the assigned task with excellence. Therefore, he keeps piling more and more on this person whom he knows he can trust! This is precisely what Jesus meant when he said, “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance….”

But Jesus also said, “…But from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath.” A good way to make sure that you get no pay increase or promotion and possibly even get fired is to do a poor job. Poor jobs should not be rewarded.

Rewards are given to those who deserve them. If a person consistently fails to do his job correctly or on time, or if he consistently does his assigned task with a grumpy, complaining attitude, he shouldn’t be surprised when the new and bigger assignments are delegated to someone else besides him!

This leads us to Jesus’ statement about “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in Matthew 25:30. It says, “And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The word “unprofitable” is the Greek word achreios, which literally means useless. A literal translation in today’s vernacular would be the good-for-nothing servant.

But notice that the master in this parable said to “cast” this servant “into outer darkness.” The word “cast” is the word ekballo, from the words ek and ballo. The word ek means out, and the word ballo means to throw. Together these words mean to expel, to throw out, to drive out, or to kick out. This word pictures the master saying, “Throw him out…”; “Kick the guy out of the organization…”; “Expel him as quickly as you can…”; “Toss him out of here….” The Greek expresses such total intolerance for laziness and non-productivity that the master wants the unprofitable servant gone as quickly as possible!

The master said to cast the unprofitable servant into “outer darkness.” Let me explain this to you, because it is very important to the truth in this parable.

It is a fact that in New Testament times, almost every large city had huge stone city walls that protected the city from intruders and from lions who roamed the countryside. The residents of the city often dumped their garbage over the top of the walls in certain parts of the city, allowing the trash to fall and build up around the base of the huge stone walls. Because this garbage included unused food, lions from the countryside would come to the base of the city walls late at night — when it was very dark — to pillage the trash and look for food.

These huge piles of trash became sites where authorities tried to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals suspected of crimes but not concretely proven to be guilty. The authorities would tie the suspected criminal with rope and lower him to the base of the city walls during the darkest hours of the night — right into the midst of the garbage where the lions roamed every night. If they found the suspect alive the next morning, he was judged to be innocent of his crime. If he had been devoured, it was assumed that he had been guilty of the crime of which he had been accused.

Even if the victim was found alive the next morning, he was usually insane or on the verge of total insanity. In fact, his teeth were usually ground down by his own nervous gnashing and grinding of his teeth as the lions prowled and roared all around him all night long. This is where we get the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It was derived from this experience of suffering agony and even insanity as a result of being cast into outer darkness.

Why would Jesus use this example to depict the unprofitable servant who was kicked out of the business or organization? Well, just imagine what this person would feel like after being kicked out for doing a poor job. Later he would see others doing exactly what he had once been asked to do but what he had refused or failed to do because he was too lazy. That experience would be pure agony for him! It would be so difficult to watch someone else in his position — doing what he used to do, getting the promotion he could have gotten, achieving the greatness he should have achieved. To know that all of this could have been his if he hadn’t forfeited it through his own wrong attitude and laziness — that would be agony for anyone!

So many people have had great ideas, but because they pondered the idea for too long without acting on it, someone else finally came up with the same idea — and then went out and did something about it! The person who originally came up with the idea sees someone else prospering with the idea he had first. How do you think that makes him feel? He knows it could have been him experiencing that prosperity and success, but now it’s too late. His hesitation to act or his laziness prevented him from getting up and putting that idea into action; as a result, the opportunity passed on to someone who was willing to do something with the idea.

Do you know anyone who has experienced such agony due to his own lack of faith to step out and act on his dream? Do you fit this description yourself?

I pray that I haven’t just described you! The last thing Jesus wants is for you to experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But honestly, friend, it’s up to you. If you do nothing with the abilities and opportunities God gives you, you can be certain that those privileged opportunities for success will pass to someone who is willing to do something with them. The opportunity can be yours, or it can be taken from you. But if it is taken from you, it will be agony to your soul when you see someone else standing in your dream.

That’s why I am begging you — please don’t make this mistake! God has given you gifts, callings, and dreams to fulfill. Now it’s up to you to step out in faith and DO something with what He has given you! 

sparking gems from the greek

My Prayer for Today

Lord, help me understand how to act on the ideas You have placed in my heart. I don’t want to be like the unprofitable servant who was thrown into outer darkness and experienced weeping and gnashing of teeth. I want to stand in the reality of the dream You have put in my heart. Please give me wisdom and courage to step out and begin to fulfill the dream You birthed so deeply inside my soul. I need You, Holy Spirit. I ask You to stir up Your courage inside me and help me to get moving!

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

sparking gems from the greek

My Confession for Today

I confess that I’m not lazy or afraid to step out in faith. I am filled with God’s wonderful ideas, and I will do what He has put in my heart. I am not hesitant or fearful but rather bold, courageous, and ready to go! God is my Helper; therefore, I will not be afraid. I will not fear what man can do to me, for the Lord is with me! He directs my mind; He guides my steps; and His Word lights my path before me.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

sparking gems from the greek

Questions to Answer

1. Have you ever experienced “weeping and gnashing of teeth” from watching someone else step into your dream or your position because you failed to do it first?

2. If your answer is yes, did you ask Jesus to forgive you for being so faithless, afraid, hesitant, or lazy? If you haven’t asked Him to forgive you yet, don’t you think it would be a good idea to find a quiet place where you can really talk to the Lord about this?

3. If you have truly repented of your past actions, Jesus has forgiven you. Are you open for Him to give you another dream or opportunity when He sees that you’re ready for the next assignment?