“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.”
~ Leo Buscaglia
“Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.” ~ Harvey Mackay
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” ~Erma Bombeck
“No one respects a talent that is concealed.” ~Desiderius Erasmus
“Talent is always conscious of its own abundance, and does not object to sharing.”
~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
A note: while the parable speaks about a Master and His three slaves, I will refer to the slaves as “servants” throughout the post (except where citing specific scriptures). Slavery during our time in history is viewed (and I would say rightly so) with extreme negativity and assumes the exploitation of those individuals who are slaves; whereas, slavery was a more common and accepted practice during Jesus’ time. There were some Masters, however, that exhibited great humanity and kindness to their slaves. I believe that the word slave is an accurate term when used in the context Jesus most likely intends. We are property of our Lord—He is our Creator. He can do whatever He wishes with us, for we are His. Fortunately for us, our Master is good and loves us. But for those who would have trouble reconciling its common context from this message, I have substituted words accordingly.
Jesus’ parables from the Gospel of Matthew emphasize two narratives that are strongly related. His parables clarify the differences between our world and the kingdom of heaven, and encourage believers to be prepared for His return. This post will focus on the Parable of the Talents to answer the following question:
Q: What does it mean to be ready for the return of Christ?
The Parable of the Talents
14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 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. 16 Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17 In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves *came and *settled accounts with them. 20 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.’ 21 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.’
22 “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.’ 23 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.’
24 “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. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
26 “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. 27 Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
29 “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. 30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:14-30, NASB).
During ancient times, a “talent” was a unit of weight used for monetary measurement. To provide its value within a historical context, it is believed that a talent was equivalent to twenty years’ wages for a laborer. In other words, a talent was a significant sum of money. Though, as is likely the case with all of Jesus’ parables, layers of embedded meaning exist. There is both a literal contextualization, and a figurative one within His story. The English word for “talents” originates from its figurative use in this parable; suggesting that—outside of being a monetary measurement—the word denotes “gifts or skills.” Both definitions of the word can be appropriately applied in this parable.
Jesus’ parables serve as teaching tools for understanding Truth. The following sections highlight key points from the Parable of the Talents that clarify what it means for us to prepare for Jesus’ return. The post then concludes with a few thoughts on applying this parable’s message—to practice what is preached.
The Parable of the Talents teaches us that:
TO BE READY IS TO BE WORKING, AND THAT OUR WORK WILL BE EVALUATED
Jesus is explaining that when individuals are given responsibilities, gifts, or talents; they are expected to use it. While the Master gives His servants differing amounts of talents, He expects each of his servants to actively use those talents productively. To those who are granted more, more is to be expected (Luke 12:48).
Consider Jesus’ commentary from the Gospel of Mark, when observing temple offerings:
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41-44, NIV).
The offering made by the poor widow is seen by Jesus as being a greater investment because what she offers represents all she possesses. In other words, it’s not the amount offered, but rather the commitment made in the offering. While those with wealth contributed more to the offering, their contributions did not nearly constitute the commitment being made by the poor widow. When considering her contribution, is it not equivalent to her giving her life (Romans 8:36; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 1:21)?
Investment from a Christian perspective is not a partial commitment. As Christians, our minds must be singularly-focused towards investing in good work—with “good work” being defined as God’s work. We cannot be of two minds. Scripture repeatedly reinforces the understanding that we are evaluated on the resolve of our commitment. Consider the following four excerpts of scripture:
(1) 15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17, NASB).
(2) 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:3-5, NASB).
(3) 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:10-12, NASB).
(4) 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth (Revelation 3:15-16, NASB).
In preparing for Christ’s return, we must constantly and with a committed resolve, work towards the coming of the kingdom of heaven. Just as it was for the servants, there will be a day when we will be evaluated by our Master for the returns we produce from what He has provided us. From this understanding about work and preparation for Christ’s return, we can seamlessly transition to the next point, which strongly overlaps with what has already been discussed.
