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Matthew 25:14-25

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Parable of the Talents,

By Scott Sperling

 

 

14“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

21“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

23“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28“‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

 

Jesus begins this section, “Again”, tying it contextually to the previous sections, which contained parables concerning the second coming of Christ.  The previous parable, the parable of the ten virgins, spoke of the readiness of the Church for Christ’s return.  This one speaks of the service required of God’s people while they wait for His return.  “The story of the virgins calls on the Church to watch; the story of the talents calls on the Church to work” [Ryle, 336].  “The preceding parable has taught the importance of being ready; this one carries on that theme by showing what readiness means” [Morris, 627].  “This parable goes beyond the first three in that it expects the watchfulness of the servants to manifest itself during the master’s absence, not only in preparedness and performance of duty, even if there is a long delay, but in an improvement of the allotted ‘talents’ till the day of reckoning” [Carson, 515].

The parable begins:  “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey” (vss. 14–15).  Our Lord is pictured here as a Master of a large household, “going on a journey”.  Followers of Christ are pictured as “his servants”.  The Master, while on “his journey”, “entrusted his property” to his servants.  So also, we are “entrusted” with the advancement of the work of Christ here on earth during His absence.  “As all that slaves have belongs to their master, so Christ has a claim to everything which belongs to His people, everything which may be turned to good, and He demands its appropriation to His service” [JFB, 118].

The servants were given a varying number of “talents”.  In that day, a talent was a sum of money; in fact, it was a great sum of money.  “The talent was first a measure according to weight, between fifty-eight and eighty pounds (twenty-six to thirty-six kg), and then a unit of coinage, one common value assigned it being six thousand denarii… If a talent was worth six thousand denarii, then it would take a day laborer twenty years to earn so much—perhaps three hundred-thousand dollars [in today’s values]” [Carson, 516].  And so, even the servant who was given but “one talent”, was given a very large sum of money.  Note the great trust the master has committed to the servants, entrusting them with such a large sum of money.

In the parable, the “talents” represent “anything and everything that our Lord has given to us for use here as His stewards” [Spurgeon, 365].  I think it is quite fascinating, that our English word “talent” was derived from the interpretation of the word here in this parable (see OED).  “As talents in the parable represent whatever God gives us to use and improve, and as beyond comparison the most important of such gifts are our mental powers, so it has become common in English to call a man’s mental powers his ‘talents’, and hence to speak of a man of talent, or a talented man” [Broadus, 503].  “Anything whereby we may glorify God is ‘a talent’.  Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s Church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible—all, all are talents” [Ryle, 337].

Importantly, in the parable, the “talents” were distributed to each, “according to his ability” (vs. 15).  Paul assures us that our “talents” too, are distributed according to our ability:  “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.  If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully” (Rom. 12:6–8).  “We learn, in the first place, from this parable, that all professing Christians have received something from God.  We are all God’s ‘servants’; we have all ‘talents’ entrusted to our charge” [Ryle, 336].

The parable continues:  “The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money” (vss. 16–18).  Notice that the man with five talents went at once and put his money to work”.  “Those that have so much work to do, as every Christian has, need to set about it quickly, and lose not time” [Henry].  And, no doubt, the servants worked hard.  Anyone who runs a large (or even small) business, knows how much work it takes.  The last servant, by stark comparison, was lazy:  “But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money” (vs. 18). 

Continuing:  “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them” (vs. 19).  The master did not return for “a long time”, so also we have plenty of time to make use of our God-given talents.  The “long time” hearkens back to the theme of the previous parables, that Christ will return, and that we should long and wait for His return, but that it will be a “long time” coming.

Upon the master’s return came a review of the work of the servants:  “The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (vss. 19–20).  Note the tone of joy that the servant had for serving his master well:  “See, I have gained five more.”  His joy and hard work was rewarded:  “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!”  Note the elements of the reward.  There are three.  First, there is a commendation by the master:  “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  Will we not be overjoyed to hear those words from our Master, whom we have served in this life?  The words themselves will be a treasured and great reward.  Second, they are given further and greater responsibilities:  “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”  Interestingly, the “reward for good work is the opportunity of doing further work” [Morris, 629].  All indications are that we will be put to some use after this life.  We won’t be just sitting around on clouds, as cartoons depict the heavenly life.  Note also, that the master called the five talents “few things”, though they constituted (from an earthly perspective) a great sum of money.  “The greatest sum of money is ‘few things’ from a heavenly perspective” [Morris, 629].   The third reward received was a share in the master’s happiness:  “Come and share your master’s happiness!”  Note that the faithful service of the servants brings joy to the master.  Our service on earth does not go unnoticed, but brings joy to God, when well done.

