Lessons learned from the Parable of the Talents

The parable of the talents, also referred to by other names including the parable of the bags of gold, is a commonly taught and preached parable. Unlike some of the parables, the message in this story is clear and not subject to a lot of debate. The topic of this parable is stewardship.

I have read that almost half of the parables of Jesus were about money, possession or wealth. The problem is that I have no clear count on the number of parables. Theologians and students of the Bible disagree on whether some stories are or are not parables. Even if not almost half, certainly many of the parables are about money, possessions or wealth.

This passage is a certainly a parable and money is openly the topic even though the real focus of the parable is stewardship and not just money.

Matthew 25:14-30
14  “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.
15  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
16  The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.
17  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more.
18  But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19  “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.
20  The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21  “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22  “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23  “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24  “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed.
25  So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26  “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed?
27  Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28  “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.
29  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.
30  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Lessons for the church and for believers

There are many lessons here for the follower of Christ and for the church. I want to focus on just a few that are especially pertinent for this series of articles.

1. “Our money” is not our money – We are stewards, not owners.

We are born into the world with nothing and we leave with nothing. Ecclesiastes 5:15. It is true that some people are born into privilege and have better opportunities to have the things of this world, but that isn’t necessarily a blessing. Many of the “privileged” have squandered their opportunities and have ruined the lives with which they were blessed. This is a point we will come back to in a minute or two.

Regardless of the opportunities we have, based upon when and where we are born, the most we have is a short life, James 4:14, and then we walk into eternity. Solomon, the wealthiest and wisest man ever, pondered and agonized over what he viewed as an inevitable future, and wrote the following:

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
10  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:15-16
15  Then I said to myself,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
“This too is meaningless.”
16  For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Throughout the Bible God makes the point that what we think of as our money and our “stuff” is not really ours. It all belongs to Him.

Acts 17:24-25
24` “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.
25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

Psalm 24:1-2
1 The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.

See also Exodus 9:29, Leviticus 25:23, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, Job 41:11, Psalm 89:11, and 1 Corinthians 10:26, among others.
Just as the servants in the parable of the talents did not own what was left with them by their master, we do not own what God has given to us. We are merely managers of a tiny fraction of His wealth while we have the opportunity. The sooner we come to realize that truth, the sooner we can step into a proper role in our relationship to the Master of the parable, God.

This large view of stewardship applies to the church as well. Churches are stewards not only of the offerings of the people, but also of every aspect of the church, the talents and abilities of those attending as well as the spiritual growth of the members. Churches have amazing “wealth” in the wisdom and abilities of those attending. If the church squanders that wealth by not giving people opportunities for their abilities to be used for kingdom work, then the church is no different than the steward branded as wicked, lazy, and worthless. It is the duty of the church to “equip His people for works of service.” Ephesians 4:11.

For a church not to reach into the surrounding neighborhood and communities to reach the lost is another form of poor stewardship.

For a church not to be a part of the heart of good for the poor is equally poor stewardship.

Psalm 41:1-2
1  Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.
2  The LORD protects and preserves them—
they are counted among the blessed in the land—
he does not give them over to the desire of their foes.

Acts 20:35
35  In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

And finally, for a church not to teach stewardship, especially from the pulpit, is terrible stewardship. The stewardship message is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of the parables of Jesus taught focused on money and property. Not to teach and preach stewardship and generosity is to preach only a partial gospel, omitting some of the most important teachings of our Lord.
God’s generosity to us is evident from creation,

Genesis 1:29
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
all the way to the gift of life to us,

1 John 5:11
11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

John 3:16
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

No teacher or preacher should hesitate to make that point as often as it takes for members to understand they are shepherds and stewards of God’s church. Acts 20:28.

2. Stewardship is about a lot more than money.

To grasp the full impact of this parable, you have to know that stewardship is about a lot more than money. Real stewardship is about everything that God has given you, right down to the breath of life.

Acts 17:24-25
24  “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.
25  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

Stewardship is about every aspect of your life, a far greater role than just money. It is a bigger role even than our stuff. Stewardship is a complete life role. See What is Biblical Stewardship?

For example, we don’t “go to church.” We are stewards over God’s church and His people.

Acts 20:28
28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

And we don’t just have faith, we are stewards of the faith we have been given.

Jude 3
3  Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.

The life we have, including the eternal life we will always have, is a gift from God and we are stewards over every breath He gives us.