OUR WORK IS SIGNIFICANT, NOT BASED ON WHAT IT IS, BUT FOR WHOM IT IS DONE
While a resolute commitment is expected, for whom should we be committing our work? Our work must be for our Master—not us. To further hammer home this point, consider that the responses the Master speaks to His first two servants are identical: “Well done, good and faithful [servant]. You were faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
From the parable’s contextualization, we can deduce that the Master does not consider the financial return He garners from the first servant any more honoring or pleasing to Him than the return He garners from the second servant. Rather, their commitments to being good stewards—actively utilizing His resources to produce more—is what honors and pleases Him. They did the best they could with what they were given. Hence, they were given more.
The third servant’s behavior fails to honor his Master because He does not properly steward what he is entrusted to manage. If the Master’s objective in providing His servants talents was security, then it would have been in His best interest to personally bury the talents. That way, only He would know where His talents were located. If that is His objective, then why would He entrust anything to His servants?
Now, examine what it is to be a steward. There is a reason I explicitly reference the stewardship of the first two servants in the above commentary. To be a steward of their Master’s talents suggests that the servants are functioning in His stead with His talents. They are serving as His representatives—they imitate Him (1 Corinthians 11:1). They are His ambassadors:
23 Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men (Colossians 2:23, NASB).
9Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 11and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, 12so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, NASB).
However, what does it look like for us to serve as the Master’s (God’s) ambassador? What does being a good steward entail?
First, to be a good steward, we must serve in His stead; meaning, that we are to make decisions that align with His decisions. This necessitates that we constantly practice wise discernment; conforming to the mind of our Master (Romans 12:2), and nothing else. If we use the literal and figurative talents that our Master entrusts us in a manner He expects; regardless of where we work or what we do for work, there will be an honoring and pleasing return on our investment. What type of return?
A fruitful return.
Remember, our Master is actually One God in three persons (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The gifts/talents that we receive are provided to us by the Holy Spirit, which is indwelt in us. Basically, our Master provides us with Himself through Christ and the Holy Spirit J From these gifts, we receive an ability to unconditionally love (1 John 4:8); loving our Master and others (Matthew 22:34-40). Our actions reflect His character. When we exhibit His character as His ambassadors, we can see the fruits of the Spirit visible in our actions: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
And the need to reflect His character identifies our last key takeaway from this parable.
OUR WORK IS DIRECTLY TIED TO OUR VIEW OF GOD.
How we view our Master determines how we will serve Him. This is where the third servant ultimately went wrong….
Let’s go back to what the third servant said to His Master:
… “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25, NASB).
The servant sees his Master’s absolute power, and fears Him. He does not “fear Him” as the bible references fearing God, because that kind of fear is more of a reverential and awe-struck fear. This is the type of fear where you are scared of being harmed—the exact type of fear that scripture encourages against. The servant does not see that his Master is wise and exhibits good judgement. He does not view the responsibility his Master entrusts to him as a blessing. Rather, he views it as a threat.
The servant fears his Master’s power, and fails to see his love. He does not trust his Master. He questions His goodness—His character. His cowardly actions reflect this view of his Master. He refuses the opportunity to receive his Master’s blessing, and instead—being judged fairly for his work—is condemned.
We must remember, that everything we have is from God—we cannot earn it. Though, we are expected to do good work with what we have been provided (Holy Spirit); following the path (Jesus) He (The Father) has prepared for us in advance:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10, NASB).
The first two servants see the love and grace that their Master has for them. The talents He entrusts to them are viewed as a blessing. They their responsibilities as opportunities for demonstrating their love for Him. They follow His example (Jesus), acting as good stewards of His talents, and prosper (Jeremiah 28:11; Joshua 1:7-8). Their loving obedience and service grows His kingdom, and He blesses them with more.