“The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (vss. 22–23).  Note well that the rewards given to the man with two talents, after he had put them to good use, were identical to those of the man who was given five talents.  The rewards were not based on the quantity returned, but rather they were based on what the servant did with what he was given.  “It is not the number of our talents, but the use we make of them, that is the essential matter.  He does not expect as much from the man with two talents as from the one to whom he has given five; what he does expect is that they should both be faithful over the few things he has committed to their care” [Spurgeon, 366].  The man with two talents was not expected to make five talents.  The two talents he made were enough, based on what he was given.  The master was pleased with what he did, and gave him the exact same rewards that the man with five talents received.

It is an erroneous assumption made, at times, by those who are given lesser talents by God, that they are useless to God.  We think that, well, if we cannot be that nationally-famous evangelist, or death-defying missionary, then there is no use in serving God.  Poor excuse!  We all, every one of us, have some sort of talent with which we can serve God.  “Some make it an excuse for their laziness, that they have not the opportunities of serving God that others have; and because they have not the wherewithal to do what they say they would, they will not do what we are sure they can, and so sit down and do nothing; it is really an aggravation of their sloth, that when they have but one talent to take care about, they neglect that one” [Henry].  No one lacks talent to serve God; many lack desire to serve God.

This was the case in the parable for the man with one talent, though he claimed other excuses for not putting his talent to use:  “Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you’” (vss. 24–25).  There is no greater failure in life than for one to go through life never having utilized one’s God-given talent, to hide it in the ground.  “To do no good in the world, to be simply useless and worthless, is to sin grievously against Christ; and only by incessant efforts to do good can we avoid doing positive evil” [Broadus, 507]. 

And note whom this man blames for his uselessness:  “Master, I knew that you are a hard man”, he says.  It is all-too common for men to blame God for their own shortcomings.  What he said “bespeaks the common reproach which wicked people cast upon God, as if all the blame of their sin and ruin lay at his door, for denying them His grace” [Henry].  “The sense is obvious, ‘I knew You are one whom it was impossible to serve, one whom nothing would please; exacting what was impracticable, and dissatisfied with what was attainable.’  Thus do men secretly think of God as a hard Master, and virtually throw on Him the blame of their fruitlessness” [JFB, 119].

Then also, what this man said about his master was patently untrue.  The master demonstrated that he was not a “hard man” at all, for he gave his other two servants great rewards for their reasonable service.  Moreover, the master did not “harvest where he had not sown”.  On the contrary, he sowed the seed of his harvest by staking the servants with the talents.

The master was, reasonably, upset with this last servant:   His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest’(vss. 26–27).  The servant is chided for not even making minimal use of what he was given.  “If we cannot trade directly and personally on our Lord’s account, if we have not the skill nor the tact to manage a society or an enterprise for Him, we may at least contribute to what others are doing, and join our capital to theirs, so that, by some means, our Master may have the interest to which He is entitled” [Spurgeon, 367]. 

This servant would live to regret his laziness:  “‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (vss. 28–30).  Note, he was punished for merely not using his talent; it was not that he actively misused it; he was punished for burying his talent.  He did not actively sin with it; he merely did nothing.  “We should bear in mind that this is not here pronounced over someone who has done some particularly heinous crime.  It is the final result for the man who had only one talent and who steadfastly refused to use it” [Morris, 632].  “To be ‘cast out’ at the great day, it is not necessary that we prostitute our powers to a life of positive wickedness:  it is enough that our Christianity be merely negative, that we do nothing for Christ, that we are found to have been unprofitable, or useless servants of the Lord Jesus” [JFB, 120].  “Let us leave this parable with a solemn determination, by God’s grace, never to be content with a profession of Christianity without practice” [Ryle, 340].