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“Lord Increase our faith!”
The Parable of the Unprofitable Servant – Part Two
Luke 17:7-10

March
2013

            [1]"Suppose a man among you has a servant plowing or watching sheep. Would he say to him when he comes in from the field, 'Come at once and have something to eat'?  Of course not!  Instead, he would say to him, 'Get dinner ready for me, and put on your apron and wait on me until I eat and drink.  Then you can eat and drink.’  He doesn't praise the servant for doing what was commanded, does he?  That's the way it is with you.  When you have done everything you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless (unprofitable) servants.  We have done only what we ought to have done.'" 

            We finished last month’s teaching with the disciple’s request: “Lord increase our faith!”  Or better yet – Lord purify our faith!  We then asked an inquisitive question:  But how Lord?  With an inquisitive heart we discovered two virtues that must work in perfect synchronization, just like a finely tuned watch, in order to achieve God’s desired result for our lives.  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.  Please notice these four characteristics of true servant hood.

            1.         As servants of God we must live in unmovable and uncompromising obedience.                                     “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 himself.

            4.         As servants of God we must live a life of absolute and complete humility, for this type                 of humility is what God demands.  O Lord; you are the potter I am the clay                                      (Ref. Jeremiah 18:1-6).

            This month we will take a closer look at the parable of “The Unprofitable Servant” and expound further on these four points.  First however let us define “obedience” and “humility”, in order to better understand what God is asking of us.

1.         Obedient or obedience – (Hebrew – “shama”) (Greek – “Hupakoe”) – Both words have essentially the same meaning.  To hear intelligently and attentively and as a subordinate be content to diligently heed or conform to the command or authority as one who understands compliance and submission.  In other words – Duty without question!

2.         Humility or humble – (Hebrew – has several words the main ones being “shaphel” and “kana” which are verbs and “shaphal” being the adjective) (Greek – “tapeinophrosunē the noun, “tapeinoo” or “tapeinos”) “Tapeinoo” being the verb, and “Tapeinos” being the adjective.  Once again all the words have essentially the same meaning.  It means to bend the knee or prostrate oneself in humiliation or abasement.  To be brought low or down, to be trampled under foot or to weaken or depress especially in regard to ones pride.  Simply put it means the having a humble opinion of one’s self, a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness, modesty.  A college

professor once explained that a humble person is like a loving pet.  No matter what you do to it, he only demonstrates a loving and teachable heart.  He accepts what has been done no matter how hard, and still demonstrates only loving obedience.

            The Hebrew verb “Shăphël” is generally used in a figura­tive sense, and it rarely denotes a literal lowness.  Even in passages where the meaning may be taken literally, it communicates a spiritual truth: “. . .  The high [trees] of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled” (Isaiah 10:33), or “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low…  (Isaiah 40:4).  Isaiah particularly presented Judah’s sin as one of rebellion, self-exaltation, and pride (Isaiah 2:17; 3:16-17).  And he proclaimed God’s indictment on human pride; “the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:17).  In other words, when the Lord comes in judgment, He will not tolerate pride.  

            In the New Testament “Tapeinoo” and “tapeinos” is used always in a good sense, It denotes one of low degree e.g. (Luke 1:32; Romans 12:16; 2nd Corinthians 7:6; James 1:9; 1st Peter 5:5 etc.)  What is being defined here can best be described by the Apostle Paul when he wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). 

            The song writer Frances R. Havergal put it this way; “Take my life, and let it be consecrated Lord, to Thee; Take my hands, and let them move, at the impulse of Thy love.  Take my feet, and let them be, swift and beautiful for Thee; Take my voice and let me sing, always only, for my King.  Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I with-hold; Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.  Take my will and make it Thine, it shall be no longer mine; Take my heart, it is Thine own, it shall be Thy royal throne.”

