The Lesson of the One Talent Servant

April 11, 2014

When we use the word talent, we are usually talking about abilities and aptitudes which someone has. Interestingly enough, our English word comes from the Greek word used in the New Testament. Our English meaning may even come from the phrase “each according to his ability” in Matthew 25:15 in the Parable of the Talents. But the Greek word means a weight of about 75 pounds.

The servants in the Parable of the Talents receive 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent respectively. That is, they receive about 375 pounds, 150 pounds, and 75 pounds of something. The talent was equivalent to about 6,000 drachmas or about 20 years’ wages for a laborer. If we were to say a laborer earns $15 per hour, at 2,000 hours per year, he would earn $30,000 per year. That would make one talent equal to about $600,000.

  • 5 talents = 100 years of wages or about $3,000,000
  • 2 talents = 40 years of wages or about $1,200,000
  • 1 talent = 20 years of wages or about $600,000

These are approximations, but they give us a comparison we can understand. This stops me from saying, “Oh, the poor one talent servant, he was given so little.” He was richly blessed, but other servants had greater blessings.

What is wrong with the one talent servant? It is not that he possesses only one talent. He is not blamed for his more limited resources. But two words describe him that we ought to ponder. He is “slothful” ESV, KJV or “lazy” NIV, NASB, NKJV. The definition of the word is possessing a state involving shrinking from something, holding back, hesitation, reluctance. And from that, the definitions of idle, lazy, and indolent.

The second word is “worthless” ESV, NIV, NASB and “unprofitable” KJV, NKJV. This word means being of no use or profit especially in an economic sense or being unworthy of any praise, although the former of these meanings would be more likely in our parable.

The thing I must ask myself has to do with the kingdom of God. Am I dragging my feet to be involved? Am I hesitating to serve God with the result that I’m actually idle or lazy? Am I useful to the kingdom? Does God derive a benefit to his kingdom because I claim to be a servant? Let us learn the lesson of the one talent servant.


The One Talent Servant

February 1, 2013

Hearing the parable of the talents is difficult (see Matthew 25:14-30). We are distanced from the cultural setting of the story. It was a world of masters and slaves. A wealthy master departing on a journey entrusts his possessions to his three slaves. He gives to each according to their ability. The relationship itself says that the possessions are not their own, and they will have to give an account.

The word, talent, is also easily misunderstood. Today, the word, talent, normally means a special ability, and I have heard quite a few sermons about using our talents (i.e., abilities). In the ancient world, the talent had originally been a measurement of weight varying between 57 to 80 pounds and then a unit of coinage. Verse 27 specifically mentions silver, although most English translations just say “money” in this verse, and the NCV inexplicably talks of gold. It’s difficult to translate into dollar amounts, but comparisons help. One talent is about twenty years of wages for a common laborer, so 5 talents, 3 talents, and 1 talent would be 100 years of wages, 60 years of wages, and 20 years of wages. The “poor” one talent man received nearly a million dollars in our currency.
Imagine burying 20 years worth of wages in silver in your field. What were the original hearers thinking as the story was told? Maybe some thought, “If I had that much money, I’d know what to do with it. I wouldn’t just bury it.”

The servants didn’t receive just a few dollars. Even the Message’s $5,000, $3,000, and $1,000 is paltry in comparison with the text. The servants received major investment capital, and economic terms describe their master’s return. He wants to “settle accounts.” The one talent man describes his master as being a “hard man.” The word refers to “being unyielding in behavior or attitude” and in this context, “demanding”. It makes hiding his talent even more difficult to understand, although I suspect we are tempted to do the same. The master calls the one talent man “wicked and slothful” or “worthless and lazy.”

What are we to learn? We have a master – God Himself, the creator of the universe. Everything we have is a matter of stewardship – our money, possessions, time, abilities, and opportunities. We take nothing out of this world except for what we “treasure in heaven.” There are no U-hauls attached to hearses. The greatest treasure we have been given is the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7). Is not the gospel worth a million dollars to us? Will we bury it or use it to achieve gain for our master?

The question is never how much has been entrusted to us. That will in fact vary. The question is whether we are faithful. From our master’s point of view, are we “worthless and lazy” or are we “good and trustworthy”? The bottom line is stewardship.


Life on Loan

March 24, 2010

The parable was told in response to a request; a request that Jesus refuses. A man asks for Jesus to arbitrate an inheritance dispute. Having asked the rhetorical question who made me a judge or arbitrator over you, Jesus concludes with a warning: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15, ESV). Then Jesus tells the story of the rich fool.

The rich fool has a problem – a problem that many of us would like to have. He has so much that he is struggling with where to put it all. What do you give the man who has everything? Answer: storage containers. The rich man decides to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. That is where many modern readers struggle to understand the story. We hear the word barn and think a large, red wooden structure. Barns in the ancient world were often underground granaries that were plastered or bricked. “Tear down” likely refers “to the deliberate taking down of the barns in such a way that the material can still be used.” This rich man has abundance, and he plots a way to keep it all.

The parable gives the rich man’s inner dialogue.

 …and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ (Luke 12:17–19, ESV, emphasis added)

It is interesting to count the number of times the words, “I” and “my,” occur. If all the world’s a stage, this man acts if he is in a one man play.

But the rich fool has his exit. “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’” (Luke 12:20, ESV). The word for “required” is interesting. It means to demand something back or as due as in the case of a loan. Jesus has given us the image that our life is on loan from God.

What happens when I view my life as on loan from God? It changes everything. My life, my time, and my resources are matters of stewardship. I will have to give an account. I must view things from God’s perspective and priorities.

This changed perspective makes the warnings understandable. The abundance of possessions is not the most important thing; God is most important. If I haven’t laid up treasures in heaven, I have nothing that will ultimately last. God will demand my life back someday. My life is on loan.