As we approach our study of this parable, we must keep in mind that Jesus has been teaching about His second coming and that this provides the context for this parable as well as for the one that preceded it.
Introduction: F. B. Meyer, a Baptist pastor and evangelist who lived from 1847-1929, had this prayer for his life's motto: “Make the most of me that can be made for Thy glory.”
I think he has stated quite well what should be the purpose of each of our lives. It is true that we should all seek God's glory as the ultimate goal of our lives. And it is also true that we will only be able to do this as God Himself does the work in and through us. He must make the most of us, but we must make the most of what He has given us.
The Apostle Paul stresses each side of this relationship in his famous command to the Philippians, to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13). We can only work out what God has worked in, but work out we must! And it is this working out that Jesus has in mind in this parable, in which He teaches that we must make the most of the opportunities, responsibilities, and gifts the Lord has given us. This will become increasingly clear as we make our way through the parable verse by verse.
NKJ Matthew 25:14 For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.
Here the New King James supplies the reference to the kingdom of heaven in italics since they do not appear in the Greek text. This is in order to help the reader make the connection to the context, in which Jesus is telling yet another parable about the same subject raised in verse 1, namely what the kingdom of heaven is like. That is what the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins was about, and that is also what this parable is about. And both parables are being given in a context dealing with Jesus' second coming as well.
Thus, the man who travels far away and delivers his goods into the stewardship of his servants clearly stands for Jesus.
NKJ Matthew 25:15 And to one he gave five talents [τάλαντον], to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately [εὐθέως, which I think best to take with the next sentence in verse 16, as in the ESV and NASB] he went on a journey.
There are three observations I would like to make about the way Jesus sets up the parable in this verse:
First, we need to understand that a “talent” is unit of measure for money, and it is a very large sum of money! As Klyne Snodgrass puts it:
A talent in the ancient world was a monetary weight of approximately 60-90 pounds … Depending on the metal in question, the value of a talent was equivalent to 6,000 days' wages for a day laborer (roughly twenty years' work), so the man given five talents was given an enormous sum. Obviously the “one talent” man still had an enormous amount. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p.542)
Now, some people confuse the “talent” spoken of here with natural abilities or gifts that each person has, and one of the reasons for this confusion is the fact that the meaning of the English word talent – in the sense of a natural ability or endowment – actually comes from the application of this parable. In fact, the Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary correctly recognizes this fact in its definition of the term, when it specifically states that this meaning of the word comes “from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14–30.”
Frankly, I think this application of the parable has merit. It is clear enough in the context the the wealthy man who goes far away and then returns stands for Jesus. And it will also be clear by the end of the parable that the final judgment is in view, in which there will be an accounting for what we have done with what the Lord has given us. So I think that the talents here may naturally be taken to represent our inclusion in the Kingdom, with the various responsibilities, opportunities, and gifts the Lord has given us for Kingdom service.
I think this may be the reason Jesus made use of such large sums as “talents” to refer to the gifts He gives us. Perhaps He is stressing how much we should value them. We should consider ourselves wealthy when we contemplate His grace toward us. As Paul reminded the Roman Christians, “For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him” (Rom. 10:11-12, ESV).
Second, we need to see how the man gives different amounts to each servant, “to each according to his own ability.” The master does not expect more of any of these servants than he should. He is fair and gracious in dispensing their disparate responsibilities. But notice also that even the servant with only one talent still had a great deal! He may have less than the other two servants, but what he has was still a fortune!
Third, as is obvious both from Jesus' introduction to the parable in verse 14 and from the surrounding context, the statement that the master “went on a journey” must represent Jesus' departure from this earth. So the period in which the servants are to be working with the talents represents the period in which we await Christ's return.
NKJ Matthew 25:16-18 Then he who had received the five talents went [immediately] and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord's money. [I have taken εὐθέως, immediately, with verse 16 as in the ESV and NASB, rather that with verse 15 as in the KJV and NKJV]
First, notice how the servants given five talents and two talents got busy with those talents right away. Their faithfulness is seen not only in the profit they made, but in their eagerness to get to work. They immediately traded with them.
Second, notice that the servant with only one talent did not want to risk anything, so he buried his talent in the ground. This reflects a common practice in ancient times, in which there were no banks such as we have today. If you wanted to keep your money safe, often you would bury it in a secret place. But, of course, by burying his talent this servant was unable to to do anything with it. He cut himself off from any opportunity to make a profit for his master or, in the end, a reward for himself.
