FRIENDS, NOT MERELY SERVANTS (Jn 15:15)

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1 1 UNWORTHY SERVANTS Luke 17:7-10 This short parable is clearly designed to teach humility and obedience. The apostles were probably contemplating the impressive spiritual attainments indicated by Jesus' promise that they had the faith to move mountains into the sea. It would only be natural to be tempted to pride by such a grand achievement. FRIENDS, NOT MERELY SERVANTS (Jn 15:15) One of the difficulties that this parable presents is the relationship between Jesus and His followers. It seems much colder and sterner than usual. After all, didn t our Lord say, "I have called you friends," and that "no longer do I call you servants"? (Jn 15:15). While Paul did not hesitate to call himself the "bondservant" of Jesus (Ro 1:1), Jesus points out that there is a higher and this sterner aspect of the Christian's relationship to the Lord needed stress then as it does now. GOD IS NO ONE S DEBTOR (1 Co 4:7) Unworthy servants does not suggest the servants have been remiss or done less than their duty, but that they had simply done what their master had a right to expect. The message of this story is that even if a person should actually do "all that was commanded" (repeated twice in the parable), he would not by such obedience place Almighty God in a position of being debtor to him. No person can ever merit God's redeeming love. This however, does not negate the importance of obedience for obedience shows the genuineness of faith and grace. The point is that if a person obeys everything God commands, if it were possible, he is still saved by grace. This parable was to show that no man can merit salvation. Works are inadequate because the very best that we can do is nothing more than our duty. This parable is a clear rebuke to self-righteous and self-satisfied Christians who think that in obeying God he has done something meritorious. God is no debtor! What Jesus tells us is that we are to do everything possible to be as profitable as this servant (vv. 7-8) without expecting any recognition for it (v. 9). Then we can present the sincere, humble attitude: "We are unworthy servants. We have done what was our duty to do." Paul asked the Corinthians, "What do you have that you did not receive?" (1 Co 4:7)

2 2 We cannot claim to have done anything without God's oversight (Da 4:28-35). Paul makes it clear that we owe God everything because He has redeemed us by the blood of His own Son (1 Co 6:9-10). What good thing have we ever done that we deserve recognition? SERVANTHOOD (17:7-9) What is the relationship between masters and servants? What is the role of servants? Luke explains, "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? (Lk 17:7-9). Masters do not waits on servants servants are bound to wait on their master and do every thing for him to the best of his ability. Neither does the servant expect thanks because he is bound by his agreement to provide such services. St. Augustine summarizes the lesson contained in the parable this way: This parable shows us that we are useless servants when it comes to God. This sovereign Master has a right to exact of us every kind of service, and to make us apply ourselves to any task he may think proper, without our having any reason to complain either of the difficulty, trouble, or length of our labors; we are entirely his, and he is master of our persons, time, and talents. We hold of him whatever we possess, and woe to us if we abuse his trust, by applying our talents to any use contrary to his designs. But though he be Lord and Master, he leaves our liberty entire. If he produces in us holy desires, if he works in us meritorious actions, gives us virtuous inclinations and supernatural gifts, he sets to our account the good use we make of them; and in crowning our merits, he crowns his own gifts. 1 UNWORTHY SERVANTS (17:10) What did the apostles expect from their labor? We know that the disciples jockeyed for position in the kingdom (Mt 18:1). We also know that James and John and their mother asked our Lord to have James and John sit on His right and left sides in the kingdom of God (Mt 20:20-21; Mk 10:35-37). Position, authority and power were often sought by Jesus followers, especially His leaders. Therefore Jesus answers sternly,

3 3 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty'" (Lk 17:10). The apostles asked an important request, Lord, increase our faith." Could it be that the hearts of the apostles failed as they heard one weighty lesson after another from our Lord? Perhaps they wondered, "Who is able to follow such spiritual challenges? We have already seen that faith is foundational to spirituality: "... anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him" (Heb 11:6.) Faith does not come to full strength and perfection as soon as it is planted in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Faith often fluctuates. Therefore it is not surprising that the apostles asked for their faith to be increased. Saving faith is not mere repetition of a creed and saying, "I believe in God the Father and in God the Son and in God the Holy Spirit." Thousands who know nothing about biblical faith mouth these words every week. Faith is acting upon God s word. Our obedience and service however excellent in themselves and profitable to others, add nothing to the absolute excellencies and glories of our God This is a blow to self-righteousness, a subtle disease which manifests itself in numerous ways. Most of us can see it in other people even while we are blind to it in ourselves. It is a pride which wears the cloak of humility. No matter how wicked we may be, we tend to flatter ourselves that there are others worse than we are. There is no place for self-righteousness in Christianity. He who desires to be saved must confess that there is no good thing in him, that he has no merit, no goodness, no worthiness of his own. He must be willing to renounce his own righteousness, and to trust in the righteousness of Another. Once pardoned and forgiven, we live our lives with a deep conviction that we are "unworthy servants." At best we only do our duty and thus have nothing of which to boast. After all, when we do our duty it is not by our own power and might that we do it, but by the strength which is given to us by God. All that we have we have received. And all that we are we owe to God's sovereign grace.

4 4 The true believer dare not trust in his own goodness. Rather, he will say with Paul, "I am the chief of sinners" (1 Ti 1:15). "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal 6:14). This parable is designed to guard against the subtle danger of becoming satisfied with work with the expectation that the Master will recognize one s service with reward. Jesus impresses on His disciples the difficult and continuous service He requires of them and the attitude in which their service should be given. The object of this parable is to show that God claims all that belongs to us as His own. No amount of zeal we may manifested in discharging our duty puts God under obligation to us. Servants in Jesus day were mostly slaves whose condition in society was such that they gained nothing for themselves. Their toil their very blood was the property of their masters. Rewards are motivated not by what we deserve, but by God s goodness. We have done what we were bound to do (17:10). When it comes to the entire observance of the law, the most perfect of all people fall short of that righteousness which the law demands. Therefore the observance of the law is not meritorious. If rewards are due to the observance of the law in respect of merit, it will not therefore follow that any man is justified by the merits of works since we all fail APPLICATION We should not expect anything in return since all we are and have is because of God. We should be filled with gratitude because God who is love calls us His children and heirs and co-heirs with Christ (Ro 8:14-17) whom He will fully redeem one day (Ro 8:23) and for whom He is preparing a place in heaven (Jn 14:2-3). Humility and obedience are to characterize our lives since even our best efforts fall short of God s standard. NOTE 1 Calmet, St. Augustine, lib. ix. Confessions and Sermons, 131.

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