What the Bible says about Parable of the Talents
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Parables of the Olivet Prophecy
Parable Verses Lesson
Always be prepared for His coming.
Faithful and True Servants
God's servants must be faithful and wise in carrying out their responsibilities and relationships in the Body of Christ.
Christians must have constant contact with God to deepen their relationship with Him.
Christians must constantly work with and improve upon the gifts God has given.
Sheep and Goats
By serving fellow Christians, one serves his Savior.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
The six parables of the Olivet Prophecy can be summarized in the following six principles:
- Though not knowing the day or hour of Christ's return, we can know the signs.
- God requires us to live in expectation with vigilance and constant watchfulness.
- God requires faithfulness to duty and wisdom in dealing with our fellow man.
- God requires preparedness through spiritual development, working on our relationship with Him, and increasing the Holy Spirit.
- God requires us to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18).
- Christ will judge us by how we treat Him and our brethren. We cannot fool the King—He can discern true love from false love. Nobody will pass under the rod through hypocrisy.
Jesus understood what the end time would be like, and thus He gave commensurate instruction on how to overcome it and how not to be drawn into this world's distractions. A Christian cannot afford to succumb to these pressure-packed, enervating, and distracting times that we live in. These God-given principles apply to a multitude of specific circumstances: how we conduct our marriages and careers, how we rear our children, how we run our homes, how we drive a car, how we dress, how we talk, how we entertain ourselves. In every case—always—the Kingdom of God covers all parts of our lives. It covers everything all the time for those who are called in this age.
We look to the future, but we live in the present. Are we living by what we believe? Are we truly living by faith? We look for a city whose builder is God, and as His representatives we witness for Him in the way we live our lives. The Laodicean is distracted—he is living by what he sees—and is useless to Christ because he is not a faithful and true witness. The righteous live by faith not by sight (II Corinthians 5:7). And so we must live and grow as the return of Christ nears day by day.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and LaodiceanismRelated Topics: Duty | End Times | Jesus Christ's Return | Laodiceanism | Parable of the Faithful and True Servants | Parable of the Fig Tree | Parable of the Sheep and the Goats | Parable of the Talents | Parable of the Ten Virgins | Parable of the Thief | Preparedness | Prophecy, Olivet | Relationship with God | Relationships | Watching | Witness | Worldliness
In Luke 11:24-26, Jesus uses the illustration of an empty house, "swept and put in order," but what fills it makes a great deal of difference in terms of it "end." When we walk through an empty house, we may see possibilities for it, but because it is empty, it is not a warm, accepting, and welcoming place. Would not making the house a wonderful place to live be a fine project? However, such a project might also produce a number of potential pitfalls. Ecclesiastes 7:8-10 lists some of the reasons why a project, good at the beginning, might not be carried through to its finish.
The contexts of Jesus' parable in Luke 11:24-26 and Peter's counsel in II Peter 2:20-22 assume the individual in question is called, forgiven, and changing, which are good things. Jesus calls this being “swept clean”; Peter describes it as having “escaped the pollutions of the world.” But in their conclusions, the individual's vision, devotion, and discipline appear to be weak. The person regresses and becomes entangled again in his pre-conversion ways.
Thus, weak character prevents a good ending. Recall that Jesus curses the fig tree that produced no figs, and in the Parable of the Talents, the man who buried his money is rejected. In other words, they showed no positive use of their gifts.
Solomon names four possibilities as to why progress ceases. They are pride, impatience, anger, and discouragement. Pride is in reality the father—the generator—of the other three. A person who can control his willfulness, as expressed by the examples of impatience, anger, and discouragement, controls them because he sees a far greater benefit to himself in what he is being asked to endure. Because he, by faith, perceives God to be involved in his trials, a Christian concludes that they are positive preparation for the Kingdom of God.
We can sometimes learn from our children what we may be like in our relationships with God. This scenario has unfolded for many of us: As a long trip begins, the family piles into the car. Invariably, it is not long before one of the children asks in a whining voice, “Are we there yet?” “When will we get there?” “How much longer will it be?” They do this because young children have little or no concept of time and distance. Their mental clocks move much faster than those of older folks because they have not had the experience to teach them such things.
