The Parable of the Talents
March 17, 2010
Updated June 16, 2021
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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Matthew 25:14-30
Sermon prepared by Rev. Richard deLange, Aylmer, ON
Dear Family of God,
A story entitled “The Seed” tells how a successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. Instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young executives in his company together. He said, “It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you.” The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued. “I am going to give each one of you a seed today - one very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the person whose plant I choose will be the next CEO.”
One man named Jim was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed. He went home and excitedly told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed. Faithfully, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. He began to feel like a failure. Six months later, still nothing in Jim's pot. However, he just kept watering and fertilizing the soil.
When the year was up and plants brought to the CEO for inspection, Jim told his wife that he wasn't going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be honest about what happened. When Jim arrived at the office, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful. But Jim put his empty pot on the floor as many of his colleagues laughed!
When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives. Jim just tried to hide in the back. “Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!” the boss said. The CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot and had Jim come up front. Jim figured he’d be fired! Instead the CEO asked Jim what had happened to his seed and Jim told him. Then the CEO looked at Jim, and announced to the young executives, “Behold your next Chief Executive Officer!”
Then he went on, “One year ago, I gave you all a seed. But I gave you boiled seeds; they were dead - it was not possible for them to grow. All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found that my seed would not grow, you substituted another seed. Jim is the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive Officer!”
In Jesus’ parable of the talents, something similar happens. Servants are given talents by the master and when he returns they are expected to show what they’ve done with his talents. In Jim’s case, the CEO gave out dead seeds and was testing his staff for integrity. Jesus’ parable in a similar way reminds us that God is testing our desire to use what He gives us. And that’s a question of Christian integrity.
The dictionary defines integrity as “the state of being whole.” Your actions and your words are one. You are faithful.
The parable of the talents is about our integrity. It’s about stewardship. It’s about growing, developing, and using for God’s glory whatever we’ve been given by Him before our Lord returns.
You see, the context of this parable is the return of Christ. Jesus is telling us in Matthew 24 and 25 that He’s going to return. And the last verse of the parable before the one we read says this: Mt 25:13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” The Lord is coming back at a time known only to the Father. But while He’s away, He’s given us things to do, things to care for, things to develop and grow as part of the way that we enjoy the wonderful Christian life that He has won for us.
So let’s look at the parable and try to understand it a bit better. We’re going to look at the gifts, the response and the judgment.
I. The Gifts
When we read the parable, we see that the three servants each receive talents from the master. Here’s what it says: Mt 25:15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability…. The servants of our Lord Jesus—the members of His Church—all have received talents from Jesus. That’s the first lesson to remember. There’s not one member of the church to whom Jesus has not given some kind of gift.
The second thing about the gift is what it is. The word talent used in our text refers to money in the strictest sense of the word. If there’s one thing that is almost always a clear indication of our faith, it’s the way we use the money we have. When personal desires and things take priority over giving to the Lord’s cause in this world, that says something about how much we value (or perhaps don’t value) the Lord. When we have to have that latest gadget, electronic toy, beauty treatment or home improvements before we will give to the Lord then what does that say about our love for the Lord? How we view money is a pretty good measure of our commitment to the Lord or to our own agenda for life.
The thing to really remember here is that the talents the master gives out are a trust. When you put money into a trust account at the bank, they keep it for you but you expect to see interest returned to you on that money. And that’s what Jesus is getting at here as well. God gives us talents in various forms so that we can be fruitful and multiply them for His kingdom and His glory.
But the word talent is broader than money. When we understand the meaning of the passage, a talent can also refer to a broad range of things. If God has given you money—and He given some to all of us—then we must receive it as a trust from Him. If He’s given us talents—as in some kind of special ability—then we must use that for Him. And if He’s given us a spiritual gift—and every Christian has at least one—then we must use that for His kingdom. And similarly, each day the Lord gives us opportunities—with our family, at work, at play, in the community. Even interruptions can be opportunities the Lord puts into our life for some reason that we can use to advance God’s kingdom. (FD Bruner, Matthew Commentary, vol. 2, on ch. 25)
In short, somewhere I read this simple definition of the talent: “it is whatever the Lord gives us now and will ask us about later.” (FD Bruner, Matthew Commentary, vol. 2, on ch. 25) Think about that. We all receive talents from our Master. Which ones has He given you that He’ll be asking about later?
