5-1-4 The Parable of the Talents: Aspects of Spirituality
God's aim is that we the husbandmen bring forth all the required fruits (of the spirit) " in their seasons" (Mt. 21:41). This indicates that over time, the various members of the body between them will bring forth every aspect of God's spirituality. The parable of the talents indicates how we have each individually been given something different by Christ. The parable of the pounds is along the same lines; as is the story of the Master who went away and left his servants looking after the house. Each of them was given his own separate work to do (Mk. 13:34). This accounts for the way in which each of us will be judged according to our own works- i.e. according to how far we have done those things which Christ intended us personally to do. There is fair emphasis on this: Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 3:13; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23; 22:12. Likewise, Christ came to do the works God gave Him to do (Jn. 5:36), and it seems He works with us on a similar basis. Mt. 25:29 presents a paradox: " from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath" . Does the rejected man have talents, or not? He did, of course, have a talent; but as far as the Lord is concerned, we only have what we have developed. If we don't develop, we have nothing; the fact we received the talent at baptism won't save us.
In the parable of the talents / pounds, the pounds delivered to us are Christ's goods (Mt. 25:14), His very own (Lk. 19:23). The goods of Christ are those which He took from the devil (Mt. 12:29), the absolute righteousness which is possible once sin is bound. I would suggest the goods of Christ refer to the ultimate spirituality which He has, the various aspects of His character. The ten pounds are delivered to the ten servants, who are to be compared with the ten virgins of Mt. 25. The ten servants and ten virgins represent the body of Christ, each of whom has been given a part of Christ's " own" to develop; we are called to develop His likeness, and I am suggesting that each of us has been given a certain amount and aspect of His perfectly righteous character to develop. The unworthy calls what he has been given “...thine” (Mt. 25:25)- when it was intended to be his personally (cp. Mt. 20:14). He just didn’t let himself see the wonderfully personal nature of what God had given him. The goods are distributed " to every man according to his several (Gk. idios, individual, s.w. " private" ) ability" (Mt. 25:15). We each have our own private spirituality which we must develop in our own private way. The talents parable is alluded to in 1 Cor. 12:7-12: " The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each man (RV) to profit withal" . In the first century, this was seen in the way in which different believers were given different gifts of the Spirit. In our dispensation, each of us is called to manifest a different aspect of the Lord Jesus, the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18 RV). But the principle of 1 Cor. 12:7-12 remains true, as indicated by the way Paul reasons that we each have a different aspect of the Spirit to manifest because " by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body...and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" . In principle, these words are true of our baptisms. At baptism we were given our talents, our different aspects of the Spirit / mind of Christ to manifest. We are all in the Christ body, and manifest His spirit / mind in different aspects. And as the manifestation of different aspects of the Spirit in the first century caused frictions, so too today.
The state of perfection in the Kingdom is described as us (the complete church of all ages) having reached, " a perfect man...the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" , having grown up into Christ, who is the head of the body (Eph. 4:13,15). When Christ comes, we will each individually be made ruler over all that He has (Mt. 24:47), we will each individually be fully righteous, fully manifesting the Lord Jesus. There seems to be marked connection with the fact (brought out in the parable of the talents) that we will each have all the Master's goods, and the description in the next parable of those goods being distributed between us in this life (Mt. 24:47; 25:15). In the Kingdom we will no longer know partially, as a result of seeing parts of the whole picture; we will see face to face (1 Cor. 13:9,12 Gk.) (1). As a whole, the church of all ages will fully have manifested His character. This is why it may be that the true church has been concentrated on different aspects of spirituality at different times. It also explains why the final date of the coming of Christ is in some way dependent upon our spiritual development. And it also explains why the whole body of Christ is told collectively " occupy till I come" (Lk. 19:13), using the Greek pragmateuomai, i.e. be pragmatic, be realistic, and develop these characteristics, so you may as a body reach the full reflection of Christ.
The 'delivering' of Christ's goods to us in the parable of the talents (Mt. 25:14) is described with the same word as used concerning how the basic doctrines of the Faith were " delivered" to us at our conversion (Rom. 6:17; 1 Cor. 11:2,23; 15:3; 2 Pet. 2:21; Jude 3). We are asked to use that understanding of basics to develop our own character. It doesn't mean we're each given different doctrines; but we all have different characters and areas of spiritual growth, and we must each use the same doctrines we are " delivered" to develop these. This would explain why it's so easy to see others' lack of spiritual development in some areas, whilst being so sure that we have grown spiritually in other areas. Our observation is correct; this is the case. But it's nothing to be proud or critical about; we ourselves have our blind spots. This approach to the parables of the pounds and talents may also explain why brethren of past generations seemed so strong in some areas (e.g. defence of the Faith and preaching) but so weak in others (e.g. compassion). The body of Christ is Christ; the members of that body between them reflect every aspect of the Lord Jesus (Eph. 2:15,16). We may each be given a different aspect to reflect, and groups of believers in different historical periods may have been focused on different aspects, but the end result is that at the second coming, the body of believers will have reflected Christ fully.