I think Thomas Constable hits the nail on the head when he makes the following applications of these verses:
Immediately the slaves entrusted with five and two talents began to put their money to use for their master. This shows their faithfulness to their duty to make money for him. They traded with the money in some way, so they made a profit. The other slave, however, was unwilling to work and to risk. By burying the money he showed that he valued safety above all else. Burying his talent was even much safer than putting it in a savings account.
The slaves of God who have a heart for God and His coming kingdom will sense their privilege, seize their opportunities, and serve God to the maximum extent of their ability... Those who have no real concern about preparing people for the coming King will do nothing with their opportunities. Their own safety will be more important to them than working to prepare for the arrival of the King. Being a good steward involves taking some risks. (Notes on Matthew, e-Sword)
F.B. Meyer, in his devotional Our Daily Homily, also applies this point to Christians in an interesting way:
It is remarkable that the man who had one talent should hide it. If we had been told that he who had five had hidden one we should not have been surprised; but for the man who had only one to hide it!—this is startling; but it is true to life.
The people whose talents and opportunities are very slight and slender are they who are tempted to do nothing at all. “I can do so very little; it will not make much difference if I do nothing: I shall not be missed; my tiny push is not needed to turn the scale.” That is the way they talk. They forget that an ounce-weight may turn the scales where hundred-weights are balanced. They do not realize that the last flake of white snow just oversets the gathering avalanche, and sends it into the vales beneath.
Are you one of these slenderly-endowed ones? And are you doing all you can? Are you doing anything? Even though you cannot do much in your isolation, you might join with others and do much. You might invest your little all in the bank of the Church, and trade as part of that heavenly corporation. Oh, disinter your one talent! (e-Sword)
I think Meyer is getting into some good application here. But I would add that the person with one talent may also too often see what he has as very little when, as a matter of fact, it is not. It may seem small in comparison to five talents or two talents, but it is still a vast amount.
But we will see further on that this servant buried his talent not because he thought he could do little or nothing with it, and not because he saw it as so insignificant in comparison to what others were given, but rather because he did not trust the one who gave it to him! And this is true also of may who call themselves Christians, who will be surprised in the judgment, which leads us to the next verse.
NKJ Matthew 25:19 After a long time [πολὺν χρόνον] the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
First, we need to remember the previous two parables in the previous context, in which Jesus has already stressed the idea of a delay in His second coming:
1) In the Parable of the Two Servants (24:45-51), Jesus portrays the evil servant as thinking, “My master is delaying [χρονίζω] his coming” (vs. 48).
2) In the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (25:1-13), Jesus says that “while the bridegroom was delayed [χρονίζω], they all slumbered and slept” (vs. 5).
And so also in this parable, Jesus speaks of the man traveling to a far country and returning “after a long time.” Although Jesus has twice asserted that we do not know the day or the hour of His return (24:36; 25:13), it is hard to miss the way in which He prepares His followers for a delay. And this is one reason why, so many centuries later, we are not surprised that He has still not returned.
Second, notice the emphasis upon the lord of the servants returning to “settle accounts.” As we shall see later, this represents Jesus' returning in judgment in the future. The point to be stressed here is that – however long it may seem to us that the Lord is away – we must not think that judgment delayed is judgment forgotten!
NKJ Matthew 25:20-23 So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, “Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.” 21 His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, “Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.” 23 His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.”
There are three observations I would like to make about the way Jesus describes the reward of these two faithful servants.
First, each servant is told that he has done well, even though each was given and earned a different amount of money. Thus, it is not the amount of money given that is most important, but rather what was done with whatever amount was given. The servant with only two talents was not expected to do what the servant with five talents had done. The emphasis is upon the faithfulness of each servant with what he had been given
Second, each servant is told that he will be given even greater responsibility as a reward for his faithfulness “over a few things.” Now, it may seem strange to hear such vast sums of money referred to as “few” – or little [ὀλίγος] – things, but this is truly the case when compared with the heavenly things with which we will be entrusted in the future Kingdom.
Third, each servant is told to “enter into the joy of your lord.” This should be seen in contrast with what Jesus says to the unfaithful servant further on. We are told that the unprofitable servant will be cast “into the outer darkness,” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This refers to the final judgment in which the wicked will be separated from God forever. Thus, the joy experienced by the faithful servants must refer to the opposite, namely the fellowship they will get to have with the Lord forever.
Elsewhere Jesus spoke of the joy that He had and of His desire that His followers share the same joy. For example:
NKJ John 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
Bob Deffinbaugh also provides helpful application when he says:
I am reminded of this passage in the Book of Hebrews:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up (Hebrews 12:1-3, emphasis mine).