In our trials as Christians, our lack of experience may be working against us in relation to God and His purposes. That is why we must come to know God and see matters from His longer, broader perspective. These verses in Ecclesiastes 7, then, really compare patient endurance with pride and its fruits of impatience, hasty frustration, and discouragement.
This section, beginning in verse 7, contains a muted suggestion that the long way is frequently superior to the quick-and-easy way that the immature almost invariably seek. We often do things hurriedly just to get them done, without being all that concerned about how well those jobs are done.
In both Jesus' and Peter's illustrations, God is clearly not satisfied with the partial solutions the carnal mind so easily considers acceptable. God desires that we overcome the flaws in our character, not merely cover them. In the midst of our relationship trials with God, we must remember that He is the Creator, not us, and He knows what He wants to accomplish.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense
In this instance, Christ speaks of two individuals, both servants of God. God finds one to be wicked, the other wise. Note the fifty-fifty split in the context of judging. Christ judges the two servants, blessing the faithful one by setting him over His possessions, cursing the wicked one by cutting him in twain—the ultimate two-part division!
The wicked servant finds himself “with the hypocrites” because, all the while, he has led a double life, pretending to serve God while actually laboring at cross-purposes to God by abusing God's other servants. Like Satan, he has disguised himself as a minister of God (II Corinthians 11:12-15). As a result, he has scattered God's people rather than gathered them (Luke 11:23). Unlike the wise servant, “who walk[ed] not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4), the wicked servant walked according to his own desires (II Peter 3:3-4; Jude 16-19), all the while feigning faithfulness to God and His work. The wicked servant, like all hypocrites, has led a mock life, one of pretense.
Christ's teachings segue nicely into Matthew 25, where the central theme is the reality of God's judgment and how that reality should affect our thinking—and action. In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the ten virgins represent the entirety of God's people as they go out to meet the bridegroom (verse 1). Their even-split is clear: “Five of them were foolish, and five were wise” (verse 2).
Their destinies were vastly different, though, as the wise were ready for the bridegroom, the foolish were not. Upon the latter “the door was shut” (verse 10). Here, the blessing and the curse is ever so poignantly expressed. We are left with the feeling that the five foolish ones were never true followers of Christ, having failed to renounce all (Luke 14:33). Christ tells them, “I do not know you” (verse 12).
Again, in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Christ mentions two (not three) groups, distinguished by their members' attitudes toward obedience. One group is comprised of those who fulfill their responsibilities by actively growing their talents, no matter how many (or few) God originally gave them. The other group contains those who refuse to grow their talents.
Considering these various examples in overview, we can identify a few commonalities. In them all, we recognize that God is judging, usually in an end-time context. Evaluating a unified group, He detects some type of essential disunion. The unity is superficial, more apparent than real in terms of the level of commitment and obedience He seeks. As a result of this evaluation, God divides the group into two parts—sometimes overtly a fifty-fifty split.
The destinies of individuals in these two new groups differ vastly. One part is blessed, the other cursed. The Scriptures bear no salient indication of a period of church unity at the end. All this is consistent with Paul's comments in I Corinthians 11:19 that “there must in fact be divisions among you, so that those of you who are approved may be evident.”
These examples also illustrate another commonality: More often than not, God's judgment involves an element of surprise, even bewilderment, catching us off-guard—sometimes tragically so. The line of division He creates may be unfamiliar to us, unexpected. His judgment is not what we might expect, or the lines of division are unfamiliar to us. The wicked servant was not looking for the return of the master. The foolish virgins did not expect to run low of oil.
That is all to say that God's judgment is usually athwart ours. His act of division is, in fact, one of reconfiguration along lines that can be quite different to what we are accustomed.
Unity and Division: The Blessing and a Curse (Part Two)Related Topics: Blessing | Blessings and Cursings | Chaff and Wheat imagery | Division | Divisions in the Church | God's Judgment | Hypocrisy | Hypocrite | Hypocrites | Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants | Parable of the Foolish and Wise Virgins | Parable of the Talents | Satan as "an Angel of Light" | Satan Transforms himself as Angel of Light | Spiritual Unity | Tares and Wheat | Unity | Wheat and Tares | Wicked Servant
Not all are expected to produce the same results, but all are expected to be equally faithful to the gifts God entrusted to them. Interestingly, the one who was unfaithful to what God gave him failed to produce based on his reasoning that God is unfair. Like so many people today, he felt victimized.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Two)
Thematically, the parable of the talents goes beyond the earlier ones. Not only does Christ expect faithfulness in duty and preparedness even through a long delay, but He also expects an improvement upon what He initially bestowed. More than that, He expects improvement from bestowal to the day of reckoning.
