Five of the virgins in Matthew 25:1–13 are fools because they believe that the way to eternal life is easier than it really is and do not prepare themselves for the master’s return. Yet as verses 14–30 indicate, the one who thinks the Lord’s way is harsher than it truly is will also be revealed as a fool on the last day.
Today’s passage shows what it means to expect the second coming of Christ and ready ourselves for it. Jesus exhorts us to stay awake and be prepared for His return in 24:36–25:13, but those verses give few specific, practical directives for how to wait and equip ourselves properly. The parable of the talents makes it plain that the waiting and preparation Jesus expects is ethical and active. We must work, putting our gifts to use for His glory, which means nothing less than the love of God and neighbor (Micah 6:8; Matt. 22:34–40). Our Father has gifted us abundantly for our own salvation and for our neighbor’s good (John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, first series, vol. 10, p. 472).
A faithful servant in the ancient Near East often became a steward over his master’s household (for example, Joseph; Gen. 39:1–6a) and could be entrusted with enormous resources. This is the background for the parable of the talents; even the servant who is given one talent is entrusted with much as one talent is equivalent to twenty years of pay for a first-century day laborer (Matt. 25:15). Similarly, our Creator has blessed everyone in Christ with spiritual blessings above and beyond our undeserved salvation. Even those who have comparatively fewer gifts are rich in Him and must put their time and talents to work. God sovereignly determines our gifts and graces (v. 15), and, whether we have many or few, He mandates their profitable use. Even those with only one gift have no excuse if they do not use it to bear fruit for the kingdom (vv. 24–30).
An inappropriate fear of his master makes the one-talent servant do nothing; similarly, thinking of our Master as a tyrant who demands the impossible will make us fruitless as well. God has not given His people an unattainable goal; the Spirit enables us to please Him (Heb. 13:16). Matthew Henry comments, “Those who think it…vain to serve [the Lord], will do nothing practical in religion.”
John Calvin says, “There will be no excuse of the indolence of those who both conceal the gifts of God, and waste their time in idleness.” Far too many professing Christians are content to sit around and not use their time, talent, and money for the kingdom. Are you one of these? Can the leaders in the church count on your service in one or more of its various ministries? If not, begin working today lest you meet the same fate as the unprofitable servant.
For further study:
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For the weekend: