This parable may be divided into five facets:
1. The distribution of money among three trusted servants (vv. 14-15).
2. The activities regarding these funds (vv. 16-18).
3. The master’s interview with the two faithful servants (vv. 19-23).
4. The master’s interview with the unfaithful servant (vv. 24-27).
5. The lessons the parable teaches (vv. 28-30).
1. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man planning a long trip that called his trusted servants and distributed funds. To one he gave five talents, to another two and to another only one. Each received assets according to his particular ability. He then began his long journey” (vv. 14-15).
2. “Then he that had received the five talents went out and invested it and made a profit of five talents more. The man who received two made another two. But he that received one talent dug a hole and buried his master’s money” (vv. 16-18).
3. “After a long time the master returned to settle accounts with them. He that received the five talents brought those and five additional talents. ‘Lord, you gave me five talents and I have made you five talents more.’ His master said, ‘Well done, you excellent and reliable servant. You have proven yourself trustworthy with a little; you will be trusted with much more. Come and share your master’s joy.’ He that received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you gave me two talents and I have made you two talents more.’ His master said, ‘Well done, you excellent and reliable servant. You have proven yourself trustworthy with a little; you will be trusted with much more. Come and share your master’s joy’” (vv. 19-23).
4. “But he that received only one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you are a strict man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not winnowed. Therefore I was afraid and buried your talent in the ground. Here is your money that belongs to you.’ And the master said, ‘You lazy, worthless servant. If you believe I reap where I have not sown and gather where I have not winnowed, you should have put my money in the bank, and then I could have at least gained interest (vv. 24-27).
5. Take the talent from him and entrust it to the servant who has ten. For to him that has some, more will be given and he will prosper. But from he who has little, even what he has shall be taken. Then cast out this worthless servant into the darkness, where he will weep and lament’” (vv. 28-30). (paraphrased)
It was not uncommon for wealthy businessmen to train carefully selected servants for the task described in this parable. In this case, large sums of money were entrusted to them in his absence. However, such trust does not guarantee the servants will be responsible while he is away.
As a unit of measurement, the talent was used even in ancient Babylonia. The concept of the talent originated from the weight an average man could carry on his back. The talent was the largest measuring weight used among the Hebrews, whether gold, silver, iron, bronze or even lead (I Kgs. 10:10; II Kgs. 5:22; I Chron. 29:7; Zech. 5:7). It must be assumed the talent referred to in this parable is a talent of silver, equal to 6,000 Roman silver coins (denarri). The exact heaviness and value of a talent of silver is uncertain and estimates range from between 90 and 125 pounds. When Jesus taught this parable, a single denarius was considered a day’s wages. Based on this estimate, a single talent was more than a man could earn in twenty years of labor. Even the servant with one talent had an extremely large amount of capital to invest.
It is directly from its usage in this parable the word “talent” has been passed down in the English language to refer to an aptitude, ability or skill. The double meaning of this word is God-ordained and perfectly suited for the lessons this parable teaches. A talent is whatever God gives us today for which we will be held accountable tomorrow.
The parable represents Christ as a wealthy businessman leaving for another country. Prior to His departure, He entrusts Believers with various gifts to develop. The rich man in Jesus’ parable is wise and gracious. He knows each servant intimately and appreciates differences in intellect, education, disposition, zeal, and opportunity. The Lord never underestimates the potential of His servants. Because the master recognizes their capabilities will vary considerably, he matches his funds with their abilities. Without supervision, he trusts each of them with an enormous sum for the sole purpose of expanding his estate. Although the results varied, all three servants had equal opportunity to labor faithfully. All were subsequently held accountable. Paul warns us not to neglect God-given abilities, but be eager to be used by God (I Tim. 4:14; I Cor. 12:31).
Only those who appreciate the Giver can appreciate what He gives. The parable proves God makes definitive distinctions among Believers regarding their abilities. Furthermore, it verifies God’s gifts are given with the specific intention of being multiplied. We are responsible to maximize what God has given to us to build His kingdom. Although every Believer receives different gifts, God is the source of them all (Rom. 12:6; Eph. 4:8 & I Cor. 12:4-11). Our heavenly rewards are given in proportion to our faithfulness on earth.
Although the gifts He bestows vary widely, the master never gives any servant more than he can handle. Every talent God distributes is suited perfectly to one’s potential. No two stars shine with the same brilliance. No two species of flowers produce the same perfume. Gifts from God include wealth, eloquence, zeal, spiritual gifts, time, health, personality and intellect. Because all Believers do not have the same abilities, all do not have the same opportunities. Although He entrusts each Believer with responsibilities, this does not guarantee all will be responsible.