A logical sequence of lessons develops through these parables. The middle parable is the parable of the ten virgins, illustrating the disciple's inner state. The parables before and after it show the disciple working, an external activity. The preceding parable indicates faithfulness, the following one indicates improvement. He may be telling us that the basis of a profitable external activity is diligent internal, spiritual maintenance. Out of the heart comes what a person is (Matthew 15:18-19; Luke 6:45).
In the ancient Middle East, a talent was a unit of weight and later of money. Jesus probably meant to convey nothing more than quantity, a measurable amount, from which we could draw a lesson. We thus need to improve or grow in areas that can be measured. Talents, therefore, should best be equated with spiritual gifts.
Jesus also illustrates the varying levels of responsibility and the differing amounts of gifts. In the parable, the gifts are given according to natural ability, but all who increase equally are rewarded equally. Their trading of the talents signifies the faithful use that one should make of gifts and opportunities of service to God.
In the natural world, talents differ. One man may design a church building, a cathedral. Another has the talent to craft the woodwork or cut and lay the stone. Another person has the talent to speak from its pulpit. Still another has the talent to write music that is played on its organ or piano. Each has talents which differ from his fellows', yet they are dependent on each other for the building and right use of that cathedral.
Thus, one person is no better or more important than the other, though one may have greater natural ability. God clearly shows that the greater the capacity, the greater the responsibility. But we also find that though there is an equality in opportunity, there are differences in talent.
With God's gifts it is the same. It is not how much talent one has, but how one uses it that is important to God. It is not how many gifts that God gives to a person, it is what one does with them. That is why Christ shows an equality between the person with five talents and the one with two. Both increased an equal amount, 100%, and they were rewarded, as it were, equally. This is an important point in this parable.
In the first place, all of the talents belong to God. They are His to bestow on whomever He wills. These talents, gifts, are not things we possess by nature but are Christ's assets, abilities, which He lends to us to use. Talents can be truly understood as things like God's Word, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, the forgiveness of sin, His Holy Spirit, etc.
The apostle Paul mentions quite a few of them in I Corinthians 12: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues. They are not natural endowments. Some receive more than others, and the vast majority of us are most likely among those who receive one or two. But despite whether we have one, two or five, everyone is responsible for using these gifts which belong to Christ, lent to us to serve Him. And we have to grow.
And in this I give my advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. (II Corinthians 8:10-12)
God judges according to what we have. Since He is a perfect judge, He is the only one qualified to measure whether we are using and increasing our gifts, or whether we are hiding and squandering what He made available to us.
Since these gifts are not ours to begin with, we must adjust our thinking. We have to accept our limitations as part of God's divine purpose and not struggle against them. He wants us simply to use what we have been given. And the proper use of our gifts will cause them to increase. Paul declares, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (I Corinthians 12:18).
He examines the question of God's fairness in Romans 9:14-21. Is there any unfairness with God, to love one, as it were, and not the other? Recall the analogy of building a cathedral. God is building a great temple (cf. I Peter 2:4-10; I Corinthians 3:5-17). His temple is His Family, and He knows whether a person, using his natural abilities plus His gifts, will be a woodcarver, a stonemason, a preacher, a musician or whatever in it. God knows. He wants us to fill the role He has given us wherever we are.
We should not forget that God will reward us equal to our growth. He holds us responsible only for what we have been given, and this fact inclines us to approach our gifts with the "doorkeeper attitude." "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10). If God gave us one gift, whatever it is, we should strive to double it. Doing that, we will succeed just as the person who was given five and doubles them. He has more to answer for, but the burden on him is actually just as great as it is on the person who has one. There is no difference in God's judgment.
What does God commend? What does He say pleases Him? Is it genius? No, He says knowledge puffs up (I Corinthians 8:1). Is it speaking ability? No, God made a dumb ass speak (Numbers 22:28-30). Is it singing ability? Or writing ability? It is none of those things. He is looking for someone who is faithful. A person can be faithful with one talent, two, five or ten. It does not matter because God gives gifts according to natural ability. And it is very likely that if God gave more or greater gifts to those who have less natural ability, they would fail because they could not maintain them. So God in His mercy judges what a person can handle.
