The Meaning and Lessons of the Parable of the Talents
The parable of the talents is one of Jesus’ most famous parables. What does the parable of the talents mean for us today? What lessons can it teach us?
In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus delivered His famous parable of the talents.
In this parable, a rich man is traveling to a far country with plans to return at some point in the future (verse 19). So, he leaves his affairs to his servants, whom he trusts to trade and do business until he returns. Then, when he returns, they are to give an account of their efforts. Did they grow his money or not?
The symbolism of the parable is clear:
- The servants in the parable represent Christ’s disciples—in other words, converted Christians God has called (John 6:44).
Let’s take a deeper look at the lessons we can learn from this parable. When we fully understand this parable’s meaning, we’ll see it has weighty implications for our lives.
Parable of the talents lesson 1: When more is given, more is expected
In the parable, the rich man’s goods were divided between three servants.
- The first servant was given five talents.
- The second was given two talents.
- The third was given one talent.
What is a talent?
In the ancient world, a talent was a unit of weight, in this case, a weight of silver.
According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, a talent was equivalent to 6,000 denarii. Since one denarius was the wage for a day’s work in the fields, as mentioned in Matthew 20:2, that’s roughly equivalent to what would be earned over 6,000 work days—a little over 16 years of wages! So, the rich man entrusted a large sum of money to these three servants.
But the lesson is not about money.
In this parable, the talents represent strengths, skills and abilities God gives to people. Some abilities we’re born with, while others are learned and developed over time. It was because of this parable that the word talent became associated with abilities in the Middle Ages.
God expects all of His servants to grow and use what they have been given as much as they can.In the parable, the master expected a greater gain from those who had been given more money to invest. Likewise, God expects more from those He’s given more abilities. That doesn’t mean He expects nothing from those who have been given less. In the parable the first two servants produced the same percentage increase. God expects all of His servants to grow and use what they have been given as much as they can.
The basic principle is that God expects more from those who have been given more (Luke 12:48). The implication for us is that we are to use and increase what we’ve been given to the maximum extent possible.
If you’ve been given strength and energy, invest and use it in energetically serving others. If you’ve been given certain technical skills, make use of them in serving God. If you’ve been given financial means, put them to use in helping others. If you’ve been given understanding, strive to learn more and humbly share it with others.
Parable of the talents lesson 2: Christians are expected to work and grow
In many religious circles there is the false idea that Jesus’ sacrifice is all that one needs to be a Christian. The concepts of work and growth are rarely emphasized. But in this parable Christ is saying that true Christians are expected to work and be productive.
James explained how faith must be accompanied by works in a Christian’s life (James 2:17-26).
In the parable of the talents, the faithful servants went to work with what they were given and grew. When they presented their results to the master, they were rewarded (Matthew 25:21, 23).
A Christian is expected to produce and grow spiritual fruit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
But how does one grow in these qualities?
Peter gives a kind of formula for spiritual growth in 2 Peter 1:5-7: “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.” People who grow in these areas will be in God’s Kingdom (verse 11).
To learn more, read “The Fruit of the Spirit” and “2 Peter 1:5-7: Spiritual Maturity Explained in Three Verses.”
Parable of the talents lesson 3: It’s dangerous to neglect growth
Failing to use God’s gifts to produce the fruit God desires is dangerous.
However, some will fail to produce the fruit God desires. Here are two reasons people may neglect growth:
- Fear. The servant who buried his talent justified his lack of growth by saying he was “afraid” of his master and the prospect of losing his money (Matthew 25:25). That fear led him to do nothing. He knew what his master expected, but failed to act because of fear. Jesus warned that fear can be an enemy of faith (Matthew 8:26).
- Lack of preparedness. The parable of the talents is preceded by the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. In that parable, the main lesson is that Christians can fail to enter the Kingdom by being unprepared (Matthew 25:1-13). We prepare for God’s Kingdom by growing spiritually. We can’t put that off and try to “borrow” it from others at the last minute or try to rush building it (as a student tries to cram for an exam at the last minute).
Though the servant who was given one talent described his master as “hard,” his master saw him as “lazy.” He was lazy because he failed to invest the effort that was required to produce something. Instead of burying his talent, the servant should have at least “deposited [the master’s] money with the bankers” and earned some “interest” (Matthew 25:27).
(Laziness can be a serious spiritual problem. For insight into how to tackle this problem, read “How to Overcome Laziness.”)
That is the life-impacting meaning of the parable of the talents!