Matthew 25:14-30 — The Parable of the Talents
“For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.' But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus’ Olivet Discourse contains various parables. Three of them told in succession are closely tied together in the critical point they offer. The two servants, the wise and foolish bridesmaids, and the talents highlight the necessity of faithfulness while waiting for Christ’s return.
This post will focus specifically on the parable of the talents. Like many of Christ’s parables, the meaning of this narrative is often misunderstood. During the course of my adult life in church, I have heard notions that the parable is about handling finances and maximizing personal spiritual gifts. To the contrary, the message is totally concerned with fidelity to the Lord.
What is a Talent?
Jesus was not describing spiritual gifts with the word “talent." Conversely, as presented in the parable, a talent was a unit of weight. It equaled approximately 80 pounds, and when it was used as a standard for money, it was routinely valued at 6,000 denarii (Roman silver coins). A single talent represented in silver was worth more than 20 years of labor. So, the talents presented in Christ’s parable were enormous sums. The wealthy man in Jesus’ illustration entrusted each slave with substantial responsibility.
Faithfulness and Readiness
Of course, the wealthy man in the parable represents Jesus, and each of the slaves depicts professing believers. The man gave numbers of talents to each slave based on their character, trustworthiness, and ability. The first two slaves are examples of born-again believers who, by faith, bear fruit. The third lazy slave exemplifies the professing Christian with no real saving faith. A false profession produces no tangible work for the Kingdom. The proclamation of faith is hollow, and it generates lip service at best.
On another note, the parable has nothing to do with managing personal finances as I have heard over the years. Jesus’ illustration points directly to our faithfulness in the responsibilities delegated to us. Have we obeyed His commands to love and to share the gospel? Have we pointed others Christ? Do our lives exhibit actions for the Kingdom?
Furthermore, as the parable demonstrates, faithfulness is akin to readiness. In the illustration, when the wealthy man left, the slaves had no idea when he would return. The first two slaves acted “immediately” to produce a return. However, the slave given one talent buried his responsibility. He either thought his master would not return, or his return would be delayed.
Indifference and Unbelief
The lazy slave placed his talent in the ground, hiding it from the world’s view. Upon the master's return, the slave blamed him for his own unfaithfulness, calling him a “hard man." We can imagine that this will be the very case when many will be caught off guard with Christ's second return. Unbelievers will lay responsibility at Christ’s feet, and blame will be directed at the Lord. Those who do not recognize their sin will attempt to divert accountability.
Notice that in the Master’s goodness, He gives even more to those who have faithfully served. The reward of “being put in charge of many things” is referring to the bounties realized in eternity. But ultimately, many who profess His name on earth in reality do not believe in His return or His existence. Sadly, too many are complacent, and they live their lives for themselves, not seeking the Kingdom. We are reminded in Luke 17:26-34 that before His second coming, humanity will be as unprepared as men in the days of Noah and those in Sodom and Gomorrah.
At the end of the parable of talents, Jesus exclaims, “Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus routinely used these terms to express the reality of hell. In love, he disclosed the truth of unfaithfulness.
In His goodness, God gives common grace to all in our temporal environment, but unbelief will not qualify anyone to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Like many of the Lord’s parables, the illustration of the talents should give us moments of pause. Questions we should ask ourselves: Is my faith in Christ real? Has my life advanced the Kingdom of God? If Jesus returned this instant, am I ready for Him? Am I wasting my allotted time?
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.“
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?