Bible Study 2021
The Parable of the Talents
Open up Matthew 25. We begin today to look at the parable of the talents. It is a parable about the tragedy of wasted opportunity. You know Scripture calls all of us to make the most of spiritual opportunity. From the beginning of Scripture to the end, we are called upon to maximize our opportunities. Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near.”
Jeremiah 8:7, “Even the stork in heaven knows her appointed times, and the turtledove, the swift and the swallow observe the time of their coming. But My people do not know the judgment of the Lord.” In Psalm 95:6-8, “Oh come let us kneel before the Lord our maker for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. Today if you will hear his voice, do not harden your heart.”
Today is the appointed time, the opportune time, the privileged time. Isaiah 48:12 says, “Listen to My call, Oh Jacob.” In 2 Corinthians 6:2, Paul says, “Behold, now is the accepted time, it is the day of salvation.” In John 12:35- 36, Jesus said, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you. For he that walks in darkness knows not where he is going.”
Verses 14-30, “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. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went 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. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 “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.’” 24 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard 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.’
“26 “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. 28 So 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. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The overarching message is the tragedy of wasted opportunity. Our Lord was answering the question about ‘when are You coming back?’
Five times He has said, “No one knows the day nor the hour.” He gave signs of the period before his coming. He described the birth pains that would result in the kingdom, in Matthew 24. He discussed the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. He talked about the danger and deception and evil of the Great Tribulation period. But as to the exact moment and the exact day, He has not told them.
He will not tell them, because He wants all people to live in anticipation of His coming so that there is constant readiness on the part of everyone. So the unknown character of his coming, the sudden, unexpected, surprising reality of it is that which causes all men to seek to be ready, for it could happen to their generation. And so the Lord has called for all people to be ready at all times.
So Jesus calls for constant readiness, and He does it by using two parables: The parable of the virgins in Matthew 25:1-12, and the parable of the talents in verses 14-30. Both of them basically have the same intention, which is to be ready. And what links them together is verse 13, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”
Now the parable of the virgins and the parable of the talents differ in a sense. There were ten virgins; five were ready when the Bridegroom came because they had oil in their lamps. Five were not because they didn’t. The emphasis was on waiting. It was on that internal heart attitude that longs for the coming of the Lord. The parable of the talents is an emphasis on working and on serving.
And together they provide for us a balance of living in anticipation of the Second Coming. And in the parable of the talents while we are waiting, we are also working. And when one of those things is overemphasized, the Christian experience is out of balance. People who are always looking and waiting and not bothering to be working and serving have lost an important balance.
The balance of the Christian life can be seen by the virgins who had oil. They had the internal necessary grace. The oil represented a transformed nature, a redeemed soul, a changed life. They had the necessary grace and the soul. And the talent parable illustrates that true believers manifest that necessary grace in the life of service. So on the one hand, you have saving grace. On the other hand, you are serving life.
True saving faith is the faith that works, isn’t that what James 2 says, faith without works is dead. The outer manifestation comes in this parable where the inner grace is seen in the first one. What do we need to know then about spiritual opportunity? Four things we’ll look at in this parable. We need to know the responsibility we receive, the reaction we have, the reckoning we face, and the reward we gain.
Let’s start with the responsibility we receive. Look at verse 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.” The kingdom is the sphere where God rules by grace and salvation through Christ. Whenever you see the mention of the kingdom of heaven, one of two things is meant. Sometimes it is used for the internal, invisible body of redeemed people.
For example, that is the way it is used in Matthew 18:3, “Except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” So there He is referring to the kingdom of heaven in its invisible sense, in its internal sense, in that it is the truly redeemed, the truly saved. We can’t see who is in that kingdom. We can’t see the hearts of men.
But sometimes the kingdom of heaven is used to refer to the visible kingdom, the kingdom which is made up of people who identify themselves with Christ. Some are real and some are false, right? The kingdom, for example, is like wheat and tares in Matthew 13. The kingdom is like a dragnet full of stuff from the bottom of the sea. Some is fish to be kept and some is refuse to be thrown away.