            As we now go into a study of the parable of the Unprofitable Servant the truths it unveils will probably fly in the face of many contented and stagnant Christians.  Therefore, a word of exhortation is in order. The message contained in the parable of “The Unprofitable Servant” is one of continuance in Christ, and His work, of servant hood and dying to oneself.  It is a good thing and true wisdom for those who desire to have their sin exposed to make good use of reproaches that come from hearing God’s word expounded upon.  Once these reproaches are accepted they can be turned into reproofs and done away with.  If one can hear of his faults and make corrections one is on his way to maturity.  But it is foolishness to be intimately devoted to ones faults, determined not to part with them and to disregard or ignore the faithful and loving admonitions given.  That is why the prophet Jeremiah (6:10) said: “To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear?  Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.”

            As stated in last month’s teaching this parable was given in response to a sincere request for increased faith.  The parable should be examined in that context in order for us to discover its glorious truths.  So if our desire is to have our faith increased or purified as explained, we must strive to be profitable servants.

Text Box: As our faith grows in purity all other graces grow with it!            Therefore the first thing we should do is examine what unprofitable means?  According to Webster it means; bringing no profit; producing no gain beyond the labor, expenses and interest of capital.  Something producing no improvement or advantage; useless; serving no purpose; or being of no use to others.  The Greek word is “achreios.”  It is a negative participle that means useless, or unmeritorious – unworthy of merit. 

            When we realize the impact of what being an unprofitable servant means it becomes extremely needful for us to ask that our faith be purified and strengthened.  Understand, as our faith grows in purity all other graces grow with it!          

            Jesus’ disciples had just listened to a long conversation between Jesus and the Jews many of which being Pharisees.  The conversation was filled with rebukes over a multitude of sins, many of which the disciples were guilty of themselves.  As a result of Jesus’ message they faced the prospect of offending a weak brother and having judgment fall upon them; or being offended and falling into sin themselves.  No wonder why they needed more faith.  They understood that the more firmly they believed in the doctrines of Christ, and the more confidently they relied on the graces of God, the better it would be for them.  The same holds true for us!  Go back to verse six and see the assurance Jesus gave them in regard to the wonderful effectiveness that a true and pure faith would bring.  “But the Lord said; if you had faith as a grain of mustard, you may say to this sycamine (sycamore) tree, be rooted up and be planted in the sea!  And it would obey you.” 

            No wonder why they asked for more faith!  Do your trials often tempt you?  Do your troubles make you doubt at times?  Do you argue with God when you don’t understand what is happening?  Do you get discouraged when things don’t go exactly as you plan?  Why don’t you go to God and sincerely ask for Him to give you more faith?

            Now let’s closely examine the parable itself.  Luke 17:7“Suppose a man among you has a servant.”  The phrasing suggests that Jesus could be addressing the disciple’s aspiration of rewards for their service.  The word “servant” used here is “doulos” meaning simply a slave.  Being slaves is something that every Jew would understand clearly.  A slave is a person not due anything except by the grace or impulse of his master.  It also suggests that there is a proper order of duty.  After all the wishes of the master are accomplished, the needs of the servant are attended to.

            Next; “Plowing or watching sheep” this is an image the disciples would also clearly understand, although none of Jesus’ disciple held to this occupation they would understand that working in the field or feeding cattle merited no reward or special favoritism.  This occupation was often used as a parabolic image of spiritual labor (John 21:16; 1st Peter 5:2), and in the same way the disciples grasped its meaning and so should we.  Our spiritual labor merits NO reward or special favoritism!  We serve Christ only because He is worthy of our service!

            “Would he say to him when he comes in from the field, 'Come at once (or immediately) and have something to eat?'”  The answer here implied is “of course not.”  Hungry and weary as he might be, it would be proper for him first to attend to his master. In the same way Jesus’ apostles were not to be “impatient” because they did not “at once” receive the reward for which they were looking.  Whatever we do in the service of Christ, must be done in humility.  We are not to imagine that we merit any favor at His hand.  We are all God's servants and are bound to do all we can for His glory and honor.  Our whole mind, soul, heart and strength, all our time here on earth are to be dedicated to His service; “for we are not our own for we are bought with a price” (Ref. 1st Corinthians 6:19-20).  The connection here is: when our faith has been so purified as both to avoid and forgive offenses, or to do what seems to us impossible, we are not to be puffed up as though we had laid the Lord under any obligation.

