Parable of the Talents

The parable of the talents encourages us to be faithful in the use of the gifts God has given as a thankful response to his love.

Imagine receiving from your grandmother a tablecloth. This family heirloom has helped host countless gatherings over the years. With so many memories, it is priceless. She gives it to you because she wants you to use it to bless others in the years to come.

The next time she visits, you clean up a spill on the floor—with a torn-off piece of the tablecloth! You’ve ripped it into rags. Imagine the insult to her as well as the rest of the family. She would be hurt, even angry. Now we can begin to picture what Jesus taught in the parable of the talents.

Jesus spoke about what will happen at the end of the age (Matthew 24). He reinforced that message with parables (Matthew 25). The first, the parable of the ten virgins, encourages us to be ready for judgment day. He continued with the parable of the talents, encouraging us to be faithful in the use of the gifts he’s given as a thankful response to his love.

Faithfulness is Praised

For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Matthew 25:14–23

The master generously entrusted these talents to his servants. He was not obliged because of something they did; instead, he freely gave to them as an act of honor and trust.

God gives different and varied gifts to all. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). Some receive more, others less. Everyone receives something. Yet, Jesus’ focus here was not on what gifts we receive but on why we use what is entrusted to us.

The first two servants used what the master gave them to gain more. More was expected from the one given more, but that was not the focus. They were equally faithful. As such, they both hear the same praise. Both are welcomed into God’s presence, the ultimate goal of eternal life.

Every believer looks forward to hearing those words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” However, an unbeliever will never hear those words because “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Hebrews 11:6). This makes us pause to reflect on why these two servants were faithful.

The first two servants didn’t do anything heroic. They simply put what they received on deposit with the money exchangers (Matthew 25:27). They almost seem in awe of what the gift produced. Jesus didn’t praise an act of outward performance. Instead, he praised their act of faith, their faithfulness.

“We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Believers do not receive his love in vain. Those who come to know and rely on God’s love also respond to that love. This is a beautiful expression of the faith relationship between God and his people. He freely gives gifts. We respond by using those gifts in ways that will bring glory back to him. Faithfulness flows from a secure faith relationship with Jesus.

James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). There will not be works where there is no faith. But works don’t make faith. Faith produces works. Where there is faith there will also be works.

Yet, faith and works are two separate things. Faith is the cause; works are the effect. If you think of an apple tree, faith is the root, works are the fruit. You can identify an apple tree by its fruit, but it was still an apple tree even before it bore fruit. When the distinction between faith and works is blurred and works become a cause of salvation it results in losing salvation completely (Romans 11:6).

Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone. Faith always bears fruit as a thankful response to God. [JL2] 

Unfaithfulness is Condemned

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.For unto every one 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.And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:24–30

What a difference we see in the last servant! The master also showed him generosity, but the servant’s actions (or lack thereof) revealed profound disrespect. Rather than simply putting the master’s money on deposit, he buried it in the ground, an act of contempt. He did no more than was necessary, returning what the master had given.

This servant slunk forward and even blamed the master because of his expectations. He described him as a “hard man.” Yet, his assessment of the master ended up condemning his own actions. If he believed what he accused his master of and was “afraid” of him, he had even more reason to make the most of what he was given!

Jesus described him as wicked, slothful, and unprofitable. Consider these descriptions about his actions. More than quantitative, they were qualitative, describing his heart. His actions were merely a symptom of what was in his heart. He had a low opinion of his master. His actions were a reflection of his relationship.

Many people are like this servant. Though offered God’s love, it does not take root in their hearts. They may even profess to be Christians or followers of the Savior, but they do not have a true faith relationship with God. This manifests itself in the way they view God. Their relationship with God is characterized more by fear than security and love. Because they don’t truly know Jesus, they assume the burden of meeting God’s expectations rests on them, and they are filled with resentment. Accordingly, their actions flow from duty and obligation rather than overflowing from joy and thanks.

Tragically, they are cast “into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30). This is a picture of hell. They are plunged into the deep darkness that is not broken by any light, peace, joy, or hope; they are eternally separated from God.

See: Would a loving God send people to hell?

Where Does Your Relationship With God Stand?

People commonly point to their works as a way to gauge where they stand in their relationship with God. Consider for a moment how dangerous this is. You could always do more. How could you ever know where you stand? You couldn’t. Worse yet, this would inevitably lead to a view that God is more interested in what you can do. Such a view would tragically keep you from knowing his unconditional love and acceptance.

Understanding Jesus’ parable of the talents requires more than a cursory overview. We must look deeper than simply how much was produced. Why did the faithful servants act differently than the unfaithful servant? They were secure in their master’s love. Their actions were a joyful response to the relationship they enjoyed.

How do you view God? Do you ever view him as a “hard man” of whom you are “afraid?” If so, you haven’t yet discovered the depths of his love.

God’s expectations are high, but they all have already been perfectly met in Jesus. Jesus did this not to show you how to be better or even just to make you better. He did this to make you perfect in God’s sight. Believers receive Christ’s record and are, therefore, fully loved and accepted by God. Being covered in Christ means that nothing you do can make him love you more, and nothing you do can make him love you less! God loves believers in the same way he loves his Son!

See: What Does the Atonement Mean?

The God who gave up his Son for you isn’t a harsh master but one who loves you so much that he did everything necessary for your eternity with him! “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32)? That is the loving master you have! Understanding that love impacts every aspect of your life.

If you received a family heirloom from your grandmother, you would use it in ways that would honor her because of your relationship. How much more when we receive gifts from God! We use them faithfully to honor him. We do this not to receive more of his love. But, because of the security we have through Christ, we joyfully serve, knowing that God’s love for us is already complete.


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