Don’t Waste Your Talents
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 25:14 (Holman) For it is just like a man going on a journey. He
called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.
The parable of the ten virgins emphasized watching for the Second Coming. The parable of the talents highlights working while we watch.
To be ready for Jesus’ return we must watch and work. As we wait, labor by taking care of Kingdom business. Never be idle in serving Christ’s cause. Each of us always has tasks and jobs that God has left us to work on.
In this parable, Jesus is the Master; the slaves are professing believers; and the journey is the time between the Ascension and the Second Coming. The story begins with the master turning over his possessions to his slaves before leaving on a long journey. I remind us, in Jesus’ day, slaves were often gifted artisans and business people who earned money for masters.
Matt. 25:15a To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to
A talent was a measure of weight, as are pounds and tons to us. Our best guess seems to be that it was about seventy pounds. It could have been seventy pounds of gold, silver, or copper. Whichever, it was a lot of money.
We use the word “talent” to denote special abilities in areas including music, business, leadership, sports, gymnastics, acting, etc. The word came into our language from this parable. Bible interpreters have wisely realized money is not the only or ultimate issue facing believers in Kingdom work.
John Ryle said, “Anything whereby we may glorify God is a talent.” Talents are abilities we have to better God’s Kingdom, such as friendliness, music, teaching skills, giving money, praying, writing, time, a comforting demeanor, encouragement, promoting others by humbly working backstage, caring for the sick and poor, influence, health or sickness, love, etc. In other words, there are countless ways to squander or wisely use God’s gifts to us.
Matt. 25:15b . . .to each according to his own ability.
We fall into trouble when we start trying to rank the relative value of people’s abilities. This is not our decision to make. Our task is to use whatever abilities God has given us in whatever nearby task avails itself.
Beware the trap of feeling we do not have any valuable abilities to use for God. Otherwise, we may decide we can do nothing to please God, for He is impressed only with important deeds way beyond our limited abilities.
People with totally different gifts can use them for the Lord equally well. Our assignment is to stay faithful in doing at-hand duties. Hour by hour, fill each hour well. In my favorite secular poem (“If”) Kipling wrote we should “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” Be what you are–what God made you–where you are at any moment.
No one can live at heroic levels every hour everyday, nor do we need to. We each have an overabundance of mundane things needing to be done.
Do not seek to measure our value by comparing ourselves to others. We can’t discover who we are by looking at anyone else. God loves variety.
If order is creation’s first law, variety is its second. We are not all alike. God gives us different abilities and opportunities. John the Beloved was gentle, John the Baptist was harsh, Paul was a debater, Peter was an A-1 leader, Isaiah was dignified, and Jeremiah was depressed. God loves variety.
What if God had made only whales to inhabit the ocean? What would have filled the millions of small holes in coral reefs and caverns? If all birds were eagles, how would the lower parts of the earth be filled with songs?
God made us all different. He made each of us perfect for what He wants us to do. Stones and timbers used in the Temple were marked before they reached the holy site. Once they arrived, the skilled laborers knew exactly where to place them for optimum use. They all fit together perfectly.
Even so our Creator marked each of us in advance in order to fit us together perfectly in the body of Christ. There is something you were made to do perfectly. How do we find what our own particular “something” is?
I have learned for sure; we cannot know what our unique talents are until we begin to experiment. Trial-and-error is always the path to discovery.
Let me add; since we all share equally in God’s perfect placement and love, we must have no envy or pride. We all have a special place of ministry.
Some draw plans for a cathedral, some build an organ, some carve and lay stones, some build a road to the cathedral–all are equally essential to the building’s success. We all have what’s best for us, and best for the Kingdom.
Matt. 25:15c Then he went on a journey.
I wonder if Matthew remembered these words when Jesus ascended, and left him and the others behind. His departure for sure left them in a quandary. They were surely nonplussed, but knew precisely the right choice to make. They chose to pray. I repeat; we have to experiment to find our specific abilities. Let me add; we must bathe the whole enterprise in prayer.
Pray for God to make our lives count, to be ever more useful, to guide us into doing every ounce of labor we can for Him. The Christian reward is ability to do more work. Use increases capacity. This is what we must want.
Matt. 25:15d-16 Immediately the man who had received five talents
went, put them to work and earned five more.
God never gives us abilities solely for us. Our gifts are not ours to clutch, but ours to dispense. We are not to be dead end streets. The blessings from Heaven are to pass through us on their way to someone else.
The first slave was obviously very gifted. He stood out in the crowd. Few believers are gifted enough to be called a five-talents person. Rare is the Peter, Paul, James, John, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Carey, or Billy Graham.
Pride’s ugliness could have easily marred the first slave’s life. He could have worked for his own fame and glory, but was supremely loyal to the master. This gifted slave knew that all he had been, done, and owned belonged to the master, and all he ever gained would belong to the master.
Matt. 25:17 In the same way the man with two earned two more.
Pastor Phillips Brooks felt, of the three slaves, the one who received two talents was the most interesting to try to analyze. Brooks said he was significant because he was insignificant, like most of us feel about ourselves.
The slave given five talents would have felt flattered. The slave given one might have been embarrassed. These two slaves represented extremes.
The slave given two talents was the ordinary guy, the average Joe. Not overly awed or unduly saddened, he set out to do his duty without fanfare.
The two-talents slave is a patron saint to most of us. Few of us feel superior or inferior to all others. People rarely claim to have five or zero talents. Most of us are probably comfortable seeing us as two-talents people.
This can be good—no pride, no despair. But being a regular two-talents person can be dangerous. We don’t relish being known as also-rans.
To realize we are among the undistinguished millions can cause us to be content with mediocrity. Knowing we will be unnoticed, never be revered or stand out in the crowd, leads to the danger of underrating us, letting us get lost in the crowd, and not performing our designated functions in the Church. God made each of us perfect for tasks He wants us to do. Find them.