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The Parable of the Unprofitable Servant
Luke 17:6-10

February 2013

Let us remember that this parable is the last part of a conversation which took place at a Sabbath day dinner at a chief Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1).  The entire conversation with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and on-lookers is recorded in the previous three chapters.  Also keep in mind that Jesus’ own disciples were listening to this conversation.  In this conversation Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, Sadducees, and on-lookers for a variety of sins, some of them being: Arrogance, pride, lack of truth while sharing the Gospel, excuses for not sharing the Gospel, not putting the Messiah first, and not forsaking all things for the Gospel’s sake.  This particular list of sins can be found in Luke 14

          In Luke 15 we find sins like; not loving sinners the way God does, and a lack of true forgiveness.  In Luke 16 we see; covetousness, the love of Mammon, using Mammon unrighteously, adultery, bad stewardship, and the indiscriminant implementation of divorce.  Notice; this list is not a complete list of sins in this conversation, but it is quite extensive? 

This large list of sins listed in these prior three chapters led to the lesson in verses one through six, which then passed directly into the parable of the “Unprofitable Servant” found in verses 7 -10. Jesus spoke to His disciples of the inevitable offences that have come and will come in the shape of wicked and malicious opposition to His Gospel and to all those who proclaimed it.  But He made it clear that the guilt of those responsible for such offences would come with great woe (verse 1-2). Then Jesus gave them a very difficult command.  He admonished them to pardon those who bring offenses no matter how often they were injured.  The Apostles, conscious of how difficult that command would be to obey, because of the weakness of the human heart, asked Jesus to help them in obeying this command by increasing their faith (verse 5). Jesus understanding their concerns presented them with this parable on their obligation of serving the Master.  No matter what trials faced them they must exercise unlimited forgiveness.  Christ’s followers must render complete obedience to Him, and like Him, they must conquer by suffering.

Now let’s take a look at the parable of the “Unprofitable Servant” but we will start our examination in Luke 17:1.   “Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!”  First, notice to whom the conversation now turns.  It is now directed at His disciples.  Jesus is warning His followers that temptations are inevitable or impossible to avoid.  Therefore; every disciple should carefully watch for and try to avoid any and all temptations that might lead to offences.  Christians can expect nothing less then, “offences will come.”  By which is meant, not sins, as sometimes thought, but rather the temptation to sin.  These offences are designed to stir up contempt and reproaches cast upon the doctrines, ordinances, and people of Christ, and all the afflictions, distresses, and persecutions brought about by them.  Their purpose is to cause the children of God to stumble and fall; to tempt them to deny the truth, drop their profession of religion, and relinquish their service to Christ; to do the things which are displeasing to God, discouraging to His people and bring down the judgments of God upon them.

The doom upon those who bring offences will be heavy, and much worse then those who fall into the temptation.  Notice verse two; “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”  Saints remember there is no sin in being tempted; sin only comes from giving into temptation!  Jesus also was tempted as we are – but without sin (Ref. Hebrews 4:15).

          Those who bring temptations fall into three categories.  They are either;

  1.  Persecutors – People who bring injury to the least of Christ’s little ones (John Wesley called these little ones – weak believers).  These injuries can come by word or deed, and cause discouragement, and the danger of these little ones being driven off from their service to the Master.

  2. Seducers – Individuals who corrupt the truths of Christ and His ordinances.  They bring trouble to the minds and hearts of weak believers.  Seducers are individuals who deliberately corrupt the truth, not those who err.

  3. Hypocrites – Professing Christians who live scandalously – Those who by their lack of holiness and impure lifestyles cause weaker brethren to fall.

          Christian brethren and especially Ministers must be very careful not to say or do anything that may be a discouragement to weak Christians; there is need of great caution, and they ought to speak and act very considerately and carefully, for fear of this.  When your brother trespasses against you, does you injury, or puts any offence upon you, your property or your reputation, take heed to yourselves lest you get angry and when your spirit is provoked, you speak rashly vowing revenge (Ref. Proverbs 24:29): I will do so to him as he hath done to me. Take heed what you say at such a time, lest you be the one who brings offence.  Remember do unto others as you would have others do unto you (Matthew 7:12).

          The next two verses (17:3-4) demand of us a great duty.  This duty carries with it great responsibilities.  “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him.”   Let us take a close look at this verse, examining it very closely.  For there are three very important commands we should notice and apply to our lives as Christians.  They are not easy however to apply.