And we need to know that as we approach a parable so that you can properly interpret it. Now in the case of the virgins, the kingdom was like ten virgins. We found out five of them were real and five of them were false, right? Five of them had internal grace, five of them did not. Therefore, the kingdom there was picturing the true and the false in the external visible kingdom.
It is the visible kingdom He’s talking about now. He’s not talking about reprobate people who deny Christ, who want nothing to do with his church or His kingdom. He’s talking about two kinds of servants: the kind who use their opportunity and the kind who waste it. But both of them identify themselves as servants of the Lord. So the kingdom here is in its external and visible sense.
So, this kingdom is like a man who travels into a far country. In those days, you could be gone a year or two years. And when he goes away, he calls his servants and delivers them his goods. Here the kingdom is filled with different kinds of servants. That is the visible church, the kingdom external is filled with diversity. It is a net full of fish to be kept and garbage to be discarded.
In other words, the kingdom will always have the false and the true, whether it was in our Lord’s time, or whether even in the time of the Great Tribulation. There will be servants who waste their opportunity. There will be tares growing among the wheat. There will be refuse caught in the net. There will be people on a broad path thinking they were going to heaven but not getting there.
And it will accumulate to all those people who ultimately say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name and done many wonderful works in thy name and cast out demons in thy name?” etcetera. And he says, “I never knew you. Depart from me you workers of iniquity.” So we must understand that in the visible kingdom there always is this combination of good and bad.
Their heart attitude is going to be manifest here. And there are a lot of people in the kingdom today, under the authority of the Christ-appointed leaders and elders and pastors today. And we can see the comparison of the kind whose hearts are right and the kind whose hearts are not right as we put them up against this very parable. Now notice He calls his own servants. He knows them.
They know Him, much like Judas knows Christ, who went through all the activities and so forth. The church will always have those kinds of people. And he delivers to them his goods. Now the word for servant here is the word doulos, which we could translate as employee. Those are the people who could do anything that would fit somewhere in the structure of service in an estate like this.
And when a man went away, he would hand these people who were trustworthy, capable servants a certain amount of his goods so that they could bring him back a return on his property while he was gone. They were stewards to handle the funds and assets and resources for the profit of their master, which profit they would return to him on his arrival back. And that’s what happens.
Now notice verse 15, “And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.” Now he knows the skill of his servants. So he apportions out to them that which he believes they are capable of handling. To the first he gives five talents, to the second two, and the third one. They’re only illustrative.
Now a talent basically is used to speak of someone’s abilities, but actually it meant a weight. That’s why in Revelation 16 it talks about a hailstone weighing a talent; it was a certain weight. Now the value of each talent would depend on whether it was gold, silver or copper. It’s probably best to see this as silver because the word used for money in verse 18 is used to refer to silver coinage.
Now follow what he does. He gives to them as if it were a bag of coins. One man got a bag full weighing five talents, one two talents, and one, one talent. And the idea was take this, invest it, and get a return for me on it. Show yourself a faithful steward. What is important is to see what they did with what was given. Now the key is, “He gave to every man according to their ability.”
Each man’s ability was that which determined what he received. We are now in the management business, and we have each been given various bags of coins. And that is what we are to use for the working out and the serving that God would have us accomplish while he’s away, until Christ comes back. Not all of us have received the same amount. Not everybody is the same.
Everybody is created differently with differing skills, talents and capabilities. And then you add to what we received in terms of creation from God, each of us has been exposed to different opportunities, different privileges, different teachers, different discipling processes. There are people with doctor’s degrees from known seminaries, and there are Christians who know basically nothing but the Gospel.
All of us are different, and that’s by the design of God. It’s a picture of spiritual capacity and spiritual privilege and spiritual responsibility and spiritual opportunity. And you know the servant who really loves his master is saying, “Wow, here’s my opportunity to show him how much I love him. Here’s my chance to really invest my time, my energy, my work to bring him back a great return.
This would appeal to the noblest motive in the heart of a loving servant. And the Lord gives people within the framework of his kingdom and his church all different levels of capacities and opportunities. And the issue is what we do with those opportunities. Talents in our bag would include teaching we received, mixed with our God-given intellectual, emotional capacities, gifts and skills.
