As I write this article it's the first week of January, the beginning of a new Western calendar year when many people resolve to take an inventory of their life and try to do better with their priorities, planning and possessions over the next year. Yet every day is a good suitable time to take stock of life and ask ourselves how we are doing with what we've been given.
One day God will ask each of us this question. We'd better have a good answer!
In these two parables we see the key to understanding what our lives in Christ should be all about.
Life-changing resolutions can begin on any day of the year. We've all heard the saying, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." This saying, though trite and overused, is actually quite true. Thank God we have an opportunity each day to start over, learn a lesson, get back on our feet and try again!
But what does this have to do with the parables of Jesus Christ?
A lot, actually. We can see this in two major parables He gave as instruction to us to examine our stewardship of the life we've been given, both physical and spiritual.
In these two parables we see the key to understanding what our lives in Christ should be all about. We are here to prepare for life in the age to come. We have to start each day with that understanding. And that's where these two crucial parables come in.
The parable of the minas
As Jesus approached Jerusalem just days before His death, He sensed the crowds were expecting the imminent appearance of the promised Kingdom of God. Jesus knew it wasn't going to appear at that time. So to prepare them—and His followers through the ages—for that reality, He began a parable about a nobleman traveling far away "to receive for himself a kingdom and to return." In this story Christ is the nobleman, and the "kingdom" is the Kingdom of God over which He will reign at His return to the earth.
We find this parable in Luke 19:11-27 Luke 19:11-27  And as they heard these things, he added and spoke a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.
 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said to them, Occupy till I come.
 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called to him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
 Then came the first, saying, Lord, your pound has gained ten pounds.
 And he said to him, Well, you good servant: because you have been faithful in a very little, have you authority over ten cities.
 And the second came, saying, Lord, your pound has gained five pounds.
 And he said likewise to him, Be you also over five cities.
 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is your pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:
 For I feared you, because you are an austere man: you take up that you layed not down, and reap that you did not sow.
 And he said to him, Out of your own mouth will I judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:
 Why then gave not you my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required my own with usury?
 And he said to them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that has ten pounds.
 (And they said to him, Lord, he has ten pounds.)
 For I say to you, That to every one which has shall be given; and from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away from him.
 But those my enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring here, and slay them before me.
American King James Version×, with a similar parable of the talents recorded in Matthew 25:14-30 Matthew 25:14-30  For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered to them his goods.  And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.  Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.  And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.  But he that had received one went and dig in the earth, and hid his lord's money.  After a long time the lord of those servants comes, and reckons with them.  And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, you delivered to me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.  His lord said to him, Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.  He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, you delivered to me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.  His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.  Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew you that you are an hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not strewed:  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the earth: see, there you have that is yours.  His lord answered and said to him, You wicked and slothful servant, you knew that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed:  You ought therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received my own with usury.  Take therefore the talent from him, and give it to him which has ten talents.  For to every one that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has.  And cast you the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
American King James Version×. In each case we have a story of servants being given a sum of money, and at the return of their master (Jesus Christ) an accounting is required.
In Luke's account 10 servants are each given one mina, and in Matthew's three servants are given five, two and one talent respectively.
Both terms here, talents and minas, referred to substantial sums of money in the culture of that day. The lesson is that God gives us something of considerable value and expects good stewardship and a return on what He has given. And here is a primary lesson: Christ speaks in these two parables about money, but He is really talking about something far more important—the elements of spiritual character.
The money, talent or mina, is only the vehicle He uses to teach a far greater lesson. At the end of the day Christ is more interested in what we do with our spiritual "minas" and "talents" than anything else.
These parables reveal that this physical life serves as preparation, a training ground, for something far greater than this life. Our life now is meant to prepare us for our part in the coming Kingdom of God. How we live and use the talents and minas—the gifts, aptitudes, abilities, means and opportunities we're given in this life—is critical. This is the big issue of life.
Balancing the necessary and unnecessary
Some possessions are necessary to our well-being, while others are not so necessary—but often consume our money and our time. It's balancing out the necessary with the not-so-necessary that's critical.
When I read these two parables, I have to put myself in the picture as someone who has been given something by God to preserve, promote and return.
That seems to be the essence of these two parables. We are given a life on this earth with a certain number of years to live it out. Some are born to greater advantage than others. Some who start with very little use their resources and amass great fortune and accomplishment. Others who start with great wealth and advantage squander it and often quickly burn out in a sad and tragic loss. Then there are the many of us in the great middle class of life—given a little better than average start.
