At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

Five Lessons for Our Lives from the Parable of the Talents

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How should Christians think about work, success, and wealth?

I was recently asked by byFaith magazine to write an article answering these tough questions. As I thought about how to approach these topics, I realized the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30 provides a helpful framework for thinking about them.

While we’ve talked a lot about this parable on the blog, but using it as a guide for these questions is unique. These five points are just a snippet of the full piece I wrote for byFaith, and I hope you’ll read the full article if you find what you read here edifying.

Without further ado, here are five lessons the Parable of the Talents can teach us about work, success, and wealth:

1. First, this parable teaches us that success is a product of our work.  

In the book of Genesis we see that God placed Adam in the garden to work it and take care of it. We were made to work. As Christians we have a mission that our Lord expects us to accomplish in the here and now.

Far too many evangelical Christians today see their salvation as simply a “bus ticket to heaven.” They believe it doesn’t matter what they do while they “wait for the bus.” The Parable of the Talents teaches us what we are supposed to do while we await the return of our King.

We are to work, using our talents to glorify God, serve the common good, and further God’s kingdom. Biblical success is working diligently in the here and now using all the talents God has given us to produce the return expected by the Master.

2. The Parable of the Talents teaches that God always gives us everything we need to do what he has called us to do.

Have you ever wondered what a talent is worth in today’s dollars? It is hard to know for sure, yet whatever its exact value, in the New Testament a talent indicates a large sum of money, maybe even as much as a million dollars in today’s currency.

We are tempted to feel sorry for the servant who received only one talent, but in reality he received as much as a million dollars from the master and buried it in his back yard. He was given more than enough to meet the master’s expectations.

Just as the master expected his servants to do more than passively preserve what has been entrusted to them, so God expects us to generate a return by using our talents towards productive ends. The servants were given enough to produce more – it is the same with the gifts God has given us. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

We seldom associate this verse with our work, but we should.

3. The Parable of the Talents teaches that we are not all created equal.

The most overlooked part of this parable is the second half of verse fifteen: the master gives to each servant talents, “…each according to his ability.” The master understood that the one-talent servant was not capable of producing as much as the five-talent servant.

We want to protest this as unfair. Yet we know this is true from our own experience. Diversity is woven into the fabric of creation.

But even though we’re not created equal in regard to the talents we’re given, there is equality found in the Parable of the Talents. It comes from the fact that it takes just as much work for the five-talent servant to produce five more talents as it does the two-talent servant to produce two more talents.

This is why the reward given by the master is the same. The master measures success by degrees of effort, as should we.

4. The Parable of the Talents teaches that we work for the Master, not our own selfish purposes. 

The money that is given to the servants is not their own. The money they earn with the capital is not theirs to keep. The servants are only stewards of the master’s investment, and it is the quality of their stewardship that the master seeks to measure.

We should maximize the use of our talents not for our own selfish purposes, but to honor God. We know that we work in a fallen world. Because of the curse of sin, our work will be difficult. But we should feel satisfaction and joy from doing our best with what God has given us in the place where his providence puts us, seeking to succeed in order to honor him.

5. The Parable of the Talents shows that we will be held accountable. 

The Parable of the Talents is not about salvation or works righteousness, but about how we use our work to fulfill our earthly callings. It is about whole-life stewardship, or “Stewardship with a capital ‘S‘.”

The unfaithful steward in this parable didn’t so much waste the master’s money – he wasted an opportunity. As a result, he was judged wicked and lazy. We are responsible for what we do for God with what we have been given, and one day we will be held responsible.

What we hear from the Master on that day is up to us.

This post was adapted from its original version appearing in the latest edition of byFaith magazine.

Do any of these lessons resonate with you? Which ones, and why? 

  • Dan Burke

    I would have liked it better if you had written point four something like this, We work for the master and not for our, or any other man’s selfish purposes. There are lots of people around us who will tell us what we are supposed to do with the resources we steward, but we are accountable to our master.

  • Mark

    I really appreciated your article. I am curious about lesson #5. How does Matthew 14:30 fit into the discussion? I believe that we are not saved by works; but if we choose to not work, the outcome is really bad… outer darkness sounds like eternal separation from God. Do you think I am missing something here?

