Use It or Lose It


Life Impact: You will be challenged to take the risk of investing all that God has entrusted to you to advance His kingdom.

Resources Entrusted:  Matthew 25:14-18.

[14]  "For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. [15]  To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. [16]  Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. [17]  In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. [18]  But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”  [NASU]

[14]  The story starts rather abruptly with For it is just like without any explanation of what it signifies. But since the story follows on a parable explicitly said to refer to the kingdom of heaven, there is no reason for doubting that it carries on the teaching about the kingdom. The preceding parable has taught the importance of being ready; this one carries on that theme by showing what readiness means. Readiness is not a matter of passively waiting, but of responsible activity, producing results which the coming master can see and approve. For the period of waiting was not intended to be an empty, meaningless delay, but a period of opportunity to put to good use the talents entrusted to his slaves. The kingdom, then, is likened to a man about to go on a journey. This man was obviously a man of means, and he wanted to have his money used profitably while he was away. He summoned his own slaves and passed over to them the money he wanted them to invest while he was away.

[15]  That the money was calculated in talents presents us with a problem, for a talent was a measure of weight, not a specific unit of currency. It was the largest weight in normal use, and when used for money it might refer to either gold or silver or copper. From this parable many have derived the use of “talent” to indicate abilities of various kinds, but we should be clear that the word had no such associations for Jesus and His hearers. It was simply a unit of weight. Attempts to put the talent into modern monetary terms is difficult because we do not know whether gold or silver or copper is in mind here. All that we can say is that five talents represents a considerable sum of money, two was not a small amount, and one was a sum not to be disregarded. The fact that different amounts were allotted to different servants seems to mean that the master thought one of them distinctly more able than the others, the second one to be a man of some ability, and the third to be distinctly less capable than the first two. No instructions are recorded, and we are left to understand that the master wanted the servants to use their own initiative. He wanted them to trade as best they could with the money he had left with them, but he did not want to tie them down with binding instructions when he could not tell what conditions would be like throughout his absence. Having allotted his money as he saw best, he went off.

[16-18]  Jesus describes the first servant as immediately setting to work. He does not say what that servant did, and it is of no great importance. What matters is that he traded with them. This signifies that he put them to good use in some way. In time diligence was rewarded, for the five talents entrusted to him became ten. His activity resulted in the doubling of his original capital. There is little to be said about the second servant. He was also a diligent worker, and he likewise doubled his original capital. Both servants had done well; both had doubled the amount entrusted to them. The third servant was a very different kind of person. The word But which introduces this section of the story indicates that this man forms a contrast to those mentioned earlier. Jesus says nothing about his reasoning at this point, but simply that he hid the money. Not for him the labor of buying and selling, working and making a profit. He simply dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. This was a common way of hiding objects for safekeeping in these times. If it was carefully done, nobody other than the person who dug the hole would know where it was and what was in it. Jesus does not indicate at this point why the man did this. The important thing for this man was that the money was secure and that he could produce it when the time came. Keeping it in this way meant that there was no possibility of loss, but it also meant that there was no possibility of gain.

Faithfulness Rewarded: Matthew 25:19-23.

[19]  "Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

[20]  The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ [21]  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ [22]  Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’ [23]  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’”    [NASU]

[19-21]  The period of the master’s absence is not specified, but it was a long time. It was this length of time that enabled the first two servants to increase their capital by 100 percent. The master then came and settled accounts with them. The day of reckoning had come. The first to give account of himself was the first to have received the money. The man who had been entrusted with five talents brought his original sum plus the money he had gained and explained to his master that he had made a gain of five talents. His master commended this servant. He salutes the servant as good and faithful, an expression that approves both his character and his diligence; he had been all that the master expected. The master goes on to develop the thought of faithfulness. The servant, he says, has been faithful with a few things. Clearly Jesus wants His hearers to understand that the master was a very rich man. While we do not know exactly how much five talents were worth in our money, it seems clear that it was a considerable sum. But the master can speak of it as no more than a few things. Now that the servant has proved himself in what the master regards as a comparatively lowly piece of service, further doors of opportunity will be opened to him. I will put you in charge of many things indicates that the faithful servant will be rewarded with a position that will give him more scope for the use of the abilities that he has shown he possesses. Once again Jesus is teaching that the reward for good work is the opportunity of doing further work. Enter into the joy of your master clearly means that the servant has received the warm approval of his master and that his future is one in which joy will be prominent.

[22-23]  The process is repeated with almost identical wording in the case of the servant who had been given two talents. It is noteworthy that though the second servant had gained but two talents, his praise is in words identical with that given the man with five. They had both doubled the sum entrusted to them, and they were both congratulated for doing so. The actual size of their gain was not as important as the fact that each had doubled the amount entrusted to him.

Opportunity Squandered: Matthew 25:24-30.

[24]  "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.

