Parable of the Talents: How Does God Think About Money?

Does God love or hate money?  How should we think about money and faith?  To get some answers, let’s investigate the Parable of the Talents.  The answers may surprise you.

Many of us are conflicted about money.  We hear it’s the root of all evil, so we think we should hate it… but without it we would starve, so we know we need it.  How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing feelings?  How does God think about money?

Let’s look at the Parable of the Talents.  But let’s also do something different.  The first thing we’ll do is tackle the word “talent” itself.  

Is the Parable of the Talents about Talent?

No.

Because of the translation, the language can be confusing here.  A “talent” the way it’s used in this parable (a “parable” is just a story with a lesson) is a monetary unit based on the weight of gold or silver, worth about 20 years of wages.  So, if you look at it as 20 years of minimum wage (which is $7.25 as of writing), it’s a little over $300,000.  However, if you peg it to the median household income of ~$50,000, it’s $1 million.  Either way, one talent is a lot of money.  

Even though we now know that it’s a currency, the modern definition of talent as “innate skill” is rooted so deeply in our brains that it’s hard to see past it.  And if we can’t see past it, we’re going to have a different take away from what was intended.  So, I’m going to convert “talent” into “$1 million.”

(No, I’m not changing the Bible.  I’m translating.  There’s a difference.)

(This is what we think about when we hear the word “talent.”  The Parable of the Talents is not about this.)

Let’s Do This Together

This is going to be a different kind of post.  One thing I’ve learned about readers of Just Making Cents:  you’re smart.  That challenges me to up my game.  And because of who you are, I can try a few things that you don’t usually see in articles — like put in a huge, honking piece of Biblical text in the middle of an article.  

I’m going to put in the full Parable of the Talents because if I paraphrase it, you’re going to see it through my filter.  I might write something like, “There’s 3 servants.  Two were good and got more money.  One wasn’t and got thrown out.”  That seems harmless, but it’s still filtered and might not allow you to explore the nuance that parables deserve.

Instead, let’s read the Parable of the Talents together.  If you don’t have 10 minutes to spare, skip this part and just read the parable and thoughts below.  However, if you want to drink deeply together from this deep well, go through these steps with me.  

  1. Read the parable in full and then stop.  Don’t go on to read my thoughts until you’ve completed steps 2 – 4.
  2. Take 5 minutes to make observations about the parable without interpreting it.  For example, if you’re observing your smartphone, you would say, “it’s made by Apple.”  I know, this sounds super basic, but trust me – oftentimes a penthouse of thoughts is built upon basic bricks.
  3. Take 5 minutes to ask yourself questions about the text.  Give yourself permission to question and challenge it.  My greatest moments of insight come from times when it feels like solving a puzzle or my brain is wrestling it.
  4. Try to answer your own questions first.
  5. Read my 6 takeaways.  
  6. In the comments section, let me know if there’s something important you noticed that I missed or if you arrived at different conclusions.  This is a conversation.

The Parable of the Talents / Millions of Dollars (Matthew 25:14-30; ESV)

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave $5 million to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the $5 million went at once and traded with them, and he made $5 million more. 17 So also he who had the $2 million made $2 million more. 18 But he who had received $1 million went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the $5 million came forward, bringing $5 million more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me $5 million; here, I have made $5 million more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘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.’22 And he also who had the $2 million came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me $2 million; here, I have made $2 million more.’23 His master said to him, ‘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.’ 24 He also who had received the $1 million came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your $1 million in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the $1 million from him and give it to him who has the $10 million. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

6 Takeaways to the Parable of the Talents / Millions of Dollars:

(See, if I didn’t clarify what “talent” meant, these would’ve been your 6 — or are there 7 of them? — talent take aways.  The Parable of the Talents / Talented Dancers?)

1. God Thinks Like an Investor (or rather, investors think like God):  

He allocates more money to those with more ability so he can get a better return.  He also takes money from underperforming investors and gives it to the well performing investors.  God wants good returns.  

  • The Master Lives on a Street Called Wall:  The 3rd Servant criticizes his Master by saying that the Master was “Reaping where you did not sow, gathering where you scattered no seed.”  You’ve heard this type of criticism before, because it’s the same thing people say about Wall Street.  “They don’t make anything!  They just profit off of someone else’s hard work.”  As we see, the 3rd Servant doesn’t understand the Master.
    What Wall Street* does is allocate money to companies that perform well, and away from companies that don’t.  This benefits society as a whole, since it would be foolish and wasteful to allocate money to companies with weak managers and uncertain products.  Whereas, if you allocate money to good companies, better products/services will be made and people will be employed in jobs at more stable companies.  This illustration is oversimplified, but we all benefit from smarter allocation of money.  This smart allocation of money is exactly what the Master does with his servants.
  • Inequality and Equality:  While each servant received a different proportion of responsibility, they had equal opportunity to please the Master.  It’s no different from a parent who has different expectations and responsibilities of their 12 year old vs. their 2 year old.  The responsibility is different, but when they’ve completed the work to the parent’s satisfaction, the parent is equally happy.