    • Nick

      I think the answer to your question is best elucidated in Mt 7:15-20. True Faith bears fruit. While it is true that we are only saved through faith (ie. salvation only comes from God, and there is nothing we can ever do to earn it), faith is an active process that involves a continual desire to know God and to fulfill the work God assigns us in this life.

      I hope this helps!

      • Herbert Jennings

        See James 2:14. Yes it is through faith we are saved. However, “works” are an essential part of our faith. Faith is more than just lip service.

    • Vivi

      Saved by works is not the same as the type of work mentioned here. The Jews “worked” by means of the law, meaning, they were cleaning the cup on the outside so to speak, by rituals, sacrifices, and ultimately becoming self righteous in their doing so. But salvation through Christ is by FAITH not THOSE kind of works. The talents/ parable here is talking about the -abilities- God has given us and how we are using them or are we passively wasting them by perhaps working a job that isn’t conducive to your talent or skill, He gave you to essentially be of benefit to others and thus bring glory to His name. But we often stay in a job just for a paycheck. That’s also a waste of talent. Unfruitful.

  • Brian Sandle

    Nelson Mandela’s funeral started with the lesson of the Talents. The final blessing developed the feeling of the wrongness of the one-Talent man having his taken and given to the ones who had previously been given the most. TVNZ carried this message but Al Jazeera put another interview over it. It was said Nelson planned the Service.

  • Isaac Sopia

    Accountability will certainly be required of us. God created us for a purpose. The challenge is in discovering, early enough, what that purpose is!

  • anon

    I thought the whole point of the kingdom of God was to sow seeds and to share the Gospel. Jesus said ‘I leave you with a new commandment: Love each other as I have loved you’. Doesn’t this imply that we imitate Jesus’ lifestyle, respond to our own individual callings and take up our crosses no matter what? Surely the talent here represents God’s mercy and grace and salvation which he has invested in us.

  • Sue

    Nice job. I love this parable and am trying to do my best with what I believe God has gifted me with.

    • Randall Semrau

      Year after year, I’ve only experienced failure after failure while trying to do my best for God. I’ve come to understand that God expects positive results, no excuses.

      I am extremely depressed by this reality – crushed really – and greatly fear the outer darkness waiting for me, as described in Matthew.

      • Liz GH

        Randall – Take a look at Matt 21:44 (some versions don’t include this, but find ones that do). Jesus says ‘And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.’ Selwyn Hughes helped me understand this verse, saying the stone is Jesus – If we fall on Him, we will be broken, but if we don’t fall on Him, we’ll be crushed. Either way, we are going to be broken… (oh heck!) but brokenness means we are in a position where we can be made truly whole. From personal experience, I realise brokenness – hitting rock bottom so I can only rely on Jesus b/c I have nothing else – leads to true growth, change of heart, maturity in the Spirit, dependence on Jesus.

        Stop trying to ‘do your best’ – unless you feel the Spirit leading you to do it, then you’re not meant to do it. Instead, let go… take your seeming failure to God… and let him teach you (yes – t.hrough some pain and brokenness) what he really thinks about you and wants you to do

        • Chacko Ipe

          Those who are believing in the Lord fully and obey His words and accomplish the same in his/her own life, will never be perished either way but he/she is part of this stone as bible says “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Corithians 6:17). Those who are not believing and disobeying the Lord have to worry about it. The children of God are peace loving and obedient in Jesus Christ.

      • Allan Bohannon

        Dear brother in the lord…seek counsel from another Christian businessman as him to work with you in examining your business methods you may be working against yourself. Remember there is no condemnation to those in Christ..the Holy Spirit will guide you to the person to work with but you have to make it known as well. Do not dispair but accept the fact that you have recieve the seal of God by the Holy Spirit and go forward in confidence expecting God to bless!

      • Jacen Kurciviez

        Randall, brother, listen to our sister Liz GH.. for I have felt your felt your feelings of discouragement even today. However, I thank God for my brokenness, because it made me go back to HIM. Seeking Him, really trying to understand Him, really trying to know Him…other Christians can help you with your problems and faith struggles, don’t let yourself be alone- involve yourself with other believers. God says before the fall of Man that “it is not good for man to be alone” (genesis 2:18)… it doesn’t imply men needed females, God is just saying we shouldn’t be alone. Ecclesiastes 4:12 tells us “though one can be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” Brother, if you believe in God, you believe also in the devil! He is real and attacks us! Don’t be discouraged, God loves when people seek Him. We must worship Him in truth and in spirit, make sure you understand truth Randall! God LOVES you and wants to use you!!! Take heart for Christ has overcome this world too!