            As God's servants, it is our obligation and calling to fill our time with duty, understanding that this means that the end of one service is only the beginning of another.  When we have been employed in the work for Christ the exercise of devotion begins.  Or in other words, once we are finished working for God, waiting on God immediately follows; we must leave it to our Master to give us the comforts of our relationship with Him, when and how He wishes.  No servant expects that his master should say to him, “Come at once and have something to eat?”  There is time enough to do that when we have done all our day's work.  Let us care to finish our work, and to do it well, and then the reward will come in due time.  It is fitting that Christ should be served before us: “Get dinner ready for me, and put on your apron and wait on me until I eat and drink.  Then (after you have done all for me, and in whatever time I extend to you) you can eat and drink.”

            Jesus then asks a question that deserves special consideration.  The question is; “He doesn't praise the servant for doing what was commanded, does he” (17:9)?  The answer that’s given is; “Of course not!”  John Wesley explains the phrase “Of course not!” or “I think not” as; “does the master account Himself obliged to him?”  No servant or slave upon doing his duty is praised as if he had done his master a favor, or something he was not obliged to do.  As a servant or slave, he ought to have done all to please his master.  In so doing he does only his master’s duty: he may indeed be commended for it, but not praised: Praise comes from doing above the call of duty.  Or being profitable; which is defined as bringing profit or gain, or doing more then what is required.

            Notice the next phrase; “That's the way it is with you.”  This is not a supposition or a question; it is a statement of fact!  Remember Jesus is speaking directly to His followers when He makes this proclamation.  Jesus thereby places the burden of the parable’s message directly on the shoulders of His followers.  Whether those followers are ministers or just believers, all are servants, and should be as hard working as the ploughman, or a shepherd; and therefore their conduct should demonstrate hard work.  The term “all believers” is an extremely loose expression used with the understanding that “all believers” though they may not be called to one of the administrative gifts (Ephesians 4:11), they are still called to be active in ministry.  For example, just because you are not called to be an Evangelist, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t evangelize.  Just because you are not called to be a teacher, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t teach the Gospel of Christ at every opportunity, etc.  Paul explains the reason for this by saying that “all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2nd Corinthians: 18-20).

            Christ’s next statement though offensive to the pride of man and extremely hard to swallow, perfectly defines our role and boundary as servants of the Most High.  Once “you have done everything you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless (unprofitable) servants’” (Luke 17:10).

Did you notice that Christ's servants do not even merit a “thank you” for the service they preformed?  Does He reckon himself indebted to them for it?  No!  Nothing we do for God merits any thing in God’s eyes.  God's graces come not because we have made him a debtor to us by our services, but because He has, by His promises, made Himself a debtor to His own Word and therefore His honor is at stake.  Whatever we do for Christ, though it should be more perhaps than some others, is nothing more than our required duty.  Though we should do all things that are commanded us, it is no more then what we are bound to do by that first and greatest commandment of loving God with all our heart and soul.  The best servants of Christ, even when they do the best services, must humbly acknowledge that they are unprofitable servants because they have simply done what they ought to have done.  Brethren we must grasp the fact that neither our righteousness nor our good works merit anything with God (Psalm 16:2; Job 22:2, 35:7).  God cannot gain anything by our service, and therefore cannot be made a debtor by them.  He has no needs to fulfill by our works, nor can our services make any addition to His perfection.  Once we come to grasp with this fact Jesus’ statement becomes understandable; “say, 'We are worthless servants.’”

