The Parable of the Talents
"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:14-30)
This parable, like so many of our Lord's parables, clearly teaches us that in this world the church and kingdom of God is a mixed multitude. There are many among the professed people of God, many who have been baptized in the name of Christ, many who are very confident that they have a saving interest in Christ who do not know Christ at all. In the parable of the ten virgins, five were wise and five foolish. Here, among those who claim to be the people of God and the servants of Christ, two are represented as being faithful; the other is described as wicked and slothful. Both parables are intended to remind us that among all the multitudes who profess to be the people of God, there are but few who shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. The warnings of Scripture in this regard are abundant both in number and in clarity (Matt.7:21-23; 13:18-23; 22:14; Luke 13:23-25; 17:32-33; 2 Cor. 13:5).
Applicable to All
Without question, the parable is applicable to those who are pastors, preachers and teachers, in the church of God. Some have greater talents and greater spheres of usefulness than others, according to the decree of God and by the gift of Christ. Yet, all who are God's servants are faithful in the place of their calling and in the use of the talents trusted to them. Be sure you do not miss this: The servant who was faithful over two talents received the same reward and entered into the same joy as the servant who was faithful over five (vv. 20-23). The man to whom two talents were given was not expected to do the same thing as the man to whom five were given; but both were expected to do what they could with what they had. All who do what they can with the gifts of grace bestowed upon them are rewarded as good and faithful servants (Mark 14:8).
However, it would be a great mistake to apply the parable to none but those who are responsible to teach and preach the gospel of Christ. This parable speaks to us all. In the day of judgment we shall be held accountable to God for every blessing, benefit, and privilege he has given us in this world.
Talents and Rewards
The lord in this parable portrays the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, who gives different talents to his servants and shall in the day of judgment justly reward each for his use or abuse of the things committed to his charge. The two servants to whom great charges were entrusted are represented as making good use of their time and talents. They were at the coming of their lord approved of and rewarded. The one to whom less was committed proved himself an unprofitable servant, and was condemned to utter darkness at his lord's coming. And the talent with which he was trusted was taken from him and given to the servant who had best used that which was trusted to him.
Robert Hawker very properly warns, "The rewards given to the faithful servant, must not be considered in a light contrary to the whole tenor of the gospel, as if any man merited divine favor." When we have done all, we are still unprofitable servants. We do not make God a debtor to us by anything we do for his honor. The Lord God is not moved, or in any way compelled, to bestow his blessings because of anything a man does that might be called good. And his blessings of grace can never be restrained by, or withheld from, any because they are undeserving. — "The gifts and callings of God are without repentance" (Rom. 11:29).
The talents given to the two faithful servants portray the gifts of grace bestowed upon God's elect, by which they are made faithful. Being gifts of grace, they do not become meritorious! Both the original gifts (talents) of grace bestowed upon us, and the increase of grace are God's. — "LORD, thou also hast wrought all our works in us" (Isa. 26:12).
The one talent the unprofitable servant received cannot represent anything except the gift a man has from God's hand by creation, nature, and providence. Grace is that "good part" which cannot be taken away (Luke 10:42). But every good thing of nature, both created and providential, that men enjoy in this world, shall be taken away from the ungodly when Christ comes again. And all good shall be given to God's elect. It is written, "All things are yours. Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 1:21-23).
Seven Obvious Lessons
Seven lessons are clearly set before us in this parable. Certainly there are more; but the following lessons should be obvious to all who read this parable.
1. First, this parable shows us how readily religious men and women wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction.
"Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine." (vv. 24-25).
The wicked servant described in this parable twisted the Master's sovereignty into a doctrine that represented him as an unjust tyrant, and sought to excuse his disobedience and sin by blaming God for it. That is exactly what Adam did in the garden. He said to God, the real problem here is "the woman thou gavest me."
Many, attempting to justify doctrines that are clearly contrary to the message of Holy Scripture, turn to this very passage and wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. They would have us to believe that this parable teaches that God's grace and salvation may be taken away from one who truly has been saved. Others point to this parable and assert that believers, by diligently improving God's gifts of grace, earn for themselves a greater degree of acceptance with God and a greater reward and eternal happiness in heaven.
We do not build our doctrine upon parables. Our doctrine must be built upon the plain statements of Holy Scripture, not upon parables, illustrations, and obscure texts. Any honest man will build his doctrine not by piecing verses and phrases together, but by the plain statements of Holy Scripture. The clear, obvious message of Holy Scripture is this: "Salvation is of the Lord" (Jonah 2:9), by grace alone (Eph. 2:8; Tit. 3:5), through faith alone (Rom. 3:28, 31; 4:16), and in Christ alone (Rom. 3:24-26; I Cor. 1:30-31)
Wherever there appears to be a conflict between the obvious and the obscure, we must always interpret the obscure by the obvious. Only dishonest men will ignore the obvious, plain statements of Holy Scripture, and interpret the Scriptures by pointing to imaginary proof texts, found by diligently searching a concordance, or digging out a minute rule of grammar in the Hebrew or Greek text to validate their doctrine. Such self-serving teachers are not to be followed or even heard. They cannot be reasoned with, because they will not bow to the authority of the Word of God. Their authority is the traditions of men, held forth in creeds, confessions, catechisms, liturgies, and historic church dogmas. Our only authority is the Word of God (Isa. 8:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). And you do not need to know Hebrew and Greek to understand God's Word. He has providentially given it to you in your own language, and has done so in simple, easily understood words.
2. Second, we are here taught that the Lord Jesus Christ is the sovereign Master of all things; and that all men are his servants. — "For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods" (v. 14).
