Since the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is often confused with the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:12-26), it will help our understanding to compare them. Both parables describe a rich man going to a distant country and entrusting a sum of money to his servants to invest for him. In both, there is a promise that, when the traveler returns, he will deal with his servants according to the use they have made of that money. He promises to reward the faithful and punish the negligent. Here, it seems, the similarities end.
Yet, they contain important differences between them. In the Talents, Jesus addresses His own disciples at the Mount of Olives, while in the Pounds, He speaks to a multitude at Jericho. In the Talents, the servants differ from each other in the amount of gifts they receive, which is according to personal ability. In the Pounds, the amount given is the same, but they differ in the diligence they display. In the Talents, two servants use their talents equally, and their reward is therefore equal too. In the Pounds, the servants make different uses of the money and are therefore differently rewarded. While both parables distinguish between the faithful and the faithless, as well as the reward for diligence and the punishment for indolence, they show responsibility from different angles.
Part Two will analyze the allocation of talents, how they are used and misused, and how the servants are rewarded.
1. What can we learn from the unequal allocation of talents? Matthew 25:15.
Comment: To a few chosen servants, God gives five talents to fulfill special needs in the church. These may be evangelists, pastors, or teachers, and their knowledge of spiritual truths along with their gift to preach carries great responsibility (James 3:1). As a result, God expects more of them than others less gifted (Romans 12:6; Ephesians 4:11-12; Luke 12:48).
Perhaps most members of God's church have two talents. They may be deacons with a natural desire to serve the church in physical ways. Maybe they are those who give opening and closing prayers or have a musical talent to help others offer up praise to God the Father and Jesus Christ. They may have a gift in organizing activities or in helping children or the elderly. As gifts, these are somewhat less notable than the more evident ones (Romans 12:8).
The servant with one talent describes the potential sluggard in Christ's service (Proverbs 6:6). Yet those of us who have the least must serve God with what we have, and if we serve Him faithfully with the little He has given, honor and reward will be ours. We must support the church in less noticeable yet vital ways, such as in prayer, encouragement, contributions, and positive attitudes (Acts 12:5; Luke 11:9-13).
2. How are the talents used and misused? Matthew 25:16-18.
Comment: Since the servants did not know how long their master would be gone, they began trading without delay. The one with five talents increased his by 100%, as did the servant with two talents. In each case, their original assets were doubled. If the servant with one talent had just worked by trading with it, his reward would have been the same.
The motivation for service and producing good fruit should be love for the Master, a virtue the servant with one talent lacked. Sadly, he failed to trade with his talent and multiply it. Fearing the master's severity, he wrapped his lord's asset in a handkerchief and hid it in a hole in the earth. Fear is a sad thing when a person dreads losing something valuable so much that he hoards it instead of putting it to good use. So it is with a spiritual gift also.
While his fellow-servants were actively trading their talents, the third servant was idle. He was neither actively obedient nor disobedient, but passively disobedient. He did not intend to hurt his master's property; he simply failed to improve it. Similar to the foolish virgins suffering because they neglected to prepare, the third servant in this parable suffers because he did nothing with his talent. We must not hide our light under a basket (Matthew 5:14-16). Spiritual talents must be used in service to Christ for the glory of God—for the joy and honor of Him who is the Giver of every good gift (I Corinthians 10:31; James 1:17).
3. How are the servants rewarded? Matthew 25:19-30.
Comment: The master never sets a time for his return, indicating he could return at any time. However, we know that his return does not occur before his servants have time to increase their talents. The first and second servants cheerfully relate their success in trading, giving their master his property with double interest. Both are rewarded the same, receiving the praise, "Well done!" Both receive the promise, "I will make you ruler." Both receive glory, "Enter into the joy of your lord." Though these two servants differ in the talents they receive, they are the same in obedience, diligence, and faithfulness to their master, and so receive the same reward.
The master passes a serious judgment on the burier of the talent: condemnation for neglecting his trust. This servant's true character reveals itself in his reply. His flawed view of his master's intentions leads him to excuse his own failure to the point of flagrant disrespect. To his idleness, he adds injustice, so his lord sees him as lazy and wicked (Matthew 25:26).
We must always appreciate all of Christ's gifts. "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (II Corinthians 8:12). The true Christian's attitude is contentment with what he has and making the very best use of it. It is better to have a low position in God's service with faithfulness than a high position with unfaithfulness. Our limitation should be an incentive to spiritual and moral action and persistence. In the end, what God commends and rewards is not brilliance, popularity, or cleverness, but faithfulness and obedience to Him regardless of human recognition or praise.