  1. We must “WATCH” (prosecho) – which means to hold the mind towards, that is, pay attention to, be cautious about, and be aware of, take heed. Watching infers sincere conscious effort! This is our solemn duty. Watch yourselves so you do not fall into any temptation.

  2. We must “REBUKE” (epitimao) – which means to censure or admonish; by implication forbid: - (straightly) charge, rebuke.  Rebuking demands confrontation!  “Therefore submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

  3. If he repents, we must “FORGIVE” (aphiemi) – which means to send forth, forsake, lay aside, leave alone, let go, remit, or yield up.  Even if he sins against you seven times in a day you must forgive seven times in ONE day! Special note:  Forgiving does not mean forgetting.  Jesus forgave our sin but is still aware we are still sinners.  Read 1st John 1:8-10Numbers 2 and 3 are our appointed responsibilities.   

     It is either on account of what had been said by Christ concerning offences, and forgiving injuries; or being conscious of their own weakness in the light of the long list of sins that Jesus presented, that the disciple put forth a powerful and telling petition.  This petition unmistakably demonstrates what type of Spirit Jesus had implanted in His disciples.  The petition was; “Lord – Give us more faith;” Or as the King James Version renders it – “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).   We may learn from this that:

  1. A heart humbly following Christ is always aware of the difficulties of conquering sin, overcoming all resentment brought about by any injury incurred, the necessity of divine assistance, and the need of having a fresh supply of grace daily.

  2. Jesus has “the power” of increasing the faith of His people. Strength comes from Him, and especially strength to believe the Gospel. Remember He is called the “Author and Finisher” of our faith (Ref. Hebrews 12:2).

  3. The duty of forgiving offences is one of the most difficult duties of the Christian religion. It is so contrary to our natural feelings; it demands us to rise above petty feelings like malice and revenge, and is so contrary to the common principles of the world, that it is no wonder our Savior speaks much of this duty.  Jesus simply puts it this way - unless you forgive others you cannot be forgiven (Ref. Matthew 6:14-15).

            The parable, that is now set before us (verses 7-10) is in response to the disciple’s petition for increased faith.  This petition is the key to this often overlooked and seldom preached parable.  Maybe the reason for it being overlooked and seldom preached is because the message it contains is one that does not rank very high on the scale of attractiveness or of importance in man’s eyes, when it is compared to others like the Sower and the seed or the Prodigal son.  However; seeing that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, (17) that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17).  Obviously the petition asked by Jesus’ disciples showed dramatically how much they wanted to be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.  Because, wanting to be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work is a wonderful thing to desire; we will undertake a study of this parable, and try by the grace of God to glean from it precious and life giving truths.

          This poignant and moving parable immediately follows and is in response to what is a powerful petition made by Christ’s’ followers, “Lord – Increase our faith.”  However by the response given by Christ we notice that even though the petition was sincere it was based on a sincere misunderstanding of faith.  Notice Jesus’ response.  Luke 17:6 The Lord replied, “If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this Sycamine tree, be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” 

          Have any of you ever seen a mustard seed?  According to Jesus a mustard seed is the smallest seed on earth (Mark 4:31).  With faith the size of a mustard seed (a singular seed, not plural; seeds) we can remove a mountain (Matthew 17:20) or in this verse a Sycamine tree otherwise known as a Mulberry or Sycamore tree and cast them into the sea.  Every believer has at least this much faith.  Look at Romans 12:3“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”  Notice the last phrase in this verse.  God has assigned to each of us a “measure of faith.”  This phrase demands of us several questions.  What is a measure of faith?  And; is a measure of faith more than a singular mustard seed in quantity?

          There are anywhere from 12 to 20 words for “measure” used in the Bible.  One is “Metron” – which means a limited portion.  Another is “Perissos” – which carries with it the concept of superabundance.  The word “Metron” is the one used in Romans 12:3.  Jesus knowing that this limited portion was more than enough to transplant a mountain or uproot a Mulberry tree, knowing also that His disciples had already done many great and powerful works, emphasizes by the Mustard seed metaphor, that they possessed the quantity of faith but not the quality of faith  needed to endure upcoming trials.

          When we examine closely the word “measure” we find that it is always directly associated with quantity.  It can, in dry measure mean anywhere from a handful, to 8 bushels.  In liquid measurements a measure can be as small as a quart to as much as 9 gallons.  In all cases the smallest quantity associated with a measure, whether by liquid or dry measurement is still abundantly more then a singular grain of Mustard seed. 