2. We are God’s Hedge Fund Managers:  

We are investing His resources, not ours.  So whatever money you have in your wallet or in the bank is not yours, but God’s.  And again, God wants good returns!  This is a critical mental framework we need to establish if we’re to act more like the 1st or 2nd servant.  As Jesus states in Matthew 6:24, “You cannot serve God and money.”  But you can use God’s money to serve God.

3. God’s Resources are Vast:  

We know that the Master’s resources are much larger than $13 million because he gave them each what he considers “little” relative to his own resources.  So the resources you invest aren’t scarce – they’re abundant.  We only understand the world through the lens of scarcity (especially those of us who majored in Economics), but the God who can speak things into existence isn’t limited by these rules.  Jesus makes this point in Matthew 6:25-33 when he compares us to birds of the air: “they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?” (Again, there’s that reference to benefiting without sowing or reaping)

4. The 3rd Servant:  

We think the 3rd Servant is a fool.  But if you investigate his motives, it makes sense.  Here is what we learn about ourselves from the 3rd Servant:

  • We Need to Identify Our True Master:  Jesus also states in Matthew 6:24 that “No one can serve two masters.”  We have to be honest with ourselves and see what master we truly serve.  Sometimes it’s hard to identify our true master, especially when you can use one to get the other.  For example, say your job helps you attain what you truly want, which is financial freedom.  Even though you work for your boss, you’re really working to hit your retirement number.  So long as the two aren’t in conflict, the arrangement works.  The 3rd Servant served a different master called “Fear.”  The arrangement worked well until this situation made him choose his greater master.  We will also come to those moments in our lives when we have to choose.
  • Do We Even Want the Prize?  Given that one of the rewards was “the joy of the master,” since the 3rd Servant didn’t understand the Master (and served a different master), it’s unclear if he would have even enjoyed or wanted the “joy of the master.”  Sad, because there is no joy in fear.  
  • We are Seemingly Illogical:  The 3rd Servant actually spent more time and energy earning 0% (digging the hole that would fit $1 million worth of silver is a pretty big task), than if he had just put it in a savings account to earn just a little bit.  On the surface, that makes no sense.  But when you uncover who his true master was, he was acting rationally.  

5.  Rewards for Investing Well:  

The reward for investing is… not money.  I’m sorry to disappoint you.  If we’re motivated to invest God’s resources well because we think in so doing, God will make us rich, our end goal is actually not pleasing God.  We are using God to get more money.  Think about that:  God is what our deepest selves truly want, yet we use God to get other things.  So what are the rewards?  There are two:

  1. More responsibility.  
  2. Entrance into “the joy of the master.”

6.  The Joy of the Master:  

One thing we wonder about in the Parable of the Talents / Millions of Dollars is this whole “joy of the master” thing.  Like, it sounds good, but what does it really mean?  To help us understand it, we need to locate the 4th Servant.  In Matthew 12:18, Jesus himself was called a “servant.”  Before Jesus was the Master in this parable, he was a servant who performed well and entered into the joy of his master.  Now that we’ve located the 4th Servant, we can piece together the meaning of the “joy of the master.”

  • The “joy of the master” is binary.  The responsibilities increased, but entering into the joy of the master is like walking through a door.  Either you’ve entered into it or you haven’t.
  • The “joy” is the same joy Jesus experiences serving God.  When God created the world and man, it gave Him joy.  When Jesus forsook his great wealth to live as a poor man, he served God by working to restore the world.  It gave him joy despite the suffering (“the joy that was set before him” from Hebrews 12:2).  So when we invest God’s money in the restoration of this world, it is in the same spirit of the work done by Jesus.    

In a memorable talk, International Justice Mission founder Gary Haugen discusses how God is against injustice.  But what’s his plan of rescue?  Haugen answers***:

We are.

We think by investing our money into God’s work, we’re hurting ourselves and will be less happy.  You’d be surprised.  In fact, studies have shown the opposite.  We actually become happy when we invest our money in others to make a difference in someone else’s life.  

    1. In a study by University of British Columbia and Harvard, researchers gave people between $5 and $20 to spend on themselves or others.  The people who spent money on others were happier.  And, it didn’t matter whether you spent $5 or $20, you were equally as happy (the joy is binary!).  Impact matters more than dollars.  They repeated this experiment in many different countries, with the rich and poor.  Same result.   
    2. Studies show that when you give, your brain is activated in a similar way to when you have sex or eat chocolate.  So yeah, you were built for helping and giving.

Should You Love or Hate Money?

Neither.  

When it comes to money, be agnostic.  Money is just a medium of exchange.  It takes as much share of our hearts as we allow.  However, money is good data into ourselves.  

Want to know what your true master is?  Take a look at how and where you’ve been spending your money.  In the same way that the 3rd Servant’s true master was fear, we have competing masters to the true Master.  

And we are just as illogical.

