"The Parable of the Talents"
(Delivered Sunday, January 4, 2009 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Over the past while, we've been studying from Matthew 24-25; and from our Lord's teaching concerning His second coming.
This morning, we continue that study by coming to one of the most well-known of the Lord's parables. It's found in Matthew 25:14-30; and is often called 'the parable of the talents'.
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This parable follows right on the heels of another parable that we studied a few weeks ago—the parable of the ten virgins. When our Lord began that first parable, He stated clearly that it was about "the kingdom of heaven"—the kingdom that is given to Him by His Father, and over which He will fully exercise His rule when He returns bodily to this earth. And though the original language of Matthew's Gospel doesn't say that this morning's parable is also about 'the kingdom of heaven', it's very clear that it is. It continues the flow of thought that was taken up in the first parable.
So; let's begin right away, this morning, by taking a close look together at . . .
1. THE PARABLE OUR LORD SPOKE REGARDING HIS RETURN (vv. 14-30).
In speaking concerning the events that surround the time of His return, our Lord compares Himself to a man preparing to travel away—for an unspecified amount of time—on a journey to a far country. And the man in His story did what a wealthy man would typically do at such a time: he called his servants to himself before leaving, in order to entrust his goods to their care while he was gone.
What the man specifically entrusted to these three servants were called "talents". Perhaps you've heard someone using this passage to teach a lesson about how we should all use our "talents" to the glory of God—whatever unique and special ability we have; whether we sing, or play an instrument, or have some skill at working with our hands. And though that isn't really what was meant in this passage by a "talent", it's not really all that illegitimate point to make. Our English word for the concept of a special, personal ability—that is, a "talent" that is thought of as a divine trust—was derived from this passage. A "talent" in the sense that Jesus was using it, however, originally referred to a "weight" on a scale. Metaphorically, it referred to a measurement of precious metal. To have been entrusted with "a talent", then, would have naturally led over time to the idea of any special, natural ability that God would entrust to a person.
A "talent", in the sense that Jesus was speaking of it in this parable, was a form of money. And it was a remarkably large sum of money. Those who originally heard this parable would have been immediately impressed by the wealth that this man had passed on to his servants. A talent of silver would be the equivalent of 6,000 denarii—that is, 6,000 days' hire for the average working man. A talent would work out roughly to $200,000 by today's standards And this man, before he left on his journey, had eight talents free to distribute to his servants—in other words, the equivalent of 1.5 million dollars in liquid assets that could be invested in his absence!
We're told that he distributed this enormous sum to each of his servants, "according to his own ability". To one, he gave five talents—or roughly one million dollars. He must have been a very capable servant! To the next one, he gave two talents—or approximately $400,000. And you may think that the 'one-talent' servant was being treated in an inferior way—until you consider that he was given the task of investing one-fifth of a million dollars worth of wealth for his master!
So; this was a very wealthy man. And his servants were being honored with the care of a significant treasure.
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Now; in the translation I"m using this morning, it has it that the wealthy man "immediately" went on a journey. But most other translations apply that word "immediately" to the action of the servants. They "went at once", as it says in the English Standard Version, to put their master's money to work. As Jesus tells us;
These two men were of different abilities; and so, their master wisely entrusted them with different amounts. But both of them traded and invested in an industrious manner; and both of them doubled the number of talents that their master had entrusted to them.
But what about that third servant? I can't help but notice that Jesus used a different word to describe what he did. With the others, Jesus said that they simply "went" and did wise business with their talents. But in the original language, Jesus used a different word with respect to the third man—a word that means that he "went off" or "departed". Somehow, it seems, he separated himself from the others. Jesus said;
Why did he seem to "depart"? Why did he hide his lord's money in the ground? Could it be that he didn't really expect his master to return? Could it be that he hid his talent in a secret place in the earth—as people often did with riches in those days—with the hopes that he might keep it from the eyes of others, and so that he could one day come back and claim it for himself? Could it be that, throughout the time that the master's return had seemed to be delayed, he grew to set his eyes on that talent more and more?
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Well; our Lord goes on to tell us;
The wealthy man in this parable is presented to us very much as the Lord Jesus said He Himself would be. He has left us to return to the Father, with the promise that He would one day return. He has warned us that His time away from us will require that we "watch" (24:42) and "be ready" (24:44), because He would return at a time when He was not expected. Just as was true of the bridegroom in the parable of the ten virgins, our Lord's return seems to be "delayed" (25:5). But He will come—just as the wealthy man returned to his servants in order to settle accounts with them.
And what did the wealthy man find when he called them? Jesus tells us;
Several things stand out in this. First of all, note that even though the two servants were of differing capabilities, and even though they came back with different amounts, they both received the same commendation: "Well done, good and faithful servant." Second, note that they were told that they had been faithful over "a few things". How wealthy must this master be, if five talents (which amounted to $1,000,000) and two talents (which amounted to $400,000) would be considered by him to be "a few things"? Third, note that the reward for their faithfulness was to be entrusted with even more service. The master told each of the two, "I will make you ruler (or "put you in charge") over many things."