          So without getting into a lesson of what a measure is exactly equivalent to, or how big the Mulberry tree or the mountain for that matter which can be transplanted into the sea is, or even the difference between a Mulberry tree and a Sycamore tree, and why different versions render the Greek word “sukaminos” differently.  It is sufficed to say our Lord was emphasizing that His disciples needed a purer QUALITY of faith not an increase in the QUANTITY of faith. 

          All the salt in the world will not add one once of taste to food if it has no saltiness.  This same principle holds true to the quantity of faith.  All the faith in the world without purity will not allow you to stand in times of trouble, or for that matter live a life pleasing to God.  What was needed by Jesus’ disciples then and by His followers now is a purer QUALITY of faith. 

          The quality of faith His followers would and now need has to be so pure that they could endure all types of upcoming trials, and temptations.  Jesus’ followers need a faith of such purity that it would enable them to live and die like their Master, to live a life filled with holiness, righteousness and power; faith so pure that it brings forth fruit in abundance.  A faith so uncontaminated it would allow the believer to stare death in the face and boldly proclaim, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory” (1st Corinthians 15:55 [KJV])A pureness that would enable Jesus’ followers to live a life without sin!

          Please do not say that a life without sin is impossible – Remember, Jesus said to him, “‘if you are able?’ Everything is possible for the person who believes” (Mark 9:23)! Also Jesus looking upon them said, with men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible (Mark 10:27 KJV).

          Proceeding from His teaching, regarding the quality of faith enabling one to do the seemingly impossible, He introduces the parable of the “Unprofitable Servant” with the phrase “But which of you” {KJV} or “Suppose a man among you” [ASV] (Luke 17:7).  By opening the parable with a question designed to make them recognize the obvious, it seems that Jesus was addressing the sin of pride.  They had been glorying in their own accomplishments and in their own ministries.  So in order to keep the disciples humble in the face of the performance of miraculous works; and so that they might not imagine they could obtain anything at the hands of God by their own value or worth; and to motivate them to go on in their responsibilities and never think they have done more than their duty, Christ delivers this parable entitled “The Unprofitable Servant.”

          Lockyer in his book entitled “All the Parables of the Bible” introduces a very interesting question in response to Jesus’ opening phrase found in verse 7.  The question is this; “If His disciples received more faith what result would it have upon them?  Would they pride themselves on the victories of faith, or allow such conquests to make them, more than ever, the Master’s bond-slaves?  Lockyer goes on to say that; when Jesus sent them out upon a mission, they came back rejoicing and exultingly saying “Even the demons are subject unto US.”  By looking at what they were rejoicing in, it becomes obvious that they took glory for their accomplishments, and not in the One who had made them possible.  Thus, the Lord rebuked them, telling them not to rejoice over demon-submission (the accomplishments) but over the fact that their names where written in heaven” (God has chosen them, gave them the power and then called them to His service) (Luke 10:17-20).

          Therefore the parable set before us must be designed to help us combat any sense of self gratification in our service to our King.  No matter how simple a task given or exalted the miracle performed we have NO right to glory in it.  For we are mere servants or vessels created and empowered by the Master for His own use.  We have no ability in ourselves to influence someone to salvation, do miracles, or deliver someone from demon possession.  So how can we rejoice in any success we may witness in our ministries? John Calvin a sixteenth century theologian puts it this way; “The sum of this parable is, that since God can by an absolute right challenge everything to Himself, and hold us for His property, however jealously we may apply to any duty, we cannot bind Him to us by the obligation of our merits, because since we are His, He can be in nothing indebted to us… All are condemned on sinful arrogance who imagine that they deserve something at the hands of God, as if they laid Him under contribution to themselves.”

          Lord, increase our faith! – Or better yet – Lord purify our faith!  But how Lord?  There is only one way! The servant of God must manifest an unmovable, uncompromising obedience, which can only be grounded upon absolute and complete humility (Luke 17:9-10).  The parable of the “Unprofitable Servant” demonstrates the necessity of these two virtues, obedience and humility.  Note:

  1. As servants of God we must live in absolute subjection.  “Father not my will but thine be done.”

  2. As servants of God we must always look first and foremost to serve God unceasingly.

  3. As servants of God we must always recognize that obedience brings NO praise or glory to oneself.

  4. As servants of God we must live a life of absolute humility.  O Lord; “You are the potter I am the clay” Jeremiah 18:1-6.

          Next month’s lesson will cover the parable itself and expound further on the four points just listed.  Thank you; your letters and e-mails of encouragement, your prayerful and financial support and testimonies are greatly appreciated. 

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