But it's how we finish that's important. What we do along the way determines the finish, and a lot of life is learning to make the best of what we've been given. As we read these two parables we learn we can grow a life, develop gifts and talents and accomplish significance.
A key lesson of these parables is that God expects us to gain a measurable increase in our lives. Look at the procedure we see in the stories. In Luke 19 we see that the nobleman "called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas [one each], and said to them, 'Do business till I come'" (Luke 19:13 Luke 19:13And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said to them, Occupy till I come.
American King James Version×).
In Luke 19:15 Luke 19:15And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called to him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
American King James Version×the story zooms into the future with the return of the nobleman and an accounting of the disbursed funds "that he might know how much every man had gained by trading." Three people's stories are told. One gained tenfold and another fivefold. They were diligent servants who took what was given, worked hard and saw an increase. Their reward is described as rulership over cities in the age to come.
However, one person took his mina and hid it in a piece of cloth, doing nothing. He expressed fear of the nobleman and said he looked on him as a stern businessman gaining from the work of others. In the end the one mina was taken from the unprofitable servant and given to one who had done more through his effort.
In this story there is the lesson that we all have been given something with our life and that there is expectation of increase. We have to do something. The slothful servant who hid his mina has it taken from him. He was given something, but because he chose not to use it, "even what he has will be taken away" (Luke 19:26 Luke 19:26For I say to you, That to every one which has shall be given; and from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away from him.
American King James Version×).
In the judgment we will be evaluated on what we have done with what we've been given in our life. The big takeaway here is that we all have been given a gift through life itself. If we live and can read these words and come to understand their meaning, it brings hope. God who has given us life not only expects growth, but offers the help to make that growth happen. And He is not finished with us!
The parable of the talents
When we look at the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, we see a similar story where servants are given "goods" of a wealthy man who travels to a far country. One is given five talents, another two and another one. At his return he learns that the ones given five and two have doubled their charge, but the servant given one had dug a hole in the ground and buried it, gaining nothing.
Again, the reward given to those who increase their talent is praise from their master and rulership "over many things." They are ushered into the joyful future he has prepared for them. Their master's key thought of praise here is: "You have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord" (Matthew 25:23 Matthew 25:23His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.
American King James Version×).
And what happens to the one who did nothing? His talent is taken from him and given to another with a statement similar to what we saw before: "From him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away" (Matthew 25:29 Matthew 25:29For to every one that has shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that has not shall be taken away even that which he has.
American King James Version×).
All of us start out with "something." We all have "skin in the game," as the saying goes. And we must use and develop what we have or we'll lose even what we started with. The road to success begins with the understanding that we must progress.
And that brings us back to the question of how we are doing with what we've been given. Life is a very serious matter. We walk this earth as living beings created in the image of God. This life is a preparation and training ground for a far different life in the age to come. Once we come to this understanding, God expects us to act accordingly and live each day with that goal and purpose in mind.
What should we learn?
The two parables we've been considering, stories Christ told to convey eternal spiritual truths, are foundations on which we build a life of meaning and significance. God has given you at least one "talent" or "mina," the gift of life. You also have talents, abilities, skills and means to use to create and fashion a productive life in service to the One who gave you everything, including life itself.
Christ is the nobleman who is off in a far country receiving a kingdom. He will return, and there will be a day of accounting or judgment. I know we don't like to hear about a "judgment." Our modern minds are not conditioned to think that our actions and thoughts are known to God and that one day we will stand before Him to give an accounting.
The good news is what is built into both these parables. It is that "talents" and "minas" are both symbolic of all that God gives to us that can be directed to His purpose in our life as we allow Him to mold and shape us into something useful to His glory and Kingdom.
One of the layers of meaning in these parables is that God gives His servants spiritual "talents"—gifts, abilities and skills—to help traverse this life toward the age to come. This comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, which God gives to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32 Acts 5:32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God has given to them that obey him.
American King James Version×).
This Spirit is a transforming power to lift our life to something meaningful. It allows us to change our life and become like God as He intends. The resolutions we make to change a habit and become a better person show a right motive. The key is finding the right method or plan. God gives us the plan in the Bible. We have to start with the right tool to bring about any lasting change.
So how are you doing?
Consider the lessons of the parables of the minas and the talents. God has blessed you with a life to serve Him and, through the pages of Scripture, a priceless understanding of great eternal truths. And He offers so much more if you're willing to put into practice what you learn.
Resolve today to use your life as God intended—as a period of preparation, a training ground, for the coming Kingdom of God. Focus on the spiritual qualities of a life that can be successful in both this life and the glorious future God holds out for you!