God has given to each of us unique treasures. What does he expect us to do with them?
To help us focus on spiritual capitalism - growing the gifts God has given us.
We will look at the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.
What is a Talent
What is a talent in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:15)? It is a unit of money for gold or silver. The Greek talent from Athens or Attic talent was equal to 26 kilogram (57 pounds) weight of silver. In recent years the spot price of silver has fluctuated between $16 and $48 an ounce, or $14,000 to $43,000 for a talent of silver. That value is somewhat helpful, but is a comparison for our time using volatile silver prices. Another way to measure a talent was used anciently. It was a value of about fifteen year’s wages. If the current average wage is about $52,000 that would result in a talent being worth about $780,000. Whichever way we calculate it, it contradicts the criticism of the lazy servant. The master was very generous.
Private capitalism in the hands of greedy people causes gross inequities and class warfare. Private capitalism in the hands of people who love God and neighbor blesses everyone. That reality may help us to understand what the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) is all about. The honorable means to wealth is hard work, but for Jews under Roman occupation the means to wealth was by corruption and oppressing the poor. Wealth today can also be gotten by good and evil means and also be used for loving or selfish purposes. Why does the parable reward those who produce more spiritually for the kingdom of God? Because the parable is not about greedy capitalism, but kingdom capitalism. God knows that those who produce more spiritually will love him and their neighbors most, and be the most willing to share.
Is our personal spiritual journey one where we play it safe or are we willing to take risks? It is a risk to mention the Gospel to others. They may hate us, or dismiss us as nut cases, or they may believe and be saved. Many Christians take their faith and bury it (Matthew 25:18, 24-30), but Christianity is meant to spread. In the Parable of the Talents Jesus likened the path that he would prefer a Christian to take to making business investments. A common practice in ancient times, before banking became common, was to bury money in the ground. It was the safe route. But Jesus does not want us to take the safe route with the spiritual investments that he has left us. He wants us to take risks and grow his investment. People are his treasure.
What God Requires of the Wealthy
As class warfare threatens, a question needs to be asked: What does God require of the wealthy? Wealth can be gained by good or evil means. Wealthy people also have a greater capacity for good or evil. Wealth does bring a greater responsibility for doing good in the world. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus went on to illustrate how those who have been given much can do so much more for God. In Luke 12:41-48 he reminded us that to whom much is given much is required. Warren Buffett has been preaching that the wealthy need to pay a greater share of taxes, but that is only a small part of the story. Wealthy people have far more capacity to show love to their neighbors in practical ways than the average person. Love for neighbor is what God requires.
A Gamble vs the Safe Route
Some Christians are totally against gambling, meaning games of chance. Those same Christians rarely criticize farmers, job-hunters or entrepreneurs for taking a calculated gamble. The truth is there are stupid gambles where the odds are terrible, like state lotteries, most Casino games and jumping into business with inadequate preparation. There are also calculated gambles, like starting a business after thorough preparation, having car insurance or planting a crop of potatoes. In Matthew 25:18, 24-30, Jesus staked a group of people and he asked them to take a gamble with his money. He did not ask them to take any foolish risks, but to take a chance never-the-less. Sometimes in life we simply need to step out and take a gamble. Remember, it was the person who took the safe route who was criticized in the Parable of the Talents.
Grace is a Risk
Rather than take a risk that people may abuse freedoms, the legalistic solution is to ban them. We try to be more righteous than Jesus, ignoring Bible passages which reveal many such things as blessings from God if used rightly. Ban lists down through the ages have included topics like sex, dancing, alcohol, and card-playing. Grace is a risk. Legalism is not. Matthew 25:18, 24-30 encourages us to take the risk of grace. Yet we seek the safe route, put all our blessings in a napkin and bury them in the ground. Let’s not live life as if we just sucked on a sour lemon. Legalism seems safe but it is not. It is a prison. Jesus did not obey such silly Pharisaic taboos. Instead he took giant risks, dying on a cross so that some might be saved.
The Greatest Talent
Does The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) justify profit by any means? Does it justify paying poverty wages, cheating customers and other dishonest business practices as long as the profit is there? The parable is about the kingdom of heaven, so ought talents from God be used for dishonest worldly practices? The talents are spiritual gifts and the bonuses are given to those who are the most productive for the kingdom of heaven. When we deceive ourselves that we have greater value than others and then cheat our neighbors aren’t we really worldly and not spiritual? Does not the parable picture someone who produced the most in loving God and neighbor? Is not the greatest reward for the greatest obedience to the greatest command? Is not the greatest talent in the kingdom of heaven the capacity to love?
Same Salvation Different Rewards
Is equal pay for the lazy and the hard-working fair? Does the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) indicate that it is right to base pay upon an employee’s ability, diligence and results? Bible passages indicate a double share of inheritance for firstborns (Deuteronomy 21:17) and a double honorarium or pay for diligent preachers (1 Timothy 5:17). Is God okay with giving someone five times more investment capital and paying ten times what another received? Is God also okay with giving the productive person a ten percent raise on top of their great reward? What would God say about grossly excessive salaries that are perhaps hundreds of times more? Ultimate justice will be handed out in eternity where there will be the same salvation but different rewards based on what we do with what God gave us.
Some Important Spiritual Questions
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) highlights some important spiritual questions. Is the kingdom of heaven a society of equals or does God give different abilities and levels of responsibility? If the spiritually productive are good and faithful, are the spiritually unproductive lazy and evil? Is the safe route sometimes in reality the riskiest of all leading to ultimate failure? Can faithfulness in small things lead to great things and can unfaithfulness in the smallest things lead to complete failure? Should we waste time criticizing the boss as too hard, or just get on with the job? Do spiritually successful people just get straight to work? Is it fear that often produces failure? Do those who produce more deserve more? What does the extra talent awarded to the most successful say about excessive versus moderate reward for effort?
7 Churches Different Rewards
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) has relevance to the letters to 7 churches of Revelation 2-3. If you have a red-letter Bible, you will notice these are also words of Jesus. Victorious Ephesians are rewarded with rights to the tree of life. Smyrnan overcomers will not be hurt by the second death. Victorious Pergamenians will receive hidden manna and a special reward. Thyatiran overcomers will receive power over nations. Victorious Sardians will be dressed in white and listed in the book of life. Philadelphian overcomers will be pillars in God’s temple. Victorious Laodiceans will be given positions with Christ on his throne. It seems that some of these churches are only given eternal life while others also have great positions over nations, in the temple or at the very throne of Christ based upon what they overcame.
The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) does not seem to cover all possible scenarios. For instance, what if a servant did not bury his talent but lost it to bad investments? This parable is not talking about worldly money but spiritual capital. Heaven’s investments cannot fail because they are the currency of a kingdom which cannot fail. The only way to failure is to do nothing, to bury the gift of God in the ground. If used, it will produce fruit. What if a servant was given a large sum and decided to steal it and run? Again, we are not talking about a worldly master here but God and his kingdom. There simply is nowhere to run from God. The only thing that we can do with spiritual gifts received is either use them or bury them.
God has made an investment in you and me. He expects a return in spiritual capital. What are we doing with the spiritual gifts that God has given us?