The translators of the New King James Version misplace the word "immediately" in verse 15. The way they translate it gives the impression that the master of the house left immediately, but the word does not apply to the master. "Immediately" applies to the person who had five talents (cf. Matthew 25:15-16 in the Revised Standard Version, New International Version or Revised English Bible). Not indulging in any daydreams or fears, he immediately went out and worked. Believing that work was good for him, he got right down to business.
The tragedy of the story and the focus of the parable is the man who hid his talent. From him we probably learn the most. First, the talent was not his in the first place; it was on loan. Second, Christ shows that people bury their gifts primarily out of fear. Third, the whole parable illustrates that regarding spiritual gifts, one never loses what he uses. That is a powerful lesson: if we use the gifts that God gives us, we cannot lose! The one who was punished never even tried, so God called him wicked and lazy. His passivity regarding spiritual things doomed him.
Comparing this parable to the parable of the ten virgins, we see a few interesting contrasts. The five foolish virgins suffered because they let what they had run out. This servant with one talent apparently never even used what he had. The virgins failed because they thought their job was too easy, while this servant failed because he thought it was too hard. On many fronts they seem to be opposites.
The servant's true character comes out in his defense before the master and in the master's condemnation. In verse 24 he claims, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." That is a lie! Not having this belief, the other two servants immediately go to work, never suggesting that they think their master is harsh and greedy. The wicked servant justifies his lack of growth by blaming it on God. "It was too hard, Lord." He accuses God of an insensitive and demanding evaluation. That is why Christ calls him wicked. He calls God a liar and accuses the master of exploitation and avarice. If he did work, he says, he would see little or none of the profit, and if he failed, he would get nothing but the master's wrath. The master then asks, "Why didn't you at least invest my money so that I could receive interest?" The servant, in his justification and fear, overlooks his responsibility to discharge his duty in even the smallest areas.
Blaming his master and excusing himself, this servant with one talent fell to the temptations of resentment and fear. Together, the two are a deadly combination. The church needs people with one talent as much as the person who has many talents. To illustrate this, William Shakespeare was very talented with words, considered by most to be the greatest writer of the English language. Very few people have had Shakespeare's gifts. But where would Shakespeare be without the printers, the bookbinders, the teachers, the actors, and the like who bring his works to the public? From this we see the interdependence of gifts. Even those who may appear to have few talents are just as needed in the body as those who have many.
This parable insists that watchfulness must not lead to passivity, but to doing one's God-given duties. We must be learning, growing, carrying out our responsibilities and developing the resources that God entrusts to us until He returns and settles accounts. As in the other parables, we see a progression in the theme of being prepared for Christ's return, with each parable having a different nuance in its lesson.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Following the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus continues without a break in His teaching to His disciples. This continuity of thought makes the Parable of the Talents (verses 14-30) a fitting complement to the preceding parable. Jesus is careful to balance His instruction by teaching another important requirement for His servants to fulfill prior to His return. He does not want His disciples to assume that the previous parable constituted His entire warning.
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus reveals the necessity of developing inward character, but in the Parable of the Talents, He combines that need with the encouragement to manifest good works. The virgins teach us the need to watch and be ready; the talents teach us our responsibility to work until His return.
Jesus knew the human tendency to think that, because He was there in person, His disciples did not have to work, leading to laziness and freeloading as a person becomes dependent on the support of another. Thus, He urges His disciples, not only to be ready by watching for His return, but also to work diligently toward it. The first parable portrays the virgins waiting for their Lord, which requires mental and spiritual preparation and watching, while the Parable of the Talents shows the servants of the Lord working for Him, which entails profitable activity.
The wealthy man (referred to as "lord" by his servants) is "the Son of Man," Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:13). His journey into the far country parallels Christ's departure into heaven after His ascension. The servants stand for the twelve disciples and thus all the followers of Christ down through the ages, and the talents they receive represent the spiritual gifts Jesus passes on to His servants. The absence of the lord from his home pictures the absence of Christ's visible presence on the earth, and his return is Jesus' promised return.
