The parable of the talents

A sermon on Matthew 25:14-30.

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[Matt 25.14-30]
[Chelmsford 7 November 2010]

“Once there was a man who was about to go on a journey” (v14).
So begins the parable of the talents.
Nothing is said about where this journey was to be.
Was the man in question taking some kind of long and exotic vacation?
Was he about to do the grand tour of the ancient world?
We don‟t know - and frankly it doesn‟t matter.

What does matter is that before this rich man set out, he entrusts to his three servants
a considerable sum of money.
The GNB speaks of him giving 5000, 2000 and 1000 gold coins respectively.
In other older versions we read of him giving five, two and one talents.
Unfortunately neither translation conveys the enormity of the sum.
As for the NIV note: “A talent was worth more than a thousand dollars”, this is
thoroughly misleading.
For 5 talents (or 5000 gold coins) was equivalent to 100 years‟ wages for a common
labourer; 2 talents or 2000 gold coins was equivalent to 40 years‟ wages; and one
talent or 1000 gold coins was worth nearly 20 years wages. These were enormous

But - and there is a big BUT - this money was not given to the three servants for
keeps. Rather the money was entrusted to them.
The money didn‟t actually belong to them - it belonged to their master.
They were expected to put the money to good use in their master‟s absence.

After a long time the master returned & called his servants to give an account of their
Two had greatly increased their capital - they doubled their capital. It is plain that
they had done this not by passively investing their money, but by going out &
actively making money. Like any other entrepreneur, they almost certainly had to
take risks with their money. Doubtless they made some losses, but overall they
made massive profits.
As a result they were commended for their business acumen and were rewarded
for their efforts. “Well done, you good and faithful servant”, said their master
(vv21 & 23).
The third servant, however, had not been prepared to take any risk with his
master‟s money - instead he had placed the money into the ground for
safekeeping. He duly restored to his master the exact sum he had received.
But if he had expected praise from his master, he was rudely deceived. “You bad
and lazy servant” (v26) - „At the very least you should have invested the money
in the bank. What a “useless” fellow you are!‟ “Throw him outside in the
darkness; there he will cry and grind his teeth” (v30). Wow! What a way to
end a story. Those who first heard Jesus tell this story must have gasped.

But of course, it is more than a story - it is a parable, and as such it is a story with a
heavenly meaning. Indeed, Jesus prefaced the story with the words: “At that time
the Kingdom of Heaven will be like this” (v14)
[Matt 25.14-30]
So what was Jesus trying to say? Surely, it is this:

1) God has a claim on our lives - he has a claim on your life & on mine.
God expects us to use the talents he has given us. We are called to be
faithful. And to be faithful is to be fruitful - it is to be productive in the
service of God.

2) Faithfulness inevitably means taking risks for God.
Faithfulness in the service of God does not mean minding our ps & qs, it does
not mean keeping our nose clean, it means being bold & adventurous for God.
It means being creative and imaginative in the way in which we live our lives
for God. If God is going to call us “good and faithful servants”, then it will
be because the Kingdom of God has been advanced as a direct result of the
way in which we have used our lives for God

Yes, the general lesson of this parable is chillingly clear.
We are called to live our lives by expressing our faith in action.
This morning, however, I want to develop the parable by reflecting on what may be
meant by the word “talent”. In particular I want to suggest that God is going to call
us to account in three particular areas of our lives.


In the first place, God has entrusted each of us with „money‟.
True, we may have earned our money by the sweat of our brow, but in the end what
we have in our bank accounts is a gift from God. For the strength, the energy and the
intellect which enabled us to earn the cash we have is from God.

In this respect some words of Moses found in Deut 8 are very pertinent: “Make
certain that you do not forget the Lord your God... When you have all you want
to eat and have built good houses to live in, and when your ...silver and gold, and
all your other possessions have increased, make sure that you do not become
proud and forget the Lord your God. You must never think that you have made
yourself wealthy by your own power and strength. Remember, it is the Lord
your God who gives you the power to become rich” (Deut 8.11-14,17-18).

