The Parable of Grace

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Okay what I have done is taken the Matthew 25 passage and substituted the term talents (which I find can often be misleading) and I have inserted the term “measures of Grace”. I have done this as an attempt to uncover for myself the meaning of this parable. I hope you enjoy it. Also I hope that it raises questions or gives insights and that you will leave those in the comments section so that we can all enjoy them

The Parable of Grace

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a] and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five measures of Grace,[b] to another two measures of Grace, to another one measure of Grace. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five measures of Grace went at once and traded with them, and he made five measures of Grace more. 17 So also he who had the two measures of Grace made two measures of Grace more. 18 But he who had received the one measure of Grace went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s Grace. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five measures of Grace came forward, bringing five measures of Grace more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five measures of Grace; here I have made five measures of Grace more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] 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 two measures of Grace came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two measures of Grace; here I have made two measures of Grace 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 one measure of Grace 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 measure of Grace 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 Grace with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him my Grace and give it to him who has the ten measures of Grace.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.’

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15 thoughts on “The Parable of Grace

  1. Hey Justin, love doing stuff like that as well. I was also wondering about a possible correlation between the 5 loaves and two fishes, just playing around with the idea. Here is another thought. The 5 (the bread, the body, the church… the CORPORATE christian), 2(fishes ,fisher of MEN, the individual christian), and the 1 (the individual who recieved the life of Christ, and then gets TRANSLATED into the corporate church by admission of his failure to in himself being able to extend the grace of God as you put it…. I never shared this before, maybe I should not, but now it is out there ;-). Also, here is a though by Watchman Nee on the subject. http://www3.telus.net/trbrooks/Matthew_25.htm

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      1. Also what I am not saying is that you need a certain measure of Grace for salvation, I believe that we are saved by Grace. However you have to ask if the guy who was given one measure actually received it? To reject grace is to be condemned by the law

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  2. [Originally posted as Facebook comment]

    I often find this passage more troubling then is normally framed.

    By that I mean if you start reading from Matthew 24 you see the narrative being in the context of Jesus’ return, and the push on the faith and wise (versus wicked) servant, wise (versus foolish) virgins, good and faithful (versus wicked and slothful) servant, and finally in sheep (versus goats).

    If you start from Matthew 23, the context is the harsh rebuking of the scribes and Pharisees. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”

    If you keep going back and back, Matthew really pushes on the the Jewish “teachers” and their failings, Jesus pushing on his authority and their not acknowledging it.

    It’s actually quite interesting (and difficult) to read right from Matthew 17 to Matthew 26:1.

    Now I am not saying I fully understand it all, but what I do wonder is that sometimes we take the parable of the talents and apply it to ourselves in a “gentle” way.

    Gentle as in we see it as God giving us “measures of Grace” and we do not use it correctly, etc. This is fine of course, and useful, but the context is much much harsher and the narrative is financial in direct context, and I believe the failing of responsibility to the Jewish teachers in wider context.

    The context of the passages of Matthew I believe should be seen in some sense as the criticism of the original teachers of Israel and the blessing on the apostles (Matthew 28).

    How do we apply this to our own lives? Personally I do not fully have it so figured out more than how it is normally approached, the very way you have approached it with “measures of Grace”.

    The difficulty is that we often read it as I said “gently” where as if you read back through Matthew it is part of a continuous rebuke by Jesus which includes some of Jesus’ most “violent” language.

    It is difficult, very difficult and the reason I am commenting is not to criticise, but rather to highlight that when we read this passage we should feel the weight of it. It is not gentle, and should not be read gently.

    Again I do not fully know how we apply this to our lives directly, perhaps Paul explains it here [with emphasis]:

    Philippians 2:12-13.

    “Therefore, my [beloved], as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.]”

    To end this though two more passages:

    Matthew 26:26-29.

    “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.””

    Matthew 28:16-20.

    “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””

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    1. Hey Tom, great to hear from you and your dialogue is much appreciated!

      Ok, so let me explain where I am coming from quickly. I have so often heard this parable taught as talents (monetary value = talents/god given abilities) which is just lazy interpreting of the scripture. So the message I have often heard is pretty much God has given you abilities that you need to use for him, if you don’t, you will be cast into hell. So my little tweak of the passage was an experimentation to see if I could unearth something more gracious (not gentle)in this passage.

      Like you I am definitely not claiming to have this all figured out and I agree with you about these parable being difficult to read and come to grasp with, which is why I value the interaction.

      I really liked the way you zoomed out to give some broader context which is definitely needed. So if we do that my understanding is that Matthew is particularly writing to a Jewish audience to try and help them connect the Messianic dots to Jesus as many were having trouble doing so. Now if we look at the last guys response where he talks about how harsh the master is and even quite cruel, that would seem to quite easily describe the relationship the Jews had with God in the Old Testament as they were always straying and then being disciplined through exiles and the such.