The actions of the first two servants speak to their trust in their Master’s judgment. They trust that their Master knows them well, giving them responsibilities that align with their capabilities. And they know Him. How they invest those talents reflects the will and character of their Master. Their Master is not a coward, nor is He an oppressor. He is just and lovingly generous. And for serving Him well, He regards the first two servants both justly and generously.
The overarching message that I believe is communicated from this parable is that to please our Lord we must do His good work. This necessitates that we must first know Him, so that we can both understand His love (1 John 4:8) and follow His leadership; serving as His ambassadors. We must receive His direction through scripture—His Word. We must meditate on it (Joshua 1:8) constantly; allowing it to guide our actions.
This also requires that we are vulnerable. For us to function as growth catalysts necessitates placing ourselves at risk for persecution. Persecution comes in many forms. Yet, if we are to grow the kingdom of heaven—if our talents are to double—we must be vulnerable in loving others and speaking Truth. And while there is temporal risk, our eternal reward is secure when our faith is placed in our Lord—when we trust His love and His character. We must trust Him when He tells us that we have nothing to fear:
10 Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10, NASB).
If we are to be fearful, then I must agree with the former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, there is only one thing to fear—and that is fear itself. Consider the below excerpt from his presidential inauguration speech if applied to the kingdom of heaven (using bracketed insertions).
“This is pre-eminently the time to speak the Truth, the whole Truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our [world] today. [God’s kingdom] will endure [eternally], as it has endured, [it] will [always thrive] and prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” (March 4, 1933).
Roosevelt’s words share the primary reason for why fear is a nemesis for doing rightly—it encourages us to retreat when we should advance. In many instances where action is both right and necessary, fear can paralyze us. My belief is that no one who professes to being a Christian desires to sin. I would go so far as to say that many of us make concerted efforts not to commit sin. There more difficult sins to recognize and avoid, however, are sins of omission—failing to act when we should.
Our actions (and inactions) influence and impact others we have touched whether directly or indirectly. We are interdependent of one another, regardless of whether or not we choose to accept this Truth. While we may not always have visibility to all the implications related to our actions, even the smallest decisions we make influence and impact others. Our lives are to be intentional at all times, because each moment of our lives matter. Further, from my own experiences, real-life does not function in stasis; therefore, our actions influence ourselves and others either positively and negatively—rarely, if ever, neutral. This is where the third servant failed. He did not see that choosing not to act on a blessing creates a curse.
Additionally, we must not be discouraged when we endure failure, but persevere with a heart focused on loving engaging in good works; persevering through any and all deterrents. Rather than quit and hide, I believe that we must look for opportunities to serve God and do His work wherever we see ourselves equipped by Him to do so.
Too often, I see others claim they are being patient for the Lord to lead them, when anyone paying attention can see that they are not waiting well. Rather than waiting patiently for guidance, they are paralyzed by fear. We already have His Word. What we are to do is follow His example which He has already provided us through His Word
Consider when David desired to build the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem and God told him that his son Solomon—and not him—would be its builder:
17 Now it was in the heart of my father David to build a house for the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. 18 “But the Lord said to my father David, ‘Because it was in your heart to build a house for My name, you did well that it was in your heart. 19 ‘Nevertheless you shall not build the house, but your son who 1will be born to you, he will build the house for My name’ (1 Kings 8:17-19, NASB).
David had caused to much bloodshed, and he understood that the Lord wanted His temple built when Israel was at peace:
7 David said to Solomon, “My son, I had intended to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. 8 “But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me. 9 ‘Behold, a son will be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon, and I will give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. 10 ’He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’ 11 “Now, my son, the Lord be with you that you may be successful, and build the house of the Lord your God just as He has spoken concerning you (1 Chronicles 22:7-11, NASB).
Yet, this did not stop David from assisting where he was capable; lovingly serving the Lord, and making preparations for his son:
14 “Now behold, with great pains I have prepared for the house of the Lord 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond weight, for they are in great quantity; also timber and stone I have prepared, and you may add to them. 15 “Moreover, there are many workmen with you, stonecutters and masons of stone and carpenters, and all men who are skillful in every kind of work. 16 “Of the gold, the silver and the bronze and the iron there is no limit. Arise and work, and may the Lord be with you” (1 Chronicles 22:14-16, NASB).
