Last Updated on : November 23, 2014

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The Parable Of the Talents
(Matt. 25:14-30)
By H.P. Mansfield, The Story of the Bible, Vol. 11



This is the third in the final series of four. It is very similar to the parable contained in Luke 19. But there are significant differences that it is most important that we discern, in order to apply the lessons thus taught. In the parable of the pounds, all the servants of the nobleman received the same amount, but each servant was awarded differently according to the increase that his trading had brought. But in the parable now before us, this is reversed. Each of the man's servants received a different amount, but were granted the same reward irrespective as to whether they gained five talents or two.

What is the reason for this? It reveals a very important principle of truth that it is necessary for us to recognise.

In the parable of the pounds, each of the servants received the same amount, because the pounds represent the Gospel which each of Christ's followers equally receive, and with which they are expected to trade. In the parable of the talents, however, each received talents "according to his several ability" (v.15), or in varying amounts. In those days, a talent represented wealth, approximately $1,000, but because of this parable it has come to stand for natural ability in the English language.

In the parable of the pounds, the rewards paid to the various servants differed according to the success or otherwise of their "trading;" whereas in the parable of the talents, the one reward was given to each irrespective as to whether he gained five or two talents; the reason being, that in the former parable, the pound that each received represented the Gospel, and the various rewards related to the degrees of honor that will be paid those who labor diligently at his work: some receiving more than others. In the latter parable, however, the same reward is given, namely eternal life, for in the granting of this no one will be penalised because he or she lacks the talents possessed by another. If we use our limited ability in the things of God, we will receive eternal life just as surely as will Paul or John who had greater ability in spiritual directions.

The parable of the talents, therefore, taught that we must learn to use our natural gifts, whether mental, physical or material, in Christ's service, recognising them as talents entrusted to us to use to the glory of Yahweh (see 1 Peter 4:10-11). The parable promises that a person of lesser ability will not be penalised if he uses his limited gifts to the best advantage (see James 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:17). It is the "willing mind" that counts, and not what a person has (see 2 Cor. 8:12). In Christ, even the menial tasks of everyday life are elevated into a divine service, so that work in the home, the office, or the workshop can be used to his glory (see Eph. 5:22; 6:2, 5-6).


The Parable

Christ's parables to date had emphasised the need to watch and wait for his coming, but in the one that he now delivered to his Apostles, he showed the need for us to occupy our time in working for him as well during the period of waiting.

He told the story of a wealthy man who had to leave his establishment in order to travel into a far country.

Before doing so, he called his bond-servants before him, and distributed to each of them differing amounts of money, according to the ability of each one, and then, immediately took his journey.

Some had received five, some two, and some one talent.

This was considerable money to leave with his servants, for it has been assessed that a talent was about $1,000, indicating how precious are those natural gifts that God has granted us.

The servant with the one talent, has, at least, the capacity to understand the will and purpose of Yahweh, and this is a very precious gift with which to trade. The Book of Proverbs remind us of that:

"Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, And the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than that of silver, And the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies: And all things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days (immorality) is in her right hand; And in her left hand riches and honor, Her ways are ways of pleasantness, And all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; And happy is every one that retaineth her."

In this outline of the benefits of Wisdom, immortality (the reward indicated in the parable of the talents) is extended in her left hand; whilst riches and honour (the reward indicated in the parable of the pounds) is extended in her right hand.

In the parable, however, the servant with the single talent went and hid that which had been delivered unto him.

He did not lack the ability to use it (see v. 15), but perhaps because he was self-conscious of his lack of ability in contrast to his other companions, he feared to trade with it, or was too lazy to do so, and placed it in a safe hiding place in the earth.

Instead of hiding it in the earth, he should have done what is suggested in Psalm 119:11 and Jeremiah 15:16:

"Thy word have I hid in mine heart,

That I might not sin against thee" (Psalm 119:11).

"Thy words were found, and I did eat them;

And Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart:

For I am called by Thy Name, O Yahweh God of hosts" Jer. 15:16).

The Lord's Return

After a long time, the lord of the servants returned.

He called them before him, that they might give an account of their labor in his absence (2 Cor. 5:10).

The first was enthusiastic:

"Lord," he declared, 'You delivered unto me five talents, and, behold, I have gained besides them a further five talents."

He had accomplished this by wisely using that left in his charge.

That is the basis of John's exhortation:

"Look to yourselves," he wrote, "that ye lose not those things which ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward" (2 John 8 -- RV).

The lord commended his servant for his faithful diligence:

"Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things. I will promote you to be ruler over many things: enter into the joy of your lord!"

The second servant spake in similar fashion, even though he could not claim the success of the first:

"Lord, you delivered unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents besides them!"

The Lord recognised that he had done well, and commended him. Both these servants had acknowledged that the talents entrusted to them had come from the lord, and were not their personal possession, which is the first principle of acceptable service.

