“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.
“So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’
“Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’
“But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.
‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ [Emphasis added.]
Every time that I have ever heard anyone teach on this parable, the conclusion has always been that every servant of the Lord—that is, every Christian—should do whatever he can to develop the talents that God has given him. Implicit in this assertion is that it is wrong to ignore the talents that God has given you. If you have been blessed with something—an ability, material wealth, social connections, and so on—you should use them for the glory of God, and add to them if possible, again for the glory of God. I do not dispute this line of reasoning, or these sort of arguments, but I do think that more judgment should be exercised when it comes to developing the talents that God has given you.
To this end, I think it helpful to ask the question, why was the one-talent servant so unprofitable. There is no way to be sure, and any conjecture as to what precluded the one-talent servant from taking what his master had given him and using it is simply speculation. But such conjecture, uncertain as it may be, can still be instructive.
It’s important to note, in the first place, that the unprofitable servant had a strong fear of his master. There are some who I have heard assert that the unprofitable servant was lazy. This does not really fit with what is said of the servant, for fear does not generally produce laziness. It can cause paralysis, if one is too wrapped up in fear to actually do anything, but this is not the same as laziness.
Instead, it appears that the servant knew that he would have to return his master’s money, and he decided to hedge his risk by keeping his money in the ground. Thus, he would always be able to repay his master, no matter what happened.
Turning now to speculation, it seems plausible that the unprofitable servant could have tried to make his own profit with his own money, so as to be able to pay his master back and then some (remember, the master asserts that servant knew that the he would want his money back with interest). Thus, the servant tried to acquire his own talents while neglecting the talent given to him by his master. He fails to make a profit, and is condemned by his master and has his talent stripped from him.
I wonder if we have a tendency to make the same mistake in the church. We know that God expects us to be good stewards of that which he blesses us with. We know that he expects a return on his investment, so to speak. And we also know that he gives us things to be stewards of. But how often do we ignore his blessings and bury them in the ground while trying to acquire our own talents and blessings? How often do we ignore what we have and try to become something we’re not intended to be?
In I Corinthians 12, Paul shows that there is a diversity of talents, abilities, and roles within the church. The point he makes is that everyone has their own function. Just as the human is comprised of more than just toes or ears, so too is the Lord’s spiritual body comprised of more than just evangelists and apostles. While some roles may be more glamorous—in the eyes of man—or attract more attention, all roles are necessary, and everyone must work to fill their role.
There has been of late, at least at the church I attend, an attempt to encourage all members of our congregation to do their part to evangelize and spread the gospel to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, this drive is nothing more than nonsense on stilts. There is no reason to think that everyone in the church, or even a majority of the people in the church, have been blessed with the ability to do or even support evangelism. It is therefore ludicrous to say that everyone should be involved with evangelism.
But not only is it ludicrous to say that everyone should be involved with evangelism, it is spiritually counterproductive as well. Not everyone has been given the talent to be an evangelist; not everyone has been given the talent to support evangelism. Expecting people to become evangelists or support evangelists when they lack the talent to do so will require them to neglect the talent that God has given them and instead focus on attaining that which they cannot attain. They will thus essentially bury their talent in the ground. And what do you suppose the Lord will say to them when he demands an account for their actions?