Living Dangerously – Parable of the Talents

In this parable, found in Matthew 25:14-29, Jesus rewards “risk-takers” and punishes those who safely risk nothing.  I would like to take a look at the unfaithful servant, and what made him afraid to obey the master by taking risks.  In this story, I see three fears and two character flaws that kept the third servant from investing his talent: LIVING DANGEROUSLY – THE FEARS OF THE UNFAITHFUL SERVANT

A TALENT = A CERTAIN WEIGHT OF SILVER – ABOUT $1,000 – Some say 20 years’ wages  

In this parable, Jesus rewards “risk-takers” and punishes those who safely risk nothing.  I would like to take a look at the unfaithful servant, and what made him afraid to obey the master by taking risks.  In this story, I see three fears and two character flaws that kept the third servant from investing his talent:

1                     HE WAS AFRAID OF FAILURE  

We confuse “security” with “service” – We “keep the Gospel safe” – We want everything to be predictable and secure or the Kingdom of God might come crashing down around our heads.  “What if people don’t like me?  What if I am rejected?  What if my project flops? **  Go ahead, ride the roller-coaster, try a jump off a high-dive, launch that ministry, step out in faith and use that gift God has given you, teach a class, try some new methods of ministry, or (gasp) change your order of worship!  If you fail, so what?

“It may be a hard thing for an egg to become a bird; it is a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while it is still an egg. We are like eggs, today, and we either must be hatched, or go bad!” “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements, lock it up safe in the casket or the coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken, it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.” – Excerpted from The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis    


Do you ever carry around in the back of your mind this sense that if you really sell yourself out to God and do what His call is on your life that you are going to be miserable?  I recently attended a quinceañera where the minister told the birthday girl, “Well, up to now you’ve had lots of fun and joy in your life, but now that you’re a lady, it’s time to serve Jesus.”  What? I used to think that if I offered God my life He would make me do the things I hated.  Do you ever feel like that sometimes? The servant didn’t realize that there is joy in doing the master’s will.  How could the master be hard on us for simply doing His will?  God’s perfect will brings “abundant life” and “joy in the Holy Spirit”.  His “yoke is easy and his burden is light.”  Our greatest fulfillment comes from doing His will.

3                     HE WAS AFRAID OF CHANGE  

This is a “biggie”!  We like things just the way they are, thank you very much.  Maybe “rocking the boat” and “shaking things up” and “risking a little” would lead to positive gains for the Kingdom of God, but it would radically infringe on my comfort zone and knock me out of my routine. I talked to a pastor a few months ago who said, “I like to make big, huge ruts, and just stay inside those ruts for years. No surprises for me, please!”  Change hurts; change is uncomfortable, but we have got to be willing embrace change in order to obey the master.

4                     HE WAS WICKED  

The master calls him “wicked” simply because he didn’t follow orders.  His “wickedness” consisted in being willfully disobedient to his master.

5                     HE WAS LAZY  

“This “obeying the master” and “taking risks” stuff just takes more effort than I am willing to give.  I see sacrifice and difficulty ahead, and I just don’t need that kind of personal discomfort!”  He is the type of Christian who makes just enough effort to “get by” while being as comfortable as possible.  But God is calling us to “lay down our lives” and be real disciples.  A real disciple of Jesus believes everything God says and lives like it. HOW ABOUT US? ARE WE FAITHFUL SERVANTS?  ARE WE READY TO TAKE SOME RISKS FOR THE MASTER?  STEP OUT!  TAKE A CHANCE! 

Those who hold onto their lives will lose them, but those who give up their lives to God’s adventures will find them!  Let’s attempt big things for God! 

E.M. Bounds, the great preacher of the Civil War era, said, “Attempt such great things for God that without His help, they are destined to fail.”  Wouldn’t it be awesome to hear God’s voice say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  Come and share your master’s happiness”?


The Lord is teaching me to say with the psalmist ‘I delight to do Thy will’ instead of the usual ‘ Well, I suppose it’s the Lord’s will so we’ll just have to go along with it.’ Oh the delerium of consciously being in the will of the Master…what joy!  — Missionary Jim Elliot —

It may not be on the mountain’s height, or over the stormy sea; It may not be at the battle’s front my Lord will have need of me; But if by a still, small voice, He calls to paths I do not know, I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in Yours, I’ll go where You want me to go. I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord, O’er mountain, or plain, or sea; I’ll say what You want me to say, dear Lord, I’ll be what You want me to be.



— Mary Brown —


For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,but to serve,and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45 

William Willimon is the Campus Pastor at Duke University. One day he got a call from a very angry parent. The father was angry because his daughter, who was supposed to be headed for graduate school, had just decided to “throw it all away” (as the father described it), and go do mission work with the Presbyterians in Haiti. 