And note that the master ended his commendation by telling them, "Enter into the joy of your lord." That's what it meant to these two servants to serve their master in even greater responsibilities of service—"joy". And I suggest to you that this helps us see what distinguished these two servants. It helps us appreciate why it was that they immediately took what their master had entrusted to them before he left, and worked to increase it for him. They loved him. They were motivated by genuine love for their master to use what he had entrusted to them for his benefit and glory. And clearly, he loved them as well; and welcomed them into his "joy".
But by sad contrast, consider the third servant. It doesn't appears that "love" was a factor for him at all. Jesus says;
This servant accomplished nothing with the talent entrusted to him. And it wasn't because of a lack of ability; because we're told that the master had given it to him "according to" his own ability. Rather, as he put it, it was because he was "afraid" of the master. And what's more, I believe we can even pick up an attitude of resentment on the part of the servant. He dares to blame the master—saying that the master was a "hard man"; reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter (even though it was all truly his). Did this man forget that he was the master's "servant"? Did he think that a 'right' to the talent that had been entrusted to him—that it now somehow "belonged" to him, and that it would be demanded of him later unjustly?
So; he justified his actions; claiming that, out of fear, he hid the talent. And now, as if to make up for his behavior, he presented the one talent back to the master and said, "Look, there you have what is yours". It was as if he was saying, "There. See? I've done you no harm. You have what is yours; and you really have no cause to be upset with me; because you've really not suffered any loss from me at all."
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And in all reverence, here's where the Lord Jesus surprises me. I would have thought that this would have been a good place to insert 'forgiveness' into the story. I would have thought that the master could say, "Well; I'm not pleased with what you did. But at least you are honest—and that's saying something. Thank you for confessing the truth to me—that I caused you to be afraid. And thank you also for having the integrity to return what was mine."
But that's not how the Lord Jesus ended the story:
And again, several things stand out in this. First, notice the master's evaluation of the servant. The servant said that he was fearful because the master was so hard; but the master said that the real problem was that the servant was "wicked" and "lazy". He put the blame where it belonged—on the unprofitable servant.
Second, notice that the servant had no excuse for his actions. His own words came back to haunt him; because, as he said, he "knew" that his master reaped where he had not sown, and gathered where he had not scattered. He "knew" that his master would not accept simply having the same exact entrustement restored to him; because the master expected an increase on the investment. And knowing this, the servant should have at least put it in the bank, where it would gain some interest—instead of in a hole in the ground, where it would gain nothing.
Third, notice that as a result, the servant lost the one talent that he had. The master now referred to the formerly five-talent servant as the ten-talent servant; and then gave the one talent to the ten-talent servant—turning the ten-talent servant into the eleven-talent servant; and the one-talent servant into the no-talent servant! In fact, he completely ceased to be a servant.
And most horrible of all, note the end of that wicked, lazy, unprofitable servant—he was "cast" into "outer darkness"; where there would be "weeping and gnashing of teeth". This speaks of far more than simply being fired! This clearly suggests eternal punishment—the exact opposite of "Well done!"
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Now; this is a parable that our Lord spoke to a particular audience—that is, to His disciples. So; let's consider . . .
2. THE POINT OF THIS PARABLE FOR HIS FOLLOWERS (v. 29).
First, it needs to be remembered that this parable was spoken in the larger context of our Lord's teaching concerning His return. And the practical matter that our Lord kept on stressing to His disciples with respect to His return can be summed up in two words: "watchfulness" and "faithfulness".
He says that His followers are to "be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (24:44); and that they are to be like "a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over all his household" (v. 45). "Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing" (v. 46). I appreciate what J.C. Ryle wrote about this parable and the one that precedes it. He said that the parable of the ten virgins was meant to teach us "vigilance"; and that the parable of the talents was meant to teach us "diligence"—or in other words, that the first one is meant to teach us to "watch", and the second one is meant to inspire us to "work".
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And I see this brought to a very practical point in verse 29 of our passage this morning. I believe it's the key verse of this parable. In it, the master of the servants said, "For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away."
Now; think carefully about this. There are two kinds of "having" being described in these words. There's what we might call a 'lower' kind of "having" that simply means you have the thing that God has entrusted to you in your possession. But you really don't "have" it unless you have something else with it—what we might call a 'higher' kind of "having". And unless you have what God has given you with that 'higher' kind of having, you are one of those who "does not have"; so that even what you do have "will be taken away".
What is it that we're to "have" in this 'higher' kind of way? I believe it's the qualities we saw being praised in the first two servants. They "had" what their master entrusted to them in the 'lower' sense of simply having those talents in their possession. But they "had" their master's entrustment as unto Him; and with the qualities of being "good" and "faithful" stewards over what was His.