The Personal Judgment
if we are correctly interpreting the parable of the talents, the faithful will have enough self-knowledge to be able to say: 'You gave me these basic doctrines and these characteristics to develop with them, and I can now present you with this...'. That part of the character and mind of Christ which was given to the unfaithful servant to develop is taken away and given to the faithful (Mt. 25:28). The unfaithful receive the basic doctrines but do nothing with them; they don't let them impact their character.
The faithful in the parable of the talents / pounds realize that " thy pound hath gained" what spirituality they can now offer Christ at the judgment. They understand that their growth was thanks to that basic deposit of doctrine delivered to them. Each of us have been given different aspects of Christ's character to develop from the same basic doctrines, and therefore we will each have an individual discussion with out Lord. We shouldn't think of the judgment as being a process which is more or less identical for each of us. This misconception arises from failing to recognize that our meeting with Christ is only likened to a human judgment court. The similarities aren't exact.
The personal relationship which we have had with Christ will be very evident at the judgment. What we say to Christ in His ear in the bedroom in the darkness, will be openly spoken by Christ at the judgment (Lk. 12:2,3). God dwells in darkness (Ex. 20:21; 1 Kings 8:12). Speaking in the bedroom in secret with the knowledge we will be openly rewarded is the language of prayer (Mt. 6:6). Our private relationship with the Lord now, praying to Him in our bedroom, meditating about Him there, will then be spoken out loud. But there is a related statement from the Lord: What we hear from Him in the ear, we must speak openly (Mt. 10:26,27; after the pattern of Isaiah in 22:14). Putting these passages together, we get the picture of us speaking to God through Christ, talking in His ear, as one might whisper something very personal into a friend's ear, in the darkness of our bedroom. And then the Lord whispers back in our ear, i.e. His revelation to us (through the word) is very personal and not perceived by others; but we must openly, publicly act upon it. And this private relationship we have with the Lord in our prayer life will then be revealed openly at the judgment. God told Samuel " in his ear" about Saul's future, and although the message must have been hard to relay to Saul, Samuel did so, on the housetop (1 Sam. 9;15,25). The similarities with the Lord's words are too close to be accidental. Surely He saw each of us as passing through the essential experience of Samuel. As we witness our relationship with Christ to an unspiritual world now, so He will speak openly of us to God (Mt. 10:32; Rev. 3:5), Angels (Lk. 12:8) and to the world (Lk. 12:2,3). He will openly confess our name, i.e. our character and personality. What we have said to Him privately will be revealed in the light, i.e. in the Kingdom (Col. 1:12).
It must be said that ecclesial life can of itself become so consuming that it minimizes the believer’s personal relationship with the Lord. This personal knowledge of Him, the regular experience of the cycle of repentance and forgiveness for His sake, the sense of His gracious hand working in our lives, this is at the root of all our service to the ecclesia- not vice versa. It has been observed, I believe correctly, that “Jesus had no intention of founding a new religion. Those who followed him were given no name to distinguish them from other groups, no creed of their own, no rites which revealed their distinctive group character, no geographical centre from which they would operate”(2) . It seems that Christianity was initially a movement within Judaism, until Judaism forcibly expelled the Christians and the need for a separate structure became necessary. Karl Barth (in Church Dogmatics) went so far as to describe ‘religion’ as an excuse for unbelief (3). It is true that over organized ecclesial life can lead to a worship of the structure rather than the essence. The Lord’s focus is undeniably on the individual, and this is where our own personal emphasis in the study and living of His Truth must primarily be.
(1) 1 Cor. 13 and Eph. 4 are difficult to interpret. A valid case can be made for them meaning that the dispensation of the Spirit gifts was partial, but the completed spiritual man was made possible once the New Testament was completed. I have outlined this in Bible Basics Ch. 2 (CAT, 49 The Woodfields, Croydon, Surrey CR2 0HJ England). But Paul's description of the completed, " perfect" state is so exalted that it is hard to resist applying it ultimately to our position in the Kingdom. " Then face to face...then shall I know (fully, not from parts); but now (as opposed to then) abideth faith, hope and charity" (1 Cor. 13:12,13) sounds like the Kingdom. So I would suggest we interpret those passages along these lines: 'Now, in the first century period of Spirit gifts, knowledge is partial; a completer state will come when the written word is finished. But even this is relatively partial, only a necessary step, towards the ultimate spiritual reality and knowledge of the Kingdom'. The parable of the talents speaks eloquently of all this.
(2) David Bosch, Transforming Mission (New York: Orbis, 1991), p.50.
(3) He elsewhere observes how strange it was that the Lord didn’t openly announce His messiahship “until the moment when the danger of founding a religion is finally past”, i.e. when He was a bedraggled and condemned prisoner (Karl Barth, The Word Of God And The Word Of Man (New York: Harper & Row, 1957), p. 82.