A discussion on the Parable of the Talents
The parable of the talents Matthew 25:14-30, is the second in a set of three parables; which Jesus told his disciples in the last stages of His ministry. They are part of His final instructions and deal with His glorious return.
The parable of the talents used to worry me; mainly, because of what happened to the third servant. For some reason, I never worried about the five foolish bridesmaids in the same way; yet, the same issue arises. However, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats was easier to understand, God separates the Sheep from the Goats based on His judgement of a person’s heart.
To better understand the context of the parable of the talents, I suggest you read all three. I’ve reproduced them here, and I’ve used the New International Version (NIV) translation:
Matthew, Chapter 25 (NIV)
Parable of the Bridesmaids
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten bridesmaids (the NIV has ‘virgins‘ but I think the word ‘bridesmaids’, presents a clearer meaning) who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ “Then all the bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
” ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
“Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. ‘
The Parable of the Talents/Money
“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. 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.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 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!’ “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!’
“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.’ “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.
” ‘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.’
The Sheep and the Goats
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Discussion: [Note: My thoughts on these issues were clarified after reading Rev. Eric Bird’s Bible Study Notes that he prepared for St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Shoalhaven Heads, NSW. Rev. Eric (retired) compiled material from a range of sources but the main contribution came from material written by John F. MacArthur, Jr.]
I once thought that the third servant (Parable of the Talents) was a Christian who lost their salvation because they were lazy. I now hold a slightly different view – they were never part of Christ’s flock. Although, they identified themselves as a fellow servant – the evidence for their faith was not there – not that their faith was dead, it was never ‘alive; in the first place. Expressed another way – their faith was never ‘born’, so there was no life to extinguish.
The Parable of the Bridesmaids tells us to be in a state of readiness for Jesus’ return. A simple enough story, Jesus will return after a long time, because of this long wait, many will put off, getting their life under control, and won’t be ready, either death will intervene or the Bridegroom will return; and, there will be no second chance. If you do not respond to His call to enter His Kingdom before the door closes, then God will not open it for you. His sheep heard His voice and entered the gate when He called out their name. If you were not there to hear your name – then you are a goat. Consequently, He does not recognise you as one of His sheep – because you refused to recognise, hear and obey His Word.
The second parable, the Parable of the Talents, informs us that God expects us to use our abilities to serve His purposes within His kingdom on earth. There are four main features to be found in this parable: our given responsibilities; our response; our day of reckoning with God; and, our reward.
Our given responsibilities
Christ calls on His servants, and a number of people respond to His call, they range in type, from those like Peter through to those like Judas. They comprise two basic sub-groups; those that actually do belong to Him; and a second group who say they are members of His flock but by their actions demonstrate that they don’t belong to Him. We are told in the gospels that many followed Jesus during His early days in Galilee, because of the ‘signs’, including the ‘free’ food and ‘free’ healing. As soon as He starting talking about the sacrifice of His body and blood, and that His followers can expect to carry their own crosses, as well, then many left Him. Free food is one thing, free-will crucifixion is another!
In giving the different number of talents (money) suggests that the master knows the abilities of each of his servants – he portions out to each servant that which he believes they are capable of handling properly. God does not call on His followers to do things they can’t handle. We have been given in a real sense various levels of ability and that is what we are to use, in the Lord’s interest, until He returns. [To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. ]
True faithfulness is what our Lord calls for – how do we demonstrate our faithfulness?
Look at verse 16: ‘The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more.’ This man went at once and started work on furthering his master’s interests. He understood what his master wanted and he was eager to carry out the task assigned to him. Upon his master’s return, he is confident that what he has done will be in accordance with his master’s will. He says, ‘See … (Take a look – I have done what you requested.)’
There is a relationship between servant and master; the servant loves his master and is keen to do exactly what is required.
I head a sermon when I was in Jerusalem in 1999, that focused on three stages of Christian growth. The sermon went along these lines: New Christians were often like, a two year old child, each sentence starts with, ‘I want … ‘. Their prayer life reflects this outlook, and often takes the form of a spiritual shopping list – ‘I want good health, a good job, a good wage, a good marriage, a good worship service’, and so on.
Later on, they become teenagers – they start to think of others around them, and seek the endorsement of their peers on their lifestyles – and, they develop their own ideas, without consultation with wiser heads, on how best they should serve God. At least, they are starting to think of doing work for their community but it’s all in the context of what they think is the best way forward.
Finally, they mature into adults: now, not only do they want to serve in God’s earthly kingdom, but they seek God’s will and leave behind their own ideas on how His work should be done. Their love matures and they are totally focused on listening to God’s Word, they have put aside their own agendas, they have sacrificed their own desires – they now find meaning in being focused on doing their Father’s will. Their prayers are now requests for guidance and direction, they trust entirely on God to provide the necessities of life. They address only the worries of the day and depend entirely on the Holy Spirit’s power to undertake their spiritual work – in the confidence that they are doing God’s work, they can sleep soundly at night.
