How to be Useless Without Really Trying
Perhaps the title should be "How To Be Useless By Not Really Trying." Jesus teaches us that weak efforts in His kingdom produces weak results and no reward. This is certainly one of the lessons of the "parable of the talents" which is going to be the focus of this article. Here's how Jesus put it:
"For it (the kingdom - J.Q.) is just like a man about to go on a long journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. And he gave to one five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who had received the one talent went away and dug in the ground, and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. And the one who had received five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me; see, I have gained five more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.' The one also who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted to me two talents; see, I have gained two more talents.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' And the one who had also received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.' But the master answered and said to him, 'You wicked , lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore, take the talent away from him, and give it to the one who has ten talents.' For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:14-30).
So, What is a "Talent"?
"And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on a journey." (Matthew 25:15). Which weighs more; a talent of feathers or a talent of gold? The answer is that they both weigh the same. They both weigh a talent. Many mistakenly think a talent is money, but actually it is a weight. You can have a talent of copper, silver or gold. A talent of gold is worth far more than a talent of silver, which is worth more than a talent of copper. We are not really sure (despite some figures people give to estimate the value) what the monetary value of these talents that Jesus is talking about is because He does not tell us if they are silver talents or gold talents. But that's fine because the monetary value isn't important other than to say that these talents were worth a lot either way.
Identifying the Symbols
"Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to...For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his own possessions to them." (Matthew 25:1, 14). Jesus is describing some aspects of the nature of the kingdom of heaven in the previous parable and verse 14 shows that this parable is about the same thing. Specifically, Jesus has been speaking of the importance of being prepared for His return. Given that background, it becomes easy to identify the different parts of this parable:
1. The Master would be Jesus. He has left us but will come again. He expects certain things of us, loyalty and dedication to name two of them.
2. The talents would be the opportunities we have to serve the Lord. Not all of us have the same opportunities or abilities. Jesus does not expect performance out of us of which we are incapable, but He does expect us to do what we can.
3. The slaves would be us. We owe everything we are to the Lord. We belong to Him.
4. The accounting would be the judgment. Notice how quickly the Lord commends and rewards the dedicated slaves. He is eager to exalt us to glories now unimaginable. However, He is also capable of judgment and wrath if we are content to waste our lives for whatever reason.
Pondering the Parable
"To everyone that has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one that does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away." (Matthew 25:29). Now, taken out of it's context, the above verse does not seem very fair. But taken in context, we find that it is pretty much the way things always work. "Use it or lose it." some would say today. "I'm outa practice." explains the athlete who has just dropped the ball. "I used to know how to play this song." says the piano player sitting down at a piano for the first time in a long time. I am afraid there are a lot of "outa practice" members of the church! Can anyone in that situation read this parable without it hitting home like a sledgehammer? "And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
There are several other points worth elaborating on:
1. The first two slaves belong to the same group. They are both good and faithful. That is an important point to make. One had more ability and therefore was given more opportunity. His responsibility increased with his increased ability, and because of his success even more opportunity was afforded him. But the master was equally pleased with the two talent man. Why? Because he also did the best with what he had. They are both commended and invited to enter into the joy of your master. The Lord requires more out of those whom He has given more. Men are not equal in ability, but they can be equal in effort! How much has He given to you?
2. The third man failed not because he only had one talent but because he did not try. He wasted that with which he had been blessed. Though only given one talent, he could have acted heroically by taking a little and doing a lot. Have you ever noticed how much even the world admires a man or woman who overcomes the odds and struggles on to victory? God loves to do things like that with His people to His own glory and honor. To take the weak and poor and do wonderful things. But to not to try is to fail.
3. Defending the indefensible will fail. Can one stand before God on the day of judgment and win a debate on why he or she should be allowed to go to heaven in spite of laziness, neglect and waste? Will any of us be able to plead that we were much too busy with things more important that we couldn't pray, study, assemble with the saints, encourage others, teach, assist, give, work as much as we should have. The one talent man said he was afraid. Will we say that we were afraid? Ignorant? Misguided? Foolish? Unable? Quite simply, there is no excuse for wasted lives made up of wasted moments when we were too busy with other things and not busy enough with His.
4. God has placed His trust in you. Often we talk of placing our trust in God. But in this parable the master is told, "Master, you entrusted five talents to me..." What has the Lord put in your trust? What abilities and opportunities? What associations with others such as family and neighbors? All these things are ours because God has confidence in us. If we respond as we ought to His trust, then we will find eternal victory. We, too, will one day hear the words that will far exceed in importance all others: "enter into the joy of your Master."
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 14.3; March 2007