By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Matthew 25.14-30
Note to the Reader
The reader may be aware that I was involved in an in-depth study and research project during the closing months of 2009. The study was about the influence and use of the Old Testament within the New Testament. Considerable information has been found of which I am reflecting on, meditating about, and asking God for more guidance to understand. The study was highly rewarding, informative, and leavening for the maturation of my spiritual understanding. While I am concluding my study, I encourage the reader to invest additional time reading the Gospel of Matthew in conjunction with this article, and may the reader have a blessed and prosperous New Year.
From the word talent we think of much. We use it to refer to someone’s ability to achieve, whether one has a talent for sports or a talent for business, they have a gift for success in their field. So when we read The Parable of the Talents1 our natural inclination is to think of a person’s ability. This is why the NIV helps when we come to this parable. The NIV uses the phrase “five talents of money”2 and therefore clarifies that the word talent is not referring to our current meaning of ability. Interestingly, the NIV helps clarify one of the original applications of the parable.
The Parable of the Talents is a lengthy parable weighing in at seventeen verses. It becomes even weightier when we consider that this parable sets within the context of Jesus answering his disciples’ questions, “When shall these things be? And what is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?”3 The answer that Jesus gives is nearly two entire chapters, including the last verse of chapter twenty-five. So while this parable about talents is about using what you have been given, it also falls within the context of knowing the signs of the end and the disciple preparing for the time of Jesus’ return. Because of the parable’s length there are many powerful lessons for disciples, but time only allows us to look at two.
Perhaps one of the unseen realities of this parable is that the one-talent servant was judged by the world he created. Consider these verses:
Then he which had received the one talent came and said,
“Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.”4
On the outset, it may seem that the statement given by the one-talent servant was wisely considered, and that he was simply trying to express that he was fearful of not achieving to the master’s satisfaction. But on closer inspection, what we find is that the servant spoke into existence a reality that never was intended to be. Consider the master’s answer:
His lord answered and said unto him,
“Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.5
Since when does Jesus, our master, possess such an unsavory character? He does not. But what this part of the parable teaches is that the things the servant speaks will judge them. A proverb of Solomon’s is “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”6 The one-talent servant spoke into existence a new reality. This parable does not have the one-talent servant plead for mercy, but it seems that if he had, the master would have been merciful – which seems consistent with other instances were Jesus teaches about mercy and forgiveness.7
The servant spoke into existence a master that was harsh and unjust; and then was judged as unworthy by the harsh and unjust master. This is how powerful the tongue is. The tongue, as seen by Solomon’s proverb, has the power to create life or create death. By speaking, God created the world. Jesus was word, and the word became flesh. In this application, it matters not that the servant himself was fearful, in his fear the servant spoke into existence a world that should not be. It is a fearful thing to realize that we, as servants, will be judged by the world we create through our spoken word.
The one-talent servant did fear, this seems to be beyond doubt, and in that moment the servant is seen most clearly. This servant feared that his master would be harsh and unjust. In the Gospel of John, we find at least four times where people were afraid of others.8 Since God and Jesus are not harsh or unjust, what do we fear?
It seems that humanity, within its natural state, is fearful. We fear almost everything. If there is a phobia, there is a name for it. It is easier to focus on fears like: being afraid of the dark, or being afraid of spiders. But the truth is that our greatest fears remain unspoken, like a fear of being wrong, a fear of not being perfect, or a fear of not being able to achieve. What if I am wrong, will God punish me? What if I am not perfect like Jesus, will God punish me? What if I did not do enough, will God punish me? These fears may be so strong and unspoken that just by mentioning it, the reader might become ruffled and uneasy – after all these are things that we are not to discuss. Do not interpret that to mean that I am casually flippant about our fears, yet I am aware that there are some who fear the things mentioned.
One of the greatest teachings of the Bible is “Don’t have fear”. Twelve times the phrase “Fear Not” is found in the Gospels.9 Some of those are spoken by angels; some are spoken by Jesus, and one is spoken by a city judge who did not fear God.10 While the beginning of wisdom is fearing God,11 and even though God, through his representatives, has told individuals and humanity not to fear, we still fear just like the one-talent servant.
Fear seems powerful because it can cause us to stop in our tracks. Fear seems powerful because it can cause us to retreat. Fear seems powerful because it can destroy our self-esteem, self-image, and self-worth. Fear seems powerful because it can motivate us to hurt others before they can hurt us. Fear seems powerful because it can invoke our anger. Fear seems powerful because it can cause us to reject others before we are rejected.
A phrase like “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”12 is a powerful motivator. But really what does a disciple have to fear when Jesus is greater and more powerful than the adversary?13 Why does a disciple live without fear? Because God’s perfect love casts out our fear14 since God himself is love;15 secondly, the disciple can do all things through Christ Jesus.16 A disciple without fear is one that inspires others; and one others aspire to be. God’s servants do not have to be completely right; or perfect and without sin; or do just the right amount to achieve salvation. Consider Samson being a member of the Hall of Faith.17 God simply expects us to “not fear” and demonstrate that we are “not fearful” in taking the world for God.
1. The Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25.14-30, NASB.
2. “Five talents of money.” Matthew 25.15, NIV.
3. “Disciples’ Questions.” Matthew 24.4, NASB.
4. “One Talent Servant’s Created World.” Matthew 25.24-25, KJV.
5. “The Master’s Answer.” Matthew 25.26-27, KJV.
6. “A Proverb of Solomon.” Proverbs 18.21, KJV.
7. “Jesus teaches about mercy and forgiveness.” Matthew 6.12, 14-15, 18.23-35, NASB.
8. “Afraid because of Fear.” John 7.13, 9.22, 19.38, 20.19, NASB.
9. “Fear Not.” Matthew 1.20, 10.28, 28.5; Luke 1.13, 1.30, 2.10, 5.10, 8.50, 12.7, 12.32, 18.4; John 12.15, King James “exact phrase” word search, e-sword version 8.0.6.
10. “City Judge Did Not Fear God.” Luke 18.1-5, NASB.
11. “Fear of God beginning of wisdom.” Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 9.10, NASB.
12. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt.
13. “Jesus is greater and more powerful than the adversary.” First John 4.4, NASB.
14. “Perfect love casts out fear.” First John 4.18, NASB.
15. “God is love.” First John 4.8, NASB.
16. “Do all things through Christ.” Philippians 4.13, NASB.
17. “Consider Samson.” Hebrews 11.32; Judges 13.1-16.31, NASB.