I have never met a writer who does not have some ambition to have his or her words read and appreciated by others—and I am no exception. Words have been bursting out of me since I was a small child. As I have walked with the Lord, I have come to see my love for words as a gift (that is not to call myself gifted, a title I would bestow upon the likes of Flannery O’Connor and Marilynne Robinson).
This gift, or talent, of mine, is much like the talents God gives to anyone—he gives it; I choose what to do with it. Recently I had time to reflect on gifts and talents when answering a question submitted to GotQuestions.org about a troubling verse. The verse in question was: “Why didn't you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it” Matthew 25:27 (NLT).
I could understand why this verse could throw a reader off—it sounds like someone is a little money-hungry! Not exactly the kind of principle we expect to learn in the Bible.
Each of the Bible translations said the same thing here, but I thought the New Living Translation perhaps made the intent more readily apparent. Before we look at this verse, we need to summarize the parable from which Jesus was teaching a valuable lesson.
A TALE OF TALENTS
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is told by Jesus to illustrate that anything good we possess is a gift from God, and is intended to be used for his glory and the advancement of his kingdom. In Biblical times, talents were a form of money.
The word serves as a nice metaphor to our modern ears because God gives us many gifts that we may then put to use for his kingdom—such as talents, skills, blessings, and opportunities.
In the story, Jesus tells of a man who is going away for a bit and has three servants. He knows they have different abilities, so he divides eight talents (coins) between the three servants so they may work to increase the master’s money using their own abilities. He gives Servant One five talents, Servant Two two talents, and Servant Three one talent.
We should pause to consider these different amounts. Wouldn’t it have been fairer to give them all the same amount?
No, and here is why: We are all created uniquely, with different characteristics, gifts, and talents. As Christians, each of us is also at a different point in his or her faith journey. A person who has just received Christ likely doesn’t have the same level of study, understanding, or maturity as someone who has been a Christian for many years, and who is actively pursuing greater knowledge of God and deeper faith and understanding.
A MODERN PARABLE
Let’s look at a modern metaphor to better understand this concept.
If the CEO of a company hoped to grow a sum of money, would he or she be more likely give it to the mailroom clerk or the chief financial officer (CFO) to invest?
What this CEO might do is to give a large chunk of the money to the CFO who has a lot of experience with handling money and is known to be loyal to the CEO, and of the same mind to advance the company to its fullest potential. He or she might then give smaller amounts to those who show promise, in order that they might grow in confidence and execution of their tasks without overwhelming them with responsibility for which they are not yet prepared.
In our parable, God has given the bulk of the responsibility to the servant we will call CFO, one who has proven trustworthy, faithful, and effective. He gives the middle amount to one of his new accountants—one who has had proper training, has proven eager to please, and is ready for an opportunity with more responsibility.
Finally, God has given the smallest amount to the mail clerk who regularly shows up for work, has never had too much responsibility, but is someone the CEO is willing to invest in by providing the means and the mechanism (in this case, a coin) for doing good things.
So what do the CFO, accountant, and mail clerk do? The CFO and accountant both double the master’s money. Returning to the Biblical parable, they have trusted in the principles they learned from knowing God, obeying his commands, and following his ways. Often the Lord’s ways are very countercultural and seem bizarre to our way of thinking, so it is through faith that we can actually put them to use.
The CFO and accountant are greatly rewarded with the words every Christian longs to hear from his or her Father: “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Notice both the CFO and the accountant are rewarded with yet more responsibility because they have proven themselves with the smaller amounts they received from the CEO. They are ready for advancement.
The mail clerk, however, does not grow the master’s money. He reveals his heart when he tells the master he knew him to be “a hard man, reaping what you do not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed” (Matthew 21:24).
Ouch! He tells God he is greedy and wants more than he has worked for and deserves. He does not believe God is the one who created the earth, all living things, and his very life. He does not believe God gave him everything good in his life. He reveals no desire to serve the Lord. He believes God to be impossible to please, and that he would be working in vain to try and do so. It makes me sad to think about someone misunderstanding and misrepresenting my Lord.
God then calls out the servant’s hard heart. If he would have just put the money in the bank he could have at least earned a few extra pennies—something you might expect someone truly afraid of the master to do. This servant, however, had no desire to advance the kingdom, and, by choice, does nothing with the master’s gift or opportunity. Thus, God rightly takes the talent back and sends this man to the eternity he chose for himself. It’s a very sad day.
THE PRIVILEGE OF SERVING THE MASTER
In explaining this parable and the third servant’s outcome, commentator Matthew Henry points out there is nothing good in any of us, except what comes from God. All we own on our own is our sin. We must understand that we were created by God with a purpose. He created you and me for his great pleasure and to build the kingdom.
Henry states: “It is the real Christian's liberty and privilege to be employed as his Redeemer's servant, in promoting his glory, and the good of his people: the love of Christ constrains him to live no longer to himself, but to him that died for him, and rose again.”
Servants One and Two chose to believe in God’s goodness, his plan, and to work with the gifts he had given them to fulfill his purpose in their lives. Servant Three refused.
Servants One and Two were promoted and rewarded and will continue to do good things for God and His people—most important of all, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ who has a plan for their lives too! Servant Three refused to believe, promote, or even do even the least amount possible to serve God.
GIVING IT BACK
As a young woman, my writing reached only an audience of family and teachers. I became a Christian as an adult, and it took me many years of studying God and loving him to start to sense my place in His Kingdom, and that my compulsion to write might play a small part in that.
Since college, my audience has gradually grown, sometimes one person at a time, as I answer the biblical and spiritual questions of others. I consider this an awesome way to contribute my talent in God’s Kingdom. Occasionally my writing has reached a broader audience, but I am determined that anything I contribute will be something that honors my God. More than commercial success, I pray for opportunities to give my God-given talent back to him ten-fold.
WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH YOUR TALENT?
The application for you and me rests in how we answer these questions. Who do we believe created us? For what purpose? Do we recognize the gifts, talents, blessings, and opportunities God has given us? What are we willing to do with them? Where do we draw the line? Ultimately, do we trust our lives to God?
Friend, I pray you know God as your creator. I pray you have given him access to your entire being—that you have availed all of your life to the advancement of his Kingdom and to fulfill his purpose in you. His requirements will always stretch you, but will never be more than he knows you can accomplish.
Once started on a path of serving the Lord, your opportunities will increase in responsibility and frequency as you continue to show faithfulness. Does this mean you and I will always be perfect? No. Our journey will be filled with days when we stumble or outright fail. We are not the mail clerk on those days; we are CFOs who accept failure as part of the process, learn and grow from our mistakes, and keep on pressing forward until the day we land at the feet of our Father. He will look down on us with love and utter the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Rhonda Maydwell is a staff writer for GotQuestions.org, and co-author and copy editor of the recently published, 7 Women, 7 Words, a collection of faith-filled essays based on seven common words from seven different perspectives. She is a wife, mother of two, and grandmother to Georgia Kate.