“I hold you personally responsible for this,” he said. “She has a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering and now she’s going to dig ditches in Haiti. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible.” 

“Me? What have I done?” asked Willimon.   “You. . . You ingratiated yourself with her. Filled her head with all that religion stuff. That’s why she’s doing this foolishness.” 

 “Now look, buster,” Willimon said as he struggled to keep his ministerial composure. “Weren’t you the one who told her about Jesus?”   “Why, yes,” he said. 

 “And then, didn’t you read her Bible stories, take her to Sunday school, see that she was confirmed, and let her go with the Youth Group to ski in Vale?”   “Well, yes, but…” 

 “Don’t but me.” Willimon said. “It’s your fault that she believed all that stuff, that she’s gone and thrown it all away on Jesus. Not mine. You’re the one who introduced her to Jesus. Not me.”   “But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian,” the father said meekly.  “Sorry. You’ve messed up and made a disciple.”

5 Responses to Living Dangerously – Parable of the Talents

  1. Bruce says:

    I am certainly exhorted to work for the Kingdom of God based on reading this, no doubt. You have always been gifted in the ability to stir up your hearers with a passion for the gospel. And based on that I know that you have always practiced what you are preaching here. I pray that I will not be found wanting in whatever I have done or may do as regards fulfilling my own calling.

    As a general comment, I always caution those exhorting to good works to do so in the context of gratitude for God’s grace that is the basis of our salvation. Without out that understanding, the exhoration to works becomes more law – a law which, of course, we are utterly unable to measure up to. This leads to despair. And will ultimately be counter-productive versus the whole point of the exhortation.

    I think you can afford to overturn a few more stones in the field such that the seed may take even better root. To wit:

    Take the context for example. These three parables followed directly on the heels of Jesus’ Olivet discourse regarding his prophecies for the future and specifically the end times. (Giving the purpose for the issuing of the talents, and thus, as you have done, dispensing with the notion that the idea is a ‘be all you can be’ kind of message.) The text says specifcally that his audience for the Olivet discourse and for the parables was his disciples. Only and privately. This must mean something. So, to present this text well to your flock, I think you must first look at it exactly how the disciples heard it, received it and carried it out. After all, he was speaking directly to them first and any shotgun blast of truth being sent down the corridors of history is only secondary.

    In that light we can surmise some of what the disciples got from this parable. Certainly, some, as evidenced by the resulting canon of N.T. scripture, were 5 talent guys and some 2 talent guys. I would submit to you also that the one talent guy was none other than Judas himself.

    In that same regard, namely the specific charge to the disciples, there is a fruitful word study on the word slave in this passage. A slave and a servant are two different things. In the epistles, the word slave almost disappears. Servant is the word of choice to refer to non-apostolic brothers (and sisters) in Christ. Only Paul refered to himself as a slave of Christ. But Paul continually referred to his helpers as servants. I wouldn’t be surprised if the word slave refers to a much lower, more self-debased kind of a servant. I think this is obvious, actually. This helps beef up the notion that this parable is, in the first place, directly for the disciples, whose shoe laces we are not able to untie. It would, I believe, be presumptuous on our part to think of ourselves as slaves for the gospel. Not that aspiring to be a slave for Christ is out of place. Far from it. In the last shall be first scheme, slaves wind up in front of servants.

    But, of course, this all applies to us as well. Here, I think it is extremely important to differentiate between ‘talents’ in verse Mt. 25:15 and the key phrase ‘each according to his own ability’. That tells us right there that he is not giving us abilities. These talents represent something else. And right here is where you can lay out a panorama of ideas, because the text doesn’t say what they are. We just know that it is not one’s abilities in view. Another thing on this point is that the word ability here doesn’t mean skill or area of specialty. You will be thrilled to learn that the Greek word here is dunamis. Think of it, each according to his own dunamis. This opens the door to a host of ways this parable can be applied to your hearers. Some ideas are, of course, good works out of gratitude, growing in all ways into Christ, doing your own, albeit meager, part in your sanctification, … the sky’s the limit here. One thing for sure is that this reflects the many imperatives given in the Gospel, putting to death any antinomian tendencies in the Church, and should be the theme of the sermon or study.

