You have been given talents. Do you know what they are? Do you know how valuable they are? God has given them to you to invest. And someday he will hold you accountable for how you stewarded them.
It’s a sobering thought — and necessarily so. It’s meant to be. But it is also meant to be very liberating.
“Talents” come from Jesus — both the English word and what the English word means. The word is in our lexicon because of Jesus’s parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14–30). In this parable, a master entrusts each of his servants with a certain number of talents to invest while the master is gone on a journey.
To Jesus’s original hearers, a talent meant a very large unit of monetary value. People whose net worth equaled a talent were very well off. People whose net worth equaled numerous talents were rich. But this parable is not really about stewarding money. It is about stewarding the gifts and abilities God entrusts to us. This is why the English word “talents” doesn’t mean money, but gifts and abilities. When we say someone is talented, we don’t mean they’re rich; we mean they’re gifted.
Talents Are Grace-Gifts
The first thing to notice about the servants in Jesus’s parable is that they are given their talents: “to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15). The master wasn’t obligated to give the servants anything. Each servant received his talents by the grace of the master.
The implication of this is clear: none of us has any ground for boasting in our “talents.” What is true about receiving the gospel is true about receiving talents: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
But Jesus includes an important phrase in Matthew 25:15: “he gave . . . talents . . . to each according to his ability.” In English this can be a bit confusing, since “talents” and “abilities” can be synonyms. It can sound as if Jesus is saying God gives us abilities according to our abilities. But in Greek the meaning is clearer. The word translated “abilities” in this sentence is dunamis, which most commonly means power or capabilities.
What Jesus is getting at here is that God graciously entrusts to his servants certain skills and a certain amount of power to employ them. God gives us certain abilities and certain capabilities.
Talents Are Valuable
The second thing to notice is that in choosing talents as the metaphor for the abilities God entrusts to us, Jesus makes clear to us that God values highly the gifts he gives us.
It’s nearly impossible to convert the value of a first century talent into modern currency. But in trying to give us some sense of its actual buying power, some scholars estimate a talent could have been worth as much as $600,000.
Assuming this value for the sake of illustration, one servant in Jesus’s parable received $3,000,000 (five talents), another received $1,200,000 (two talents), and another received $600,000 (one talent). It’s feasible the “less talented” servants might have envied “more talented” ones. But in reality, no servant’s stewardship was insignificant. Each received something of great value.
This also has a clear implication: we must not undervalue what we have been given. Some are given more, some are given less, but all are given much. And Jesus tells us “everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).
This is why the master was so angry at the servant who did nothing with the talent he was given (Matthew 25:26–27). The servant blamed the master’s character for his lack of diligence (Matthew 25:24–25). But the master saw through this smoke screen and called the servant what he was: “wicked and slothful” (Matthew 25:26).
These are words we never want to hear from our Master. This parable is meant to strike the appropriate fear of God in us and force us to ask what we are doing with the grace that has been given to us.
The Grace Given to You
Paul loved that phrase: “the grace given.” He used it in referring to himself:
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you . . . ” (Romans 12:3). Here Paul recognized God had entrusted to him unique authority as an apostle.
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation” (1 Corinthians 3:10). God had entrusted to him unique abilities (talents) to plant churches among the unreached and lay the theological foundation for the Christian church.
“I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). God had entrusted to him unique capabilities (dunamis) to exercise his unique authority and employ his unique abilities.
He also used this phrase about us:
“Having [spiritual] gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them . . . in proportion to our faith” (Romans 12:6).
“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7).
All these texts regarding “the grace given to us” reinforce Jesus’s point in the parable of the talents: 1) God gives us certain grace-gifts (talents), 2) God gives us a certain amount of power to invest them, and 3) God expects us to employ all the strength he supplies (1 Peter 4:11) to invest what he entrusts to us.
Sobering and Liberating
So we must each ask: what are we doing with our talents — with the grace God has given to us? It’s a sobering and liberating question.
It’s sobering because we know our own selfishness, that we are prone by our sin nature to act like the worthless servant who neglected his stewardship. But even such sobering reflection is a grace, because it can shake us out of our self-centered stupor and motivate us to greater diligence.
But the question is also wonderfully liberating, for at least two reasons: 1) God himself supplies us with everything we need, both our talents and our strength to manage them — both our abilities and our capabilities. 2) Realizing this frees us from comparing ourselves with others. We can be free from envying servants who are more talented and/or have greater capacities than we do. And we can be free from judging servants who are less talented and/or have lesser capacities than we do. God is the talent and power-giver, and he holds each of us accountable only for the “grace given to us.”
You have been given talents. They are valued very highly by the Lord. What are you doing with them? Let this question sober you and liberate you. For to every servant who is faithful with the talents entrusted to him, the Master will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). This is what we want to hear.
Invest your talents well, for the joy.