Parable of the Talents: It’s Not About the Talents

The Parable of the Talents is more than just about “talents.” A lot more! But how are these talents typically portrayed? Money, time, power, resources? So often we hear sermons on this text, and so much time and ink are spent describing what the talents symbolically represent, and we often whiff it.

What It’s About

First, let’s quickly establish what this parable is about  (Matthew 25:14-30):

  • It’s about the Jesus’s Second Coming. As the text points out, the “man” goes out on a journey, and is expected to return.
  • It’s about Judgment Day. On the day Christ returns, he will “settle accounts” (v19) with those who profess to be Christians, whether they are genuine or not.
  • It’s about remaining productive in the face of Christ’s “delay.” This whole chapter emphasizes what is perceived to be a long wait before Jesus returns (verses 5 & 19). In the meantime, we are to be ready for His return (v13), remain productive and multiply the talents entrusted to us (v16), and care for the brethren in their suffering and persecutions (v40).
  • It’s warning us about slothfulness and laziness. Laziness and slothfulness is the mark of a false believer. Only those who make excuses not to multiply what has been entrusted to them will face the wrath of God (v30). Because they are demonstrating they do not know Him in the first place (v24).

What It’s Not About

Now, concerning the talents, this is what the parable is not teaching:

  • The talents do not represent natural abilities. This should be obvious, but many fallaciously attribute our modern understanding of what a talent is to this text, rather than the talanton (sum of silver) being something that can be multiplied financially.
    • Remember that money was given to each servant “according to each one’s ability.” So then these cannot represent natural abilities. Because it would not fit the context if they are given abilities according to their abilities, and would have to multiply their abilities and present that to God as “interest.”
  • Talents do not represent money, power, influence, etc. This seems a bit ironic since the talent in this parable was a form of currency. But while it is indeed money that the “man” gives (represented as Christ), it isn’t actually money that God leaves us to “multiply.”
    • While it is true that God can bless us with more money to demonstrate His goodness, multiply His kingdom, and bring glory to His name, that is not what this parable is getting at.
    • Remember that we are expected to give an account to Christ when He returns concerning what He has entrusted to us. It cannot be that we simply multiplied our power, influence, money, etc. Because, in the end, when we present our investment to Him, is it these meager things that we are commanded to multiply? Not at all!
  • Lastly, though not exhaustively, the talents do not represent gifts of the Spirit. Just like the natural abilities above, the spiritual gifts are indeed given and entrusted to us to use, but we cannot present God with His expected “interest” by multiplying gifts that we have no power to increase. The gifts are used to multiply the talents, not the talents themselves.

It’s About Kingdom Expansion

So what is the Parable of the Talents about? The answer is quite simple: the expansion of the Kingdom through the proclamation of the gospel.

God has given each of us a measure of responsibility and influence with regard to the gospel. As God gives some people more or less talents, we use the means God has “entrusted” to us, not to multiply those means, but to multiply the Kingdom of God.

Let me repeat that in case you read through that too fast: God has entrusted us with the multiplication of His Kingdom, not His means.

As with most parables (and Scripture), whenever multiplication (or being fruitful) is mentioned, it is normally within the context of kingdom expansion through gospel proclamation and the salvation of souls. The Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1-23), The Mustard Seed (Matt. 13:31-32), and The Leaven (Matt. 13:33-34) are just a few examples in Matthew (see also parallel passages in Synoptic gospels).

In John’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that God appointed them to “go” and bear fruit and that when He sends them out on the Great Commission, that fruit would remain (John 15:16; cf. Col. 1:16). In that context, Jesus isn’t talking about multiplying personal fruit for the fruit of the Spirit as many suppose. It is evangelistic fruit! The multiplication and expansion of His Kingdom through the salvation of souls.

With this understanding, it is more biblically sound to conclude that God is entrusting us with His commission to preach the gospel, and His “interest” is the expansion (multiplication) of His kingdom through preaching. And it is only those who are disobedient, lazy, and slothful who will do nothing with what has been entrusted to them.

-Until we go home

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