When it comes to our true source of wealth, we are the ones who reap where we did not sow.  Our true wealth comes from the work the Master did in living a perfect life and dying on the cross.  We already have an inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading”(1 Peter 1:4).  But…we act is if we don’t.

Say you received a $100 million inheritance on Monday.  On Tuesday, your co-worker Dan finally had enough and quit.  You’ve been commiserating with Dan about how much you both hate this job, but now you have no one to talk to.  On Wednesday, your boss, whom you don’t really like, asks you to take on your recently departed co-worker’s workload in addition to your own, meaning you’ll have to add 20 extra hours to your work week without extra pay.  You then work those hours and become miserable because you’re scared of not getting the next pay check.  

Do you know anyone who would do that?  Yet, it’s exactly what we do.  We already have this “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love” (Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones**) that we’ve always wanted, but we act as if we do not.  Worse yet, we use God to get something else.  We serve our true Master to please our fake master.  

So regardless of where you are in your money journey, keep your eyes on your true inheritance.  Then, with the money that God has entrusted to you, think of yourself as an independently wealthy investor with the awesome responsibility of making the world better.  Regardless of how much you invest, you’ll never run out of your true wealth.  Let’s live in freedom, not fear.

In a recent Times op-ed, David Brooks fantasizes about what good he would do if he had a billion dollars.  He concludes that he needs a “hedge fund to get started.”  That’s true if you’re giving away a billion.  But why put off giving until you’re one day possibly rich to invest God’s resources well?  Why wait to start making life better for others?

Hurry: your joy is waiting.

(What are your takeaways of the Parable of the Talents / Millions of Dollars?  Let me know in the comments below!)


Do you want to do more, but don’t know where to start?

Are you inspired by the Parable of the Talents?  Are you ready to better invest the resources God has entrusted to you?  Imagine the possibilities!  What if you could invest in or partner with a group that works to restore the world?  Even better, what if you could create a machine generating enough income to not only improve your life but that of many others?  Think about all the lives that will be improved because of your investment!

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*I’m not talking about high frequency trading and exotic derivatives.  I’m talking about pure investing.

**In my last year in NYC, I was actually in a church community group with Sally Lloyd-Jones.

*** Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23; Isaiah 1:17

8 Comments

  • Mustard Seed Money June 18, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    I love that you attached the money figure to it to make it more relatable. I definitely think that God gives us various talents and provides more to those that are obedient and can handle more. It only makes since to give your best managers more responsibilities to see how they do. Likewise, we have to step out in faith and trust that He gave us this ability and we need to do something with it 🙂 Great article!!!

    Reply
    • JT June 19, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Thanks Rob! Yeah, to have these abilities and not use them would be like that power tool you bought 10 years ago but haven’t touched once. So much potential yet to be unleashed!

      Reply
  • John R July 26, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    Very very strange article JT, believe what you will.

    One word ‘servitude’

    God owns the casino, makes the rules, the odds & controls the game – therefore God doesn’t care who comes or goes – God is the ‘taker’ not a ‘giver’ who always wins, right down to the last card.

    Does God demand loyalty in order to get a just reward?

    Reply
    • JT July 27, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      Much of what you say I agree with — God makes the rules, yes. And boy am I glad He values justice, grace, and mercy. Imagine if we lived in a world where that god valued no free will, where his example to us was hate.

      God values loyalty, yes. But it’s His loyalty to us that is the game changer, not ours. Just what I believe 🙂

      Reply
  • John R July 27, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    ‘Gratitude’

    Most of of the 7.5 billion people on this planet wouldn’t understand how ‘God thinks about money’

    It’s a numbers game (life, wall St, the hedge fund’, has been since the dawn of modern civilization 6000 years ago when humankind created ‘God’ & self destruction

    The bigger question is ‘what was God doing for the past 4.5 billion years’?

    Its just a matter of time

    Reply
    • JT July 28, 2017 at 8:29 am

      Well John, I hope on this we will agree: much of the 7.5 billion people have a lot of pain that those of us with resources are blessed/lucky/whatever you want to call it, don’t. That while we have energy and resources, it’s a worthy goal to participate and contribute to making life better for those who are in far worse circumstances. 🙂

      Reply
  • John R July 28, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    its when the richest eight people in the world are as wealthy as the bottom 50% of the world’s population. While the poor 50% of the population live on less than $2/day +/- $0.50. Or that 70% of the worlds population live on less than $10/day

    It really is ‘all about power, money & control’ – in whose hand it belongs?

    ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth’… it’ll never happen.

    Live life in the comfort of your home, safe surroundings, family, all the technology at your disposal, a warm bed, clothes on your back, roof over your head, food on the table & wondering how to be FI – something that 50% of the worlds population have no idea of such greed.

    Can any of you survive the next financial crisis or meltdown, are you prepared & ready?

    Reply
    • JT July 29, 2017 at 1:21 pm

      Preparing for the next financial crisis…might be a good topic for a future post!

      Reply

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