The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is both challenging and encouraging. Read this chapter from Your Finances God’s Way to learn what it teaches about faithful stewardship.
Table of Contents
- Encouraged By the Parable of the Talents
- The Parable of the Talents Reveals God Judges Believers’ Stewardships Versus Sins
- In the Parable of the Talents Servants Receive the Same Reward for Going to Battle and Guarding the Supplies
- Are You the 400, 200, First Servant, or Second Servant?
Everything belongs to God. Deuteronomy 10:14 says, “Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it.” God said, “Every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine” (Psalm 50:10-11). Psalm 89:11 says, “The heavens are Yours; the earth also is Yours; the world and all its fullness, You have founded them.” First Corinthians 10:26 quotes Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.”
Of course, God’s possessions include all the wealth throughout history. This means your money isn’t your money! It’s God’s money. In Haggai 2:8, God said, “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine.” David wanted to build a house (or temple) for God. When he was told he couldn’t, he did everything he could to help his son Solomon make this happen, only stopping short of doing the building himself. David collected the materials, including the silver and gold. After the people gave even more than was needed, David prayed in 1 Chronicles 29:14, 16:
Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your hand we have given You…O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name is from Your hand, and is all Your own.
David understood they were simply giving back to God what He had given them. John 3:27 says, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” When we understand that all wealth belongs to God, our entire perspective of money changes. We come to view our finances correctly as one big stewardship.
If we understand money is a stewardship, we will be wiser with the money God has given us. We will be less likely to waste it because we understand it is God’s money, versus our own. We will even find it easier to be generous and give it away because we know it is God’s money, versus our own.
Encouraged By the Parable of the Talents
The apostle Paul said, “It is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). If you’ve ever put someone in charge of something that belongs to you, you know the one thing you value more than anything else is faithfulness. The parable of the talents gives us the encouragement we need to be faithful.
A talent was the largest denomination of money in the Greco-Roman world, estimated to be worth as much as 6,000 denarii. Because a denarius was one day’s wage, this was approximately 20 years’ worth of work. Although the talents in the parable can represent any of the stewardships in our lives— time, marriage, children, abilities, possessions, positions in life—because Jesus chose a unit of money, this makes the parable particularly applicable to the stewardship of finances.
John MacArthur said this parable “illustrates the tragedy of wasted opportunity.”1 Second only to time, there aren’t many things we waste more than money. This parable should inspire us to act otherwise and be faithful stewards:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, “Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.” His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” He also who had received two talents came and said, “Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.” His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:14-23).
The “man” or “lord” in this parable is Jesus, and the trip “to a far country” is His return to heaven. So far, “a long time” has been 2,000 years. The master expects the servants to carry on the work he started; therefore, he gave them talents. The servants are professing believers. I must say “professing” because it’s clear the third servant is unsaved. The words “delivered his goods to them” reveal this pictures a stewardship—God entrusts us with His goods that He expects us to use for His service.
The master returned from his journey and wanted to know what the servants did with the talents he gave to them. The first man said, “Lord, you delivered to me,” showing he understood the talents were entrusted to him rather than earned by him.
The Parable of the Talents Reveals God Judges Believers’ Stewardships Versus Sins
The master returns and judges the servants, introducing one of the more common questions I receive as a pastor: Will Christians be judged? Yes and no. No, our sins are not judged because they were paid for at the cross. If you’re in Christ, you will never stand before the Great White Throne, which is the terrifying judgment at which unbelievers will learn they will pay for their sins by spending eternity in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). But even though we won’t find ourselves before the Great White Throne, we will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to give an account of our stewardship:
- “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God ” (Romans 14:10).
- “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
Paul’s use of the word “we” shows he’s talking about himself and other believers. The “evil” we have done is mentioned because even though we won’t be punished for our sins, they can result in loss of rewards: “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved” (1 Corinthians 3:15). To put it simply, at the end of our lives, our sins will not be judged, but our stewardships will. If we’ve been faithful, we will be rewarded. Keeping this in mind encourages us to be faithful stewards of our finances.
Going back to the parable, because God distributes the talents, we might expect Him to give each person the same amount. Instead, one received five, another two, and the third only one. Likewise, each of us does not receive the same amount of money. This might seem unfair, but there are three ways God creates equity.
First, God Gives What We Can Handle
The first way God creates equity is evident in the words “according to his ability.” The Lord “[knows] all people and [needs] no one to bear witness about man [to Him]” (John 2:24-25). He knows how much to give each person. God does not overestimate or underestimate our abilities:
- The man with much ability was given five talents.
