"Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. - Matthew 25: 14 (NIV)
It seems every day we see another snake oil salesman marketing the latest get rich scheme in the name of the Lord. Today's was emailed to me and it was entitled, "The Biblical Money Code." It seems a former pastor turned financial guru has claimed the great success he has in the financial markets is due entirely to his understanding of the secret codes found within the pages of the Bible which can release untold wealth to those who would apply them. I read his email and clicked on the link to watch the video he had put together. As with any well produced misuse of Scripture a lot sounded right. Sometimes i think we confuse ourselves into believing that a heretical teaching must be entirely heretical. Not so. The most insidious false teachings contain a little leaven surrounded by truth. So it was when the salesman came to using the Parable of the Talents to prop up his argument about investing that the leaven became more obvious.
The pitch being made was that this parable was about money and investing. The point made here was that people who simply put their money in savings accounts are just as sinful as those who are reckless with their money. That God expects us to do something with the money He has "blessed" us with. Voila! The Parable of the Talents. It is true that a talent was a large portion of money. The story goes that a wealthy man embarks on a journey and leaves some of his money with three servants. One received five talents, another two, and the final servant received one, according to their abilities. When the master returns he finds the servant who was given five talents had earned five more and the servant who was given two talents had earned two more. The master said well done my good and faithful servant; you have been faithful in a few things so I will now put you in charge of many things and he doubled the amount of talents they had been given. Come and enter into your master's happiness. The salesman pauses here to emphasize that these servants were given "more wealth; more blessing." The story concludes with the final servant returning the one talent that had been entrusted to him. He had buried it in fear of the master. The master casts him aside and gives his one talent to the one who now had ten. Once again, the salesman emphasizes how wrong it is to not invest the money God has given you and if you just follow his "biblical" plan for investing, you too can have untold wealth.
Except that is not what this parable is about beloved. Jesus spoke in parables to emphasize an overall point. They were not meant to be taken so literally. He used talents here because He knows how easily we would relate to money. The problem here of course is in poor hermeneutics. This is simply poor Bible interpretation. You cannot take one word, such as talent, and assume the entire passage is about money. Neither can you even look at one story in a vacuum. The first rule of all Biblical interpretation is context. The second rule my first Bible teacher would say is to re-read rule number one. The key verse today is the first line in the Parable of the Talents. What is the most important word from an interpretive standpoint? The word "again." This clearly implies that the Parable of the Talents is a continuation of a train of thought. That it must be preceded by something else that is similar, which can provide even deeper context. What precedes the Parable of the Talents? The Parable of the Ten Virgins. This story tells of ten virgins who went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were wise and brought extra oil for their lamps but five were foolish and did not. The bridegroom was a long time in coming and they drifted off to sleep. They were awoken by the impending arrival of the bridegroom but the five foolish virgins had their lamps go out and were forced to try and go buy some oil. While they were gone, the Bridegroom arrived and the door was shut to them. They tried to get in but the Lord said that He did not know who they were. The Parable concludes with the warning that we need to keep watch because we do not know the day or hour. So what does this parable have to do with money? About the same as the Parable of the Talents - nothing. In fact, strictly from a contextual standpoint we have not gone far enough back yet. Here is the start to the Parable of the Ten Virgins:
"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. - Matthew 25: 1 (NIV)
At that time? At what time? To find the true beginning of the context of the Parable of the Talents we must travel back to the start of the previous chapter. Jesus is talking to His disciples and is asked this question:
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" - Matthew 24: 3 (NIV)
The remaining 48 verses in Chapter 24 deal with the signs of the end of the age. It deals with the second coming of Jesus Christ. Then to illustrate the points He was trying to make, He tells us two parables. The Parable of the Ten Virgins may seem more obvious. It is teaching us the necessity to be ready for the second coming. That we have to be prepared. On a deeper level, oil is a representation of the Holy Spirit and those without it will not be allowed in. This explains the admonition at the end about not knowing the day or hour. Because of the usage of talents, that parable might not be as obvious until you take it in the context in which it was written. God has entrusted us all with certain things. First He has entrusted us with salvation. We all know what God has done for us. That is the foundational talent if you will. That is the first bag of gold we receive. We are not supposed to bury this talent. Others may have been given more talents. More insight into the things of God. More giftings from the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we want to know why God has not given us a certain level of promotion or responsibility and He is still waiting for us to be faithful with what we have been given.
Either way, this is not a story highlighting the appropriate usage of money. Contextually, it is part of a discussion on the second coming of Christ and what our responsibilities are until that coming. When the Master says well done and puts them in charge of even more that is not "more wealth; more blessing." It actually means more responsibility. The problem as with all wealth-focused programs is it is improperly focused on the things of this earth instead of eternal matters. The salesman tried valiantly to bring it back to the ability to bless others with your wealth but in the end it is still selling earthly prosperity by misusing Scriptures that are about eternal matters. These two chapters from Matthew are not about money. They are about salvation and being sure you are ready for when that trumpet sounds. There is however a Biblical Money Code. It is not vague. It does not need to be ripped out of context. It is quite clear:
"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. - Matthew 6: 19-21 (NLT)
"No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. - Matthew 6: 24 (NLT)
But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. - 1Timothy 6: 9-10 (NLT)
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!" This amazed them. But Jesus said again, "Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!" - Mark 10: 23-25 (NLT)
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. - Matthew 6: 33 (NLT)
Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, "I will never fail you. I will never abandon you." - Hebrews 13: 5 (NLT)