The trading that the servants are expected to do during their master's absence suggests the faithful use of spiritual gifts and opportunities for service that Jesus' disciples are expected to practice. On the master's return, he commends the servants, showing what will happen at Christ's return, when each Christian's service will be rewarded. The judgment on the one servant who failed in his trust is a warning against not using or misusing his gifts. [Note: The phrase, "The kingdom of heaven is" (verse 14), is in italics, meaning that it is not in the original, but was added by translators for clarity.]
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part One)
Tie this thought to Exodus 31 and 35: God gave gifts - power and abilities - to everyone working on the Tabernacle. Tie this thought to the church and to Christ as our Leader. He traveled into heaven, as shown in the Parable of the Talents, giving gifts to His servants to exercise in His "absence."
These talents, or gifts, are attributes of His mind, His Spirit, and He communicates them to us to enable us to serve within His will. As we can see in the parable, they are not given to remain static within us, but are to be developed and used. The servants are commended and rewarded for to their faithful use of His gifts. God, then, enables us to carry out our responsibilities within the church, thus we have no excuse for not building and strengthening it. We have no more excuse than Bazeleel and Aholiab had, or all the others who worked on the Tabernacle.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part Six)Related Topics: Bezaleel and Aholiab | Faithfulness | Faithfulness in Little Things | God's Holy Spirit | God's Spirit | God's Spirit, Manifestation of | Holy Spirit | Holy Spirit, Gift of | Holy Spirit, Using | Parable of the Talents | Spiritual Gifts | Spiritual Gifts, Abuse of | Spiritual Gifts, Neglect of
The talent was not a coin but a weight, and so its value obviously depended on whether the coinage involved was copper, silver, or gold. The most common metal was silver. The original Greek word for "talent" is talantos, which refers to quantity. As Jesus uses it, a talent is not something we possess, but which He possesses and loans to His servants. In the parable, all talents belonged to the lord, who entrusted them to his servants for use in trade.
Spiritually, the talents represent the gift of the complete revelation of God as given in the Bible, including the knowledge of His plan of salvation and the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God. It also includes His spiritual gifts to the church, such as speaking and understanding languages, preaching, teaching, discernment, knowledge, and wisdom, among many others (Romans 11:29; 12:6-8; I Corinthians 12:1-11).
What we "trade" with while He is absent belongs to Him. Our natural abilities are comparatively insignificant and of little value, but God has given us spiritual wealth to use by investing it in supporting the work of God. These talents, then, are not a matter of things we own or of strengths we have, but are part of the grace of God, provided for the church's benefit.
God's gifts accomplish much more through some people than they do through others, as is seen in how much the lord bestows on each servant. Every true servant of Christ receives the Holy Spirit, but different servants receive differing amounts of spiritual understanding from God. We do not receive more from Him than we can understand and use. Because God's servants differ in aptitude, He accordingly bestows His gifts to each servant as He pleases (I Corinthians 12:11).
The lord knew the trading ability of his chosen servants, and he distributed his talents accordingly. Talent and ability are two different things. Talents are the spiritual gifts of the Master, while ability is power from our natural fitness and skill. A person may have great natural ability, yet no spiritual gifts. Natural ability, however, one of God's physical gifts, is often necessary for the reception of spiritual gifts. This was no reflection on the third servant because he only received one talent; he could not handle more. Each servant of Christ receives for his service all that he needs and can use (Romans 12:4-9; I Corinthians 12:4-30).
This parable teaches us several things. God gives people differing gifts. Work well done is rewarded with still more work to do. The person who uses his gifts will be given more, while the person who does not will lose even what he has. If a person uses a gift, he is increasingly able to do more with it, and a person who does not try is punished. The only way to keep a spiritual gift is to use it in the service of God and one another.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part One)
To a few chosen servants, God gives five talents to fulfill special needs in the church. These may be evangelists, pastors, or teachers, and their knowledge of spiritual truths along with their gift to preach carries great responsibility (James 3:1). As a result, God expects more of them than others less gifted (Romans 12:6; Ephesians 4:11-12; Luke 12:48).
Perhaps most members of God's church have two talents. They may be deacons with a natural desire to serve the church in physical ways. Maybe they are those who give opening and closing prayers or have a musical talent to help others offer up praise to God the Father and Jesus Christ. They may have a gift in organizing activities or in helping children or the elderly. As gifts, these are somewhat less notable than the more evident ones (Romans 12:8).