And we use that capacity to take in what God provides for us and to return back to him the maximum use of that spiritual privilege. And all of us in the visible church, all of us who call ourselves servants of the Lord, whether we’re real or not, have been given these privileges. And you have the privilege of hearing the Word of God, of being taught, of meeting people who love the Lord and walk with the Lord.
God has given you the opportunity to be whatever it is that He designed you to be. And he’ll proportion out just what you ought to have. He apportions it out like it says in Romans 12. He gives each person gifts according to the measure of grace and the proportion of faith. Notice that the five doubled his and the two doubled his. It’s an equal percent of faithfulness, but it’s not an equal result.
In spiritual ministry some have greater results than others. God gives different capacities which will produce differing results. And the implication of this is that even in the kingdom there will be different levels of rulers for people at different capacities. So God sovereignly has designed some of us to be rulers and some of us to be followers just like he did with the disciples.
The issue is do we give back to God when given the opportunity for a maximum return on His gifts? If you’re a five, he wants five back. If you’re a two, he wants two back. If you’re a three, he wants three. You could be a five and give back two. You could be a two and only give back one. So we’re all given responsibility. All of you have a bag that God is holding you responsible for.
It is a stewardship bag. It is a bag of privilege. It is a bag of opportunity. You are managing that part of God’s fortune. Listen, every time you sit under the teaching of the Word of God, every time you read the Word of God, every time you learn a great truth out of the Word of God, somebody just dropped something else in your bag, and that somebody was the Spirit of God.
Now let’s go from the responsibility we receive to the reaction we have. What do we do with the spiritual opportunity? Verse 16, “Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.” Now this is a true servant because his heart instantly responds to the privilege of serving his Lord. That is the fruit of inward salvation. And he went and traded, the word means engaging in business.
He went out and did business. I don't know what he did; it doesn’t say. But it says at the end of verse 16, “He made,” and the word there means to profit. He gained five more talents. He doubled his master’s money. That shows maximum commitment; that’s the point the Lord is making. He made the most of his spiritual privilege and the most of his spiritual opportunity.
And verse 17, “Likewise the one who had received two also gained two more.” He made the most of his two. Now everybody has the same opportunity. Some people hear the Gospel in a limited way. Some have exposure to a massive amount of it. Some have had very little privilege and opportunity, some very great. But in both cases, they gave a maximum return on the privilege God gave them.
Verse 18, “But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.” Now that was a common thing to do when you wanted to save money. And so the man buries the money, does absolutely nothing with it, absolutely wasted his opportunity and wasted his privilege. It’s not saying that one-talent people are going to really be the ones who are the losers.
What it is saying is even though you only have one you’re still responsible for it. You’re responsible to give God back a return on that spiritual opportunity he gave you, even if it was only one and not five talents. Even if your opportunity was limited, you’re still responsible. Listen, some people have sat in church over and over again and outwardly they parade themselves as strong Christians.
On the other hand, there may be people who just in a limited way heard the Gospel. They’re just as responsible for a return on that one as anybody is for the return on the five. We have been given spiritual privileges while our Lord is away. But He wants a maximum return on his privilege, on his opportunity granted to us. And we will either give him back equal to that opportunity, or we will not and it will be wasted.
The Lord picks the one who had only a very limited privilege and lets us know that hell is for people who waste even a limited privilege. Every person exposed to the Gospel, every person brought into the outward kingdom, a part of the church no matter how limited the privilege, if they have been exposed to the saving truth of Jesus Christ, it becomes inexcusable if they waste that opportunity.
The responsibility and the reaction then leads to the reckoning. Verse 19, “After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” The word reckon is a commercial term meaning to look at his books. He comes back to see how they’ve done in terms of stewardship in regard to their opportunity, and that’s the way it’s going to be when the Lord returns.
He was gone a long time. The implication there is that the Lord is telling them His coming back will be delayed. It’ll be judgment time. It is a time for revealing the heart. It is a time for evaluating the service rendered, finding out who the true servants are. As described in verses 31-46, it is a time for separating the sheep from the goats. The goats go out of the kingdom forever; the sheep go to heaven.
Verse 20, “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.” And he’s very excited, because he can face judgment with anticipation, because he knows what he’s done with his privileges. He knows that he has rendered service to the Lord.
