Faithful Service : Parable of the Talents

by Keith Sharp | The Parables of the Master | Matthew 24:14-30

The word “For,” with which this parable begins, connects it to the preceding story, the Parable of the Ten Virgins. That parable teaches us to keep watching to be ready for the Lord’s return; this, the Parable of the Talents, teaches us to work to be ready for His return.

…the Parable of the Talents serves as a perfect complement to the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In the preceding story the maidens are pictured as waiting for their lord, in this story, the servants are represented as working for their lord. One stresses the duty of constant alertness, the other the duty of faithful service” (Lightfoot. 172).

The Story

A wealthy man was making a long trip. He had three servants (slaves) to carry on his business while he journeyed.

Slaves in the Roman Empire were not necessarily “field hands” who couldn’t be trusted with important business. Many were like Joseph in Potiphar’s house, capable and highly trustworthy. An Israelite could not hold another Jew for longer than six full years (Exodus 21:1-2) or until the year of Jubilee (every fiftieth year; Leviticus 25:39-40). Jews were allowed to keep foreigners as permanent slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46). In Roman society slaves might even be able to purchase their own freedom.

This rich man entrusted one servant with five talents to trade with so he could increase his master’s wealth, another with two, and a third with one. In New Testament times a talent was “the Roman-Attic ‘talent,’ comprising 6,000 denarii” (Vine. 617). Since a denarius equaled one day’s wages for a day laborer (Matthew 20:2), a talent was the equivalent of 20 years’ wages. So all three servants received very large sums with which to trade. Of course, the master was wise enough to entrust each man with the amount he was capable of managing.

After a long time the rich man returned and settled accounts with his servants. The man entrusted with five talents had doubled his master’s money. The lord congratulated him, “well done” (good job!) and commended him as “good and faithful.” His character was good, and he was trustworthy in his stewardship as a servant (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1-2). Although the two talent man had less ability and was entrusted with less money, the lord equally congratulated and commended him. Furthermore, each man was rewarded by being entrusted with even greater sums and being allowed to enter “the joy” of their lord. They apparently were allowed to dine with him at his feast, perhaps implying he was granting them their freedom.

But the man who had received one talent slandered his lord, claiming his master was “hard,” i.e., “harsh, severe, stern” (Mounce. 1271), and greedy. He served his master through fear and was afraid he might lose the money. He just hid the money in the ground and returned it to his master neither increased nor diminished.

If he expected commendation and reward because he hadn’t lost his master’s money, he was extremely disappointed. Rather than “good and faithful,” he was “wicked and lazy.” If he was really afraid of losing the money, he could have deposited it with the bankers, where he could safely receive interest. He was wicked to fail in his trust, and his fear of his master led him to laziness.

The lord took from him even the one talent he returned and gave it to the man who had been given five. He was cast into outer darkness, excluded from the joy of the feast with his master.

Christ stated an important principle. “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29).


Of course, the man traveling to a far country represents Christ Jesus Who was about to leave His disciples for heaven. The servants are the disciples of Christ, you and I, brother and sister. His return “after a long time” is the return of Christ to judge the world (Matthew 25:31-32; John 5:26-29).


This parable is so well known that the word “talent” has passed into the English language as a synonym for “ability.” But that is not what the talents represent in the story. The master gave to each of his servant talents “according to his own ability” (verse 15). The talents stand for our opportunities to serve the Lord. He gives us opportunities to serve Him in keeping with our abilities. The great lesson of the Parable of the Talents is Ability Plus Opportunity Equals Responsibility.

Each of us has different ability and is given varying opportunities. But each of us is equally responsible to use his abilities and opportunities in the service of the Lord. We are stewards, servants entrusted with what belongs to our Lord to be used in His service (1 Peter 4:10). Stewards must be faithful, trustworthy, in the Master’s service (1 Corinthians 4:1-2). We must do what we have the ability and opportunity to do (Romans 12:3-8; Ephesians 4:16).

Small ability is no excuse. The Lord is neither harsh nor greedy. He is loving, kind, and generous (1 John 4:8; Luke 6:35; James 1:17). Those who fail to serve Him through fear do not know Him, and if they really fear Him, they should serve Him the more diligently (Hebrews 12:28-29). We should not fear that our diligent service will not be good enough but that our laziness will cause us to be cast into outer darkness. He doesn’t care that you lack the abilities some others may have; He cares what you do with the abilities and opportunities you have.

Those who use their abilities and opportunities are granted more opportunities. Those who fail to use them will lose the opportunities they once had. The Lord opens doors of opportunities for each of us to serve (Colossians 4:2-4). If we fail to walk through those doors, they will be closed to us and opened to another. We lose what we fail to use.

We may think one must be a murderer or a thief to be wicked. But a lazy Christian is a “wicked and lazy servant.” He has wasted the abilities and opportunities graciously given him by the Lord.

Why did the one talent man fail? Not because of lack of ability but because of lack of work. Not because of evil intent but because He thought evil of his lord. Not because he did wrong but because he did nothing. He lacked the courage to work. His fear of failure was the cause of his failure.

There is a time of reckoning. The Lord will return and settle accounts. If we have been faithful in our service, He will congratulate and commend us, welcome us into His joy in heaven, and grant us opportunities to serve Him greater than we can now know. If we have been lazy and wasted our opportunities, He will condemn us and cast us into outer darkness. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Are you working to be ready for His return?

Works Cited

Lightfoot, Neil R., Lessons from the Parables.
Mounce, William, Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.
Vine, W.E., Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

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