The servant with one talent describes the potential sluggard in Christ's service (Proverbs 6:6). Yet those of us who have the least must serve God with what we have, and if we serve Him faithfully with the little He has given, honor and reward will be ours. We must support the church in less noticeable yet vital ways, such as in prayer, encouragement, contributions, and positive attitudes (Acts 12:5; Luke 11:9-13).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part Two)
Since the servants did not know how long their master would be gone, they began trading without delay. The one with five talents increased his by 100%, as did the servant with two talents. In each case, their original assets were doubled. If the servant with one talent had just worked by trading with it, his reward would have been the same.
The motivation for service and producing good fruit should be love for the Master, a virtue the servant with one talent lacked. Sadly, he failed to trade with his talent and multiply it. Fearing his master's severity, he wrapped his lord's asset in a handkerchief and hid it in a hole in the earth. Fear is a sad thing when a person dreads losing something valuable so much that he hoards it instead of putting it to good use. So it is with a spiritual gift also.
While his fellow-servants were actively trading their talents, the third servant was idle. He was neither actively obedient nor disobedient, but passively disobedient. He did not intend to hurt his master's property; he simply failed to improve it. Similar to the foolish virgins suffering because they neglected to prepare, the third servant in this parable suffers because he did nothing with his talent. We must not hide our light under a basket (Matthew 5:14-16). Spiritual talents must be used in service to Christ for the glory of God - for the joy and honor of Him who is the Giver of every good gift (I Corinthians 10:31; James 1:17).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part Two)
The master never sets a time for his return, indicating he could return at any time. However, we know that his return does not occur before his servants have time to increase their talents. The first and second servants cheerfully relate their success in trading, giving their master his property with double interest. Both are rewarded the same, receiving the praise, "Well done!" Both receive the promise, "I will make you ruler." Both receive glory, "Enter into the joy of your lord." Though these two servants differ in the talents they receive, they are the same in obedience, diligence, and faithfulness to their master, and so receive the same reward.
The master passes a serious judgment on the burier of the talent: condemnation for neglecting his trust. This servant's true character reveals itself in his reply. His flawed view of his master's intentions leads him to excuse his own failure to the point of flagrant disrespect. To his idleness, he adds injustice, so his lord sees him as lazy and wicked (Matthew 25:26).
We must always appreciate all of Christ's gifts. "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (II Corinthians 8:12). The true Christian's attitude is contentment with what he has and making the very best use of it. It is better to have a low position in God's service with faithfulness than a high position with unfaithfulness. Our limitation should be an incentive to spiritual and moral action and persistence. In the end, what God commends and rewards is not brilliance, popularity, or cleverness, but faithfulness and obedience to Him regardless of human recognition or praise.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part Two)
The tragedy of the story and the focus of the parable is the man who hid his talent. From him we probably learn the most. First, the talent was not his in the first place; it was on loan. Second, Christ shows that people bury their gifts primarily out of fear. Third, the whole parable illustrates that regarding spiritual gifts, one never loses what he uses. That is a powerful lesson: If we use the gifts that God gives us, we cannot lose! The one who was punished never even tried, so God called him wicked and lazy. His passivity regarding spiritual things doomed him.
Comparing this parable to the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we see a few interesting contrasts. The five foolish virgins suffered because they let what they had run out. This servant with one talent apparently never even used what he had. The virgins failed because they thought their job was too easy, while this servant failed because he thought it was too hard. On many fronts they seem to be opposites.
The servant's true character comes out in his defense before the master and in the master's condemnation. In verse 24 he claims, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." That is a lie! Not having this belief, the other two servants immediately go to work, never suggesting that they think their master is harsh and greedy.
The wicked servant justifies his lack of growth by blaming it on God. "It was too hard, Lord." He accuses God of an insensitive and demanding evaluation. That is why Christ calls him wicked. He calls God a liar and accuses the master of exploitation and avarice. If he did work, he says, he would see little or none of the profit, and if he failed, he would get nothing but the master's wrath.