He’s filled with excitement, and that’s the way it ought to be with every believer. There ought to be in our hearts no fear of the coming of the Lord but only great anticipation because it will be our privilege to demonstrate to him at that moment the service that we have rendered. It’ll be our joy to be able to say, “Yes, the privilege you gave to me I received and rendered back to you the service that you were due.”
There’s no boasting here. Yes, I recognize that you are the source, but I also rejoice that I was faithful in responding.” In 2 Timothy 4:7 - 8, Paul says to Timothy, “Look, I’m ready to go. I know I’m going to receive a reward when I get there.” And that’s not ego, that’s a sense of fulfillment. That’s a desire to be with the Lord you’ve loved and served, to receive that good promise from His hand.
And the master recognized the integrity in his heart. Verse 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.” He says, “You are good and you are trustworthy.” It is a characterization. He’s not just commenting on his service; he’s commenting on his character.
That certainly isn’t the provision of the law but it is the provision of the grace of the Gospel, is it not? It is the provision not of our own strength but of the power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s as it ought to be, and that commendation will outstrip any metal ceremony the world will ever know, to receive that incorruptible crown of righteousness, which the Lord waits to give to all those who love.
But the Lord is so gracious that he doesn’t stop there. He says to the servant, “You have been faithful over a few things. I’ll make you a ruler over many things.” You’ve proven that you’re trustworthy and you’re good. You want to know something? What you do in eternity and what I do in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in terms of service rendered to Him is determined by my service right here and now.
Because eternity will be a time of service. The kingdom will be a time of service. Those who are alive on the earth when the Lord comes who are the good and faithful believing servants will go into the kingdom in their physical form, and they who have proven faithful will be given more responsibility there than they had even here, more privilege there than they had even here.
Rewards for the believer are basically greater opportunities for service. In other words, when we go to the kingdom, when we go into heaven, it isn’t going to be sitting on a cloud playing a harp forever. If service to the Lord here is the greatest joy of life and heaven is ultimate joy, then heaven is ultimate service. And the level of service you will render then will be determined by the service you render here.
“In other words, in heaven there are going to be ranks of people?” Yes and no. In heaven, we’ll all possess eternal life. We’ll all be like Jesus Christ. We’ll all be perfect without sin. So in a sense, everybody will be all equal in glory in eternity. But while that is true, it is also true that there will be differing levels of service for all of us in eternity, dependent on our God-created capacities.
Now service in the kingdom now demands different kinds of people doing different things, true? And eternity will be the same way. All of us will have differing assignments in eternity. We won’t all have the same service rendered to God. But as the angels serve God with ranks, we do too. There are angels and archangels, seraphim, cherubim and principalities and powers and rulers and all of that we cannot see.
So when people say, “Are we all going to be the same in eternity,” the answer’s yes. And are we going to be distinct, the answer’s yes. And we let God resolve those paradoxes that are beyond us. But here he says to the one who had five, “You were faithful with the five I gave you. You were faithful over a few things. I’m going to make you ruler over many things.” To the one who has two, the same thing.
Now notice there’s another part of the commendation at the end of verse 21 and at the end of verse 23: “Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.” We not only will receive a verbal commendation from the Lord, but we will enter into the joy of the Lord himself. We will be as joyful as the Lord is joyful. Imagine the satisfaction of the Lord to know that redemption is accomplished.
So the man with five talents receives three commendations. That is first is a verbal one, ‘good and faithful servant’ and then he is made responsible for even greater things, and then he is to enter into the joy of the Lord. And the second man who was faithful with two talents receives the very same threefold commendation in verse 23. What a glorious day that will be.
Verse 24-25, “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard 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.” And this is completely different. We go from the glad part of the story to the very sad part.
Here is one who professes to believe. He says he is a servant. He is in the estate, so to speak. He says his goal in life is to serve his master, but there are two things that betray this guy. Number one, he produced nothing. There was no fruit. So we would say he is revealed as a nonbeliever by his lack of results. Secondly, by his attack. He attacks the character of his master.