- The man with average ability was given two talents.
- The man with minimal ability was given one talent.
If the man with minimal ability had been given five talents, he would’ve been overwhelmed by the responsibility. Conversely, if the man with much ability had been given only one talent, his potential would’ve been wasted. Instead, God gives everyone exactly what he or she should have because He knows what we can (and can’t) handle.
This is both encouraging and challenging. It’s encouraging in that God does not give us more wealth than we can faithfully steward. It is challenging in that if we are unfaithful, we can’t make the excuse that we would have done better if we had received a different amount.
If nobody receives more than they can handle, this begs some questions: Why do people use the wealth God has given them in ungodly ways? Why do people act like the third servant and squander what God has given them? When people are poor stewards, does that mean God was unwise in the amounts He gave them? Not at all. We are free moral agents who choose to be faithful or unfaithful. This is the main point of the parable. When we are bad stewards, it’s not a reflection of God’s wisdom in distribution. Instead, it is a reflection of our unfaithfulness. When we squander what the Lord has entrusted to us, the blame rests squarely on us. The third servant demonstrated this when he tried to blame God for his results and was rebuked.
Second, God Judges Our Proportion Versus Our Portion
The second way God is equitable is shown in the second servant’s reward. He heard the same words as the first servant: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:23; cf. 25:21). Considering the second servant produced only two talents—less than half of what the first servant produced—we might expect the master to say something different to him, such as, “Fair job, mediocre servant. You have been mediocre over few things; I will set you over few things. Enter into the partial joy of your master.”
Why would two servants receive the same reward when one servant produced more than twice as much (five versus two) as the other? Our rewards are not based on how much we produce (the portion). Instead, they’re based on our faithfulness (the proportion). Although the first servant’s portion was larger, their proportions were the same. They both doubled what they were given, which means they were equally faithful. The lesson: We’re only responsible for being faithful with the money entrusted to us. No more. No less.
We see this principle in the Old Testament when God commanded giving a tithe (proportion), versus a certain amount (portion), which we will discuss in chapter 7. The application is that God might expect us to give more or less than others (portion). Someone with five talents of wealth might give many times more than someone with two talents or one, but if they’re equally faithful (proportion), they will receive equal rewards.
Jesus communicated the same principle: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48). The Lord expects more from those who have been given more, a fact that should sober people living in first-world countries. The Lord expects less from those who have been given less, which should encourage impoverished people.
Third, God Does Not Compare Us with Others
Again, we encounter encouragement and challenge. The encouragement is we don’t need to compare ourselves. For lack of a better word, we don’t have to worry about being as “good” as others. The challenge is that we can’t compare ourselves with others. In other words, we can’t say, “Well, I’m doing better than him, so I must be doing okay.” Should we compare ourselves with others there are only two possible outcomes. Let’s briefly discuss each of them.
The First Danger of Comparing Is Discouragement
I’ll use myself as an example. A few of my stewardships are pastor, author, and speaker. The parable challenges me to serve the Lord with the “talents” He’s given me. At the same time, I’m encouraged regarding God’s expectations. I know that God doesn’t expect me to produce as much as other pastors, authors, and speakers. If I thought I had to be like John MacArthur, Tim Keller, or Paul Tripp, I would be discouraged and feel like a failure. Instead, I’m comforted knowing that even though my ministry doesn’t compare with theirs, I can still equally please the Lord if I am equally faithful.
The Second Danger of Comparing Is Pride
Second Corinthians 10:12 says, “We dare not class[ify] ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” Paul said we are unwise to compare ourselves with others because it can lead to pride (“commend themselves”). We might say things like, “I do so much for the Lord—if only others did as much as me.” But the standard is faithfulness to what God expects of us, not what others are doing.
In the Parable of the Talents Servants Receive the Same Reward for Going to Battle and Guarding the Supplies
There’s an account in the Old Testament that provides a good illustration of the way God views and rewards faithfulness. Let me fill you in on the background of the story.