      Is Jesus not trying to say that I am presenting a picture/way of relating to God that is very different to the God the Jews are used to(I know you were saying that even from Matthew 17 the language is quite harsh however if we go back further in Matthew and look to the end we see that God is trying to reconcile people to himself even teaching them to pray to him by calling him Abba instead of YHWH), to those who can recognise this God I want to empower them to spend the Grace they have received and invest it in the lives of others. For those who don’t recognise this view of God, they will get what they expected which is a harsh encounter with the Law that they live by, effectively refusing the Grace Jesus would give them on the cross and instead seeking and failing to be saved and justified by the law.

      So that is one thought, could another be, and I agree with you that Jesus is really taking the religious leaders to task in these passages, that Jesus is saying I am giving you the Gospel and instead of investing it in the Jewish people, you have gone and hidden it and for doing that I will hold you personally accountable?

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      1. You said “So that is one thought, could another be, and I agree with you that Jesus is really taking the religious leaders to task in these passages, that Jesus is saying I am giving you the Gospel and instead of investing it in the Jewish people, you have gone and hidden it and for doing that I will hold you personally accountable?”

        I will go with that to a point…

        firstly, this person is a Christian, (Christ only calls people servants after they became believers, so there is no hell or eternal damnation here if we look at what is said and not assumed stuff was said that is not there…)

        secondly he was aware of the gift that was given, he was not surprised afterwards that he had a gift.

        and thirdly there was a long time for him to “work it”. And that gift can only be “worked” through the initiative and power of the Holy Spirit.

        So what should not happen is:
        firstly: walk around and tell people to do things that is between them and God (just making a point)
        secondly: Punish ourselves for not working hard enough or doing enough

        I believe this person was deliberate in refusing to accept assistance, put in ANY effort or try even in the least (even taking it to the bank would have been enough)

        A key for me is if you look at the 2-gift and 5-gift guys, what happened was, the moment they tried, heaven opened up… and the secret is for the 1-gift or any other “n-gift”, to realise that it is the work of the Lord, that what is expected of us is to be available which this guy refused to be… whaddaya think?

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      2. Justin,

        When I look through Matthew (say starting at Matthew 10) there appears to me to be a distinction between what you and I would call “religion” versus “true saving faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is this obstinate inability of Israel to know God, versus seeing who God truly is in Jesus. The outward religious observance versus “circumcision of the heart” as Paul puts it (Romans 2:29).

        “And the Lord said: ‘Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.'” (Isaiah 29:13-14 ref in: Matthew 15:7)

        “And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.'” (Isiah 6:9 ref in: Matthew 13:14)

        “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:16)

        Right after the Matthew 13:16, we have the parable of the sower, the many parables of the kingdom of heaven and Jesus rejected in his home town of Nazareth.

        From Matthew 18 we have this push starting from the question of “who is the greatest in the kingdom”, followed by teaching in forgiveness (and divorce), and how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

        ‘And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”‘ (Matthew 19:23-26) (John 3:1-15 comes to mind)

        Skipping forward we get to Matthew 21:28 which if you are to read in the context of the “seeing and not believing, seeing and believing” there is this contrast again. One son says he will go but doesn’t, one son who says he wont go but does.

        “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” (Matthew 21:32)

        Matthew 21 ends with further rejection of Jesus by Israel in the parable of the tenants, which is later followed by all the “woes” of Jesus to the religious leaders.

        [Sorry this is already getting to long, I write like I speak!]

        In summary part of the focus I think in Matthew is on this seeing and not believing versus seeing and believing, and the reasons for this are indicated by the prophecies of Isaiah. Not believing is a judgement of God (also see: Romans 1:16-32), believing is a gift of God (e.g. Ephesians 2:8-9 / John 3:1-15).

        What then do we do with Matthew 25?

        Now interestingly do note that the servant who did best (gained five talents more) was the one who was given the most in the first place (five talents) “according to his ability”. The one who utterly failed was given one talent originally and did nothing with it.

        THIS is why it is a difficult passage: “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.” (Matthew 25:29).

        THIS is also why we need to be careful not to read it “gently” as I said before and miss the fact of the matter, the kind of severity in what is being indicated here.

        I do believe Romans 11 is an explanation of this parable of talents, do read it all.

        Application to our lives…

        I think Paul states it here:

        “Is regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” (Romans 11:28-31)

        So again is the direct application of the talents? I am not so sure one can talk of “measures of Grace” in a kind of “gifts of the Spirit” way which is what I feel people often do. Yes there is quite clearly responsibility of what we do with what we have been given but these are “fruits of the Spirit” which we cannot produce ourselves.

