The Parable of the Talents

Intro: There is a lot of misunderstanding today about the kingdom of God. Many do not even know what the kingdom described in the Bible text looks like. It should not surprise us that Jesus introduced many of his parables (stories to apply) with the words, the kingdom of God is like… Some of those analogies consisted of single sentences:

  • The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Matt 13:33)
  • “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matt 13:44)
  • Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matt 13:45-46)

Those simple and single analogies pack a powerful lesson about the value of the Kingdom, and the original audience would have been able to make the connection between the physical event described and the spiritual application. That is still the challenge, and obligation, the parables of Jesus present to us. “He who has an ear let him hear”. Today we will consider the last of the parables recorded where Jesus uses the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”, found in Matthew 25:14-30 – we have recently focused on the parable of minas in Luke 19, and the treatise on personal responsibility from Ezek. 33. This parable fits right in.

I. Understanding the Story: This event may not speak to us clearly. None of us have servants.

A. Matt 25:14 – called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. The NASV says he “entrusted his possessions” to these servants. This is the classic definition of stewardship, and aptly describes our relationship of responsibility toward God in many respects. We do not own the things we receive, but are entrusted to use them for Him. This is a lesson about stewardship; responsibility.

B. Matt 25:15And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability;

1. What is a talent? In Jesus’ parable a talent refers to something different than our usual English use of the word. Wikipedia says a talent is aptitude or ability to do something considered difficult, especially in reference to an ability one is born with. Mozart had a musical talent. The English word arrived in our vocabulary through the parable – Greek word referred to a measure of weight. Came to be used to refer to ability.

a. In the Bible a talent referred to a measure of weight. It is first mentioned in the book of Exodus in connection with the building of the tabernacle. (Ex. 38:24). Used to measure currency in the NT (gold, silver, brass) – about 6,000 shekels. It was the largest measure of weight, equaling about 75 pounds. (Think of the discomfort when the King of Rabbah’s crown, which weight one talent of gold, was placed on David’s head – 2 Sam. 12:30)

b. Although we cannot know the exact value of the talent in Jesus’ parable, because we are not told if it was gold, or silver, or some other metal, it was the largest unit of currency at the time. Although the exact monetary value is not of consequence, these servants were given a lot. (some use the figure $600,000 – [five talents – 3 million; 2 talents – 1.2 million] No one received a small amount.

2. v. 15to each according to his own ability. The word for ability is dunamis – power or capability. God gives the talent (resource) and the capability to use it.

C. Accountability and Judgment … Matt 25:19After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. The Lord of the servants went away on a journey. What follows in text is the description of their activity while he was away. This, of course, is the heart of the parable, and the lesson. But v. 19 clearly defines the context of all that happens. When the Lord returned, he settled accounts with every servant. This is parable about personal accountability and judgment to come.

1. This fits the overall context. At the end of Matthew 24, Jesus describes the good servant as one who is faithful and prepared his master’s return , as opposed to the wicked servant who chides,” He is not coming back now”, and lives riotously. (Matt. 24:48-51) Matthew 25 opens up with the parable of the 10 virgins, clearly a lesson on being prepared for the coming of the Lord. Matt 25:13“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

2. Given the purpose of the parable it is not hard to identify the characters:

a. The Master is Jesus. He has left us but will return as Judge. He expects His servants to do something with what He provides.

b. The servants would be us. We own nothing. Jesus provides us with the ability and resources to do His will. We belong to Him. We are accountable to Him.

c. The talents are the opportunities (responsibilities) Jesus provides. We do not all have the same opportunities or abilities. He provides and judges us accordingly.

d. The accounting would be the judgment that is certain to come. The Lord immediately gives an accounting because He desires to reward His servants. However He is also ready to bring punishment to those who refuse to be responsible.

D. Talents utilized… Matt 25:20-23– So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ 21 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ 23 His lord said to him,’Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

1. The first two servants describe how they doubled their amount. They are eager to tell Him of their efforts in His behalf (“look“). The Lord was pleased and He readily praises their work. To both He says “well done, good and faithful servant” He rewards them by promoting them: to share in his happiness: “Enter into the joy of your lord”.

a. This parable is nonsensical if God does not require obedience in order to be saved. Salvation is free, but at the same time it is clearly described as a reward for living according by faith.

E. Talent hidden… Matt 25:24-25– Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’

1. The one-talent servant who hid his money is a major element of the story. We might not expect him to receive such a harsh judgment. Notice the interaction…. begins by making excuses:

a. First, He blames His Master“Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown… He views the Lord as demanding too much, dealing unjustly with His servants. In connection with the One He represents, this is not true. God is a God of mercy and love.