God commanded Saul to exterminate the Amalekites, but Saul ended up sparing many of them, including their king, Agag (1 Samuel 15:9). There’s a principle Jesus stated that applies to this situation: “Wisdom is justified by her children” (Matthew 11:19; see also Luke 7:35). “Justified” means “declared right,” so Jesus meant the wisdom of decisions is justified, or declared right, by what is produced (the children) from them. God’s wisdom in commanding Saul to exterminate the Amalekites was justified, or declared right, when those he let live later captured David and his men’s wives and children (1 Samuel 30:1-5). As David and his men headed off after the Amalekites to rescue their wives and children, 1 Samuel 30:9-10 tells us what happened:
David went, he and the six hundred men who were with him, and came to the Brook Besor, where those stayed who were left behind. But David pursued, he and four hundred men; for two hundred stayed behind, who were so weary that they could not cross the Brook Besor.
Two hundred of the 600 men were too exhausted to continue (“could not cross”). This doesn’t mean they didn’t want to; instead, they were physically unable to do so. David continued with the 400 men. They found the Amalekites, rescued their wives and children, and on the way back, they encountered the 200 men who stayed behind:
David came to the two hundred men who had been so weary that they could not follow David, whom they also had made to stay at the Brook Besor. So they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him. And when David came near the people, he greeted them (1 Samuel 30:21).
The 200 men who stayed behind must have been overjoyed at seeing their families again, but they were also probably embarrassed that they weren’t able to go further, and that other men had to rescue their wives and children for them. David was probably aware of this, so he “came near the people [and] greeted them” to alleviate any shame they were experiencing. This should have been a moment of great joy—among the more beautiful such moments in the Old Testament—but some men tried to ruin it:
Then all the wicked and worthless men of those who went with David answered and said, “Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except for every man’s wife and children, that they may lead them away and depart” (verse 22).
Ironically, some of the men who went with David thought the 200 men were worthless, but Scripture says they were the “wicked and worthless” ones, or literally, “men of Belial,” (bᵊlîyaʿal) a New Testament title for the devil. They were described with some of the worst language in Scripture because of two things they said. First, they implied the 200 men could have gone onward but chose otherwise with the words, “They did not go with us.” Second, they found an Egyptian in their path who led them to the Amalekites in the middle of the night when they were getting drunk and couldn’t have been less prepared for battle (verses 11-19). God’s fingerprints were all over the victory, but these men took the credit with the words, “We have recovered.” David responded:
My brethren, you shall not do so with what the Lord has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us. For who will heed you in this matter? But as his part is who goes down to the battle, so shall his part be who stays by the supplies; they shall share alike (verses 23-24).
Unlike the wicked and worthless men, David gave God the credit and defended the 200 men. He could have said they were too tired to go on, which would have excused them but also acknowledged their weakness. Instead, he said they “[stayed] by the supplies” to commend their actions.
David was a man after God’s own heart, and his actions illustrated the way God views stewardship and rewards faithfulness: Those who fought the enemy received the same share as those who protected the supplies. The men who went the extra miles and rescued the women and children looked like they did more than those who had stayed behind; therefore, they looked like they deserved more. Similarly, the first servant who produced five talents looked like he did more than the second servant who produced two talents; therefore, he looked like he deserved more. But the way David rewarded his men is similar to the way the master rewarded his servants. Just as David rewarded the 600 men equally because they were equally faithful (they did all they physically could), the master rewarded the two servants equally because they were equally faithful.
Are You the 400, 200, First Servant, or Second Servant?
Maybe as you read this, you are thinking, So God doesn’t expect me to give as much as others? Perhaps. Financially speaking, you might be like the 200 men and God only expects you to guard the supplies, or you’re like the second servant and God only expects you to produce two talents. The other possibility is you’re like the 400 men and God expects you to travel farther and fight the enemy, or you’re like the first servant and God expects you to produce five talents.
What I can tell you is this is an especially important question that each of us must answer. Finances are one of our most important stewardships. Are you being faithful with what God has entrusted to you? The following chapters will give you the biblical information you need to make this determination, but the responsibility is still yours to be faithful. As William Hendriksen said, “The Lord grants us opportunities for service in accordance with the ability He’s given us. In the day of judgment, the only question that will matter is, “Have we been faithful with the ability God’s given us?”2
What if you are the third servant, who didn’t produce anything? Great question! That is what we are going to discuss in the next chapter. We will see that whether God expects you to give much or little, He still expects you to give something. People who give nothing, which is to say they do nothing for the Lord, are revealing that they are unbelievers. It is not that our works (including what we do with our finances) save us; rather, our works are evidence that we are saved. For those like the third servant, who had nothing to show, they demonstrate that God was never their Master.