This is God‟s world - not ours
Everything we have is held in trust - including our money.
As in the parable, so in life the amount which we have varies: some have five
talents, some have two talents, while some have just one talent.
The salaries we are paid and the savings we amass vary considerably. Some of us
are paying tax at the highest rate, some at the lowest rate, while others pay no tax
at all.
But, however much or little we earn, all that we have belongs to God and God expects
us to use it all for him.

Now, don‟t get me wrong. It is obvious that we have got to live.
God doesn‟t expect us to starve.
[Matt 25.14-30]
There is nothing wrong with a good old shop at Sainsbury‟s or Tesco‟s.
BUT God doesn„t expect us to squander everything we have on ourselves, or on our
families and friends.

The Bible makes it clear that God‟s people should give a realistic proportion of their
income to God. Precisely what that proportion should be will vary from person to
person – there is no iron rule. The Biblical norm of a „tenth‟ is, however, a guideline;
for some who are on the breadline that may be impossible; but for high earners, a
fifth or even more of one‟s income might be more appropriate.

At the moment we as a church are facing a particular challenge.
At our church meeting in March we exercised faith by adopting a budget which
demanded a 5% increase in giving.
But instead of our giving increasing, our giving has decreased.
At Thursday‟s meeting of the leadership team our treasurer was telling us that if our
giving stays at its present level, then we will end up with a £37,350 deficit by the end
of March.
This is a very worrying state of affairs.

We recognize that these are tough times.
There is no doubt that some within our church cannot afford to give more
Indeed, those amongst us losing their jobs may well have to give less.

My gut-feeling, however, is that there are some of us who could and perhaps even
should give more.
It is possible that some of our members and friends have not given more because they
felt the church did not need the money: perhaps some have felt that as a result of the
income we gain from letting out our premises we have more than enough.
The fact is that this is not the case: our impending deficit of £37,350 takes account of
the money we receive from lettings.

This is the time of the year when the treasurer and the finance team begin the work on
next year‟s budget. But how can one construct a budget for the next financial year
when we are facing such deficit this year?
Does God really want us to make a drastic cut to next year‟s budget?
This would have profound implications for our mission to Chelmsford – it would
mean having to let go of staff.

Brothers and sisters, we face a major crisis which we will have to resolve.
In the light of this parable, what is God saying to us? To you?
Maybe some of us need to invest another £1 a week into the church?
Others of us may believe that God is telling us to invest a further £5, £10, £15
per month into the church.
Maybe for some of us it may be a more radical step of beginning to tithe – and
this may involve investing a further £50 or £100 per month.
It may feel risky giving more at this time of austerity – but surely that is what faith is
all about. Faith is about risk-taking – about making sacrifices.
Let me be up front with you: in order to preach this sermon with integrity, I have had
to write a letter to the treasurer giving notice that I wish to up my giving.
What kind of investment is God calling you to make?
[Matt 25.14-30]
In this respect let me draw your attention to words Paul wrote to the church at
Corinth: “Remember that the person who sows few seeds will have a small crop;
the one who sows many seeds will have a large crop. You should each give, then,
as you have decided, not with regret or out of a sense of duty; for God loves the
one who gives gladly. And God is able to give you more than you need” (2 Cor

When it comes to our use of money, will God say to us “Well done, you good and
faithful servant”?

That fact is that our talents, represented by the cash we have, have been entrusted to
us by God. We have a God-given responsibility to put our money to good use.
And as this parable reminds us, one day we shall have to give an account of our
stewardship of our money to God


A „talent‟ is literally a sum of money.
But the word „talent‟ has also a metaphorical sense, and then it means a natural gift.

God has given us many & various gifts:
some have a gift for making music or for writing poetry;
others have a gift for teaching or organising;
yet others have a gift for knocking a nail squarely on the head or for putting up a
while there are those with the gift of listening or of offering a word of wisdom.
The list of gifts is endless.