And it's only in having the things the Lord gives us as if for Him, and as "good" and "faithful" stewards of those things according to His will, that we truly, ultimately can "have" anything at all. After all, whatever it is that we may "have" will one day have to be given back to Him; because everything is His. As the apostle Paul asks elsewhere; "For who makes you differ from one another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). It's only by God's grace that you and I have anything at all; but when we have it in Christ, and for Christ's sake as His "good" and "faithful" stewards, we truly "have" it. "For", as Paul says just a few verses earlier, "all things are yours . . . And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).
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So then; the point of this parable is that throughout our time of waiting for the Lord's return, as long as we live upon this earth, we are to be "good" and "faithful" stewards—servants who, out of love for our Lord, diligently use whatever it may be that He has entrusted to us for His pleasure. We are to truly "have" it by improving on it, and investing it wisely, and causing it to grow for the advancement of His kingdom and His glory; so that when He returns, He is pleased with what we give back to Him from out of what He has first given to us.
And when we hear His "Well done", it will be our joy to be entrusted with even more! Then, as to those who truly "have"—as those who were faithful in a few things—more will be given to us by our Lord, and we will abundantly enter into the eternal joy of our Master.
Now; with all of that in mind, let me close with a quick look at . . .
3. SOME PRINCIPLES WE SHOULD LEARN FROM THIS PARABLE:
First, let's remember that each of us has something that has been entrusted to us. In verses 14-15, we saw that the master entrusted something of his vast treasure to each of his servants "according to his own ability. And what it was that he entrusted to them was of great value. Similarly, let's remember that whatever we have—whether talents, or spiritual gifts, or material wealth, or wisdom and skill—we have it because we were given it by the Lord. It may be that He gives more of 'this' to one person, and more of 'that' to another; but whatever anyone has, they have it as a precious endowment from a wise and gracious Lord.
Second, let's remember that we are responsible to wisely use what we have been given to us, and out of love for Him. In verses 16-17, we saw that the two "good" and "faithful" servants went and made improvement of whatever it was that the master entrusted to them. They were "industrious"; and multiplied their entrustment in anticipation of their master's return. And when he came back, they were able to give to him an increase from what he had given them. They were able to double what had been given to them because they didn't waste time with it; they 'immediately' went out and made good use of it. Likewise, we're responsible for what we do with the entrustment that the Lord has given to us. We're not to sit on it, or hide it in the ground; but rather, we're to use take full advantage of the opportunity, and invest it in such a way as to advance our master's glory.
Third, let's remember that those who faithfully use what He has given them will be rewarded. In verses 18-23, we read of how those two good and faithful servants presented a two-fold increase to their master from out of what he had given them; and of how, as a result, they heard the greatest words that they could ever hear from him: "Well done!" Similarly, we can rest assured that we will be rewarded by our Lord for our faithfulness and goodness with that which He has entrusted to us. We will hear His "Well done"; and we will be rewarded with an even greater entrustment; and we will fully enter into the joy of our Lord. And on the great day of His return, nothing else will matter as much as that!
Fourth, let's also remember that those who do nothing with what He has given them will suffer loss. In verses 24-29, we saw that the "wicked" and "lazy" servant didn't steal the talent from the master. He returned everything back to the master that he had been given. But his great sin was that he had done nothing with it; and as a result, he proved unprofitable with "the few things" he had been given—and suffered the loss of even that. Similarly, let's remember that 'to do no harm' is only a virtue if you're a rock! We are not rocks! We are responsible moral agents before the God who made us for Himself; and that we are unfaithful to our purpose before Him if we do not make positive, industrious use of what He has given us for His glory. (And we have to additionally ask that, if such judgment fell upon a man who simply did "nothing" of value for His master with what he had been given, what will be the end of those who go beyond "nothing" and do actual, deliberate, high-handed evil with it?)
And fifth, let's remember that a 'do-nothing' attitude may demonstrate a lack of relationship with Him. The Lord Jesus, it seems, shifted from simple parable to theological application in verse 30. He didn't simply have the master in the parable say that the unprofitable servant was fired. He had him say that the unprofitable servant was to be cast into the outer darkness. "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth". And this shows the true nature of the case with the man. He may have been a servant of the master—but he was a lost soul; and he demonstrated his lost nature by his persistent unfaithfulness during his time on earth. Let's take this as a warning; and be sure that a 'do-nothing' attitude toward the Lord, on our part, isn't actually indicating that we have no love for Him in the first place, and that we do not genuinely have a relationship with Him by faith.
The two "good" and "faithful" servants demonstated a love for their master by the fact that they served him faithfully from what he had given them. Let's be sure that, from out of a genuine relationship with Him by faith, we too serve Him faithfully in love.
And may it be that we—like they—will hear Him say to us on that great day, "Well done!"
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