      • charles

        Your failure can be turned around by practicing a few simple disciplines everyday, instead of a few errors in judgement repeated everyday.

      • Ezekiel

        God does not call you to succeed in his service but to be faithful to the service. The fruits of your service may not be visible with human eyes and you may accuse yourself wrongly

  • Royalyn H

    Awesome revelations i just loved it will apply the lessons in my life to Glorify the GOD

  • This really helped me with my Assignment, Thanks!

  • pilgrim212

    This parable is an admonition against usury. No matter how little we are given, we must not give into temptation to take advantage of others by idly collecting rents and interest. Instead, we must rely on just compensation for our labor and fair exchange of goods.

    • Denis

      I think ur heart is in the right place but I completely disagree (who knows maybe I’m wrong also).
      But in regards to interests, at least, the Bible mentioned be the lender not the borrower. I believe the context of lending, work hard n be smart w finance, n u will have extra money.. (texting, sorry for abbreviation)

  • Marianna

    This is amazing, on time and just what I needed. Simply put. A little more clarification is exactly what I needed and what I got from this article. I appreciate the five points and how you expounded upon each of them. This was confirmation. I am definitely coming out of being a lazy Stewart because for a long time I was afraid of being great and thought that using my gifts and talents are only for a season and for a minimum amount of people to see. But this year starting right now that will not be my story in Jesus name. Thank you!!!
    God’s Blessings!!!!

  • William Arul

    If you saw the movie Chariots of Fire, there is a scene where the main protagonist in the midst of training for the 1925 Olympics is told that he should rather get into the mission right away. His response was “yes I want to do mission work. But God has also made me fast. When I run I feel his pleasure; when I win, I honor him”.

    Applying the parable of 10 talents here, my view has been a little different maybe. The three servants were given an equal amount of talents. I presume that each of them were off equal capacity and capability. However, what they then did was a reflection of their attitude towards God’s given gifts to us. The first, in burying, showed little faith in God’s gifts to him. The second took a cautious approach; once again showing doubts.The third was confident that God was with Him and ventured forward with confidence. Giving it all back to the master upon his return was to honor him. The Master’s taking away from the first two to give to the third was a reflection of God’s regard on someone who has not taken on the task charged upon him.

    This goes back to the beginning when God made man. Before making man He did have a plan for man (Gen.1:26). He then makes man. He then charges man with His plan (Gen. 1:28). There was really nothing else said until Eve came around when God issued the caution about the tree of knowledge. Was there any demand for worship or was there any law? Not until Abraham came around.

    Is it possible from just this to discern what God’s expectation of his creation was?

  • Rodney

    Im curious as to what was meant by the servant when he says that he knows the king reaps where he does not sow

  • Al Gray

    It is important to realise that in the parables Jesus used material things as analogies for spiritual reality. It is completely wrong to interpret the Parable of the Talents as somehow morally glorifying material ambition and acquisitiveness (which is clear from vast sections of Scripture in which God seeks to bless the poor and not judge them for their poverty). The ‘talents’ represent the grace, love and Spirit of God, and such love can only become effective and valid when it is “given away”. This love increases when shared. The wicked and lazy servant saw his own spiritual blessing as something to do with HIM and his own personal well-being without any thought for others. It is a salutary lesson to all those who see God as primarily an austere judge and their own spiritual lives as merely an effort to “keep in his good books” and get to heaven when they die, without any concern for anyone else (other than perhaps their own immediate loved ones). Judging by the doctrinal formulations of much of so called Christianity (evangelical and otherwise), it appears that there is often a callous disregard for most of the human race in favour of “how can ‘I’ get saved and keep myself from going to hell when I die?” The ways of God are so much bigger than that kind of self-obsession.

    • disqus_tVhF5aQ8cN

      “But rather fear God, who has power to cast both body and soul into hell.”

      “And what good if you gain the world but lose your soul?”

      Nothing wrong or “selfish” about a healthy desire to avoid eternal condemnation.