Furthermore, all of us are gifted
There is not one useless person amongst us.
All of us have something to offer in the service of God.

True, some of us are more gifted than others - there are some who seem to have two
if not five talents, while others of us have only one gift.
When I was a student at Cambridge my tutor, Dr Picken, who taught in three different
faculties - botany, music & Chinese. He was a real polymath. It was an awe-
inspiring experience to have dinner with such a man.
Not all of us can be so gifted.
But we all have at least one „talent‟ or gift which can be used in the service of God.
Paul put it this way when writing to the church at Corinth: “There are different
kinds of spiritual gifts... there are different ways of serving... there are different
abilities to perform service... But it is one and the same Spirit who... gives a
different gift to each person” (1 Cor 12.4-6,11).

What are we doing with the gift(s) that God has given us?
I can guarantee that as a church we can use whatever gift you have to offer
Let me give just four examples of particular areas where help is urgently needed:
[Matt 25.14-30]
The Oasis Café needs more helpers. What about giving four hours a week to
God once a week – or even once a fortnight?
The Pastoral Team needs more care group leaders: what about giving two
hours a week to caring for others?
Light Factory needs more teachers: what about going on a rota and teaching
our children two or three Sundays a month?
We need two more leaders for the Fusion groups – one male, and in particular
one female. Yes, it means staying on after the evening service – but what a
difference you could make.

What are we doing for God? Will God be able to say of each one of us, “well done,
you good and faithful servant”?

One of the lessons of this parable is that our talents, represented by the gifts we have
been given, have been entrusted to us by God.
We have, therefore, a God-given responsibility to put our talents to good use.
What‟s more, one day we shall have to give an account of our stewardship of our
money to God


There is a third area of application which is probably truer to the thrust of the parable.
For when Jesus told this parable, he did not have in mind people using their money or
their gifts for God, but rather the need to tell others of God and his love.

For this parable, like all the other parables, was aimed at Jesus‟ contemporaries.
Jesus used this parable to warn Israel‟s leaders of God‟s judgment that was hanging
over them.
It is very likely that the third servant, the lazy scoundrel who did nothing, represents
the scribes and the Pharisees.
God had intended the entrusted them with message of his love for the world; but
instead of being a “light to reveal God’s will to the Gentiles”, they had hoarded
away that saving knowledge of God.
They had buried it where not even the ordinary people of Israel could get at it.
They had kept for themselves what was meant for all. And in so doing they had
defrauded God - and for this they would have to answer.

Who are the successors of the scribes & Pharisees?
In a sense, we are. For God has entrusted us with the message of his salvation.
Through this parable Jesus asks: “What have you done with this message of
According to Paul, the Gospel is “God’s power to save all who believe” - but is this
so? Have we allowed others to know of God‟s grace in Jesus Christ, or have we as it
were „buried‟ it?

Listen again to the third servant: “I was afraid, so I went off and hid your money
in the ground” (v25).
The third servant was not a crook - he didn‟t swindle his master.
[Matt 25.14-30]
He was simply afraid to take a risk with what had been entrusted to him.
We have been entrusted with the Gospel. What are we doing with it?
Are we willing to take risks for the sake of the Kingdom?
Or are we afraid, afraid of what others might think if we begin to invite them to our
church, let alone tell them of what Jesus means to us.
When it comes to sharing our faith, will God be able to say to each one of us “well
done, you good and faithful servant”?

That fact is that the message of the Kingdom has been entrusted to us by God.
We have, therefore, a God-given responsibility to share this news with others.
And as this parable reminds us, one day we shall have to give an account of our
stewardship of the Gospel to others.
On that day we shall discover that living a Christian life is not sufficient - God
expects us to take risks for the Kingdom, not least risks in the way in which we share
with others the Good News of Jesus and his love.



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