The Parable of the Talents (25:14–30)
The parable of the talents is very like that of the ten virgins. Both direct our minds to the same important event: the second coming of Jesus Christ. Both bring before us the same people: the members of the professing church of Christ. The virgins and the servants are one and the same people—but the same people regarded from a different point, and viewed on different sides. The practical lesson of each parable is the main point of difference: vigilance is the keynote of the first parable, diligence that of the second. The story of the virgins calls on the church to watch; the story of the talents calls on the church to work.
1. All Christians Have Received Something from God
First, we learn from this parable that all professing Christians have received something from God. We are all God’s "servants": we all have "talents" entrusted to our charge.
The word "talents" is an expression that has been curiously turned aside from its original meaning. It is generally applied only to people of remarkable ability or gifts: they are called "talented" people. Such a use of the expression is a mere modern invention. In the sense in which our Lord used the word in this parable, it applies to all baptized persons without distinction. We have all "talents" in God’s sight: we are all talented people.
Anything whereby we may glorify God is a "talent." Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible—all, all are talents. Where did these things come from? Whose hand bestowed them? Why are we what we are? Why are we not the worms that crawl on the earth? There is only one answer to these questions: all that we have is a loan from God: we are God’s stewards; we are God’s debtors. Let this thought sink deeply into our hearts.
2. Many Make Bad Use of Their Talents
Second, we learn that many make a bad use of the privileges and mercies they receive from God. We are told in the parable of one who "dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money" (verse 18). That man represents a large class of mankind.
To hide our talent is to neglect opportunities of glorifying God, when we have them. The baptized Bible-despiser, the prayer-neglecter and the Sabbath-breaker; the unbelieving, the sensual and the earthly-minded; the trifler, the thoughtless and the pleasure-seeker; the money-lover, the covetous and the self-indulgent—all, all are alike burying their Lord’s money in the ground. They all have light that they do not use: they might all be better than they are. But they are all daily robbing God: he has lent them much, and they bring him no return. The words of Daniel to Belshazzar are strictly applicable to every unconverted person: "You did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways" (Daniel 5:23).
3. All Christians Must Face a Reckoning with God
Third, we learn that all professing Christians must one day have a reckoning with God. The parable tells us that "after a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them" (verse 19).
There is a judgment before us all. If there is not, words have no meaning in the Bible: it is mere trifling with Scripture to deny it. There is a judgment before us according to our works—certain, strict and unavoidable. High or low, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, we will all have to stand at the bar of God and receive our eternal sentence. There will be no escape: concealment will be impossible. We and God must at last meet face to face. We shall have to render an account of every privilege that was granted to us, and of every ray of light that we enjoyed; we will find that we are dealt with as accountable and responsible creatures, and whoever is given much, of them much will be demanded. Let us remember this every day we live: let us judge ourselves so that we do not come under judgment (1 Corinthians 11:31).
4. True Christians Will Receive a Reward
Fourth, we learn that true Christians will receive an abundant reward on the great day of reckoning. The parable tells us that the servants who had used their Lord’s money well were commended as "good and faithful," and told to "share your master’s happiness!" (verse 23).
These words are full of comfort to all believers, and may well fill us with wonder and surprise. The best of Christians is a poor frail creature, and needs the blood of atonement every day that he lives; but the least and lowest of believers will find that he is counted among Christ’s servants, and that his labor has not been in vain in the Lord. He will discover to his amazement that his Master’s eye saw more beauty in his efforts to please him, than he ever saw himself; he will find that every hour spent in Christ’s service, and every word spoken on Christ’s behalf, has been written in a book of remembrance. Let believers remember these things and take courage. The cross may be heavy now, but the glorious reward will make up for everything. As Leighton so well says, "Here some drops of joy enter into us, but there we shall enter into joy."
5. Unfruitful Christians Will Be Condemned
Fifth, we learn that all unfruitful members of Christ’s church will be condemned and thrown out on the day of judgment. The parable tells us that the servant who buried his master’s money was reminded that he "knew" his master’s character and requirements, and was therefore without excuse (verse 26). It tells us that he was condemned as "wicked," "lazy" and "worthless" (verses 26, 30), and thrown "outside, into the darkness." Our Lord adds the solemn words, "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
There will be no excuse for an unconverted Christian on the last day. The reasons with which he now pretends to satisfy himself will prove useless and vain: the judge of all the earth will be found to have done right; the ruin of the lost soul will be found to be his own fault. Those words of our Lord, "you knew," are words that ought to ring loudly in many people’s ears, and prick them to the heart. Thousands today are living "without Christ" and without conversion, and yet pretending that they cannot help it! And all this time they "know," in their own conscience, that they are guilty. They are burying their talent: they are not doing what they can. Happy are those who find this out quickly! It will all come out at the last day.
Let us leave this parable with a solemn determination, by God’s grace, never to be content with a profession of Christianity without practice. Let us not only talk about religion, but act; let us not only feel the importance of religion, but do something too. We are not told that the unprofitable servant was a murderer, or a thief, or even a waster of his Lord’s money: but he did nothing—and this was his ruin! Let us beware of a do-nothing Christianity: such Christianity does not come from the Spirit of God. "To do no harm," says Baxter, "is the praise of a stone, not of a man."