The parable of the talents is a fascinating story that has long captivated those who read it. It’s a story that packs a punch and one we should not ignore.
Even Jesus emphasized the importance of this parable by telling it twice. The first time publicly in Luke 19:11-27, then called the Parable of the Minas. And a couple days later he told it privately to his disciples in Matthew 25:14-30.
Although there are several differences between the parables, the similarities are stronger. Both parables describe how Jesus’ disciples should act between his ascension and his Second Coming.
And it’s a message that we shouldn’t ignore. Let’s see what the parable of the talents meaning holds for us today.
Table of Contents
The Context Of The Parable Of The Talents
The first thing we should take note of in Matthew recording of the parable of the talents is that Jesus is in a private teaching with his disciples. This parable isn’t direct at the Pharisees, as so many are. Jesus isn’t teaching the masses. This is just Jesus and the twelve. And it’s one of many teachings he’s given them that day.
On the other hand Luke’s versions, several days earlier, is directed to a crowd of people.
This parable is so important that Jesus teaches it twice. Once privately and once publicly. While both stories have the same outcome, Jesus adds a few details to his public teaching. However the major details and points stay the same. We’ll look at those in a minute.
The main difference between the two teachings is that Jesus tells the parable in Luke to warn them that the kingdom of God was not imminent as they expected (Luke 19:1). In Matthew, however, this parable warns them to keep on the lookout for that kingdom.
While these parables often get lumped together, it’s important to remember there are differences.
With that in mind, let’s jump into the parable of the talents meaning and see what it hold for us today.
The Story Of The Parable Of The Talents
If you want to read both accounts of the parable of the talents side by side, you can do so here: Matthew 25:14-30 & Luke 19:11-27
Scene 1: The Set Up
The plot of the story is relatively simple. A man leaves on a journey and entrusts his estate to several servants. This is where Luke’s story gets interesting; he adds that it was a rich man who is attempting to become king of a distant land through diplomatic measures. But this man is hated. So while he is traveling to the distant land the local council sends a delegation to urge the distant government to not make him king.
There is another historical parallel here, one that the audience would not have caught. This story parallels Jesus. In just over a week from now many in this very crowd will be shouting, “Crucify him.” Just like the man in the story went away to become king, so will Jesus. And the locals hate him. But despite the protests he will return king.
The set up of this story is brilliant.
When Jesus used the word “talent” his audience thought about money, not skills and abilities as we would associate today. However, we should think more broadly than just the money that’s under our name. The symbol of money in the parable represents all the resources we have been given by God including our money, abilities, time, opportunities, etc.
Scene 2: The Return
In both stories the master returns and checks in to see how his servants did with what they were entrusted. The stories record different amounts given, but the plot remains largely the same. Again, Luke adds more details than Matthew. The man checks with his first servant and finds that they did exceptionally well. He is praised and given more. The second servant comes forward; he didn’t do as well as the first, but still did an admiral job. He too is praised and given more.
But then the third servant comes in…It’s revealed that this guy didn’t even do anything.
He just sat on what the master gave him, not even attempting anything. When questioned why, his excuse is fear. Instead of accepting responsibility he blames the king for being a hard man.
But that doesn’t make any sense. If he truly was afraid he would have at least put the money in the bank so it could accrue interest.
The real problem isn’t that this guy is afraid of his master. Rather, he hates him. The truth is, he was betting that the master was not coming back. So he hid the money so that he could dig it up later and use it for himself. He isn’t afraid, he’s selfish. And the king knows what he’s really after.
Now, the gloves come off.
Scene 3: The Outcome
Jesus ends his story the same way in both Matthew and Luke. He takes away from the lazy servant and gives to the one that did the best. As a king, the master oversees the wealth of the land. And this guy is managing it poorly. So he takes it away and gives it to someone who will handle it well.
And let’s not forget. Not only is he managing it poorly he does’t even like the king.
Many look at this passage and think this is a harsh response. Give the guy another chance. But put it in perspective.
Let’s say you trust a portion of your retirement to a broker. Your expectation is that those funds will grow. If after some time you find that your broker is mismanaging your funds and plotting to keep them for himself. What are you going to do?
If you are wise you will pull those funds and give to someone who will manage them well. That’s what the king is doing in this story.
In the parable of the talents Jesus isn’t really talking about money. This isn’t about investing so we can be rich. God entrusts us with money, yes, but also with skills, relationships, time, opportunities, and much more. This parable isn’t solely about our money. Jesus is just putting the bigger idea into terms his audience would understand. It’s about what we do with what God has given us.