I think, from what I’ve observed, and read – many in our churches – prefer to remain as children (to be feed bread and milk) and don’t want to take on the responsibilities of an adult. Do you agree?
The third servant in the parable, did nothing with the money given to him. He did absolutely nothing with it and wasted his opportunity, wasted his privilege. Even when given only a little, we are still responsible for it. Even if given limited opportunities to work for God’s kingdom we still have a responsibility to take up these available opportunities.
Our day of reckoning – the last day
There is a coming time of reckoning, (verse 19), ‘After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.’
One day – you will bend your knee and bow before God – Jesus will then ask you to settle your account with Him. There is no escaping this moment before God.
These are my thoughts on what it might be like. Forget the billions of others who will be there – at that moment, I think you will be aware of only two entities – God and you. His eyes will be upon you; your words, your response will demonstrate your relationship with the one, true God. At the end of your answer – you will hear; either, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! … Come and share your God’s happiness!’; or, ‘Depart from me … you never wanted to know Me, you never sought my love, you wanted to follow your own desires. You wanted nothing to do with me, You never wanted to do my work – to faithfully follow me – I now give you what you always wanted – yourself, without me – now, depart. To a place without love, without light – a place full of hate and loneliness. The realisation and understanding of this will burn forever in your spirit.’
This time of reckoning is a time when God identifies who are His true servants and who are His false servants. It will be a time of separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46).
The servant who buried his money in the ground had no relationship with God. He did not ‘know’ Him – this is obvious because he describes God as unmerciful, ungracious and lacking compassion – a thief no less, who reaps crops belonging to other people. Did he really know the character of his master? No!
This servant explained that his actions were based on fear and self-preservation; he had no interest in progressing his master’s business. It was not a relationship based on love and respect. In fact, his actions demonstrate hatred towards his master.
Finally, he did not act in a way that would logically reflect what he said he believed. Otherwise, he would have worked overtime to please such a harsh and ruthless master, to escape his displeasure. He just didn’t care – any excuse would do – which further showed that he just didn’t value what his master thought; and, perhaps of the consequences. Perhaps he thought – what could he do to me? I’m the master of my own fate! This is the pattern, which most evil people follow.
Those who believe in Jesus and base their service to Christ on a solid foundation of love – will receive their rewards – and whatever they achieve with their talents, they will be given more – and have an abundance.
I agree with the view that there will be different rewards, roles, assignments for each of us in eternity; as individuals, we each have a special and unique place of service.
This quote comes from Rev. Eric Bird’s Bible Study Notes, and it summarises well, what I feel is the case: ‘Each one of us will be exactly like Jesus, exactly perfect, absolutely sinless, so that whatever service we render, it will be infinitely eternal and perfectly satisfying. There will be no sense of greater or lesser privilege, because the privilege we occupy there will be in exact accord with our eternal God’ – our service will be perfectly designed by God to match our God-given capabilities.
The counterfeit servants – those lazy people who love themselves and have no relationship with God – the goats – the weeds – they will be locked ‘outside’, to be consumed by fire.
I think, ‘Outside’ is a place, where God’s love and peace does not go. This is a place where everyone hates each other. There is total loneliness, being in a crowd of people who are unable to have a relationship. There is complete darkness, there is anxiety, fear and hopelessness. The knowledge of their separation from God’s love will be like burning coals on their heads. They will always be restless, there will always be conflict, fights and hostility – their weeping will never stop – it will be hell, without end.
One day, maybe today, maybe tomorrow; Jesus will return and He will separate His true servants from the false servants.
All excuses will be set aside, false service will be ended. His sheep will know His voice and follow Him into His eternal rest – His promised land.
I like these verses from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 2 (NIV), they explain the spiritual difference between the sheep and the goats: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
We (who are full of the Holy Spirit), who are His sheep, hear His words; and; we can understand and quickly act upon His call, for service. Everyone else, will not hear His call – they will not follow – they will stay where they are; and the light of His love will leave them where they choose to be – on the wrong side of life.
The servant who buried his talent – dug his grave – and, did nothing – to save his life.
Do you agree?
Rest in God’s grace to do good works
Related to this discussion, is a sermon ‘Actively Resting’, that I recently heard (22 Feb 2009) at Nowra Baptist Church. [display_podcast]
Pastor Richard Utber, talked about resting in God’s grace, part of a series called, Extreme Church – you can hear the other sermons in the series if you go to their web site.
The main message of Pastor Richard’s sermon is that we rest in God’s grace to do good works. The central theme is best described by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, the first 10 verses of Chapter 2 (NIV): “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The words I’ve highlighted above are truly amazing – keep them in mind, as you listen to this sermon – it goes for about 32 minutes but it’s worth your time.