Five, Two, and One Are Equal
Gifts for Service
By Richard A. Sabuin
Ihad been taught in my baptismal class that if I would utilize my spiritual gifts, God would add more. After my baptism in 1984 I found that I enjoyed singing, teaching, and encouraging people. Now I am still singing, teaching, and encouraging people. I do not have three additional spiritual gifts, as described in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30).1 So in what sense are the talents multiplied? What is the difference between five talents, two, or just one? And finally, what is the function of the spiritual gifts?
Five and Two Are Equal
To the servant who doubles their five talents, the master says: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt. 25:21).2 Interestingly, the master says exactly the same thing to the servant with the two talents (verse 23). This parallel suggests that five talents and two talents are equally considered as “few things.” The commendation given to them is just the same; the reward they receive is not different. Five are not more than two and two are not less than five.
Two and One Are Equal
Jesus’ teaching following the parable of the talents about the separation of the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:31-46) sheds further light upon the meaning of the five, the two, and the one talent. The reason for the separation has something to do with what they did for Jesus: giving Him food when He was hungry, giving Him water when He was thirsty, receiving Him when He was a stranger, clothing Him when He was naked, looking after Him when He was sick, and visiting Him when He was in prison. This set of reasons is repeated four times: (1) in the statement of the king to the “sheep” (verses 35, 36), (2) in the question of the “sheep” to the king (verses 37-39), (3) in the statement of the king to the “goats” (verses 42, 43), and (4) in the question of the “goats” to the king (verse 44).
God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)In the first set, there are six verbs explaining what is done to Jesus or to the least of the brethren—namely, giving to eat, giving water, receiving, clothing, looking after, and visiting. Interestingly, when this set of reasons is repeated the second time, the last two verbs—looking after and visiting—are now merged into one verb: to visit (verse 39). When this set of reasons is repeated the third time, these last two verbs are again fused into one, but this time in the verb to look after (verse 43). This implies that two is equal to one and one is equal to two. The one who does the two functions performs one service, and the one who performs this one, does the two. It is not a matter of how many gifts we have, but what we do with the gift(s).
Five and One Are Equal
When the set of reasons is repeated the second and the third times, the six verbs in the first mention of the set of reasons have become five verbs, because two have merged into one. Now, notice how the set of reasons is repeated for the fourth time: “Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” (verse 44, NKJV).3 Did you notice it? The remaining five verbs have now merged into one verb, diakoneo, “to serve or to minister.” This arrangement of verbs demonstrates that feeding, giving water, receiving strangers, clothing, and visiting could be summarized in one word, namely, serving or ministering. It suggests that five talents are equal to one talent and one talent is equal to five talents. It is not a matter of how many gifts we have, but what we do with the gift(s).
Only Two Groups
The separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 demonstrates that there are only two groups of people: those who serve the Lord and those who do not serve the Lord; the good and faithful, and the wicked and lazy (verse 26). The first two servants are called good and faithful because they realize their responsibility as servants owned by their master and they do their best for the benefit of their master. It is not so much the doing that makes them good and faithful. It is more their attitude toward their master—their being. Furthermore, it is not only the third servant’s acts (or lack thereof) that result in him being labeled wicked and lazy, but also what he thinks about the master. He says: “I knew that you are a hard man” (verse 24). With this wrong perception about his master this servant does not serve his master the best way he can. Interestingly, he does not complain because he received only one talent. The right image of God and a loving attitude toward Him lead to diligent and fruitful demonstration of the spiritual gifts entrusted to us.
Spiritual Gifts and the Second Coming
The parable of the talents is not an isolated parable, but part of the teaching about the second coming of Christ (Matt. 24 and 25). It should be read and understood in the context of the second coming of Jesus. In this light the purpose of spiritual gifts is not only “to equip his people for works of service” (Eph. 4:12), but also to prepare them for the coming of Jesus.
The focus of the spiritual gifts is not necessarily additional gifts but fruitful ministry that brings many to Christ. Five, two, or one is just the same. I am satisfied with whatever kind and number of gifts I have. It is all about service. The question is: Do I use my gifts for the advancement of His kingdom?
1 Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . : A Biblical Exposition of Fundamental Doctrines (Silver Spring, Md.: Ministerial Association of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists, 2005), p. 238. The parable is also closely associated with stewardship. Ibid., p. 303.
2 Unless otherwise noted, all Bible texts in this article are quoted from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
3 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Richard A. Sabuin, a native of Indonesia, is New Testament professor and dean of the Theological Seminary at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Philippines.