            We as Christians understand that no one sinful can work righteousness in the smallest degree, beyond those powers which God has given them.  When we come to this understanding we are brought face to face with the realization that the nature of God is unlimited, and all the attributes of His nature are infinitely glorious.  They cannot be diminished by the transgressions of His creatures, nor can they be amplified by uninterrupted, eternal obedience, and unceasing praise.  We can not impart to Him any favor whatsoever and therefore we have merited nothing!  We have not benefited God at all, or laid Him under any obligation to bless us!  If He rewards us, it will be a matter of His unmerited favor (Grace)!

            Let’s take these truths and break them down into a simple outline.

1.        All our services are “unprofitable” to God (Job 22:2); He “needs” not our aid.  And God will not be increased by our efforts.

2.        The grace to do His will comes from Him alone and all the praise therefore is due Him.

3.        All that we do is “duty;” we cannot lay nor claim any service that will “obligate” Him to show us any favor whatsoever.

4.        Our best services are mingled with imperfections.  We all come short of His glory               (Romans 3:23); we do not serve Him as sincerely, and cheerfully, and faithfully as we           ought; we are very far from the example set before us by our Savior.  If we are                      saved and rewarded, it will be because God is merciful in spite of our unrighteousness, and will remember our iniquities no more (Ref. Hebrews 8:12).

            The duties of a minister are prayer, meditation, study; preaching God’s Word, administering the ordinances; and performing the duties of their office.  As private believers our duties lie in the exercise of grace, the work of faith, the labor of love, all with patience, and hope.  He must discharge these duties first toward our families, the church, and the world, and finally toward us.  Servants of God should be continually working; and when ones work is done, another work should be found.  Saints should be always believing, hoping, waiting, loving, and doing one good work after another. 

            Contented and stagnant Christians first mind their own bellies and not the service of Christ; others in the service of Christ seek nothing but glory for themselves; and still others are serving themselves first and Christ second.  But the true servants of Christ, serve Him first and always, and seek first His righteousness, and His kingdom, believing that all other things shall be added to them at the will and grace of the Master.  When true God seeking Christians have done all that is commanded of them, they do not think themselves worthy or worth thanks: for instance, if the service be preaching the Word, a man so employed ought to be thankful to God, for bestowing that ministerial gift upon him, and in making his labors useful.  He should give God glory for putting such an honor upon him; but he should not expect thanks from God, for his most diligent and faithful performance of that work.  He should not assume that he merits anything from God.  Or if ones calling is prayer, a man should be extremely thankful to the God of all grace, that there is a throne of grace for him to come to; and for a mediator, who is the way of access to God (1st Timothy 2:5).

            John Wesley concludes this parable by saying; “When ye have done all, say, we are unprofitable servants” “For a man can not profit God.  Happy is he who judges himself an unprofitable servant: miserable is he whom God pronounces such.  But though we are unprofitable to God, our service is not unprofitable to us.  For God is pleased to give by grace alone a value to our good works, which as a result of His promise entitles us to an eternal reward.”

            Herbert Lockyer concludes this parable like this; “we can build nothing on our worth or work.  When slaves have given every­thing because they are slaves, they de­serve nothing.  The most devoted Chris­tian is an unprofitable servant in that he has not loved and trusted God, as he should have done.  If we expect thanks for having done our duty, that shows our hearts were not in the duty.  Our Master expects every servant of His to do their duty in a union of mind and will with His. In view of all He accomplished for us, and has treasured up for us, our im­pression must be in spite of our most demanding service and costly sacrifices, “We are unprofitable servants.”  “Unprofitable servant though I am, gladly or sadly let me follow Thee.”

            We cannot conclude our meditation on this parable in a better way than to quote the summary Wm. M. Taylor gives us: “I cannot say, ‘I am an unprofitable servant,’ until I am a re­deemed man; and as a redeemed man, I am no longer a mere servant, but a son, working for love, and not simply from a sense of duty.  The Christian calling requires that we shall do more than others; but then it gives us, in the love of Christ, a motive which will not allow us to be content with doing just what others do.”


[1] These verses taken from the International Standard Version

 

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