  • Victoria Cole

    Great essay. The Almighty has been running this passage by me for several weeks now. I know that it’s about stepping out, not playing it safe and making use of the life that God has given us. He does not want us to waste our life, especially to just protect our ego’s and out of laziness.

  • James Hardee

    Another interesting idea that came to me as I was read your article was the contrast in attitudes of the stewards. I haven’t thought this through yet, but it really stands out that missing the opportunity by burying your talent reflects an attitude of fear and self-centeredness. On the other hand, the industry of the other two stewards, though having different gifts, reflect a range of positive attitude’s such as humility, thankfulness, contentment, determination to serve, and ultimately love and devotion. Really helps me get my motives straight.

  • Sara Bloom

    I can’t get past the feeling that the kingdom is like a crime boss giving orders to his thugs. It turned out the way that dynamic works too. I have to remind myself that Matthew was a tax collector before he was a disciple, so yes it makes sense his gospel would read this way. It doesn’t match up much with the flow of the rest of the parables though. Sorry. Don’t mean to be an heretic but that one really seems off to me. Mammon and God don’t mix in the rest.

  • Hun IL Lee

    I know it has been a long while since you posted about this parable but I want to show you a different perspective.

    To begin, I definitely agree the aspect of grace with our Father. but the same God sends people to hell for one single reason. not believing in His Son. Jn 3:16 states, “for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son and whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” it sounds so easy, but on the other side, it is also implying that if you do not believe in His Son Jesus Christ, that you will perish and not have everlasting life. this may seem unfair, but what right does the creation have against the Creator?

    God is just. God is fair. it isn’t the question about morality or reasoning. The question isn’t about opinion or perspective. God gave us a choice. we live by and answer by those choices. The one with 5 talents could have said, “oh, i have 5 talents and the other has only 1. i can just stay put…” and he would have been punished the same. It really doesn’t matter to God what our opinion is about Him, because in the end He is God and that does not change. if we think that He is unfair, it does not make Him unfair, rather, it just means that our perception of Him is wrong. I mean think about it, Adam and Eve got kicked out of Eden for eating a fruit. it was only a fruit. do you think that the punishment was too harsh? the perspective of the servant with one talent (where he says the master reaps what He did not sow) was merely a broken and skewed perspective of God. None of the other servants say that about God. Rather they went and did their duty, regardless of how much the Master had given them.

    The other thing is, God isn’t looking to profit. Everything in this world is His already. Note that he says, “You good and faithful servant.” All God requires of us is faithfulness. No matter how difficult things become, we really do need to just look to the heavens and be faithful to our calling.

    • Alison Ely

      thank you for giving a response!! i still think of this question from time to time.

      and i used to feel the same way about adam and eve being punished “for eating a fruit,” but i have come to understand thats not why they were sent out of the garden. they were sent out because of pride- blaming each other and trying to hide the truth from god- when things could have gone much differently if they turned to him immediately and said, we feel like total shit, we did what you said not to, and now we are ashamed and sad that we feel like hiding. they never came to that, so i do think god was fair- their hearts were hard, blaming each other, when they were supposed to be loving each other and keeping a close relationship with god.

      so i have come to understand that one, but the talents parable was dragging on me still. and your perspective is so helpful that i want to go with that- understanding that its about the third servants misperception. but i am still down on the fact that the master is not like god at all. it makes it sound like the servant was correct, because the master admitted to his accusations. maybe jesus was just trying to speak to the people from an angle they could understand. god isnt looking to profit, like you say, but that master was. maybe the parable wasnt meant for me, someone who already believes in the idea of making the most of what god gives you. ill need some more reflection on this one. you have given me info to think on, so thank you.

  • From Hugh Whelchel’s longer article on the parable of the talents: “Christ is faithful even when we’re not, so you are not going to lose your salvation. But, here’s what you will lose: the incredible opportunity to live a life of significance, of importance, of eternal value.” You can download this longer article for free here:

  • Oluwabunmi

    “The Parable of the Talents teaches that God always gives us everything we need to do what he has called us to do.”

    This really caught my attention. No excuse not to be profitable to the Kingdom of God. He. has given us all the resources needed to use our talents effectively. We only need to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be more productive.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Jason Beach

    I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and happened on this post while thinking about this parable. Even though we have differing beliefs, this post reflects one area where we are very much in agreement. I found it quite instructional–thank you for sharing it.

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