2 So David gave orders to gather the foreigners who were in the land of Israel, and he set stonecutters to hew out stones to build the house of God. 3 David prepared large quantities of iron to make the nails for the doors of the gates and for the clamps, and more bronze than could be weighed; 4 and timbers of cedar logs beyond number, for the Sidonians and Tyrians brought large quantities of cedar timber to David. 5 David said, “My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house that is to be built for the Lord shall be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all lands. Therefore, now I will make preparation for it.” So David made ample preparations before his death.
1 Then King David said to the entire assembly, “My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is still young and inexperienced and the work is great; for the temple is not for man, but for the Lord God. 2 Now with all my ability I have provided for the house of my God the gold for the things of gold, and the silver for the things of silver, and the bronze for the things of bronze, the iron for the things of iron, and wood for the things of wood, onyx stones and inlaid stones, stones of antimony and stones of various colors, and all kinds of precious stones and alabaster in abundance. 3 Moreover, in my delight in the house of my God, the treasure I have of gold and silver, I give to the house of my God, over and above all that I have already provided for the holy temple, 4 namely, 3,000 talents of gold, of the gold of Ophir, and 7,000 talents of refined silver, to overlay the walls of the buildings; 5 of gold for the things of gold and of silver for the things of silver, that is, for all the work done by the craftsmen. Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?” 6 Then the rulers of the fathers’ households, and the princes of the tribes of Israel, and the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with the overseers over the king’s work, offered willingly; 7 and for the service for the house of God they gave 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, and 10,000 talents of silver, and 18,000 talents of brass, and 100,000 talents of iron. 8 Whoever possessed precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord, in care of Jehiel the Gershonite. 9 Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly (1 Chronicles 29:1-9, NASB).
11 Then David gave to his son Solomon the plan of the porch of the temple, its buildings, its storehouses, its upper rooms, its inner rooms and the room for the mercy seat; 12 and the plan of all that he had in mind, for the courts of the house of the Lord, and for all the surrounding rooms, for the storehouses of the house of God and for the storehouses of the dedicated things; 13 also for the divisions of the priests and the Levites and for all the work of the service of the house of the Lord and for all the utensils of service in the house of the Lord; 14 for the golden utensils, the weight of gold for all utensils for every kind of service; for the silver utensils, the weight of silver for all utensils for every kind of service; 15 and the weight of gold for the golden lampstands and their golden lamps, with the weight of each lampstand and its lamps; and the weight of silver for the silver lampstands, with the weight of each lampstand and its lamps according to the use of each lampstand; 16 and the gold by weight for the tables of showbread, for each table; and silver for the silver tables; 17 and the forks, the basins, and the pitchers of pure gold; and for the golden bowls with the weight for each bowl; and for the silver bowls with the weight for each bowl; 18 and for the altar of incense refined gold by weight; and gold for the model of the chariot, even the cherubim that spread out their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord. 19 “All this,” said David, “the Lord made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the details of this pattern.” 20 Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. 21 Now behold, there are the divisions of the priests and the Levites for all the service of the house of God, and every willing man of any skill will be with you in all the work for all kinds of service. The officials also and all the people will be entirely at your command” (I Chronicles 28:11-21, NASB).
David continued to work in preparation for the Lord in any way permissible. He actively worked in doing God’s good work. Moreover, he provides an example of how we should support others when they are to engage in God’s good work. We are not to view our work as being isolated from others, but working together with others, as the body of Christ.
May we all be courageous, trusting in the character of our Lord. May we see opportunities where we can do good work; including areas that others fail to see. May we actively engage in His good work, utilizing our talents effectively, undeterred by fear. May we work together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to do good work that brings glory to our Lord.
May we please and honor our Lord