The master then asks, "Why didn't you at least invest my money so that I could receive interest?" The servant, in his justification and fear, overlooks his responsibility to discharge his duty in even the smallest areas. Blaming his master and excusing himself, this servant with one talent fell to the temptations of resentment and fear. Together, the two are a deadly combination.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
The nobleman owned the money, but the servants had to trade with it. However, the goal contemplated by the nobleman was not moneymaking as much it was His servants' development of character. Those who are diligent and faithful in serving Christ are commonly blessed in being made blessings to those around them. Jesus commands His disciples to improve and increase their talents, understanding and making the most of them, as well as to increase their capability of doing good and to do it until He returns (I Corinthians 12:7-11; Ephesians 4:7-16).
Jesus emphasizes His return and receipt of the Kingdom, at which time His Father would grant Him all legal rights (I Corinthians 15:23-28). In such a Kingdom, the King must have trusted and competent servants to assist Him in governing. We have the promise that, if we suffer with Him and work with Him now, if we are diligently faithful to Him, we will reign with Him (Revelation 3:21; 5:10; 20:4, 6). God has given us abilities and truth to use and develop, and we are held accountable for our efforts and effectiveness in using them for the benefit of our King and Savior.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Minas
The context of Romans 8 is somewhat different than the context in Hebrews 8, but the principle Paul deals with is similar. Flesh in Romans 8:3 refers to people. The problem with the Old Covenant was not with its laws, but with one of the parties who made the covenant—"them" (Hebrews 8:8). Obviously, he refers to the people who made the covenant. They would not keep its terms!
This is confirmed by the Old Testament record, which shows that Israel never kept the Old Covenant except for brief periods of time. This is why there are so many references in the Old Testament to their being stiff-necked, being fornicators or adulterers, or filled with iniquity.
It was not that Israel could not keep the terms of the covenant but that they would not. God's intent in making the Old Covenant was limited. Israel should have been able to keep its terms. To think otherwise is to accuse God of being unfair in His proposition and having taken advantage of Israel's ignorance. Human nature is always looking for ways to shift blame.
We must be careful, or we might be guilty of doing the same thing under the New Covenant. We could say that it is too hard, and use our complaint as a justification for our failures and bad attitudes. Jesus anticipated this.
In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, He gives five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to a third. The response of the person to whom He gave one talent is, "I knew that You were a hard man, and that You reap where you do not sow. And therefore I hid it" (Matthew 25:24-25). He is saying, "God, You were too hard!" He essentially shifts the blame to God. Jesus understood that human nature never changes: It always wants to shift the blame!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Ten)
What Paul means in this passage becomes clear when we understand the sense and usage of two Greek words, those translated as “win” and “save.” In the evangelical world, both of them have taken on lives of their own, but with just a little digging, we will see that no contradiction lies between this passage and the numerous other clear statements.
The word translated as “win” is kerdaino (Strong's #2770), and its basic meaning is “gain,” which is how it is typically translated. It means “to acquire by effort or investment.” It can mean “to earn” or “to make a profit.” The flipside is that it can also mean “to cause a loss not to occur.”
This word is used infrequently, but the verses that contain it are well known. For example, Jesus uses it when He cautions against gaining the whole world yet losing one's own soul (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:27). The gain is a physical or material one—it is not speaking of evangelizing the whole world. It also appears in the Parable of the Talents, where two of the servants gain more talents through their efforts and investments (Matthew 25:16-22).
Kerdaino is also found in the well-known Matthew 18:15, where Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” The gaining here is not about “winning” someone “for Christ.” When we gain our brother, we are gaining a better relationship. We are keeping a breach in the relationship from continuing. We receive a profit, as it were, by enhancing theconnection or bond between us. There is no implication that we are opening his mind to the mysteries of God's Kingdom. It simply means that after bringing a sin to his attention, if he hears and receives us, then we have gained our brother because the relationship has been restored.
David C. Grabbe
Can We Win People For Christ?
Jesus Christ tells the Philadelphians that they have only a little strength, a little power (dunamis). They have a small, effective capability for wonderful works and mighty deeds, a limited ability to get things done. If they are dynamic, it is only on a small scale. This has some implications about the letter to Philadelphia that we may not have considered before.
There are at least four applications or audiences to the Letters to the Seven Churches: They are written to 1) seven literal, first-century churches in Asia Minor; 2) seven end-time churches; 3) seven historical church eras; and/or 4) individuals Christians. In each letter, Christ gives the admonition, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The seven letters can represent attitudes or conditions as well as organizational units and periods. Looking through the lens of the fourth application gives the letter to Philadelphia meaning regardless of the era or corporate organization one may be part of.
