“It will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. The he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more’. “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ “The man with two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you had not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you. ‘ “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
” ‘Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25: 14-30) NIV
In this parable we read of how three servants are held accountable to their master for the way they use the ‘talents’ he has entrusted them with. Two of them please the master with the good returns they have made with his investment, but the third receives an angry and condemning response because of his lack of responsibility and having nothing to show for the talent he had been given. Whenever I read this story I feel at best uneasy and at worse, terrified. Although I know I am a child of God, I struggle to understand how the master’s response equates to the loving, forgiving character of Jesus. I’m sure that I am not alone in experiencing this confusion.
To clarify, the master clearly represents Jesus, who will return to earth one day to claim His Church. The servants represent those who claim to be followers of Christ. The talents represent everything that God has given us. In the story, the talents were sums of money but for us I believe they can mean our time, wealth, skills and abilities, interests, characteristics and personal qualities, spiritual insights and revelation. Our whole lives, in fact.
Essentially, this parable is about stewardship. We are told that each of us will be required to give account of our lives and how we have stewarded that which the master has blessed us with. On this basis will be decided our eternal reward.
As we unpack the meaning of this parable we will consider WHY we should use our talents, WHAT our talents are, WHAT MIGHT STOP US from using them, and HOW we can use them well, living our lives in a way that is pleasing to the Master.
WHY should we use our talents?
We have already seen that we will have to give an account of our lives. When we receive Jesus as Saviour, our lives are no longer ours – they are His, and we are accountable to Him for how we live and use the talents He has gifted us with. Are we using them only for our own pleasure, or to extend His kingdom and for His glory?
The scriptures make it clear that God knows and loves each one of us and that we are unique individuals with a specific calling on our lives that no-one else can fulfil. Psalm 139, a well-known and well-loved Psalm, says ‘When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be’. (Psalm 139: 16). In Ephesians 2:10 we are told, ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’.
WHAT are our talents and how can we recognise them?
Here are some questions to ask ourselves:
- What blessings do we have? What has God given us and blessed us with? Do we have a home, food, a job? Christian fellowship, teaching and resources? Not everyone has these things. Let’s be thankful for what we have and ask how we could share them with others and use them for God’s kingdom.
- What are our responsibilities? Raising a family, managing a home, earning a living, serving in church will all feature largely for most of us. I believe responsibilities and duties can be fulfilled with an attitude of joy and are an important part of serving God and using our talents.
- What are we naturally good at? Is it administrating, organising, teaching, practical skills, technology? Whatever it is, it is a gift from God which He wants us to use.
- What tasks and activities give us joy? When am I in my element? For some, it might be a creative talent such as gardening, cooking, designing, painting, or music. For others it might be helping and encouraging, serving, visiting or giving practical care and support. Again, God will have put this passion in us and wants us to use it.
As we reflect on these things a picture will emerge of just how much God has blessed us and also the things that make us uniquely the person God created us to be.
I will share a bit of my own story here: One Sunday, about ten years ago, my vicar preached on this parable. I felt the Holy Spirit convict me that I should use my gift of music and songwriting to extend the kingdom of God. I am naturally quite reserved and do not like being in the spotlight so it was a challenge, but I spoke to the vicar and shared what God had put on my heart. He gave me opportunities to use my songs and music in church and I began to place my musical talent in God’s hands and allow Him to use it as he desired.
WHAT MIGHT STOP US from using our talents?
There are many reasons, I believe, but I think most will fall into one of the following categories:
FEAR: The third servant did not know the master; he had no relationship with Him and allowed fear to direct his actions. Fear of failure resulted in him making no effort and therefore producing no fruit. Could it be that we too do not use our talents because we are fearful? Perhaps we are afraid of failure or rejection, or of not being as good as others? Maybe we are afraid of being punished for not doing well enough, as the servant was. But the Bible tells us: ‘There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’( 1 John 4: 18).
Sometimes, fear may stem from condemning or critical words spoken over us in the past, words such as ‘’you’re useless, you’ll never amount to anything”. We may have been harshly criticised or punished for making mistakes, resulting in damaged confidence and a crushed spirit. In order to protect ourselves from further hurt we may play it safe and not do anything which takes us out of our comfort zone. If we have been crushed in this way, there is healing available through the Holy Spirit.
LOW SELF-WORTH – I have nothing worthwhile to offer: You may feel you can’t do anything particularly well. Or poor health and limited capacity may restrict what you are able to do. But I believe everyone, no matter what their situation, can do something. My dad, in his later years lived in a care home, and although he couldn’t go out due to his poor mobility, he chose to devote time each day in praying faithfully for his family, the Church, the nation, and the carers and patients in the home. He also befriended another elderly resident, praying with her every day and talking to her about Jesus. He really let his light shine.
TIME PRESSURE: Being over-pressurised and too busy is a very common reason for not using our talents to the full. Do you ever feel that your life is so busy that you are trying to keep dozens of plates spinning? The question to ask in this situation is; why am I doing what I do? Does God actually want me to do all these things, or am I doing them for the wrong reason? We saw earlier that we have a unique role to play and purpose to fulfil. If we are too busy then we may miss the thing God has really called us to do. This topic is a whole subject in itself, but if we are over – pressurised, over- stressed and over- committed then we should stop and take a good long look at what makes us so busy and ask the Holy Spirit to show us which of these tasks and activities He wants us to continue and which we should put to one side or stop. This is an area in which I struggle and I am working through it with the Holy Spirit, to attain the peace and freedom He wants me to enjoy.
I will look at this topic in more detail in my post ‘Living in God’s Rest’.
HOW can we be good stewards?
The good news is that we do not have to live perfect lives in our own strength! Although we may struggle and fail many times, God gives us grace, mercy and help along the way. Despite all the obstacles we looked at, there is hope. The Holy Spirit is there to help us all the time! If we ask Him He will show us how we should be using our talents and how to do this without striving and being over busy. We can and should repent of failure to be good stewards and with the Holy Spirit’s help devote ourselves wholeheartedly to running the race He has set before us.
The most fundamental thing, I believe, is that we have a close personal relationship with Jesus. From an intimate relationship will flow love and trust and it is from this that our good works should come. Everything we do should come from a heart of love and a desire to serve Him, rather than from a sense of duty or fear of punishment. The things we do for Him should be a joy, not a drudgery. If we do not have this joy, we should ask Him why and receive the healing that He offers. If we spend time with Him we will know His heart. He will put His desires into our heart so they become our desires! So, if you have a desire to visit the sick or lonely people, help the homeless, write poetry or arrange flowers, God will have given you this desire.
God has set us up for success
The Lord knows our potential and abilities and will not ask us to do anything He has not equipped us for. The three servants were not all given the same amount, so this suggests that the master had different expectations for each of them. The third servant failed because he had no relationship with the master. But we have been given every opportunity to enter into relationship with our Master through His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. The way is open for us. Let us choose to spend time in His presence and experience His love and grace as He helps us on the journey. Let us find the joy and peace that is available to us when we surrender to Him and gladly become partners with Him in extending the Kingdom of God. No matter what our weaknesses and failings are, or how old we are, it is never too late! He has set us up for success! I want to focus on the race God has set before me and not be distracted. I want Him to say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” I pray that this will be true for all of us.
Father God, thank you that you know me intimately, you love me and have made me a unique individual with a special set of skills and talents. I surrender all that I am and have to you and ask that you will help me to use my God-given talents for your glory and complete the particular tasks that you have given me to do. I break agreement with fear and believe that your Holy Spirit will guide and equip me as I step out in obedience to you.
Thank you, Father