Thursday, February 13, 2014

Invest...The Parable of the Talents

We’ve reached the last of the kingdom parables; they’ve given us much to consider.

A parable is a story. Jesus used them in the everyday world of first-century Israel to teach spiritual lessons. Every element in a parable represents a part of the spiritual lesson.

I wrote about the first seven from Matthew 13 in my new book “Everything We Need: God's Path to Know Him Better.” Today, we’re wrapping up a look at the last five scattered throughout the rest of Matthew’s gospel.

That brings us to the final one – the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25:14-30. And here we go…

Like many of the previous ones, this final kingdom parable begins with a man performing an action. The past stories have taught us the man is God. In this story, the man is getting ready for a journey. Based on the word used, the journey will be extensive. The man isn’t going to the lake for the weekend; he’s traveling abroad for a long period of time.

Like the parable of the ten virgins, this parable uses the future tense. Matthew 24-25 set a time context of the period right before Jesus’ second coming. This still future, seven year time period is the tribulation or Daniel’s 70th Week. This parable will teach us something that will be different then than it is now, even if its lesson is good advice for us now as well.

What’s a Talent?

A biblical talent was a unit of weight or, as in this case, a unit of money. It wasn’t a gift or ability as we use the word today. We talked about them in the parable of the unmerciful servant. The talents in that parable represented an insurmountable debt; the king forgave the debt because of grace.

The talents here don’t represent a debt but rather an opportunity to invest. Accountants record income and expenses, debts and investments. If the parable of the unmerciful servant taught us about the debt, this parable teaches us about the investment.

God gave us grace; we need to invest it in others.

Why the Different Amounts?

The man in the parable gave varying amounts of talents to his servants; God gave to each man “according to his ability.” Does that mean God gives each person a different amount of grace? The point isn’t that God gave them different amounts but rather He gave them what they needed. He gave according to what their ability required.

Even the man who received only one talent received a considerable amount of money. Again, comparisons are hard across millennia and cultures, but the amount was pretty close to sixteen years worth of salary for a common worker. I don’t know about you, but my husband earns a pretty common salary and we’ve never given anyone sixteen years worth! We couldn’t begin to give such a gift; to us, it would be impossible. Yet, God’s supply of grace is limitless.

What do we do with grace?

The first two servants doubled the talents given to them. For our spiritual application, they put grace to work by investing it. They found that when they invested the grace given to them into the lives of others, it returned doubled. But the third servant didn’t share the grace he had been given. He hid it in the ground. Perhaps he was afraid of losing it or afraid of someone taking it. Perhaps he was afraid that if he gave it away then there wouldn’t be enough for him as well. But remember, God’s grace is a limitless supply. It’s ok to give it away and invest it in others because God ALWAYS has more.

Why didn’t he share?

The third servant justified his action by saying, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have 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” (Matthew 25:24-25).

To understand this response, we have to look back at the parable of the tares in Matthew 13. This is one I wrote about extensively in “Everything We Need.” In short, God and Satan both planted seed in the world; God planted good seed who grew into sons of the kingdom whereas Satan planted weeds (tares, specifically) who “are the sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). Only two options – we’re either one or the other. But I follow that path in the book so I’ll leave it alone here. Regardless of who planted the seed, God sends his angels to harvest all of them in the end. In other words, God will harvest where He didn’t plant seed. Their outcome isn't good.

What’s the outcome?

God gives the third servant’s unused talent to the first servant. The first servant had the ability to understand and multiply the value of the gift of grace. Perhaps his gift of grace had already forgiven much in his own life. Regardless of the reason, “everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.” For the third servant, though, “whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matthew 25:29). God gave him grace but he never invested it. So God gave it someone else.

In the parable of the tares, the two different plants have two different outcomes. The good plants enter into the kingdom of God but the harvesters burn the tares. Pretty easy to figure out the symbolism there, isn’t it?

Same thing happens here. The first two servants recognize what God gave them and invest it for a greater return in the kingdom. The third servant, however, doesn’t even deposit the grace. The result is the same weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell that we’ve seen in many of these parables.

How is this different during the tribulation?

This is a hard one because I can’t predict the future. Right now, though, when you accept Jesus’ gift of salvation – once God’s grace pours out in your life – nothing can change it. Salvation is sealed. 

For these two tribulation parables, however, the characters start with something but lose it. In the parable of the ten virgins, the unprepared bridesmaids started with oil – symbolic of the Holy Spirit – but they ran out and couldn’t enter the wedding banquet. Likewise, in this parable, God gives grace to the servant but because he does nothing with it, God takes it away again. As I explained earlier, I believe this is at least part of why God gave us the seventy weeks of Daniel – to show that the last week will link to the first 69. It will be a different time than the era of the church in which we now live.

But you know what – we don’t have to wait until the tribulation to invest grace in the lives of those around us. We need to do it now. Extend the grace God gave you into the lives of others before all hell breaks loose on planet Earth.

So ends the kingdom parables. And you know, I didn’t plan this, but “Everything We Need” ends with this same message. God gave us grace; our natural response must be to extend it to others.

Click here for a free, downloadable study on more parables of the Kingdom of Heaven.

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