Every servant of God receives at least one talent. No Believer can claim he has nothing to invest. A single talent has tremendous value, therefore every talent is significant. Some might imagine a minimal gift justifies a minimal effort. But although a Christian might undervalue his talent, it does not excuse negligence. While the servant with two talents did not have the same resources, he did have the same obligation. This servant does not represent mediocrity, for he doubles what is given to him.
The five-talent servant was not elated because he was given more nor was the two-talent servant depressed because he had received less. They were not engaged in a competition. Those with multiple talents should be an inspiration to those less gifted. The five-talent servant and the one-talent servant represent two extremes. Some receive much and produce much; others receive little and do little. On the other hand, some with many talents have been known to bury them all.
THE FAITHFUL SERVANTS
Realizing their privilege, two of the servants begin immediately to invest their master’s assets diligently, obediently and responsibly. They seem to know what is expected of them, although they are left without specific instructions. Everything regarding these two bespeaks activity, rather than passivity. Exactly how they doubled his money is not relevant to the story. However, it is relevant that a good and faithful servant begins by accepting his obligations to his master.
Both servants recognize the source of these talents, for they refer to the talents as belonging to the master. The profits generated were also regarded as his property (vv. 20-22). They both exemplify Jesus’ maxim: “To whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Lk. 12:48). They did their duty respectfully, working to please their master rather than themselves. What is given by God must be developed for God. When God plants an acorn, he has the right to expect an oak.
Although the third servant receives less money, he is no less amenable. The unfaithful servant knew the value of the talent, for he hid it in order to keep it safe. He did not steal the talent, squander it, embezzle it, or invest it badly. He simply did nothing with it. Bad attitudes staunch creativity. Although he was responsible for his single talent, he did not expect to be held accountable for not increasing it.
To either invest or bury our talents is an act of one’s own free will. To this servant, a talent was something cold, dead and fit only for burial. We must give back to God, with interest, what He entrusts us with. The final verses of the parable reveal he was motivated by fear, suspicion and laziness.
The diligence of the first two servants stands in stark contrast to the servant who had not done anything. When he is called to give an account, he immediately attacks his master’s character. Evil men presume God is harsh and unrelenting. A perverted concept of God’s character results in a perverted concept of stewardship. Irrational theology breeds fear and fear breeds irrational conduct.
His defense can be paraphrased: “I have come to know you for the unfeeling, tyrannical man you really are. You take what does not belong to you. Knowing my actions could never please you, I was afraid of being unjustly punished. Because you are unreasonable, you expect the impossible. If I have done no good with your money, at least I have done no evil. Although I have made you no profit, at least you have suffered no loss. You should be grateful I kept your talent safe and sound. Here it is.”
The servant views his master as one who abuses his power. In fact, the servant does not know his master at all. He has the audacity to falsely accuse him of being cold, harsh and merciless. His allegations imply the master has an overbearing disposition and a compulsion to extort profits from those he oppresses. But on the contrary, the master had graciously calculated the ability of each servant. His benevolence is proven by his reaction to the two faithful servants.
This servant further misjudges his master by inferring he deserves no increase on his investment. He believes the master should give him credit for being so cautious. The servant takes no responsibility for his inactions but attempts to place the blame on his master’s shoulders. Throughout the ages, such men have deluded themselves into believing God demands of them more than they can deliver. The servant’s words remind us of Adam who also blamed God for his troubles (Gen. 3:12). Hard thoughts of God result in hard-heartedness.
But the master sees through his defensive guise. It is the servant who is cold, egocentric and harsh. He could not claim he had insufficient funds to work with, or that he lacked time or ability. If the servant had respected his master, he would have made some attempt to increase his funds. But between the big things a Believer cannot do and the little he refuses to do, the danger is he will do nothing.
The servant’s assessment of the master’s character should have driven him to be more diligent. He is greatly displeased and convicts him with the servant’s own false allegations. “If I really am the cruel master you describe, your fear should have driven you to invest these funds so that I could have at least gained some interest.” The servant’s defamatory remarks were a feeble attempt to cover his idleness. It is not true that an insensitive, cruel, merciless God sits upon the throne of our universe. God is love (I Jn. 4:8). The Lord is good (Ps. 100:5).
From the beginning of the parable, it is clear these three servants were not tasked with increasing their own wealth. They never received any monetary compensation for their labors. All their work was for the benefit of their master. The two faithful servants went to work promptly, for they did not know how long their master would be gone. Believers do not know the day of Christ’s return, but there is always enough time to invest what God has given to us (Mt. 24:36). Both faithful servants were motivated by their master’s trust and the anticipation of his return.
