Summary: Jesus' parable of the talents is a call to us to invest all that we are and all that we have in God's kingdom building work. The story reminds us not to compare, but to faithfully invest what we have, and to get to know the Master's heart.
Use It or Lose It
Today’s parable is a story about investments. Sometimes we think it’s about using our natural abilities to serve God. Why do we think that? Because the story uses the word “talent” throughout. Our English word “talent” actually comes from that interpretation of this parable. As people first translated the parable into English, they began describing natural abilities with the word “talent.” But in Jesus’ time, a talent was a measurement of gold or silver. The NIV translation calls it a bag of gold. It equaled 6,000 denarii, or about what a common laborer would make over the course of twenty years. We’re talking a lot of money here!
So Jesus’ story is a parable about investing. Usually a parable has one central meaning. In my opinion, here is the meaning of today’s parable: take what you have and invest it in God’s kingdom, trusting God to bring the return. You either “use it or lose it.”
So how do we get there? How do we invest all that we have and all that we are for God’s purposes? Here are three ideas from the story. First,
1. Don’t compare.
The first thing I noticed in the parable is that each servant got a different amount. One got five talents, one got two, one got one. Verse 15 tells us the master assigned the amounts, “each according to his ability.” If I was the two-talent guy, I could easily get jealous of the five-talent guy. Or if I was the one-talent guy, I would be royally ticked off that the other two servants got more than me.
The truth is, some people get more than others. Some have nicer cars, or bigger homes, or better clothes, or straighter teeth, or more hair, or flatter tummies, or curvier bodies, or more gifted singing voices, or funnier jokes, or more eloquent diction, or brighter minds, or quicker retorts, or more beautiful wives, or more handsome husbands. You get the idea. It’s easy to compare. And when we do, we open ourselves up to the green-eyed monster of jealousy.
The problem with comparing is it either boosts our ego as we look down at others, or it makes us feel worse as we look up at others. No matter how good you are, you’ll always find somebody better. No matter how bad you are, you can always swell in pride as you discover someone worse off.
But God gives to each according to his or her ability. God doesn’t care about the size of the gift; he cares about the faithfulness of the servant.
A young lad named Antonio sought to sing in his village’s boys’ choir, but his voice was too high and squeaky, so he didn’t make the tryouts. When he took violin lessons, the neighbors begged his parents to make him stop. Yet Antonio still wanted to make music. His friends gave him a hard time because his only talent was whittling. When he got older, Antonio became an apprentice to a violinmaker. His knack for whittling grew into a skill of carving and his hobby became his craft. He worked patiently and faithfully. By the time he died, he left over 1,500 violins, each one bearing a label that read, “Antonio Stradivarius.” They are the most sought-after violins in the world and sell for more than $100,000 a piece. Antonio couldn’t sing or play or preach or teach but he used what he had to honor God, and his violins are still making beautiful music today. [Borrowed from Brian Bill, "Using What God Has Given," March 26, 2003, https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/using-what-god-has-given-brian-bill-sermon-on-gifts-general-56510?ref=SermonSerps]
Will you take whatever God has given you and use it for God’s glory? It may be your winsome personality, or your extra possessions you no longer need, or some of your hard-earned money.
Notice in the parable where the money came from: it all belonged to the master! When you realize that everything you have and everything you are is a gift from heaven above, you lose some of that anxiety about what you do or don’t have.
Don’t compare. And #2,
2. Faithfully invest what you have.
The first two servants—while they received different amounts—took similar actions and got similar results. When their master left, they both jumped into investing and they both realized a 100% return. Not too shabby! Regardless of the different sizes of their investments and returns, notice how the master says exactly the same thing to both of them: “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!”