A third thing about the talents is that they are signs of grace. When the master gave the talents to the servants they were lavish, even the smallest one. His love is displayed in his generosity.
Granted, we might read this passage and think, “Okay, so he gave 5 talents to one servant, 2 to another and only 1 to the third. He must not have loved that third man as much. Well, just a minute. The value of the talent Jesus refers to is not something to sneeze at. It’s around a lifetime of wages for an average worker. A talent was the largest unit of Greek money. One denarius was about one day’s wages (Mt. 20:2). And there were 10,000 denarii in one talent. And that’s about 35 years of wages for one man!
So in some way the gift of the talents begins with showing us that Jesus’ gifts to us are lavish. He’s not cheap. These talent-gifts show us that our Lord is most gracious. The greatness of God’s grace and mercy to each Christian is beyond anything we could realistically ever expect to receive.
The talents our Lord provides to us are gift that He has determined we can handle, according to our ability says v.15, and if we use them properly they will be a blessing to us and to others as well as to God.
II. The Response
So now let’s move on to the response of the servants to the talents they receive. Suppose for a moment that you are one of those servants, even the third one. What would you do if someone gave you—entrusted you with—35 years worth of your wages? If someone comes up to you and says, “My dear friend, here’s 1.5 million dollars for you to invest while I’m gone.” what would you do? That’s 35 years’ pay at around $40,000 per year. That’s the rough 21st century Canadian equivalent of one talent.
Dear friends, whatever Jesus has given you is given for a purpose. And one day He’s coming back to check on what we’ve done with what He’s given us.
The first two servants respond to the master in the same way. They accept what he gives them. They don’t do any comparing. There’s no hint of jealousy or greed. There’s simply a happy acknowledgement of the master’s talents followed by putting those talents to work in order to grow them. Verses 16 and 17 read, Mt 25:16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more.
Note the eagerness of these servants. Our NIV says, they “went at once” and put the money to work. Another translation is “immediately.” There’s excitement in their action. “The servant is so thrilled to have been entrusted with the master’s gift” that he wastes no time. He immediately throws himself into using what he’s been given. (FD Bruner, Matthew Commentary, vol. 2, p.534)
Serving the Lord Jesus as our Master gives our lives a whole new level of meaning and purpose, far different from what many people around us experience. Many people today are stuck thinking only about this world. This quote by Ellen Goodman from a Google homepage captures the purpose of many people’s lives. She says, “Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.” That’s mundane living.
That’s what Jesus is saving us from. Jesus talks about excitement marking our lives whenever we realize that God has given us certain gifts to use in service to Him and others. Part of the joy of our life as Christians is discovering what God has given us—discovering our unique abilities, privileges and opportunities—and then learning to use them in the service of the Lord’s kingdom.
If it’s money, so be it. But we ought to be thinking about how to make that money a blessing that honors the Lord. We must fight the desire to think it’s ours and we can spend it however we want. Remember it is a trust from God. He gives it for us to do what honors Him.
Some wealthy people are able to help pay Christian education bills for people who can’t afford it. Some are able to give a larger portion to the work of the church while others can’t give more than a tithe or maybe not even that much. Many Christians have put the wealth God gave them to work in poor countries or in fighting injustice at home or supporting politicians who will do that. The kingdom of God is full of possibilities and opportunities.
If we’ve been entrusted with children, that’s an important gift that we should give high priority in our lives. Our spiritual gifts are also to be used, says God through the Apostle Paul. The New Living Translation of 1 Corinthians 12:7 reads, 1 Cor 12:7 “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.”
Whatever talents God has given us, including opportunities He gives us, He’s looking for us to respond with joy and eagerness. And as we do, we find greater purpose in our lives. We reap joy and satisfaction, regardless of how much or little money or fame or recognition we receive.
In the opening story, Jim spent a whole year nurturing a seed. He didn’t know it was dead but he knew he was called to care for it. He was faithful in caring for what was entrusted to him. And that’s what God calls us to do too. The amount we bring back is not the issue. The fact that we respond eagerly and joyfully to the Lord’s gifts is the important thing. Once we learn the joy of using what God gives us, we’ll get more excited about doing it again and again. We’ll see how wonderful it is to be involved in sowing seeds for the kingdom of God and watching as God gives them growth.
