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!

  • 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

      • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!!!!

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