Christ's statement that the Philadelphian has only a little strength is not necessarily a criticism. The overall tenor of the letter is extremely positive. However, He is giving a statement of fact: Philadelphians have only a small effective capability for miraculous work, a little physical or spiritual aptitude, a small measure of effectiveness. Dunamis is not entirely lacking, but it is present in only a small amount.
The Philadelphian, by this accounting, will probably not be the one healing people when his shadow passes by, or the one moving mountains. Nor will He be prophesying of future events or speaking in unfamiliar languages. He may not have great speaking ability or a dynamic personality. This is not to say that power and effectiveness are entirely lacking, just that the Philadelphian will probably not have the same dramatic outworking we observe in other biblical figures.
Why is this dunamis lacking? From the rest of the letter to Philadelphia, it does not appear that the lack of dunamis is because of a great failing or negligence in duties to God. On the contrary, the letter is a commendation because of faithfulness. Perhaps part of the reason, seen in one of Jesus' parables, is that not much natural ability is there for God to enhance. Perhaps also, mighty deeds are lacking because there is no need for such works to be done. Remember, if God has ordained that something be done, He will give the power for it to be accomplished. If He has not given that power, it is because it is His will that a thing not be accomplished.
The Parable of the Talents adds to the picture:
For 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. (Matthew 25:14-15)
The word ability in verse 15 is also dunamis. These verses affirm that 1) talents are given by God, and 2) apparently the bestowing of talents depends somewhat on the effective capability the person already possesses. Along the same lines, it is interesting to note that Christ Himself was limited in the works—dunamis—He could perform because of the unbelief in some areas (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5-6)!
The two faithful servants double what is given to them. The amounts are not as important as the growth. Both give Christ a 100% increase on what He bestowed on them. The unfaithful servant produces nothing at all.
In this example, we can see the Philadelphian as the servant who receives only two talents rather than five. He does not have the same natural ability. However, even though he may have fewer responsibilities, or the scope of what he controls is much smaller, he is just as faithful as the servant who receives more. The Philadelphian may have only a little ability, but with that ability he is able to keep God's word and not deny His name (Revelation 3:8). His power enables him to keep God's command to persevere (verse 10).
We have been given a measure of dunamis. If we have God's Spirit, we have ability, talent, effectiveness, and strength in some measure, in some area. It does not matter how much is given, or in what area our strength resides, but that we remain faithful in what God has given to us and that we make use of the power we have to further God's purpose.
David C. Grabbe
In Revelation 3:8, the phrase "open door" is being used, not so much as an opportunity, but as a reward. Young's Literal Translation shows this emphasis: "I have known thy works; lo, I have set before thee a door—opened, and no one is able to shut it, because thou hast a little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name" (emphasis ours). Christ sets before the Philadelphian an "open door" because he has only a little capacity for mighty works, and yet he still keeps God's Word and does not deny God's name by the way he lives his life. He still is able to overcome.
The door Christ opens to the Philadelphian, the door no man can shut, may well be the door to the Kingdom itself! In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the door is open to some of the virgins and closed to others (Matthew 25:10-12). In the description of New Jerusalem, the gate is open only to those whose names are written in the Book of Life (Revelation 21:27; 22:14). Christ opens the door to the Kingdom because of the Philadelphian's faithfulness, just as He promises to keep him from the hour of trial because of his perseverance (Revelation 3:10).
God may have given him only two talents, but He knows that if he is faithful with a small amount of power, in the Kingdom he will faithfully administer all of the responsibility and effectiveness that God bestows upon him. Individually, we may only have a little "power," but if we are faithful with what we have been given, God is pleased, knowing we will also be faithful with great power. As Christ says in Luke 16:10, ". . . faithful also in much. . . ."
David C. Grabbe
PowerRelated Topics: Church at Philadelphia | Church Eras | Church, Attitudes of | Church, Personalities of | Churches of Revelation 2-3 | Faithfulness | Faithfulness in Little Things | Faithfulness in the Midst of Trials | Parable of the Talents | Parable of the Ten Virgins | Philadelphia | Philadelphia, Church of | Philadelphian Attitude | Philadelphian Church: Little Strength