THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
Jesus often taught in parables while He was on this earth. An inspired definition of a parable is found in Mark 4:30, "Then He said, 'To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it?'" (NKJV) A parable is a likeness or comparison of one thing with another. It is a word picture. The word parable is a compound Greek word consisting of "para" which means "beside", and "ballein" which means "to throw." It literally means "to throw beside," thus to make comparison.
The illustrations used in parables were something with which people were familiar. They were taken from ordinary, everyday occurrences. People in Jesus' day, as well as people in our time, are familiar with such things as sheep, sowing seed, etc... Parables were either actual occurrences, or something that could happen. Therefore, although something was a parable, it was true.
Parables were given for at least four reasons:
As we study the parable of the talents let us keep these things in mind.
THE CONTEXT OF THE PARABLE
First, let us notice that the parable of the virgins precedes this parable. The parable of the virgins deals with watchfulness and preparation. The parable of the Talents teaches us the duty to work during this period of preparation. Following the parable of the talents is the account of the judgment which teaches that people will be judged concerning their preparation or lack thereof.
Notice the comparison:
THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE TALENTS (MONEY)
The man called his own servants and gave them talents. The Lord has claim on man's time and labor. Paul wrote, "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to God. Our physical bodies and our spirits are God's. The only way we can glorify God in our body and spirit is to use our bodies and spirits to serve Him (Matthew 5:16). In Romans 1:1, Paul refers to himself as "a bondservant of Jesus Christ." A bond-servant is one who willingly becomes a servant of another. This is what one does when he becomes a Christian. Everyone of us who have obeyed the gospel have become bondservants of Jesus Christ. We have therefore placed ourselves under obligation to serve Him with all the various talents He has blessed us with.
The talents were distributed "to each according to his own ability." One of the things we learn right at first is that not all people have the same abilities. But each one of us has abilities, and each one of us has responsibility to use the abilities we have been given by the Lord.
HOW THE TALENTS WERE USED
"Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents." (Matthew 25:16). What did the five talent man do with his talents? He worked with what he had, used them all, and gained five more. Suppose the Lord had not come when He did. The five talent man, who was now a ten talent man, would probably have used all ten talents and gained ten more. Jesus teaches in Luke 12:48, that if we are blessed with much, much is required of us. If we are blessed with little ability, we still must use that talent in service to the Lord.
"And likewise he who had received two gained two more also." (Matthew 25:17). The two talent man did not have as many talents as the five talent man, but he too used what he had and gained two more. There was not as much given to him, so not as much was required. However, if he had not used what talents he had, he would not have pleased the Lord.
"But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money." (Matthew 25:18). This man had the same obligation as the other men to gain more by using the talent he had. He wasn't a drunkard or a gambler. He did not waste his talent like the prodigal son on riotous living. He merely neglected it and did not do what he was capable of. What made him bury his talent? "Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." (Matthew 25:24). The one talent man may have had a misconception about his master. He may have thought the master required more than a person was able to do. Paul wrote, "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have." (2 Corinthians 8:12). The Lord does not expect us to do what we cannot do, but He does expect us to do what we are able to do.
"'And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.'" (Matthew 25:25). This man was afraid. Fear will many times prevent us from using the talents and abilities we have. Some men have good singing voices, but they will not use this talent to lead singing because they are afraid to try. Some have said, "I could never preach a sermon." But, they have good knowledge of the Scriptures and otherwise the ability to preach. To say, "I can't do that" is to say "I'm not going to use the talent God gave me." So often, due to fear, people do nothing. To be afraid is a very serious matter. Included in those who "shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."" are the "cowardly" (NKJV) or "fearful" (KJV). In fact, that is the sin that is first mentioned. So, along with the unbelieving, abominable, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters and all liars who will be lost on judgment day are the cowardly or fearful.
In the one talent man we see the negative of man's duty. "Just don't do wrong and you will be saved," is the idea. But there is also something positive we must do. There are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. The one talent man did not misuse his talent, he simply failed to use it.
THE DAY OF RECKONING
"After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them." (Matthew 25:19). "After a long time" indicates the uncertainty. We do not know when Jesus will return, therefore we must be prepared all of the time (Matthew 24:36; 2 Peter 3:10).
What happened to the five talent man when the Lord came? He was promoted and blessed. "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'" (Matthew 25:21). Why? Not because he had more talents than the others, but because he had been faithful in using his talents. The same thing is said of the two talent man.
But what about the one talent man? "Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 'And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' " (Matthew 25:24-25). Why was the one talent man the only one to think his master was hard? Because he was the only one who had ignored his responsibilities. The Bible says, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." (1John 5:3). The commandments of God are burdensome only to those who do not want to obey them. The Lord did not expect the one talent man to gain five talents, He just expected him to use what he had. The Master condemned him with his own words. "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 'So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 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. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matthew 25:26-30). This man was just as much a servant as the other two, yet he was cast out as an unprofitable servant. This forever settles the question of whether a child of God can fall from grace. The answer is: yes, of course he can if he is unfaithful and unprofitable.
LESSONS FROM THIS ACCOUNT
Individual responsibility. Each one of us must use our talents in the service of our Lord. You cannot fulfill my responsibility for me and I cannot do it for you. When it comes to the basic requirements of worship and service, no one can do that for you.
God deals righteously. The five talent man was not blessed because he had more talents, but because he used his talents faithfully. The same is true of the two talent man. The one talent man was condemned, not because he only had one talent, but because he did not use what he had. He was not faithful.
Ability grows if used. The same is true of our talents. If we don't use them, we will lose them. If you quit studying, visiting, teaching, etc... you will lose those talents. We are responsible to use talents and develop them to be able to render even greater service.
Blessings bring responsibility. The more we are blessed, the greater the responsibility. If we have ability to teach, visit the sick, lead singing, prayer etc... we are responsible for doing so. Remember the following formula:
If people are busy using their talents, they won't have any time to be getting into trouble. The one-talent person may have other dangers. He may conclude that his small ability is not worth much, and so fail to use what he has. He may conclude that if he can't teach as well as someone else, or sing as well as someone else, then don't do it at all. Let us be reminded that the widow gave her two mites (Mark 12:43-44). She used the ability she had.
We may never be a five talent person, but we know everyone has some talent or ability that he can use to serve God. The lesson is, use what you have and the Lord will richly bless you for it. "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'" (Matthew 25:21).