At Work

What the Parable of the Talents Teaches Us about How We Should Live Until Jesus Returns

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We may not know the day or the hour, but it would still be helpful to know how we as Christians should live until Jesus returns, wouldn’t it?

Obviously all of Scripture is our guide here, but the parable of the talents is especially insightful in terms of illustrating how Christians should live and work while we wait for Christ to come back.

Jesus taught this parable to his disciples during the last week of ministry, days before his crucifixion. On Tuesday of Holy Week, he entered the temple for the last time and delivered a powerful sermon condemning the Pharisees. One of the disciples commented on the glory and majesty of Herod’s temple as they were leaving. Jesus’s response must have surprised the disciples:

Do you see all these things?… I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down (Matt. 24:2).

Troubled by this exchange, the disciples came to Jesus while they were resting on the Mount of Olives and asked him when this would happen and what would be the sign of his “coming and of the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3).

Jesus’s response is known as the Olivet Discourse, found in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21. It includes practical instruction on how the disciples were to live after Jesus left. In Matthew, Jesus uses parables to illustrate these teachings. The parable of the talents is one of these stories.

So, according to the parable of the talents, how should we live until Jesus returns?

Live Actively

The parable of the talents describes what our work should look like while we wait for the return of Christ and the final consummation of his kingdom. The preceding parable, the parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), stressed the importance of being ready for Jesus’s return. The parable of the talents illustrates what that readiness looks like. In a commentary on the book of Matthew, R.T. France writes,

It is not to be passive waiting, but getting on with the job and making the most of the opportunities entrusted to us.

As Christians we have a mission which our Lord expects us to accomplish in the here and now. This mission, summarized in the cultural mandate, challenges us, as Paul Marshall writes, “to work, to perform, to develop, to progress, to change, to choose, to be active, and to overcome until the day of [our] death or the return of [our] Lord.”

As the parable of the talents makes clear, the Master expects us, as his servants to do more than passively preserve what has been entrusted to us. He expects us to generate a return by using our talents toward productive ends. We ready ourselves for Jesus’s return by actively pursuing our work. Live actively.

Live Faithfully

In his article “The Parable of the Talents in Missionary Perspective: A Call for an Economic Spirituality,” John B. Carpenter writes this concerning the parable of the talents:

Parables are about principles, and this parable is about faithfulness of endeavor.

In the most general sense, we can conclude that talents are the tools God gives us to carry out the cultural mandate. In this context we can be assured that whatever the Lord gives us now, he will ask us about later, expecting us to diligently work with these resources for the furtherance of his kingdom.

What has the Lord given us? Everything we need in order to do what he has asked us to do! The servant who received five talents had everything necessary to produce five more; the servant who had two had everything necessary to produce two more; and the servant who had one more had everything necessary to produce one more.

The Apostle Paul saw himself as responsible to God for what had been entrusted to him:

So then, men out to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

Our attitude should be the same. We are to steward well that which Jesus has given us in time, talent, and treasure. The faithful stewardship of all we have been given is what we are called to do while we wait for Jesus’s return. Live faithfully.

Live with a Focus on Others

Calvin and the Reformers taught that our talents are given not merely for our personal joy but for the common good. Puritan William Perkins defined calling as a “certain kind of life, ordained and imposed on man by God, for the common good.” This is why the master in the parable rewards the two faithful servants with invitations to share in the master’s happiness (Matt. 25:21, 23).

According to Scripture, Christians will be held accountable not only for how we have loved our neighbor (Matt. 25:31-46) but for what we have done with our talents (Matt. 25:14-30). Scripture also teaches that one of the primary ways we glorify God and love our neighbor is through our vocational calling to work. Live with a focus on others.

This quote from Cornelius Plantinga, found in his book Engaging God’s World, encapsulates these three ways of living taught by the parable of the talents:

We take responsibility for contributing what we uniquely have to contribute to the Kingdom, joining with many others from across the world who are striving to be faithful, to add the work of their hands and minds to the eventual triumph of God.

There you have it. Faithful living and application of unique contributions alongside others to serve a larger purpose. Live actively. Live faithfully. Live with a focus on other people.

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