Jesus’ teaching in Luke 17:7-10 is a reality check for our easily-inflated sense of self-worth. Lest we think our lives as Christians entitles us to God’s blessing, or that we are somehow doing God great favors by our following Christ, Jesus emphatically reminds us of this truth: we are mere servants. And unworthy ones at that. Even if we were perfectly to obey all God’s commandments (and none of us even comes close to that!), at the end of the day all we can say for ourselves is: “we have only done what was our duty” (v.10).
There are three truths in this passage that I expounded on in my sermon this past Lord’s Day.
First, we are servants of God. In Christ we are many things, including: children of God (John 1:12), heirs of God (Rom. 8:17), and new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). But we are also God’s servants. This is one way how the Scriptures define our salvation. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: “you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). We are saved to serve – to serve God and Christ, and to serve others for the sake of Christ.
Is this how you see yourself as a Christian? We tend to think of our lives in terms of seeking fulfillment and happiness. Other people – and even God – become the means to achieve our desires in this twisted view of things. They become our servants! But just as Jesus himself did not come to be served but to serve, so we have been created – and redeemed – by God not to be served but to be his servants (Mark 10:45).
Secondly, we are unworthy servants. This is true in two ways. First, we cannot merit or earn any blessing, favor, or reward from God on the basis of our service. Now God does bless his servants, but that blessing is of sheer grace, not because we’ve put God in our debt by serving him. In itself, our service as Christians is unworthy and we can never do more than what is required of us. This should keep us humble!
Next, we are unworthy servants because nothing we do as Christians – be it ever so faithful, or heroic, or praiseworthy – gives to God something he does not already possess. In other words, our service results in no profit, benefit, or gain for God. He would be as perfectly full, blessed, and self-sufficient had he never created us or called us into his service. The book of Job says it best: “Can a man be profitable to God? Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself. Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right, or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless?” (Job 22:2, 3). God can get along perfectly well without us, thank you. This truth should humble us even more!
Thirdly, we are servants of a gracious God. The master in Jesus’ parable in these verses shows us Christ in a strange way: by being precisely the kind of master Jesus is not. When his servant comes in from the field, the master orders him to prepare his meal and serve him at table. But Jesus promises us as his servants that when he calls us in from our labors in this world, he will welcome us to his table with a feast he has prepared for us (Luke 13:29).
Again, the master in the parable has no words of commendation for his servant. But the Greater Master promises that will acknowledge the faithful service of his people, and even commend us for it! “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Mt. 25:21).
And most incredibly, whereas the master in the parable in no way serves his servant, Jesus promises that when he calls us into our eternal dwelling, he will serve us (Luke 12:37). How does this comport with the truth that Jesus is the Sovereign Lord of Glory and will be the object of our worship, forever? To be honest I don’t know. But I do know that it expresses the unspeakable love and grace our Savior has for his servants.
Yes, we are unworthy servants, but we serve a gracious and loving Master. We love – and serve – because he first loved – and served – us (1 John 4:19).
Soli Deo Gloria!