III. The Judgment
Now we must move on to the final point: the judgment.
Jesus is talking to people who claim to follow Him. And He reminds us all that there will be a day of accounting. Jesus tells us in v.19, Mt 25:19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.”
In the Parable of the Talents, the third servant is different from the first two. We should note that because the master did not expect as much of him as the other two, he was given less. All three were given different amounts. That’s a reminder that Jesus does not ask us to do what He has not equipped us to do. The problem is that the third servant would not respond to the master in faith, regardless of what he received. And that’s where we must consider our response to what the Lord gives us.
Our response to God’s grace to us in Christ ought to change our lives. Christ didn’t die only to save our souls. He was victorious over death so that we might know how to truly live and also find great joy and purpose in that life. And the more we come to respond in faith with the gifts Christ entrusts to us, the surer of our salvation we become as well. Of course, it is not doing good things that saves us but doing what Jesus calls and equips us to do does result in growing closer to Christ and enjoying the life we were created and redeemed to live.
Those who truly love Jesus, our gracious Lord and Master, will be eager to serve others in His name with whatever He’s given us. In fact, using the gifts God has given us confirms our faith, enriches our lives and gives us confidence that we shall be welcomed to glory when the Lord returns to judge the living and the dead.
The third man in Jesus’ parable did not truly understand or appreciate what the master gave him and that’s why he didn’t use the talent he was given. Instead, when the master returns, the man begins to paint a picture of the master which is not true. Instead of accepting his guilt, he says to the master in effect, “It’s your fault that I didn’t use the talent!” I didn’t act, he says, because Mt 25:24 “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.” But that’s not the truth.
Jesus points out the real problem: He calls the man a wicked and lazy servant. He explains, “So if you figured I was such a hard master, then you should have at least put the money in the bank and given me the interest.” Jesus is not acknowledging that God is a hard master. He’s simply saying, “Well, if that’s what you thought God is, then you certainly would have done something. The fact is you are just lazy and have no desire to use your life to honour the Lord. You waste your life on self-service instead of loving God and your neighbour. So you will receive what you deserve. You will reap what you sowed. Self service leads only to hell.”
The third servant was lazy and faithless that’s why he fails to act on God’s grace and love. True Christians love to serve. As Rev. Jimmy Lin of the Back to God Hour International Ministries wrote in the Today booklet, “Never underestimate what the Lord can do if we offer ourselves up for his service. Our God and Savior is willing and ‘able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’ (Ephesians 3:20).” (Today, October 2008)
When we offer ourselves in service to the Lord, using what He’s provided us, we quickly grow amazed at what God can and does do through us. And our faith remains fresh and exciting! That’s one of the reasons why this saying is true: “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Those who have found the joy of using what God gives them develop the gifts they’ve received and grow more. And as they serve they find greater joy and purpose in their lives. Meanwhile spiritually lazy and faithless people sit on the sidelines and make excuses.
Congregation, God is not a CEO who is testing us with seeds that will not grow no matter how hard we work at nurturing them. He’s the Creator and Master of us all and He has given us all talents. And He is calling us to use the talents, resources, time, and opportunities He gives us to grow His kingdom. If we call ourselves Christians but have no desire to use the resources God gives us, then we really need to look at our hearts. If we love Jesus, we will be excited about using what He’s given us to make His name greater in this world, to grow His kingdom and be involved in it, in whatever we do.
In Christ, we are freed from laziness and equipped and empowered for wholehearted service. Dear friends, let us live and work every day in the certainty that Jesus will say to us, Mt 25:21 “…‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things… Come and share your master’s happiness!’”
Prayer of Response:
Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. We humbly thank you for your lavish grace and mercy to us. We thank you for the abundance of the gifts, talents, resources, opportunities and time you have given us. Help us to receive them with gratitude and use them for your glory. And so we pray that you will deepen our Christian joy and assurance as we use what you have given us to extend your kingdom. In the name of our triune God we pray, Amen.
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
GOD REMIND US OF HIS GRACE
GOD SHAPES US THROUGH HIS WORD
WE RESPOND TO GOD'S SHAPING
GOD SENDS US OUT INTO HIS WORLD
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