One of the very last subjects Jesus taught about before His death and resurrection was His second coming. I was surprised to find this correlation in the Parable of the Talents. I equate this Parable with the words “Well done good and faithful servant,” not realizing they were connected to His return. But immediately preceding this parable, Jesus tells us “Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42) He uses this parable to clarify what it means to be ready for His return and how to live as we wait.
What is a Talent in the Bible?
A talent as used in this Parable is not referring to a natural aptitude or skill, but a measure of weight (before coins were made) or an amount of currency. (It is, however, the origin of how we use the word “talent” today.¹)
Talents in the Bible
In the Old Testament, a talent was a unit of measurement for weighing precious metals, usually gold, silver, or copper. It was the heaviest weight used; equal to about 75 pounds.
We first hear about talents in Exodus when they were discussing the materials used while building the tabernacle:
“The total amount of the gold from the wave offering used for all the work on the sanctuary was 29 talents…” Exodus 29: 24 NIV. (Over 2000 pounds of gold.)
In the New Testament, a talent was the largest currency. Calculations vary, but a talent equaled an enormous sum of money. Some estimate the 5 talents equaled 20 years worth of wages.
Matthew 25: Parable of the Talents
Jesus tells the story of a man who goes on a long journey and gives his servants instructions about what to do with his money (talents).
He gives one servant five talents, another two talents, and another, one talent. Knowing them well, he entrusted each with the amount equal to their abilities. Although they were given different amounts, each received a substantial sum.
“The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more.” (vv16-17)
That they “went at once” tells me they took their responsibilities seriously and went to work immediately. While we don’t know how they earned their extra gain, we know they used what they were given to earn more.
They showed resourcefulness, responsible behaviors, and perseverance to be successful.
Well Done Good and Faithful Servant
The master returns after his long journey, and they settle their accounts. He immediately praises the servants who had doubled the five and two talents given to them.
He replies to each one, “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!” NIV.(vv 21,23)
The master praised their faithfulness, not just their success. He saw their loyalty and devotion to him and the task they were given. For that, they received praise and a promise of blessings.
The Wicked Servant
The servant with the one talent, however, took a different path. He “went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” (v18)
The servant did the bare necessity- hiding it so it wouldn’t be lost or stolen. He showed no initiative to work towards his master’s goal and no resourcefulness to increase his talent.
When it was his turn to give an accounting, he makes excuses. “I knew that you were a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So, I was afraid and went out and hid your talent.” (vv24-25)
He had fallen short on faithfulness and effort. He shunned his personal responsibility and blames the master as his excuse.
Was he afraid of failing? Lazy? Angry that he received less? No matter, at the very least, his master points out that he could have put it in the bank and earned a bit of interest.
The master took his talent away and threw him out of his presence.
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The Parable of the Talents Meaning
Is the Parable of the Talents about money?
No- while some may use this parable to speak of investing, it’s not about material gain. Remember, Jesus was speaking about His return, and this parable lays out our responsibilities and how to be actively working for Him while we wait.
Just like the master in the story, Jesus expects us to work for Him until He returns. He wants us to use what He has given us, not for our own purpose, but to honor and point others to Him.
I find it comforting that God gives “each according to his ability.” v15. We each have our own unique set of skills, personality, and abilities, which He shaped. We also have access to His Word and our Counselor, the Holy Spirit.
The question then, is how well do we use our gifts?
Enter Into the Joy of the Lord
Did you notice that the master praised and rewarded both the five and two talent servants equally even though their profits were different? It serves as a reminder not to compare our gifts of service with others.♥
The Master rewards them both with increased responsibilities and by inviting them to “Enter into the joy of your Lord” (vv 21,23 NKJV) or “share your master’s happiness.” (NIV)
The glory of this invitation will reach its peak when we arrive in Heaven, but it is available to us today.
It’s not a reward for good works, but what happens in our hearts when we serve in His name. His abundant, no-strings-attached love for us compels us to share it with others through acts of service.
Serving Him brings joy. As we follow His leading, we listen closely for His guidance. We lean on Him for direction and deepen our relationship.
Serving Him becomes the place where our joy and contentment is felt most abundantly, and where we receive His strength and peace.
The Slothful Servant
Many versions use slothful instead of wicked, but being called wicked and slothful is not something any of us want to hear when the Master returns!
The master evaluated the abilities of the one talent servant just as he did the others. Remember- one talent was still a considerable sum. The servant also had exactly what he needed to accomplish the assigned work.
Instead, he wasted the opportunity that was given. He used excuses to cover up his self-centered nature and avoidance of doing what His master asked.
The consequence? The relationship between the master and servant was over- he sent him away.
We can act in the same way as the slothful servant when we live for ourselves. It’s easy to find excuses for not working on our spiritual growth or sharing His love.
Sometimes we use our time and talents to serve our own desires.
We may even ignore or deny our God-given talents or skills. We may become complacent in our earthly accomplishments.
The slothful servant’s story is a warning from Jesus.
In keeping with the theme of Jesus’ second coming, we read this:
“After a long time, the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.” NIV.
As much as it may make us uncomfortable to think about Judgement Day, it will eventually arrive. While hiding out like the one talent servant might sound safest, we know our Master hopes for and is counting on more from us.
As we stand before Jesus, we will be aware of the sins we committed and the times we failed Him. And while this time is not one of punishment, we will grieve over what we deserve, but be fully engulfed with His love and forgiveness. Only then will we truly understand the magnificence of His grace, mercy, and love!
Using Your God-Given Talents
God is behind each special skill and talent we possess. He gave them to us for a bigger purpose than to make money or feel content. He wants us to be “good and faithful servants” and to use our talents to bless others and tell of His great love.
Remember- It’s not about how much we have, but how well we use what He’s given.
The parable of the talents shows us we must be conscientious and hardworking wherever we serve. Just as the servants invested and grew their talents, we are called to do the same. How can we make this happen?
•Evaluate your attitude. Is it like the first two servants? Eager, positive, and excited to work? Being responsible and selfless?
•Are you grateful for the opportunities to serve? Or like the one talent servant- making excuses and hiding out?
•Do you want to grow spiritually? He will help you if you ask. Commit the time to grow in the knowledge of His Word.
•Thank Him for all the blessings He has given you- sit down and make a list. Your community, education, church, Christian radio and internet options for worship, praise, and instruction, friends, jobs, health, daily living needs, comfort, forgiveness, Jesus, hope, 5 senses, salvation- the list is endless!
•Then tell Him how grateful you are for all He has given. Turn your appreciation into serving and producing spiritual fruit in your own life and for others. Trust in all God’s promises to give you the strength, joy, and love to go out and invest in His Kingdom here on earth!