A Christ Teaching on Deployment and Expansion of Human Capabilities
Through the parable of the Talents, Christ teaches that God grants every person a set of capabilities and expects us to deploy them toward fulfilling responsibilities to ourselves and others.
He expects each person to expand the capabilities, by increasing their value, effectiveness, and variety of deployment. He rewards people that deploy and expand their capabilities and punishes those that stagnate theirs. Furthermore, we learn through the parable that God accepts using commercial enterprise to respond to a call to compassion and extend our capabilities in the process. However, the commercial activities need to satisfy principles of Godliness based on fair value for goods and fair fee for services.
The parable is part of a series of teaching through which Christ explains God’s purpose and expectations for people and how he will judge our performance toward fulfilling the expectations. He uses the parable to explain that God creates every person with the capabilities to perform their functions as his provider assistant. This bible study focuses on Christ’s teaching in the parable of the Talents and tries to increase understanding of the teaching by examining information from other bible passages that point to the principles of Godliness in commercial enterprise.
Parable of the Talents
The parable opens with the words: “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them” [Matthew 25:14]. Here, the word “it” refers to the kingdom of God. The New King James Version (NKJV) states the same verse as follows: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.” Christ conveys to us through this opening of the parable that aspects of our relationship with God can be likened to interactions between a wealthy man and his servants, when the man entrusted portions of his wealth to his servants before departing for a journey.
GOD GRANTS CAPABILITIES The man divided up his wealth among his servants, giving each of them an amount determined by him and him alone.
However, every servant got something. He assigned a portion of his wealth to each as a gift, not a loan: “And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.” [Matthew 25:15, NKJV]. Therefore, right at the opening of the parable, Christ tells us that God grants to every person a set of capabilities, each person’s grant is different as determined by God alone. The type and amount of every person’s basic grant of capabilities are determined by God. We don’t know how he determines these but believe each grant is targeted at his specific purpose for the person.
DEPLOYMENT OF CAPABILITIES Each grant represents a portion of God’s wealth—he assigns the wealth to each person gratis but expects us to deploy it toward performing our provider assistant responsibilities.
Christ describes two categories of people in the parable. The first category consists of people that put their grants to work. They deploy their capabilities to perform various activities, including in response to God’s call to compassion by providing services to address needs placed in their path. Furthermore, they grow and diversify their capabilities, becoming more effective by gaining experience and value as they do things, and through the process increase the variety of things they do. This category of people is represented in the parable by the first two servants [Matthew 25:16–17, NKJV]: “Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.”
The second category consists of people that stagnate their capabilities. Such people typically decline God’s call to compassion. They deny services placed in their path, either because they don’t care or they are not attentive enough to recognize the needs. Therefore, they do not recognize their responsibilities and, as a result, fail to see or utilize the opportunities that such responsibilities often represent. They make up excuses to dodge responsibilities including blaming other people for their inaction. This category of people is represented in the parable by the third servant: “But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money” [Matthew 25:18, NKJV].
REWARD FOR DEPLOYMENT God rewards people that deploy their capabilities. They typically are sensitive to needs around them and seek to do what they can to provide for the needs. Therefore, they recognize and accept God’s call to compassion. He adds to their wealth and experience by providing them more responsibilities and, therefore, opportunities as they put their capabilities to work. They inherit eternal life in the kingdom of God. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” [Matthew 25: 21&23, NKJV].
PUNISHMENT FOR STAGNATION He punishes people that stagnate their capabilities. Such people fail to recognize responsibilities placed in their path, thereby missing the opportunities that they represent. Christ describes them as “You wicked and lazy servant” [Matthew 25:26]. They are wicked because they refuse to do things that could benefit other people and typically decline God’s call to compassion. They are lazy because they are reluctant to do anything. The wickedness and laziness feed each other and result in failing to accomplish assignments created for them. They will inherit eternal punishment. “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” [Matthew 25:30].
Increasing Value through Enterprise
In the parable, Christ emphasizes increasing the value of our basic grant. The servant that was given a measure of five increased to ten and the one that was given two increased to four.
Such increase occurs through commercial activity. Therefore, a key message of the parable appears to be that God accepts commercial for-profit activities as part of our effort to respond to his calls to compassion. That is, we can provide goods or services for a fee to address a need if we determine that charging a fee is necessary to sustain the process of providing the goods or services. As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, any service provided to respond to a call to compassion has to satisfy a key criterion of being provided with a pure heart. In a for-fee service, purity of heart means charging a fair (non-exploitative) fee necessary to sustain the service in order to fulfill the desire to provide.
FAIR FEE FOR GOODS AND SERVICES The principle of a fair fee for service and fair value for goods defines an important limitation for commercial activity in responding to a call to compassion. Solomon declared the principle as follows: “Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor” [Proverbs 28:8]. Increasing wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor means exploiting someone because you have an advantage that enables such exploitation.
The advantage could result from a monopoly over certain goods or services, power of a cartel, control over goods or services for which there is high demand not matched by supply, access to authority that provides opportunity to manipulate costs through government regulations, or several other possibilities. If you exploit such advantage to charge an unfair fee for goods or services, then you are increasing wealth “by taking interest or profit from the poor” and such activity does not satisfy the purity of heart criterion (see more discussion of the criterion at This_Link).
VALUATION OF GOODS OR SERVICES A fair value for goods or fair fee for services could be determined through case-specific valuation or applicable commandments and government regulations. However, the details are beyond the scope of this bible study.
A case-specific valuation could involve an assessment of the goods and services to determine the fee necessary to sustain the processes in order to provide effectively. For commandments, a good example would be Leviticus 25:8–54, which defines fair values for land transactions. Government regulations, especially in the more developed countries, at times define fair values for goods and services. Using such regulations could indicate a desire or “hunger and thirst” to be fair.
Summary of What We Learned
God creates every person with a grant of capabilities. He expects us to deploy the capabilities toward performing our provider assistant responsibilities and expand (grow and diversify) them through such deployment. He rewards people that deploy and expand their capabilities and punishes people that stagnate theirs. Furthermore, we learn through the parable of the Talents that God accepts using commercial enterprise to respond to a call to compassion and expand our capabilities in the process. Such commercial activity needs to satisfy principles of Godliness based on fair value for goods and fair fee for services.