Now he’s not a man who is anti-God. He’s not an atheist. He’s not antichrist. He says he’s a servant. He doesn’t waste his master’s goods like the unjust steward of Luke 16. He doesn’t spend it all on riotous living like the prodigal of Luke 15. No, he just does nothing with it. He is illustrative of a man who just wasted opportunity, and that’s tragic. He said he served the Lord, but he didn’t.
We know it because there was no fruit; he hid it in the ground. It was his lack that proved there was nothing there, and then it was his attack. Look what he says, “You’re a hard man.” You’re unforgiving. You’re unmerciful. You’re ungracious. You lack compassion. That’s not so. He’s functioning out of fear. Religion is too difficult for me. And religion is full of people who would make that excuse.
And then he says, “Reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed.” You know that that means? Stealing somebody else’s crop. Does he know the God that we know? Who really knows the Lord, could characterize him as ungracious, as unmerciful, as lacking in compassion? He has pretended to be a servant but he doesn’t know his master.
That portrays a non-worshipping heart. There’s no submission in his heart. He doesn’t serve the Lord here. He is blind to his Master’s kindness. He is blind to his Master’s grace. He is blind to his Master’s mercy. He is blind to his Master’s compassion, and he’s equally blind to his Master’s honor and his Master’s majesty and his Master’s glory and his Master’s worthiness.
So then he says in verse 25, “I was afraid. I was afraid of such an unbending, ungracious God.” Well, he means I was afraid that if I tried to invest it and lost, I’d get punished. So I was afraid of you and I went and hid it in the earth and figured the best thing to do is just make sure I can deliver it as is back to you when you return. In the Greek it says, “Here, you have what is yours.”
Verse 26, “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.” That person was a part of a community of servants. He knew the nature of his master. And anybody associated with the redeemed community knows our Lord, right? You know what the characteristics are.
You can read the Scripture. You can hear the message. He is a God of grace and mercy and compassion. He says, “You wicked and lazy servant. You just took the money and stuck it in the ground. You just hid that talent away. You made no use of that privilege because it got in your way of your lazy lifestyle, and you would not toil in my service because you had no heart for that.”
Verse 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.” He’s saying to him, “You’re a liar. You didn’t care what I was like until you needed an excuse. You went on with your evil, lazy lifestyle ignoring your spiritual opportunity for no other reason than your own desire. It had nothing to do with your theology.”
And so from the responsibility to the reaction to the reckoning. And then to the reward. Verse 28, “So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.” Why him? Well he was the one with the greater capacity. Now in the church today, a lot of people are “serving the Lord,” right? Do you realize that some of this service is being given by people who belong to the visible church but are not redeemed?
From time to time, this becomes manifest, doesn’t it? You may turn on your television and see somebody who says he is serving the Lord outwardly. But truthfully that person isn’t even redeemed. There are people singing songs about Jesus who haven’t got any idea who he is. But the day will come when any service will be taken away from them and given to someone who is a true servant.
Then Jesus quotes this principle in Matthew 13:12, verse 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.” And the implication there is he doesn’t really have it, but what he appears to have will be taken away and given to someone else who can render true service for the Lord.
So what happens in the reward? First, the true and faithful servant receives more privilege, more opportunity for service, more divine-service capacity. Some people ask, “Why did he give it to the one that had ten and not the one that had four?” I don't know, you’ll have to ask the Lord when you get to heaven about that. But he chose to give it to the one who had ten. God is sovereign.
What happens to them?” Verse 30, “And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here is the definition of hell. It’s just like Matthew 22:13 where you have the man who came into the wedding feast without a garment. He had no righteousness. The absence of God is utter darkness, and hell is a place where God is not.
And what the parable intends to say is stated in verse 13, “Just be sure you’re ready when that day comes.” And it may not be that you wait ‘til the Second Coming; it may come the moment you die. But the moment that you face God this will become a reality, whether your service was true or whether it was false. There are servants who think when the Lord comes it’s going to be okay, and it isn’t.
Oh Lord, we ask that your Spirit would work in every life, that we might examine ourselves to see whether we are true servants, servants whose lives are marked by fruit, even if a small amount. That the deepest part of us longs to serve you and sees your glory, with a heart of worship, praise and love. A heart that says I will give my life service to You. Is there fruit? Are we ready? Let us pray.