• why did he conclude that the master was unfair? The text does not tell us, but consider this: The master had not given this man as much as the other two. Did this seem unfair to the man? Did he assume he was obligated at the same level as the other two – that would appear harsh and unfair. This might appear to be unfair to a proud heart.

• How do you react when you see others with more ability, blessings or opportunity than you? Does it change your assessment of God, the giver?

Sometimes this assessment is camouflaged as discouragement or self-pity. We are tempted to hide our talent or do nothing. We cannot do as well as others, so we do nothing. This is all fueled by pride and focusing on oneself instead of God. Notice how this servant says he is focused on the master (he is unjust) but he is really focused on himself. The master rebukes him because he did not do what was best for the master.

But the servants inaccuracy or false assessment of the master is not the main fault. This attitude led to neglect and inactivity. He did nothing.

I agree with Burton Coffman in his observations concerning the low attitude this man had of His Master, claiming He treated others unjustly…. “even if it had been true, the servant’s obligation was in no sense diminished. The analogous conclusion is true in the spiritual realm. If it could be true that God should prove to be hard, uncompromising, unyielding and relentless, men should redouble their efforts to please him, FOR GOD IS GOD. To be sure, such thoughts of God’s nature are totally unworthy of him who is the giver of life and every blessing and who has manifested such great love to the sons of men, even giving his only begotten Son for our salvation; but, just as the morality of his master was no concern of the slothful servant, the morality of God is no proper concern of the people whom God has made and who, in the very nature of things, are incapable of making an intelligent criticism of their Creator. In fact, the soul presumptuous enough to do so manifests its rebellion against the Creator and invites the condemnation that inevitably follows such a deed.” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)

b. Second, he excuses his disobedience because he was afraid. – “I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the ground.” Fear is the enemy of faith, or trust in God. But, again the attitude is the motivation of disobedience, and that was the reason he is punished. The others may have felt fear, as well, but they obeyed anyway.

c. Third, He seeks to appease the lord by returning what he had been given: Look, there you have what is yours.” But this impotent excuse is in contradiction to the charge this servant was under. He was expected to use what he was given to increase.

d. The Master’s reply clearly indicates that this servant was lazy. Matt 25:26 – “You wicked and lazy servant”.He could have simply put the money in the bank and earned interest. No excuse could hide his indolence. Many do nothing because that is exactly what they want to do – nothing.

e. The punishment of this lazy servant may shock us. His talent is taken way and he is cast out into outer darkness. As far away as possible from the blessings of the Master.

II. Making Applications: There are several important lessons for us. Stewardship is a serious responsibility.

A. Whatever we have comes from God, and we are obligated to use it to serve Him. There are no exemptions.Rom 14:10For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

B. God grants talents according to our ability to use them. We do not all have the same responsibility because we are not all given the same gifts. In the end, the number of talents will not matter, but rather how faithful we are to use them for God’s service.

1. Paul loved that phrase: “the grace given.” He used it in referring to himself:

a. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you… ” (Romans 12:3). Here Paul recognized God had entrusted to him unique authority as an apostle.

b. “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation” (1 Corinthians 3:10). God had entrusted to him unique abilities (talents) to plant churches.

c. “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). God had entrusted to him unique capabilities (dunamis) to exercise his unique authority and employ his unique abilities.

2. He also used this phrase about us:

a. “Having [spiritual] gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them… in proportion to our faith” (Romans 12:6).

b. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7). These texts reinforce Jesus’s point in the parable of the talents: 1) God gives us certain abilities (gracious gifts) 2) God gives us a certain amount of power to invest them, and 3) God expects us to employ all the strength he supplies (1 Peter 4:11) to invest what he entrusts to us.

C. Everything should be done with a view towards God’s judgment and the day of reckoning. How often do you contemplate the coming of Jesus? 2 Peter 3:11-12Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?

D. Those who please God as good stewards are given the same reward. One of these servants (5-talent man) had more ability (and thus had more responsibility) and returned more profit. But the master was equally pleased with the two talent man. Why? Because he also did the best with what he had. The Lord requires more out of those whom He has given more. But even those who are not given as much can please God and receive all the blessings He provides.

E. The one-talent man did not fail because he was a one-talent man. He failed because he did nothing. He had lowered expectations of himself, and of His Master. Though only given one talent, he could have acted heroically by taking a little and doing a lot. God has used a lot of one-talent people to bring Him glory.

F. There is no excuse for doing nothing. If you do nothing, what will you say to God on the day of judgment? Will we be able to convince Him that we were too busy with other things to pray, come to the assembly, visit the sick, study the Bible, teach our neighbor, serve the congregation, etc. ? There is no excuse for doing nothing.

Conclusion: God has entrusted you with opportunities and abilities. Are you doing anything with them. This parable speaks to all of us. There is a reward for us if we act responsibly and do something.

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