The Parable Of The Talents Meaning For Us Today
The story is simple enough and the message is direct. The parable of the talents describe how Jesus’ followers should be acting between now and his return. However the genius of this story is not only found in the message, but the details. Jesus subtly places himself as a character in the story. Something we can clearly see this side of the cross.
The parable of the talents meaning is that Jesus is coming back. It might seem like he’s delayed. Not coming back. But he is. One day the king will return, and we will be held accountable for how we used what God has given us.
Many read the parable of the talents and think the king, God, is being harsh. He gets cast out just because he didn’t produce returns? But his work ethic isn’t the real problem. Luke 19:27 points this out. Luke adds that the king’s enemies are those who don’t want his lordship over them.
In other words we shouldn’t view this parable as God punishing those who don’t work hard enough. Their work isn’t a salvation issue. Rather as God removing those who don’t want him to be lord of their life. In essence, he’s giving them what they want. Life without him.
I can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been for the servant that sat on his talent had he fessed up. What if he owned his mistakes and didn’t come up with excuses and blame the king for his harshness.
I suspect had he repented when his master, the king, returned things would have ended very differently. My guess is his talents would still have been give to someone who could manage it better. But I strongly suspect he would have found grace and restoration. The problem was he didn’t want it.
When confronted with our mistakes, or when we have been found out and revealed that we have been using what God has given on ourselves, repent. Don’t make excuses or pass the blame. Admit your failure. Don’t be like the lazy servant.
4 Lessons From Parable Of The Talents
Now that we know the context of this parable lets switch gears to what we can learn from it. I want to distill all this into 4 lessons we can learn from the parable of the talents meaning.
Lesson 1: We Are Not All Created With Equal Skills/Talents
We are all equal in terms of value. But we are not equal in terms of the distribution of talents and abilities.
I know that’s not a popular view. Especial in today’s culture. But it’s true. When it comes to talent and abilities we are not all equal.
God has built diversity into his creation. Some have many talents, others have one. While that might seem unfair in our society, it’s not in God’s economy. God doesn’t equate talents to value as we do. The parable of the talents teaches us that you are valuable to him not based on what you do, rather who you are.
Lesson 2: It’s Not How Much You Have, It’s What You Do With It
While the distribution of talents might seem unfair it’s not. Why? Because God doesn’t judge based off what you have, rather what you do with it.
God expects us to manage the talents given to us. Whether a few or many. We are stewards of those talents. It doesn’t matter how many you have, it matters what you do with them.
I found this following quote about the parable of the talents helpful in summing up the previous two lessons.
“In a free society, absent of dishonesty and cronyism, disparity of wages is not a sign of injustice; it is the result of God’s diversity within His creation. But even though we are not created equal in regards to the talents given, there is an equality found in this parable and in Gods economy; it comes from the fact that it takes just as much work for the five-talent servant to produce five more talents, as it does for the two-talent servant to produce two more talents. That is why the reward given to each by the master is the same. The master measures success by the degree of effort.” – Hugh Whelchel
As the parable of the talents says, each will be judged “according to his own ability.”
Lesson 3: You Will Be Held Accountable
The king will return and you will one day be held accountable for what God has given you. So be ready.
That’s not a threat. You better do good or else… God wants you to do well, he wants to say well done. He wants to bless you with more. He’s given you everything you need to accomplish the work he’s set aside for you. He’s stacked the deck in your favor. This lesson is more of an opportunity than it is a threat.
God has given us so much. And our response? To use our gifts and talents to love God and love those around us. It’s the greatest commandment and the single identifier for a Christian. (Matthew 22:36-40, John 13:35) The parable of the talents shows us that God will hold us accountable to this commandment.
Lesson 4: God’s More Concerned With Our Character Rather Than Our Performance
Whether you use your talents well or not is not a salvation issue. It’s a stewardship issue. The parable of the talents makes clear that the lazy servant’s problem was that he wasted his talents, it was that he hated his master. The talents was just a byproduct of his heart.
God isn’t going to cast you out of heaven because you lost some of his money. In fact I would argue God isn’t going to cast anyone out of heaven. But many will willfully reject the invitation Jesus extends for salvation and choose to live life apart from him.
The parable of the talents meaning isn’t that God will reject those who preform poorly. Rather, that some hate their master and will reject his lordship over them.
I hope that you enjoyed this blog post on the parable of the talents. And that it helps you rethink parts of your life and faith. If you did would you share it with a friend or on social media? That way more people can benefit from it as you have.
I’d love to hear from you! How does the parable of the talents meaning impact you?
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