The “joy” that was before our Lord would seem to include the salvation of lost sinners (Luke 15:4-10). Is the salvation of lost sinners not “profit” in the eternal sense? Is this not fruit? Is this not cause for rejoicing (see Acts 11:19-24)? As a businessman takes pleasure in making a profit, so our Lord takes pleasure in the profit gained by His faithful servants in His absence. And part of the reward the faithful slave is entering into is the joy of his Master in bringing salvation to men. (The Parable of the Talents)
May we always seek as our greatest joy whatever it is that brings joy to our Lord! For in doing so we will begin to experience now something of what awaits us in the future. But those who do not love the Lord will be forever bereft of such joy, as Jesus goes on to make clear.
NKJ Matthew 25:24-25 Then he who had received the one talent came and said, “Lord, I knew you to be a hard [σκληρός] man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.”
The real problem with the third servant becomes apparent in these verses. He simply doesn't love or respect his master.
First, notice that he described his master as a “hard man.” The Greek word translated hard is sklērós, which literally refers to something that has a hard surface, but it has negative connotations when used figuratively of people. In this sense it means harsh or unpleasant. And in our context it carries the connotation of being strict, unmerciful, or overly demanding (Friberg #24575, BibleWorks).
Second, the servant apparently resented the way that his master profits from the service of others. This appears to be what it means when the servant described him as “reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.” The servant wasn't willing for the master to profit from him as he has profited from the others. But he forgot that the money that had been invested belonged to the master and that, therefore, any losses would be his and any profit rightly belonged to him.
Third, the servant said that he “was afraid” – apparently of not meeting the master's expectations – and gave this as the main reason for having hidden the money.
These objections all amount to excuses that essentially blame the master for the servant's own fear and lack of faithfulness. But it must be remembered that the master left the talent with the servant because he knew the servant had the ability to do something profitable with it. Thus, there really is no excuse.
NKJ Matthew 25:26-27 But his lord answered and said to him, “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.”
Notice how the master turns the servants own words back on him. Although he doesn't agree with the servant's description of him as being harsh or overly demanding, he does assume the correctness of saying that he is one who reaps where he has not sown and gathers where he has not scattered seed. In other words, the master is good at making a profit through others. Indeed, isn't this the very reason he gave these servants the talents in the first place? And wasn't the truth of this seen in the master's judgment concerning the first two servants? The master knew the capabilities of all three servants and gave them talents accordingly.
This is why the master points out to the servant what the real issue is, namely that he is a “wicked and lazy servant.” He had the ability to make good use of the money entrusted to him, but he had simply refused to do so.
If I may paraphrase, the master is saying something like this: “Since you knew full well that I am a good judge of peoples' abilities and therefore good at profiting from them, then why didn't you trust my judgment in giving you one talent?” You see, the problem is that the servant has a partially distorted view of the master, a view that prevents him from trusting the master or caring whether or not the master profits from his efforts.
NKJ Matthew 25:28-29 Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.
This teaching is in keeping with what Jesus had already taught the disciples as a principle of the Kingdom:
NKJ Matthew 13:10-13 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
The point is that those who demonstrate an openness to the things of God and trust in Him will be given more revelation – and in this case, gifts, responsibilities, and opportunities for Kingdom work – but the one who doesn't trust the Lord will have what little he possesses taken from him in judgment.
Yet that is not the worst thing that awaits such a person, as Jesus makes clear in His next statement.
NKJ Matthew 25:30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
These words refer to the judgment of the wicked that will occur after Jesus returns. They speak of the horrible anguish that will be experienced by those who are forever cut off from fellowship with God. In this case, since the wicked man doesn't want to be the servant of his master, he gets what he wants.
Conclusion: I will conclude with some more thoughts about the application of this parable. First, we must remember that God has given us the Gospel to share. Are we doing it? He has given each one of us some gifts for Kingdom use. Are we using them? He has given each of us some measure of responsibility for helping to advance the Kingdom. Are we taking this responsibility seriously? God gives us many opportunities to share the Gospel and His love toward others. Are we making the most of these opportunities? For we are all going to be judged on the basis of our faithfulness with what God has given us.
As Klyne Snodgrass puts it:
The theme of faithfulness must be brought directly into relation with Jesus' teaching about the present and future kingdom. Knowledge of God's reign and salvation brings with it added responsibility. To accept the kingdom and its salvation is to accept a trust. It enlists one as an agent on behalf of the kingdom, and all those so enlisted will be rewarded or judged in terms of their faithfulness to their task. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p.542)
The Apostle Peter makes a similar point that will serve as my conclusion today:
NKJ 1 Peter 4:10-11 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.