John 3:16
16  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Now, back to our parable. There are a few features of this broad view of stewardship and the three servants that are interesting. One obvious point is that the master gave each servant different amounts over which to be responsible: five bags of gold, two bags of gold and one bag of gold. Why? The most likely answer is that the master knew his servants well. In verse 15 we see that the amounts were determined based upon their ability.

Life is like that. We all have been given different gifts, talents and skills. We all have different strengths and different weaknesses.

Those differences were recognized by Paul and actually serve to benefit the church. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

1 Corinthians 12:12-14
12  Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
14  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

God has chosen to give different abilities in His sovereignty. What is expected is not equal results, but results in accordance with what we have been given. This parable establishes that and that message is stated elsewhere as well. Luke 12:48. This message leads to the next lesson.

3. The Christian life is about the heart, not the success.

Another way to look at this parable is that there are no guarantees in even the best Christian effort. The response of the master is the same for the servant who returned ten bags of gold as the one who returned four bags of gold. While they were equally successful based upon what they were given, one returned two and a half times as much gold to the master as the other. The amount of the return is apparently not as important as the faithfulness of the service.

When David was near death, he gave a charge to his son Solomon. His wise words should be remembered by all believers:

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.

1  Kings 2:2-3
2  “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man,
3  and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go …

Success is about loving the Lord with all of your heart (Matthew 22:36-38) and acting in obedience. The first two servants served well; they were good stewards of what God had left with them. It is the third servant who is obviously the most interesting and who lacked a proper relationship with his master. The master’s response to this teaches us a valuable lesson.

4. The Christian life is about risk, not safety.

The Christian life is not about being safe or staying safe. The third servant discovered that. We don’t know for sure, but I suspect that if the third servant had honestly tried, he would not have been punished even if he lost the entire bag of gold he had been given.

The third servant also had another problem, probably the bigger problem. He had a wrong view of the master. He thought of the master as “a hard man.” He viewed the master as harvesting where he had not sown and gathering where he had not scattered seed. To me, that conveys the image of a servant who thought of his master as unfair, at best, and dishonest, at the worst. As a result, he feared the master. That is not a fear that is reverence.

A wrong view of God can cause similar problems. Believers and the church are called to step out in faith at times and take risks. There must be trust in the grace of God.

Psalm 9:10
10  Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Because the third servant took no risk, he is labeled as wicked, lazy and worthless. Since he was given one bag of gold, it is fair to assume the master had evaluated him as having some ability, enough to manage that one bag. His failure was a failure of judgment, a failure of effort and a failure of his stewardship responsibilities.

John Shedd put it well when he said, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are for.“ We could be safe just sitting in church, but that is not what the Christian life is all about. An author whose name is lost to me, humorously wrote:

How to stay safe in the world today

1. Avoid riding in automobiles because they are responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents.
2. Do not stay home because 17% of all accidents occur in the home.
3. Avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians.
4. Avoid traveling by air, rail, or water because 16% of all accidents involve these forms of transportation.
5. Of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in hospitals. So, above all else, avoid hospitals.
BUT, You will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in worship services in church, and these are usually related to previous physical disorders. Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is at church! Bible study is safe too. The percentage of deaths during Bible study is even less.
So,…for SAFETY’S sake – Attend church, and read your Bible. IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE!

The point is well-made.

Similarly, churches have to also step out and take risks to reach the lost and fulfil the mission God has given them. That should involve outreach to the unsafe parts of town, to the so-called “unlovely,” and to the ones living on the fringes of our society. How close to the danger should we come? Jude gave us a good idea.

Jude 23-24
22 Be merciful to those who doubt;
24 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

Erwin McManus said it well when he said in a sermon that he wants to have the smell of smoke on his clothes, because he wants to be “snatching [the lost] from the fire …” Churches that stand back from the fire, miss a great part of the mission of the church and face the challenge of this verse:

Luke 12:48b
48b From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

The church in America and believers in America have been given much.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.

This is the fourth in a series of articles on financial and other issues facing the American church in this no longer very new millennium. These articles represent the personal thoughts and reflections of the author and are not necessarily a statement of The Idlewild Foundation. These articles are based upon parables told by Jesus and stories from the gospels on events in His life, applying His life and teachings to the lives of believers and to the church as a whole and not to any one church in particular.