Theology 101

Lessons for Your Job from the Parable of the Talents

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Through the Parable of the Talents, Jesus Christ teaches that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man going on a long journey. Before he leaves, he gives his three servants different amounts of money, denominated by talents. 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.

To the first servant, the man gives five talents, to the second he gives two talents, and to the last he gives one talent – each according to his own abilities.

Upon his return the man asks what they did with the money.  The first and second servants doubled their investments and received their master’s praise.  The third servant, who was given one talent, safeguarded the money, but did nothing to increase it. The third servant was condemned by the master for his inactivity.

In the preceding parable, the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus stresses the importance of being ready for his return. The Parable of the Talents then gives us a picture of what readiness looks like. Theologian R.T. France describes this readiness in the New Bible Commentary saying, “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. As we have already discussed, our mission is summarized by the Cultural Mandate. We are called to steward all we have been given while we wait for our Savior’s return. This is the dominion we are to exercise over all of God’s creation; this is what we were made to do.

The medieval church interpreted the talents in Jesus’ parable as spiritual gifts which God bestows on Christians. During the Reformation, John Calvin helped shape the modern meaning of the word talent when he defined the talents as gifts from God in the form of a person’s calling and natural ability.

Our talents are to be used for the common good and for God’s glory. According to Calvin in his New Testament Commentaries, God put us here to work in the Kingdom, and “the nature of the kingdom of Christ is that it every day grows and improves.”

Calvin made it clear that the use of our talents is not restricted to the church or to pious duties. It encompasses the whole of creation. Therefore Calvin’s doctrine of callings emphasizes the utility, activity, and purposeful nature of God’s work in the world. Alister McGrath in an article on the topic of “calling” suggests that for Calvin:

The idea of a calling or vocation is first and foremost about being called by God, to serve Him within his world. Work was thus seen as an activity by which Christians could deepen their faith, leading it on to new qualities of commitment to God. Activity within the world, motivated, informed, and sanctioned by Christian faith, was the supreme means by which the believer could demonstrate his or her commitment and thankfulness to God. To do anything for God, and to do it well, was the fundamental hallmark of authentic Christian faith. Diligence and dedication in one’s everyday life are, Calvin thought, a proper response to God.

Calvin encouraged believers to be involved as salt and light in the world. Scholar Paul Marshall describes Calvin’s challenge to believers as a call “to work, to perform, to develop, to progress, to change, to choose, to be active, and to overcome until the day of their death or the return of their Lord.”

Many contemporary Biblical scholars have expanded on Calvin’s definition suggesting that the talents may also represent a portion of God’s resources, specific opportunities, or even some particular God-given knowledge.

Whatever they represent, we must agree that the talents in this parable at least represent tools God gives us to carry out the Cultural Mandate.  And in this context we can be assured of two things:

First God always gives us enough in order to do what he has required. Remember the servant that got only one talent still received a million dollars.

And second, 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.

Question: Can you recognize the talents that God has given you and those around you? 

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