If you have been a Christian for long, you have probably at least heard of the parable of the talents, which is recorded in Matthew 25:14-28 and similarly in Luke 19. I’ve heard this parable from my earliest days in Sunday School, and quite honestly, I’ve historically just chalked it up as a nice story and then moved on with my life. It really never affected me at all until I recently read a work from John Bunyan entitled The Fear of God. Bunyan’s comments sharpened the teeth of this parable for me. In fact, as a believer, his comments this parable become like one of the frightening warning passages in Hebrews. I encourage you to buy Bunyan’s book. It is worth every penny, even though the sentence structure and old English verbiage require a period of acclimation.
Let me put the parable before you:
14″Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15To one he gave five talents[a] of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19″After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’
21″His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22″The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’
23″His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24″Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26″His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28″ ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. 30And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew 25:14-28).
The structure of this parable is quite simple: A wealthy master invests in three individual servants; he then leaves for a period of time and later returns to discover what the servants have done with his initial investment. The actual amount invested in each individual is different; however, the fact that these servants are those in whom the master has invested, delineates them from any other set of servants. Now, this delineation into a group of haves, and an unmentioned group of have nots, is admittedly implicit in nature, but nonetheless I think it is critical to giving this parable teeth for us as real believers. The twist in the parable comes when we see that one of the ?haves? turns out to be a have not. We’ll return to that thought in a minute.
Lets begin by matching up the three primary components of this parable with their spiritual counterparts. The first two are straightforward; the master represents God and the servants represent three individuals. Most everyone seems to agree on those two; however, there does seem to be some confusion over what the talent represents. Some people seem to want to make the biblical talent, which is a particular sum of money, represent an English vocabulary definition of a talent, which might be something random like the ability to dribble a basketball. This is what I was taught growing up, and this is probably the reason why I shrugged off the parable as just a nice story. Somehow dribbling a basketball for Jesus, or catching touchdown passes for Jesus didn?t seem to connect with my problem that I was a sinner and needed Christ. At any rate, it certainly seemed a bit too contrived to be taken all that seriously.
So, I don’t think the sum of money in the parable represents any particular ability in the life of a believer, be it dribbling a basketball or playing classical guitar. Rather, I think the master’s investment taken together with the ultimate actions of the servants represent saving faith. Now, I think that together they are representative of saving faith viewed from a particular vantage point. In particular, the parable seems to be illustrating the outworking, tangible manifestations of saving faith that result in quantifiable fruit in the lives of real believers. Why do I think this way? Well, when we read the parable, we see that the first two servants receive an initial investment from the master, and then for a period of time they diligently labor and their investment grows. Finally, when the master returns the first two servants are praised and told to Come and share in your master’s happiness! The master’s happiness obviously has to be a picture of heaven. Now, what about the third servant The parable also claims that he receives an initial investment from the master as well; however, he ultimately gives way to fear and laziness and buries his investment. When the master returns, he casts the third servant into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Clearly this is descriptive of hell. Now, obviously this parable is not advocating that we are in danger of losing our salvation. But I do believe it is advocating that we must be careful to examine ourselves to be sure we are indeed truly saved. This is precisely where the parable shows its teeth, in my opinion.
The question before us is this: Are you continuing to press on in your faith? Are you following Paul when he says? Work out your salvation with fear and trembling? Yes, we know salvation and spiritual maturity is ultimately from the Lord. We know that Paul, in his very next breath, says, For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. I don’t deny that at all. But just as forcibly as we hold up God’s Sovereignty, we dare not diminish our responsibility. So, do you have certain sins that you will not relinquish? Do you have certain attitudes or thought patterns that are sinful, but yet you refuse to even work at changing them? I know I come dangerously close to this point, and this is precisely where this parable strikes fear in my heart. There are certain things that seem so unfair, or so impossible, or so whatever that I feel I am justified in harboring sin and in not striving for holiness. Do you come close to this point too?We must heed the warnings in Scripture and resolve to follow Christ whatever the cost; be it perceived cost or actual cost.
Let me leave you with one final thought from this parable, which will hopefully be of encouragement to you. I want to borrow two terms from aeronautics and apply them to this parable. The two terms are apogee and trajectory. You’ve probably heard of the latter, you may not have heard of the former. Apogee is the highest point in the flightpath of a vehicle. If the vehicle is a spacecraft flying in space where up and down don’t really have much significance, then apogee is the furthest point from a reference location, like the launch pad. Trajectory is the direction in which a vehicle is traveling. Trajectory determines where you are headed, apogee is a measure of what you have achieved. So, here is my point. The Bible as a whole seems to be far more concerned with the trajectory of a believer’s life than the apogee of his spiritual life. Again, the question is simple: Are you pressing onward towards holiness? Are you working to grow the investment of salvation God has given you? Are you on the right trajectory? I know you haven’t reached the point you would like, but does your heart resonate with Paul when he says forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus? Failure may indeed come with marked regularity, but quitting or early retirement is just not an option. Lastly, we must not fear God in the sense that we become paralyzed or run away from Him and His salvation, yet we must respect God’s holiness and strive to never take His grace for granted. We cannot presume upon Him that we are somehow justified in our sin by our present circumstances. By His grace and the mighty working of His Spirit we must never stop relinquishing our lives and our hearts to Him. He guarantees our salvation, but only if we persevere until then end! These are the two poles we must hold up simultaneously in our mind. When we are beaten down by sin we must remember His promise, but when we are stubborn in our sin we must remember His warning!