The Parable of the Talents which Jesus taught to His disciples in Matthew chapter 25 can be fairly instructive when considering the question of foreordination and election, and how it governs our placement in this world and our relationship to each other.
The Parable of the Talents teaches the importance of exercising righteous stewardship with those things that the Lord gives to us while we are in our second estate. Even though each servant in the parable received differing amounts to start with, they were each expected to wisely manage the talents with which they had been entrusted, in order that the wealth could grow and increase in their care before they had to return what they had been given to the master.
We all start out with differing gifts in life, and some are seemingly given greater advantages and blessings in this life than others, such as being born into the covenant, or living in a country where freedom and prosperity reign instead of tyranny and strife. We also come into life with certain abilities and talents which are innate, or which we developed during our life before we came here, and it may seem that some have received more natural talent or advantageous opportunity than others.
While the master distributes his talents to each servant “according to his several ability,” it should be noted that, while each servant is entrusted with different amounts, none of the talents truly belongs to any of the servants. Rather, they are charged with making the Master’s wealth grow, for the sake of his glory, rather than their own. As none of the servants actually owns this wealth, it does not confer any kind of rank or status upon those in whose stewardship it has been placed. The servant who holds one of the master’s talents is just as poor as the servant who holds five of the master’s talents, because they are ultimately the master’s talents.
Each servant has a choice concerning what he will do with the wealth with which he has been entrusted. Two of the servants are wise stewards, and they went out into the world and used what they had been given to actively develop the master’s talents and to increase the estate with which they had been entrusted. However, one servant was not so wise, and he hid his master’s talent, and he did nothing with it, and so he had nothing to show for the time and the gifts that the master had entrusted to him.
Because he had nothing to show due to his sloth and wickedness, what little he had was taken away and given to that servant that had exercised great diligence and faithfulness in increasing what he had been given, and as such had demonstrated that he could be trusted with more. If the unprofitable servant had shown the same care and diligence, even though he had started with less, he would not have had his talent taken from him and given to another.
When the master returns, the servant who had received five talents had doubled the amount he had been given, which he then turns over to the master, to whom the talents (and the interest earned on those talents) rightfully belong. At this the master says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21).
Then the servant who had been given two talents reported that he had managed to double what he had been charged with managing, to which the master responds, “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:23).
Note that although each of the wise servants had been entrusted with a different amount they nevertheless received precisely the same reward for their diligent management thereof.
It is not how, where, or with what gifts and opportunities we start out with in life that matters so much as it matters what we do with what we have been given. The servant who was entrusted with five talents received the same reward as the servant who received only two talents because they were never his talents to begin with. The Lord rewarded both of his servants because they had demonstrated that they were both equally “good and faithful,” and not because one earned more interest on a larger initial amount than did the other. If the “wicked and slothful servant” had been given five talents, it would have changed nothing; he still would have wasted his time and opportunities to improve what he had been given. Just so, if the good and faithful servant who received five talents had instead been entrusted only with one it would have changed nothing. He would still have been diligent in improving that which the master had trusted him to manage. The master cared less about the amounts earned by each servant than he did about the character of faithfulness developed and demonstrated by each servant.
In the same way, the Lord cares more about the character which we develop than he does about what we can “earn” for him. It is true that no matter how hard we work, we will never be more than “unprofitable servants” (see Mosiah 2:21-25), but God has a different concept of “profitability” when it comes to His children. He has given each of us certain gifts, abilities, and opportunities in order that we might be able to develop and demonstrate the character of one who is “good and faithful.” If instead we elect to be “wicked and slothful” with what we are given, it is not a reflection of how much or how little we have been given, but rather it is an expression of the kind of character which we have developed (or failed to develop) through our actions, choices, and attitudes (or failure to act or to choose).
Note that in the parable the master chose to distribute talents according to each servant’s “several ability.” Similarly, many of the gifts, abilities, and opportunities which we receive in this world seem to come to us as an incident of the place, or time, or circumstances of our birth. How then does the Lord determine our “several ability” before we are even born?
Each of us who has been born into in this world received and kept their first estate in the pre-mortal world before this one. Where does the term “first estate” come from, and to what does it refer?
“Jude wrote about the spirits who rebelled against God in the pre-mortal world and followed Lucifer, calling them “angels which kept not their first estate” (Jude 1:6; see also Abraham 3:26, 28). Here, “estate” refers to a person’s rank or position [or, more accurately, the stewardship with which a person is entrusted]. Because these spirits rebelled against the Father, they lost their standing before God and did not qualify for the privilege of coming to mortality—our second estate.” (New Testament Student Manual, 522).
