The word "talent" is defined in English dictionaries as a special ability or aptitude, but this modern meaning has its origin from a Greek word in the Bible. In the original language of the New Testament, the word talanton (τάλαντον) meant a weight that was measured on a scale or balance. This word has been transliterated as "talent" in English translations of the Bible, and its meaning in the English language has developed because of the Lord's parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30. In that parable, a master entrusted various amounts of money to three slaves. These amounts of money were measured in talents. (Each talent of silver equaled approximately 100 pounds.) Two of the slaves made good use of the talents entrusted to them, but the third slave wasted his talent. The application of this parable teaches us that any individual who has been given a special ability or aptitude (i.e., a talent) by God is accountable to God for making good use of his blessing. Through this application, the concept of a talent has changed from merely a measure of money to its modern English meaning.
By themselves, talents are not virtuous, meritorious, or even commendable. They are merely tools given to the talented person for his use. Just as a tool can be used for a good purpose (i.e., a knife can slice an apple) or it can be used for an evil purpose (i.e., a knife can stab a man), so also talents can be used for good or evil. Moreover, talents may be misused or even go unused. Thus, the value of any talent is a matter of how it is used by its owner.
In the parable of the talents, an unused talent is shown to be a liability to its owner. The slave with one talent was afraid of his master, so he simply buried his talent in the ground and made no use of it. When the master called this slave to account for his stewardship over the talent, he had no profit to present. For this, the slave was called wicked and lazy by his master, and he was severely punished. The lesson for us is that doing nothing with our talents is not acceptable to God. When we stand before the Lord in judgment, He will expect us to give a good account of how we have used the abilities He has given to us. An unused talent is evidence of wickedness and laziness, and it will provoke the wrath of God.
In many cases, talents are misused and abused for wicked purposes. The world is filled with talented men and women who use their talents to glorify themselves, spread ungodly messages, and abuse others. The entertainment industry is teeming with talented individuals who do nothing but speak and portray immorality and violence. Likewise, the political scene is tainted by persons who use their talents of leadership and influence to advance corruption and greed. Even within the religious realm, many talented teachers and preachers captivate their listeners with messages that are contrary to God's truth. Scripture warns of such talented people, saying that "by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting" (Rom. 16:18).
Sometimes problems arise not due to the misuse of talents but rather due to the absence of talents. In Romans 12:3, each person is advised "not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." This "sound judgment" should cause each person to realize both his talents (his "measure of faith") and his limitations. Not every person has every talent to do everything. A person who attempts to perform a task that does not suit his talents is likely to fail. Such a task is better left to those who are equipped to succeed.
Of course, it is God's intention that talents should be used in His service. Consider Romans 12:6-8:
6Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
The point here is that each person should do what God has equipped him or her to do. None of us have the gift of prophecy, which is mentioned here, but there are many talents in the body of Christ that should be fulfilled in the Lord's service. So then, let each person exercise his talent according to the will of God: teachers should teach God's word, singers should sing God's praises, encouragers should encourage God's people, and so on.
Therefore, recognize what your talents are, and use them to God's glory. Don't leave your talents dormant and fruitless, and don't abuse them for some wicked purpose. Furthermore, don't waste your efforts on endeavors where you lack the talents to succeed. Instead, fulfill your God-given purpose by employing your God-given talents according to the wisdom and instructions of God's holy word. If you do, then in the Judgment you will hear your Master say, "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" (Matt. 25:21).
Stacey E. Durham
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