The Parable of the Talents is a well-known parable found in the New Testament of the Bible, specifically in the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30. It is a story told by Jesus and is often interpreted as a lesson on the responsible use of one's abilities, resources, and gifts.
Jesus often packaged spiritual truths and lessons of faith into short, relatable narratives known as parables. These stories were his way of explaining the attributes of God and instructions for godly living in inaccessible human terms. And while Jesus also used sermons to communicate, his use of story holds a special place in his ministry and teaching style.
What Happens in the Parable of the Talents?
In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus again used a story to encourage his followers to be ready for his return at all times. “Be on the alert,” he said, “for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42).
In the parable, he describes a man who goes on a journey, entrusting his servants with his wealth and possessions in his absence.
To one servant, the master gives five talents. To a second servant, he gives two talents, and to a third servant, he gives one talent (Matthew 25:14-15). In this instance, a talent refers to a unit of measurement often used to weigh out silver or gold.
It differs from the modern concept of a “talent” as a gift or natural ability. Here, the master entrusts his servants with a measure of his wealth proportionate to each of their abilities (Matthew 25:15).
The parable goes on to say that two of the servants, the one given five talents and the one-handed two, were good stewards of their master’s money, investing it in such a way that when the master returned, they handed back double what he had originally given them (Matthew 25:16-17).
The third servant, however, was not so prudent. According to the story, “the one who received the one talent went away and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money” (Matthew 25:18).
When the master eventually did return, the faithful servants were praised and entrusted with more of the master’s wealth. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” the master said to each of them. “You were faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).
The servant who was fearful and negligent, however, was swiftly reprimanded by his master, who called him “wicked, lazy, and worthless.” His talent was taken and given to the one with ten talents, and he himself was thrown out of his master’s presence (Matthew 25:30).
What Does the Parable of the Talents Mean?
The master of this parable is clearly meant to represent Jesus. The servants are Christ-followers. Similar to the parable, Jesus has also given responsibility to his followers, and similar to the parable, he, the master, has promised to one day return.
This parable is often interpreted as a lesson about the importance of wisely using one's God-given talents and resources and not squandering them out of fear or complacency. It emphasizes the idea that those who are faithful and responsible in using what they've been given will be rewarded, while those who are negligent or fearful will face consequences.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). But just because Jesus is physically absent from the earth, doesn’t mean his followers are given the freedom to sit back and do nothing.
Just like the master in the parable, Jesus has entrusted his servants with:
- Spreading the gospel (Matthew 28:16-20); Forgiving those who have wronged them (Matthew 6:14-15).
- Loving others (John 13:34-35) and caring for his church (John 21:17).
- Being an example to the world (Matthew 14:13-16), Feeding the hungry and thirsty (Matthew 25:25).
- Caring for the poor, the prisoner, and the sick (Matthew 25:36); Being hospitable to foreigners and outsiders (Matthew 25:35).
Jesus has made Christians participants in his ministry. They are also stewards of the things Christ values most. It’s like a parent handing his kid the keys to the car or a boss entrusting the management of his company to his valued employee.
Jesus has entrusted his followers with his greatest treasures, making them caretakers of his ministry and commissioned ambassadors of his mission. This is an incredible responsibility, one Christ-followers should take seriously.
A wise and faithful steward will be faithful to his master’s money and take care of what he’s been given because he knows the master will eventually return. They know they only borrow the car or temporarily manage their master’s business. But more than just protecting their master’s wealth or possessions, a good steward will also find ways to grow and improve it.
For Christians, this can apply to their time, money, body, and abilities. A believer who sees these things as a borrowed investment belonging to God and needing to be returned will be motivated to treat them with care and intention.
In the parable, the wise servants knew that their master would return and were motivated to grow his investment with the time and money they were given. Big or small, they made it count and were eager to hand back all they had earned.
Fearful of his master, the lazy servant did nothing with his master’s money and buried it in the ground (Matthew 25:24-25). He saw his master as a cruel taskmaster, not a generous, gracious lord. He didn’t take joy in the promise of the master’s return but instead wasted his time, his opportunities, and the master’s money. He saw no growth and no return as a result.
What Is the Reward for the Faithful Steward?
Scripture promises that Jesus will one day return, and when he does, he will ask his servants to report how they spent the time and opportunities he has given.
- Did they care for those they were instructed to protect?
- Did they provide for those in need?
- Did they share the good news of Christ’s salvation and forgiveness with others?
- Did they further the kingdom of God in their ministry?
- Were they faithful stewards of all God entrusted them with?
As Jesus said, “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
Those who are faithful with what they’re entrusted with, big and small, will be trusted with more, and Jesus said that they are the ones who will “enter into their master’s joy” and share in the glory of his presence (Matthew 25:21).
Those who are not may face the harsh reality of being called a wicked and lazy servant. Worst of all, they may not share in the joy of their master’s presence when he returns.
What Does This Mean?
Both outcomes should motivate Christ-followers to become more intentional with their time and master’s “talents.”
One day, the master will return, and when he does, he’ll want to know what we’ve done with this precious life we’ve been given. Were we good stewards of what belongs to him? Did we grow his investment?
Or did we bury our time, talent, and opportunities? It’s up to us to decide, but we better decide quickly. The master is planning his return and will be back at any moment.
Why Did Jesus Teach in Parables?
Stories are memorable. They are relatable. They are easier to recall and share with others. For this reason, very few stories ever end with “the end.” A great story stays with you, and in the case of Jesus’ parables, many of his listeners were still contemplating their application well beyond their initial telling, often arriving at the meaning of the message on their own, as opposed to simply being told. The Parable of the Talents is one of those stories.
Jesus used parables as a teaching method for several reasons, each serving a particular purpose in his ministry:
Accessibility: Parables often use simple and relatable stories or metaphors from everyday life. This made Jesus' teachings accessible to a wide audience, including people from diverse backgrounds and levels of education. Parables conveyed profound spiritual truths in a way that was easy for people to grasp.
Engagement: Parables are engaging and thought-provoking. They invited the listener to think and reflect on the message, encouraging active participation in the learning process. By telling stories, Jesus captured the attention of his audience and kept them involved in the teaching.
Reflection: Parables sometimes contain hidden or deeper meanings, requiring listeners to ponder their significance. This encouraged deeper reflection and sparked discussions among his followers and critics. Those who were genuinely seeking understanding were motivated to delve into the message's meaning.
Fulfilling Prophecy: The use of parables was seen as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, particularly in reference to the Messiah teaching in this manner. For example, Psalm 78:2 writes, "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden from of old."
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Joel Ryan is an author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Salem Web Network and Lifeway. When he’s not writing stories and defending biblical truth, Joel is committed to helping young men find purpose in Christ and become fearless disciples and bold leaders in their homes, in the church, and in the world.
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