[25]  And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’ [26]  But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. [27]  Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. [28]  Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ [29]  For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. [30]  Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”     [NASU]

[24-25]  Finally there came also the man who had received the one talent. He used the same polite address as the other two, Master, but diverges by going into a description of his owner: I knew you to be a hard man. The servant puts this forward to excuse his failure to do anything with his talent, but in doing so he takes away some of his defense. If he knew that his master was a hard man, he knew also that he had been expected to do something profitable with the money entrusted to him. He explains something of what hardness means in this case. Reaping where you did not sow means that the master had the habit of enjoying a crop on which he had expended no labor. Gathering where you scattered no seed probably has much the same meaning; it refers to the winnowing process at the end of harvest. The sowing and the scattering refer to the processes that began and completed the getting of a crop. The master, this man says, profited from sowing and winnowing where he had not gone through the hard work of using the plough and plying the winnowing shovel. The picture this servant draws is of a man with an eye to business; he picked up profits in all sorts of places and not only those that resulted from his own hard work. All this is said to explain his reaction to being left to look after a talent. He says that he was afraid, evidently afraid that if he used the money in business undertakings as his fellow servants were doing he would lose it and thus make himself liable to punishment. So, he says, I hid your talent in the ground. This made him certain of losing nothing, but it also meant that when he was face to face with his master he could say nothing better than see, you have what is yours.

[26-28]  But is adversative, showing that far from accepting the explanation, the master is ready to rebuke his servant. Instead of good and faithful, the master describes this servant as wicked, lazy. It was a wicked thing to receive money from his master and fail to use it to the best advantage, whatever his motive. But in any case, his motive was something for which he could be blamed, and the master says that he is lazy. He let a natural disinclination for work cooperate with a dislike for getting some gain for his master, with the result that he did nothing. He felt that his preservation of the talent was something for which he should receive credit. The master accepts the description of himself as reaping what he did not sow and gathering what he did not winnow, but interestingly he drops the word hard that the servant had applied to him. It may well be that he is not saying that he really is the kind of man he has been said to be, but saying that if the third servant really thought that he was like that he would have acted in a different manner. What the servant had done was not in accordance with a genuine belief that his master reaped where he did not sow, gathered where he did not winnow. The master points out how easily the servant could have made some gain, even if he mistrusted his own ability to trade profitably. You ought is a strong term; the master is not thinking about something that might possibly be done, but of something that must be done. So he says that the servant should have put the money in the bank, a procedure that he could have undertaken with safety and no great personal exertion. The result would have been that his master would have profited from the interest earned. As it was, he got his money back, but nothing more. Having rebuked his servant and made it clear why he was being blamed, the master proceeds to the action required in that situation. Therefore is important. The master is not acting in an arbitrary fashion. The man has had the money for quite some time and has shown that he has no intention of making any use of it. Left with him it would stay buried in the ground. Therefore it was necessary to take the money away. Give it to the one who has the ten talents. That man has shown that he knows how to use money profitably. He will make the best use of it, and therefore it should be left with him.

[29-30]  This verse largely repeats the words of Matthew 13:12. Jesus is not giving approval to business practices that enable the wealthy to become wealthier at the expense of the deserving poor. Rather He is laying down a principle of the spiritual life, a principle of great importance. Anyone who has a talent (which can represent any of God’s gifts to us: abilities, time, money, etc.) of any kind and fails to use it, by that very fact forfeits it. By contrast, anyone who has a talent and uses it to the full finds that the talent develops and grows. This is the law of the spiritual life, and we neglect it at our peril. The parable illustrates both possibilities. The servants who used what they had saw it grow; the one who refused to use what he had lost it. The servant who failed to use the talent entrusted to him is now characterized as worthless. He had control of a full talent and buried it. He failed completely when he had the opportunity to do something useful. So he is consigned to the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This expression combines the thoughts of punishment and of deep grief. It stands for complete and final rejection and for unceasing sorrow and regret. We should bear in mind that this is not here pronounced over someone who has done some particularly heinous crime. It is the final result for the man who had only one talent and who steadfastly refused to use it. He had failed to use the opportunities for service which the Lord had given him. In doing so, he denied God the glory and forfeited himself the joy that comes from serving God with the gifts which He gives. This is a strong warning to all of Jesus’ followers.

Questions for Discussion:

1.          Compare and contrast the attitude of the first two servants with the third servant: towards their master, towards the task he assigned to each of them.

2.          Why was the master so upset with the third servant? He called five talents a few things in verse 21, so was he so upset about the income he lost from one talent or was it something else? What was it that warranted the third servant to be thrown into the outer darkness?

3.          What is the purpose of this parable; what does Jesus intend for us to learn from it? How does it relate to the kingdom of God?


Matthew, D.A. Carson, EBC, Zondervan.

The Gospel according to Matthew, Leon Morris, Pillar NTC, Eerdmans.

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