        This tricky dynamic of course (obedience and sanctification) is what all true believers know, and the difficult (religion versus faith) paradox, true “authenticity” but not just “tradition”, demonstration without hypocrisy.

        I believe the point of passages like Matthew 25 (and the parable of the sower) is to highlight the reality of the matter possibly more than a teaching on the response. It is this “a good tree bares good fruit” versus “the leaven of the Pharisees”. But as we know from all of scripture no one is good, the fruit if any at all is from God the Spirit.

        Interestingly note this about the parable of the weeds: “He [Jesus] answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.'” (Matthew 13:37)

        God is sovereign, and how very often we miss this. How we respond I believe is summed up by Jesus’ “He who has ears let them hear” which I think the book of John specifically is all about.

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  3. Not sure he rejected it though…. he was afraid to loose it, he was afraid of BEING rejected (all because of being guided by a life not understanding the gift!!)…. until…to my storyline :-), Christ came, remove what is not of Him (Christ) and added him (me, you) with the gift of grace to the multitude…

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  4. Hey Christo, I am not sure that those guys were Christians as that is a very subjective thing to try and judge, I am happier going with Jewish because that seems to better describe Matthews audience. With regards to the Hell part. It seems to be a particularly difficult piece of scripture to understand, most commentators seem divided on it, and I haven’t really made up my mind.

    What I do know is that if we have a picture of God like the guy with 1 measure, then there isn’t the safety to risks to get creative and express that Grace. Whereas the other two guys I think had a different view of God and their relationship to him, which made them feel safe enough to take some real risks. For me the fact that they double their investment which is hard to do speaks to the risk taking

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    1. Thanks, ok, I think I get why you would say he was rather Jewish that Christian, to me that is difficult to agree with because I simply believe that there is no expectation from God from anyone except Christ and those who life by that life, but secondly, he never spoke of Jews as his servants and I believe that is relevant. If you take the sequence of parables (And I am stealing from watchman nee here….) the previous parable is about the 10 virgins which speaks of the Holy Spirit and I believe that is also relevant that it is right before this parable. But I believe, although the audience was Jewish, certainly the aim was to introduce them to the Christian Life, and the progress in the gospel tells me that “by this time they were saved and into the Christian Life”. Also this parable explains James epistle (Faith without works is dead….)… which is Christian.

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  5. Ok, I love all the interaction around this passage, and I think many valuable points have been raised, however I am interested in how this passage would “read” or “interpret” us. It’s important to connect this passage to others, and to connect it to Christ, but what is it exposing in my heart today, how does it help me to participate in the coming of His Kingdom today, how does it incarnate Jesus in my life today? These are the issues I am wrestling with.

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    1. I suppose the answer to that is, how would we live if we knew Jesus was returning in exactly one year from now, or sooner?

      What happens if we do not know when he will return?

      It is learning to be faithful in the long delay.

      It is a joyful, expectant wait, and more so should drive us to pray: “Lord how can I be useful with what you have given me, for your glory, and to love others.”

      But this is grounded in the Spirit producing fruit in our lives, the promise that we are sealed in Christ to the very end, and that there is no condemnation for those in Jesus. What does this truth do in and to our hearts?

      Don Carson on Matthew 25: “Wait for the lord Jesus as slaves commissioned to improve their masters assets.” http://vimeo.com/19940544

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  6. Hey Tom, I have done quite a bit of thinking over the last few days, so thanks for that. I do feel like while looking back some of your connections you make to Matt 25 are useful and thought provoking, I still think passages like Rom 11 cant be the answer purely because that passage had not been written yet and so not in the frame of reference of that audience.

    Something I am working on as I read the bible is to allow it to interpret me, to critique my heart. I also want to find Jesus in the passage and I want to interpret the bible in a way consistent with how Jesus did it. This seems to be not so focused on answers but on a wrestling with the truth till we are changed. My pursuit of answers left me with many answer but little life-change.

    Anyway I just want to thank you Tom and Christo, for engaging me on this text this week, I have been enriched in doing so and I hope it’s been a blessing too.

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  7. Justin, in regards to Romans 11 Paul would be writing in reference to Jesus’ teaching in general.

    Just saying that the context of Matthew appears to be related to being a faithful and is contrasted with Israel not being, and the apostles to be whilst they wait for Jesus’ return. (The application to ourselves is obvious though in this regard).

    I do wonder that perhaps there are some passages in the Bible which we cannot directly apply to ourselves, and that they are for the direct audience primarily. This is not to say there is no application whatsoever to ourselves, but I think it is not particularly useful to attempt to wrestle texts to talk to us directly.

    I don’t think it is necessary, and sometimes the encouragement can come from simply listening to the conversation had, if only to understand more about Jesus and thus the Father.

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