The “Parable of the Talents” in the Bible has long been interpreted with a leaning towards the basic idea that if you serve God more, He will serve you more. Give God more, and He will give more of Himself to you. If you don’t, you will have a lacking life and may be in jeopardy of losing your salvation. It’s the kind of interpretation that has given many a Christian a performance-based view of the Christian life.
Yet, if we don’t let the Bible interpret the Bible in its “context”, we can make a “con” out of the “text.”
The parables of Jesus were used to help people glean revelation from God about the Kingdom of God and how God works. The are highly symbolic and deliberately so. They are meant to draw the listener/reader in to the revealing whispers of the Spirit as one meditates on God’s Word.
This parable is given in its original context to a Jewish, legalistic audience. This is a key understanding in discerning God’s revelation through this parable. The Jews were followers of the Law, and saw personal performance as their means to God and the things of God. Jesus, being the manifestation of Grace, came to fulfill the law and establish a new covenant solely based on His performance on the cross and His gift of righteousness to all who believe.
The Parable of the Talents is commonly referred to as the “Parable of the Bags of Gold.” This too, is an important contextual issue in discerning the Spirit’s revelation of truth through this parable. The talents given in the parable were gold.
It is commonly known that “gold” in the Bible is a symbol of the righteousness of Christ. As a gift, it symbolizes God giving His best, His son Jesus Christ. Indeed, gold is a symbol of the Grace of God in Christ Jesus, providing us righteousness through His performance (death and resurrection) on the cross, received through faith. Like gold, it is a pure gift of pure righteousness for those who believe. Jesus paid the price we couldn’t pay so we could receive a gift we could never deserve. It is this Grace of God that saves us, sustains us, and sanctifies us.
Now for the parable. (Matthew 25:14-30)
14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
In basic terms, the parable portrays Jesus, the master, giving His most precious gift, the righteousness of His son Jesus Christ symbolized by gold talents. The Grace of God in Christ Jesus is given to all, but what we do with God’s grace matters deeply to God. The parable is dealing with the stewardship of God’s unmerited Grace and favor through Jesus Christ, not personal talents.
Why 5, 2, and 1? The number 5 is symbolic of Grace, the number two symbolic of Jesus and dualism, and 1 represents God.
The people who are living a 1-talent life view God and living for God in a very legalistic way as symbolized in the parable. They know God as creator, but not Jesus as Lord and Savior. They have buried the revelation of Grace through Jesus Christ, desiring rather a life based on their performance and merit. They have chosen religion (or the absence of) over regeneration and relationship with Christ. Because they have no faith in God’s Grace in Christ, the have no reward, but rather loss. What they now have available to them in Christ, able to be received through faith, will one day have an expiration date upon Christ’s return, and in that sense, be taken away from them because they refused unto the end to receive it.
The people who are living a 2-talent life believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but live a life mixing together Jesus and their own performance as the bases of their worth, value, and favor from God. What they may call a “balance” or “dance” between God and their performance, God calls a mixture of two covenants. By their living and how they teach others to live, one can tell they don’t truly believe that the same Grace that saved them also sustains and sanctifies them. It’s obvious that we are all designed in Christ Jesus for upright, godly living, and to fulfill and serve a purpose here on earth. 2-talent people however, believe the best method to this goal is to mix their efforts and God’s together. They see the Christian life as “Jesus and me” instead of “Jesus as me.” Thus, the foundation of their life and living is a little bit them and a little bit Jesus. Yet, God’s method to the goal of holiness and faithfulness is Grace. It’s His performance “as us” in this world. We are the righteousness of Christ, co-laborers, having every spiritual blessing. In the Bible, Paul declared that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:9-10). We lack nothing. Jesus Christ possesses all of God. We possess all of Jesus Christ. He possesses all who believe. It’s a complete union. There is no division between us. It is not just Christ in your life, it is Christ “as” your life. This is the foundation from which Paul concluded, 13 [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight. (Philippians 2:13, AMP) The foundation for obedience and service is faith, not self-effort nor performance. Your Christian life is a 100% you and 100% Jesus. Not 50% of each. Neither is it a 50% your performance and 50% His. It’s 100% Jesus’ performance in, through, and “as” you. You don’t need more of Jesus or more closeness with Jesus, you have all of Him and are as close as you can get, you need only believe it to receive it. Faith is the currency of heaven, not your faithfulness. It is clear that this 2-talent person had at least a faith to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and because so, his faith was rewarded.
The people who are living a 5-talent life have received God’s Grace and are living solely from God’s Grace. There is no mixture of covenants. It’s all grace upon grace, not grace with a mixture of Law (performance based rules). There is no balance or dance, there is only being “as He is so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17) Because they have received the pure Gospel of God’s grace through faith, they don’t sin more, they sin far less. Their identity in Christ (complete, whole, forgiven etc.) shapes their performance in life, not the other way around. It is right believing that leads to right living. These are people who have taken all of God’s Grace and live all by Grace, and give all through Grace. For them, as they labor to rest in Grace (Hebrews 4:11), there is no striving or trying to their Christian life, there is only believing and trusting. Theirs is an obedience of faith (Romans 1:5) that leads them to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit with true power and multiplying effectiveness for the Kingdom. They don’t have to serve, love, sacrifice, etc. they “get” to. It’s not a work, but an act of love from a foundation of rest. It is in and through this foundation of faith that God is able to bless and multiply. The multiplying mathematics of the Kindgom is “grace upon grace” not “grace upon performance” or “grace upon law.” All received and manifested through faith.
The only two places in scripture where it is recorded by the Holy Spirit that Jesus became angry were situations where Grace was not given (and thus obviously not received). God is super serious about what we do with His pure Gospel of Grace, and the Parables of the Talents is one place where Jesus communicates this seriousness through parable.
For sure, don’t refuse Grace and live a 1 talent life. Yet, don’t mix Grace and live a 2 talent life. Receive, live, give, and rest in the fulness of the Gospel of God’s grace and live a 5 talent life!