Here our Lord Jesus calmly speaks of his death and all the sorrow and suffering he must endure to save us as a well planned long journey, a journey which he was determined to take. And he describes himself as the sovereign Lord, Master, Owner, and Possessor of all things. The servants are his, the bad as well as the good (2 Pet. 2:4). The goods are his. And the kingdom is his.
3. Third, this parable teaches us that all men have received certain talents from the Lord, with which to serve him. — "And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey" (v. 15).
Anything given to us by which we may glorify God is a talent given to us to use for him. The word "talent," as it is used here, does not refer to special abilities, but to any ability or opportunity by which we may glorify our God. Our gifts, our money, our health, our strength, our time, our knowledge, our senses, our memory, our affections, our privileges, even our families, all are talents loaned to us by God. And we are responsible to use them all for God.
All these talents are given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ, not according to our ability, but according to his ability. The words, "according to his several ability," do not refer to the servants' ability, but to the Master's ability. The talents he gives determine our ability (Psa. 68:18-19; Eph. 4:8-11).
4. Fourth, our Lord shows us that many who profess to be his servants terribly abuse the talents he gives them. — "But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money" (v. 18).
This man represents many in the visible church. They do not use their talents for evil. They are not adulterers, murderers, or riotous people. They simply hide their talents. Rather than using the opportunities God has given them to know, worship, serve, and glorify him, they neglect them. Does this man represent you? He represents anyone who has a Bible, but does not read it. He represents anyone who has opportunity to hear the Word of God, but chooses not to hear it. He represents anyone who uses his powers, abilities, and talents for sensual pleasure, rather than the glory of God.
If this man's behavior is representative of you, then Daniel's words to Belshazzar must be addressed to you, too. "The God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified" (Dan. 5:23). Daily you rob God, using what he has given you to honor him for yourself.
5. Fifth, we are again taught that, when our Lord comes again, there will be a great day of reckoning with God. — "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them" (v. 19.
Soon we must meet God before the Great White Throne in judgment. We shall all give account before him of every privilege that was granted to us, and of every ray of light that we enjoyed. In that great day we will be dealt with as accountable and responsible men and women. And to whomsoever much is given, of them much will be required. Be wise and remember this. Live every day in the prospect of that great day. Let us "judge ourselves that we be not condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:31-32).
"After this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). What solemn words those are! There is a day coming in which God shall judge all men. Every man will be judged according to exact truth, righteousness, and justice. The standard by which we shall be judged is the holy law of God himself. We shall be judged according to the books of God, in which are recorded all our earthly thoughts, words, and deeds (2 Cor. 5:10-11; Rev. 20:11-12; Matt. 25:31-46). In that great and terrible day of the Lord everyone will receive exactly what is justly due to him. None will be punished who do not deserve to be punished. And none will be received into heaven's eternal glory who do not deserve to enter in. Those who are found guilty of any sin, or infraction of God's holy law, shall be cast into hell. Those who are perfectly holy, holy as God himself, shall enter into heaven (Ps. 24:3-4; Rev. 21:27; 22:11).
In that day the Judge of all the earth, who must do right, will do right. He who sits upon the Great White Throne will not show any lenience, partiality, or favoritism. He will not bend his law. At the bar of God there will be no mercy and no grace. The judgment seat is not a place of mercy. It is a place of strict, unbending, unwavering, immutable justice. Only the facts will be considered when we stand before God. Guilty or not guilty, righteous or unrighteous, holy or unholy, these will be the only matters of consideration in that day. — "Evil pursueth sinners: but to the righteous good shall be repayed" (Pro. 13:21). — "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:20). He that "hath done that which is lawful and right shall surely live" (Ezek. 33:16). God will by no means clear the guilty. And he will not punish the righteous.
In the light of these facts, most plainly set forth in the Word of God, it is obvious that the only hope any sinner has of eternal salvation and acceptance with God is that he might be saved by the infinite merits of an able, all-sufficient Substitute. And that substitute is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Christ, by his precious blood, has completely washed away the sins of his people, so that they are no longer recorded in the book of God's law and justice against us (Isa. 43:25; 44:22; Jer. 50:20). And his righteous obedience to God is imputed to all who believe on him, making us worthy of eternal life (Rom. 5:19; Col. 1:12). Again, I say, let us "judge ourselves that we be not condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:31-32).
6. Sixth, this parable shows us that in the day of judgment all true believers receive the same joyful, abundant reward from their Master.
"His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord" (vv. 21-23).
Every faithful servant of Christ, that is to say, every believer, every sinner saved by his grace, washed in his blood and robed in his righteousness shall hear the Savior say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
Perhaps you think, "How can that be?" The answer is as simple as it is glorious. Christ's obedience to God is our obedience. Just as he was rewarded for our sins, when our sins were made his at Calvary, so we shall be rewarded for his righteousness, which has been made ours by his grace. The glory he earned by his obedience unto death for us (John 17:5), our Savior has given to us by his grace (John 17:22). And we shall possess it with him. In that great day he will say to every saved sinner, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!"
7. Seventh, our Lord once more shows us that in that great and terrible day of reckoning every unprofitable servant will be cast away and condemned by the Son of God.
"His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (vv. 26-30).
In that great and terrible day every condemned soul will acknowledge that his damnation is fully deserved. Each will be judged by the things that he now knows, but will not obey. As he casts the wicked into everlasting hell, the Judge will say, — "Thou knewest!"
You and I are the stewards of God. Let us be found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2), using what he has put in our hands for the glory of his name.