The Purpose of Parables

Today someone asked whether the person who buried his talent in the parable of the talents was saved. I’ve heard so many views of that parable that I’ve concluded that the parable itself doesn’t really yield a concrete answer that everyone will accept. But, I’ve also been thinking along these lines about the parables for a couple of years and this gave me a chance to flesh out the view that’s emerging in me about parables. So here goes: Ive come to believe that parables should never be used to generate doctrine, and the point is never about salvific loss or eternal security or anything like that. They’re infinitely deep, and Jesus said the scribe instructed in the kingdom will pull new and old things out of them (Mt 13:52) To be instructed in the kingdom means you’re already standing on solid doctrinal ground, and when you come to the parables, they are a treasure house for you:

“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

They are also designed to hide truth from unbelievers or people who are veiled and self-justified. Mark 4:11-12, where Jesus says, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

But for a believer who is instructed, they are full of grace. In fact, they will confirm whatever notion anyone has about the kingdom and act as a verification of your beliefs. Legalists, for example, tend to view the parable of the guy who buried his talent as someone who “lost his salvation”, and ive heard some even teach that this parable proves that the lord is the hard task master and deals with us very sternly. However, when we are full of the doctrine of Christ, we begin to see things differently.

For instance, I believe that guy buried his talent because of his perception of who the Lord is, which was wrong. he believed the Lord is a stern master, and he “reaps where he does not sow”. That’s contrary to the truth in the scripture, for sure, which says he gives seed to the sower and generously gives us the increase which causes us to abound in thanksgiving. 2 Cor 9:10 “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.” Ultimately everything comes down to who we believe the Lord is through the knowledge of the doctrine of Christ, and then the parables will test and confirm what we believe. This is actually a new understanding I’ve been grappling with over the last couple of years becasue there’s too many cookie cutter answers about the parables.

The Dispensationalists may say “those parables are not for the church” which in a dispensational sense might be true, but they put the parables out of reach, and actually while thinking to support a grace doctrine imply that there’s another group of people that those parables literally apply to and therefore for some group out there, justification is by works. So it becomes a works argument in the name of standing for grace. Again I really believe the parables reflect our understanding of who the Lord is. Do we have peace with him based on what we believe, and what is our view of service, and the Chrisitan life? is it consistent with what we know to be true doctrinally, or do we “fold” when we come to a parable and throw our doctrine out the window and fail all the “gospel tests”?

When I say “gospel test” I mean, are you standing in your faith just as strongly after encountering new information as before or have you been shaken and now need to be reassured? Considering whether or not the guy in the parable is saved will not yield a clear answer. Is he a saved person who just believes wrongly? he’s serving the lord. The lord gave him something. Ah, some may say, this means he’s saved, but there is a stern punishment for those who do not “work hard enough”. Which means they believe a reward is a debt owed to us or a waged earned by us, which is contrary to Romans 4:4. Besides, we’re not even told what the talent is. We think of it as something natural, given according to our “abilities”. People will teach that this parable means your life is your stewardship and you were given a lot because God knew you could do a lot with it and he’s holding you accountable.

But what if it’s the inverse, in that it’s not how many abilities we have or how capable we are, but the opposite – the less able, the less capable ones end up seeing the increase? They’re the ones who are able to perceive the value of the talent given to them, and they can see that the talent did all the work of multiplication which is why they’re rejoicing. They’re not boasting before the Lord, they’re excited about the value and power of what they were given! As a grace person who has grown in the doctrine of Christ, I’ve come to see them as knowing from the beginning that nothing was demanded of them because they knew there was nothing they could do. Their eyes were on the generosity of the master and the abundance they had received. remember Paul tells us 1 corinthians that more grace and abundant honour is given to the parts that “seem” to lack. And we know from Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 1-3 that the flesh and its wisdom and ability is absolutely not profitable until we see the cross and come to see that everything must be Christ (1 cor 2:6-8;1 Cor 3:18-20, 2 Cor 12:9).

The parable itself tells me that the talent must be infinitely powerful and valuable, producing an increase of itself, because the lord told him he could have just given it to the bankers and the lord would have had interest when he came. Anyone who knows about the value of compound interest knows that the value of the one talent, when compounded over time, would have far outstripped the mere 2 and 3-fold multiplication of the other servants’ talents. That statement of the master to the servant is a rebuke to his ignorance of the value of what he received. The guy who buried his talent thought it wasn’t very valuable, and believed that it couldn’t do anything. He obviously thought that the Lord would expect an increase from his own effort, “reaping where he did not sow.” And in fact, he “worked harder” than everyone, digging in the ground to bury the talent to “protect” it for the Lord.

Similarly people today work hard to become pastors and tell everyone what to do according to the letter of the law because they don’t believe the Gospel has any power to do anything of itself. Yet Paul tells us the word of the Gospel is increasing and bearing fruit in us and also in all the world (Col 1:9-10).. I’ve found that my growth in the lord is tested by what I see in the parables, and I believe its infinite. I don’t think we want to lock it down trying to use it to prove a doctrine and say, “Well, who are the guys in the parables? Are they saved? Are they not saved? Is this saying you can lose your salvation, or is it saying that you can lose your reward? etc., etc.”

That’s not what parables are for. They are a storehouse for you to bring out the treasures of whatever doctrine you have been instructed in (good and bad), and through them, you’ll either speak well of the Lord and glorify Him or you’ll speak harsh words against him and show what you really believe about him.

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