    There is also a little theology to be thrown in, given the unfortunate demise of the 1 talent guy. Does this destroy preservation of the saints? Well, maybe not. It is entirely possible to read the text to say that, sure he was wicked and lazy but what really got him into trouble was by blaspheming the Lord with his accusations. You know, curse God and die. This is possibly supported by Christ’s retort about putting the 1 talent in the bank so it could gain interest. Christ would have to have been sarcastic here given that usury was an outlawed practice. (He is the one that outlawed it, after all). Here is the grace ‘loophole’, then. Not doing much as a ROI won’t damn you. Blaspheming God, on the other hand is a bad thing. Something that true Christians aren’t able to do.

    I have not covered here much about the motives for such a response to Christ’s parable. A lot can be said there as well.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share.

  2. Brad Ost says:

    A couple of things. When I tried to read your past columns one of two things happened. First, an ad for the for the word press org came up, The Server is tired, and none of your remarks. Secondly, your remarks came out as HTML language. I don’t think it’s me, but maybe it is.

    On your parable of the Talents. I thought your points were excellent … except I don’t agree with all of number two regarding some aspects of the abundant life.

    Now I don’t like what the Pastor said, that there’s a before and after to our life in the Lord. That there comes a time when fun or joy is left behind and hard work and sorrow follows. However, I think a Christian may be called to, or happen to, live a life of struggle. And it will be that that Christian feels no joy, that the yoke doesn’t necessarily feel “light” and that there is no experience of “abundant life.” And for those people James wrote “Consider it all joy.”And Paul tells us not to lose heart because though the outer man is decaying the inner man is growing. This right after a section that keys in on a life of struggle. “How could the master be hard on us for doing His will?” I think He, at times – and perhaps more often than we would think – does make life hard, tough, a struggle, and he does it as we are doing his will. Perhaps it is a matter of definitions. If you say that the joy is an intellectual one, I agree it’s meant to be during all sorts of times. But if you’re referring to an experience of joy, and an experience of abundant life, well, I’d have to disagree.

  3. RubeRad says:

    Hey Jim,

    Thanks for tackling one of the tougher parables — what’s next, the parable of the wise servant (Luke 16)? (interesting side notes: NIV has a extra-biblical header of “parable of the shrewd servant”, while ESV calls him “dishonest”!) It seems that the parables cover similar topics, and in light of the close-proximity Luke 16:9–, (who is faithful in little is faithful in much), might have similar morals.

    As for the Presbyterian joke, it sounds to me like the girl must have jumped from PCUSA to PCA! And what does skiing in Vail have to do with discipleship? You never hosted any trips to Vail when I was in your dojo — no wonder I ended up a Presbyterian!

    You make some good points about risk taking — I would relate that to acting on faith. What do you have faith in? What more does your faith enable you to do, that you wouldn’t/couldn’t if you didn’t have faith?

    For some reason, this also reminds me of a great challenge from the guest preacher (David White from Harvest ministries) we had yesterday morning. He said that all of us have at least one person in our life, that we believe is out of God’s reach (everybody pause and think of that person (I can think of a few…)). Obviously, since we know that God is all-powerful, and he draws all men unto himself, nobody is out of his reach. He challenged us to, instead of giving up on that person (and God!), to have some faith, and pray for that person, and look for opportunities to be a vessel for God’s word to them.

    In the end, I think two things are missing from this study. One is not your fault, because it is “missing” from the Bible, if I can say that. I would like to see one servant take a risk with his talents, and fail, and I would like to see how he fares in the final judgement (more specifically, I want him to come off better than the butt of the actual parable). Or is one of the points to encourage us that, with faith, we will not fail to move mountains? Secondly, what is the guy talking about in v24 with the “reap where you did not sow, and gather where you did not spread seed”? It seems like an accusation of something bad, and the master (who presumably is God, behind the covers of the allegory) fesses up to the accusation in v26. What is God saying about himself there?

    And you really pulled together some great quotes that serve your point well. My favorite was the E.M. Bounds.

    I am certainly challenged (and to no small extent convicted) when I try to think about what risks am I taking with my faith?

  4. Bruce S. says:

    I don’t think he fesses up to anything. In the Greek versions I have, there is a question mark after the so-called fess-up. In affect he is saying “Are you accusing me of reaping where I don’t sow . . . .? (As in, “You blasphemer, how dare you”).

    Another, and I think very valid, angle from the text is the theme of re-creation. After all, this context is the Kingdom of God. From the master’s stating that he was heading off into a far country, then, the immediate situation is the ‘inauguration’ of the Kingdom. Hence, the theme of re-creation. God is re-creating in that he is building his Kingdom. The thematic tie-in is the equivalence of ‘be fruitful and multiply’ with the 5×2 and the 2×2. As such I think you have overplayed the risk angle. I don’t see it in the text at all enough to make it your major theme.

  5. missions trips…

    […]Living Dangerously – Parable of the Talents « Word to the Wise[…]…

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