I added the note about stewardship because, before we came here, each of us was entrusted with certain gifts, abilities, opportunities, and responsibilities during our pre-mortal existence. This trust was committed to us in much the same way that the master in the parable committed his talents to the care of his servants. When something of value which belongs to another is placed in our care and custodianship, it is often referred to as a stewardship. In large households, the servant who is charged with the overall management of the estate is called a steward. This is a servant in whom a special trust has been placed, and he is given the authority and responsibility necessary to see that the management of household affairs is wisely and efficiently executed.
During the pre-mortal existence, each of us was expected to exercise wise stewardship over the blessings which we had been given, which is often referred to as our first estate. We were expected to follow Christ and to choose to follow his plan. As “good and faithful” servants we remained loyal to the Father when Satan rebelled with a third of the host of heaven, and during the war in heaven that ensued, we each overcame Satan “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of our testimony; and [we] loved not [our] lives unto the death” (see Revelation 12:7-11).
In this way we each kept our first estate, by exercising diligent obedience to God, and developing and demonstrating the character of a “good and faithful servant.” Unfortunately, that third of the host of heaven failed to keep their first estate, and (much like the wicked and slothful and unprofitable servant from the parable) they will be “cast… into outer darkness: [where] there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30).
Those of us who had exercised wisdom and diligence in the care and management of our first estate had demonstrated our “several ability” to the Lord, indicating our readiness and worthiness to be entrusted with a second estate. Elder D. Todd Christofferson described the conditions of this second estate, and the conditions under which it was offered to us.
“Thanks to our Heavenly Father, we had already become spirit beings. Now He was offering us a path to complete or perfect that being. The addition of the physical element is essential to the fulness of being and glory that God Himself enjoys. If, while with God in the premortal spirit world, we would agree to participate in His plan—or in other words “keep [our] first estate”—we would “be added upon” with a physical body as we came to dwell on the earth that He created for us.
If, then in the course of our mortal experience, we chose to “do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God [should] command [us],” we would have kept our “second estate.” This means that by our choices we would demonstrate to God (and to ourselves) our commitment and capacity to live His celestial law while outside His presence and in a physical body with all its powers, appetites, and passions. Could we bridle the flesh so that it became the instrument rather than the master of the spirit? Could we be trusted both in time and eternity with godly powers, including power to create life? Would we individually overcome evil? Those who did would “have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever”—a very significant aspect of that glory being a resurrected, immortal, and glorified physical body. No wonder we “shouted for joy” at these magnificent possibilities and promises.
As part of our second estate, each of us has had the care and management of things which we do not own placed in our care. Most notably, we have been committed with the proper use and development of our physical bodies, which, as the Apostle Paul points out, do not actually belong to us:
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.
We have also been given the opportunity to exercise our agency in total freedom, as we are no longer in the direct presence of God, and so we are expected to choose righteousness and obedience of our own free will when “no one is watching” so to speak. In this way we have been given an opportunity to prove ourselves to be “good and faithful servants.”
2 Corinthians 5:6-7 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)
1 Peter 1:6-9 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
Abraham 3:24-26 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.
Normally, a steward, no matter how faithful, is just a servant, and as such he has no right or claim to the estate (or talents) that has been placed in his care. The estate and its legacy is not his, nor should he have any expectation of inheriting it, even though its protection has been placed in his care. However, the Lord is gracious; and, through His son, he has made it possible for His faithful servants to inherit His estate. Each of us is a child of God, and if we are wise in our stewardship of our second estate we will be adopted and recognized as heirs of God, who stand to inherit all that He has. This means that we must make certain choices, and exercise care and diligence by making covenants with the Lord and honoring that trust with which He has entrusted us as His servants. After all, one doesn’t adopt a “wicked,” slothful,” and “unprofitable” servant to be your son and heir, rather we must demonstrate that we can be trusted in our stewardship to be “good and faithful” by demonstrating fidelity to those things which we have promised to do for our master.
Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Romans 8:14-17 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
No matter where we were born, or in what circumstances you and I may have been born into, and no matter what talents or abilities we may have been born with (or without), each of us has been offered the same opportunity to inherit all that the Father has. Whether our circumstances at birth are the result of our diligent and faithful stewardship over our first estate, or if they are merely incidental, all men who are faithful in their stewardship over their second estate have the same access to the same blessings and glory promised by the Father. It therefore matters little whether we have been given five talents, two talents, or just one talent. It is up to us to develop and improve what we have been given, in the time which we have, so that the Lord will see that we have become His “good and faithful” and profitable servants, and so will recognize us as His sons and heirs through adoption. Then He will say to us “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21).”
This post is a continuation of an earlier article called How Does Foreordination Work?