After an indefinite period of time, the master comes back to settle accounts. Faithful servants bear in mind there will inevitably be a reckoning. One can imagine their eager anticipation, enthusiasm and excitement, knowing their efforts will please their master. Except for the amounts listed, their reports and the master’s response are nearly identical. Each is evaluated according to individual performance, but these two are equally praised, promoted and rewarded. Although Believers differ in talents, faithfulness earns everyone a heavenly reward. God blesses neither popularity nor genius, but integrity and dependability. Faithful servants will be entrusted with the talents others have buried.
We will only hear the master say, “Well done” if we have done well. Fidelity links the “few things” of today to the “many things” of tomorrow (v. 23). “Well done” can be translated “wonderful” or “marvelous.” Our rewards given by God in heaven are directly related to our usefulness to God while on earth. When we use the gift He bestows upon us, it always comes back to Him increased. The riches of the universe belong to God and they are His to distribute. He considers even the ten talents as “small” compared to the privileges soon to be awarded. Paul tells us that it is impossible to imagine what God has prepared for those who love Him (I Cor. 2:9). The ultimate reward of fulfilled responsibilities is the promotion to undertake greater responsibilities.
Both servants prove their loyalty and dedication to their master by maximizing their potential. They are praised not only for their accomplishments, but also for being honest, loyal, faithful and trustworthy during their master’s absence. They are not enamored with their own success but by the knowledge they please their master.
A diligent servant does not seek to be released from responsibility, but rather fortifies his resolve to serve more effectively. A Believer’s remuneration is not what he receives, but what he becomes. The servants’ reward was praise from their master, sharing His joy, and increased opportunities for even greater service. They entered the joy of their Lord because His joy had entered them.
A righteous master rewards diligence and punishes negligence. While the faithful servants enter into the joy of their lord, the faithless servant suffers his displeasure. Ignoring our potential incurs God’s judgment, for we must use or lose our talents.
The servant was punished because he believed the master was cruel and exploitive. In addition, he had a frivolous view concerning responsibility and accountability. The servant was called “wicked” because he had a wrong opinion of his master, “lazy” for neglecting his duty and “worthless” for producing nothing (vv. 26 & 30). The final insult was his failure regarding the utilization of his talent. It is fair and just that unfaithful servants lose the trust of their master.
His five-fold punishment is directly related to the displeasure of his master:
1. He deserves his master’s censure and is called evil and lazy (v. 26).
2. He loses the stewardship of his master’s talent (v. 28).
3. He witnesses a fellow servant receive the talent originally entrusted to him (v. 28).
4. He is permanently banished from his master’s presence (v. 30).
5. He experiences the eternal frustration of knowing what he might have achieved (v. 30).
As the kingdom was stripped from Saul and given to David, so the master transfers the talent to one who has proven himself faithful. The forfeiture of the talent serves as an indictment against apathy. Jesus ends His parable with a wonderful maxim: “Everyone who uses what God gives him will reap eternal riches. But the one that abuses a small amount will lose even that” (v. 29). Those who neglect God’s gifts should expect them to be confiscated. Faithfulness incurs commendation and slothfulness incurs condemnation.
Banishment from the master’s presence is the most severe aspect of his punishment. This judgment is appropriate, for the servant seems to have no appreciation for him when his master is present. The Biblical phrase “gnashing of teeth” is always related to being cast from God’s presence as a judgment for sin (Mt. 13:42; 24:51 & Lk. 13:28).
The parable shows one’s attitude is a factor in breeding either reward or retribution. It illustrates how Believers can expect to be treated at the judgment seat of Christ. The reward is to enter into the Lord’s presence, while the punishment is to be cast out of His presence. Whereas the manifestation of God lights up the celestial city, “outer darkness” is a synonym for hell.
Jesus teaches that sins of omission will also be punished. We are not only judged for doing wrong but for failing to do right. Because both of the faithful servants received an equal reward for their efforts, it is certain the third servant could also have received an equal reward. He did not waste his master’s goods; he wasted his own opportunity. God does not punish those who try and fail, but those who fail to try.
1. Did each of the three servants have an equal opportunity to develop their talents…. or was one favored above the others?
2. What does Paul encourage us not to neglect? (I Timothy 4:14)
3. What does Paul encourage us to earnestly seek to acquire? (I Corinthians 12:31)
4. Elaborate and explain Jesus’ remark in Luke 12:48:
“To whom much is given, of him shall much be required”
5. The third servant:
A. stole the talent
B. squandered the talent
C. embezzled the talent
D. badly invested the talent
E. none of the above
6. The third servant was guilty of:
E. all of the above
7. List the various forms of punishment the third servant received. (v. 26-30)
8. What personal monetary compensation was promised to the three servants?
9. Were the servants watched closely by their master or were they left on their own to invest the talents?
10. Describe your particular talents, gifting, and abilities.
Specify how these talents were acquired.
Of what value are these talents to the Kingdom of God?
What specific steps must you take in order to fully develop them?