Both these servants were invited to "enter into the joy" of their lord, or to "partake of their master's joy," as the Diaglott renders the phrase.

The word for "joy" (chara) can, by metonymy, signify a feast. It is so used in the Septuagint in Esther 9:19. It was in accord with the custom of the times for a master to convey upon freed slaves the honor of feasting with their previous lord. An indication of this is given in Luke 12:37:

"Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them."

The Lord promised that he would thus entertain his slaves (see Matt. 26:29).

Both were therefore promoted, by being given their freedom, and were invited to rule over portion of their master's estate.

These two had learned a fundamental lesson stressed by the Lord Jesus, and that is, if we desire to rule in the age to come, we must learn to rule ourselves now. They had learned to rule their lives (see Prov. 16:32), and thus had demonstrated their ability to rule others (see Luke 22:29; Rev. 2:26; 3:21). On that basis, they were promoted in the way indicated.

But the man with the single talent had failed to do that. Though his talent provided him with the capacity to understand the will and purpose of the lord, his very comment and explanation reveals that he did not use it.

He churlishly answered his lord:

"I know you, that you are a severe man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered; and being afraid, I went and hid your talent in the earth; see, here is that which is yours!"

This sullen attitude of the man with the single talent marred the pleasure of the lord's return. He had been able to rejoice in the faithful attitude of the other servants, but now his joy was spoiled by the man with the single talent who had refused to use it.

He had offered an excuse for his attitude, but it was not valid. His words illustrated the truth of the proverb:

"The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason" (Prov. 26:16).

He claimed that his lord had demanded more than he deserved to receive. He used the language of those who state that the truth demands of us a greater service than we can render.

He declared that he had hidden the talent out of fear of his lord. But if that had really been his motive, why did he not put the talent to the exchangers to gain the increase that would save him from any punishment?

No, he was a liar. He maligned the character of his lord to justify his indolence.

The lord fixed him with a steady gaze. He clearly recognised the motives of the lazy servant before him. Justice demanded that he be punished, and that the punishment fit the crime. He had proclaimed that the lord was a "hard man," and now the lord determined to reveal himself as such (see Psalm 19:26).

In the hearing of the other servants who thus witnessed the disgrace of the man with the single talent, the lord declared:

"You wicked and slothful servant! . . ."

The servant was wicked in the way he had viewed his lord; he was slothful in his application to the duties committed to his charge. He provided a complete contrast to the other servants who were described as "good and faithful" (v.25).

The lord condemned him out of his own mouth. If he had been afraid of his lord because he demanded more than he gave, he should have obeyed him:

"You should have put my money to the exchangers, and then, at my coming, I should have received mine own with usury."

To do so was the easiest means of gaining increase, and the lightest form of labor. It needed no great ability, so that the man with the single talent could have done that much, at least, and it would have shown that he was anxious to fulfil his lord's will.

But he was too lazy to do so.

So he was condemned.

The talent was taken from him, and given to the man with the 10 talents, who had not only revealed his capacity for using the money entrusted to him, but had done so energetically. His industry is emphasised more in the Revised Version than it is in the Authorised Version, for it renders v.16 as: "Straightway he that received the five talents went and traded. . ."

He did it "straightway," or immediately. He labored hard, and so developed the talents. It is said, with truth, that genius is made up of 10 percent inspiration, and 90 percent perspiration!

Certain it is that a person of limited ability who is diligent, will soon outstrip a more talented person who is indolent.

"Seest thou a man diligent in his business?" asked the wise man, "he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before obscure men" (Prov. 22:29).

The Lesson Of The One-Talented Man

The man with the one talent demonstrated the truth that we must either use or lose these God given gifts. The Lord Jesus made that point clear as he pointed the lesson on the parable:

"For unto every one that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that has not (i.e. added to his original talent, traded with his God-given gift so as to make it his own) shall be taken away even that which be hath."

The Revelation teaches the same truth. It warns:

"But the fearful (the word signifies "cowards" - such as the one-talented man was), and unbelieving . . . and all liars (which he was in decrying the character of his lord) . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).

The man in the parable was consigned to a similar fate. Turning to his attendants the lord directed:

"Cast the inprofitable servant into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

The servant was unprofitable because he did not develop the one talent given to him.

That one talent is the capacity to understand the will and purpose of God. Any possessing that single talent, only has to apply that which he knows, and he has doubled in trading in the things of God.

The servant was "unprofitable," which teaches that we must become profitable by adding to, that which has, been given us of God. The servant had not absconded with his lord's money; he had merely avoided adding to it. The parable, therefore, teaches that it is not enough to abstain from doing good; it is not enough to show a reverence for Scripture (as the man revealed awe for his lord, and anxious care that he should preserve the talent, and so hid it away), we must labor with it.

It is the bounden duty of all to use their talents in the service of Christ. The most humble among us have the ability to understand the will of God; let us add to our talent by performing it.