Unprofitable Servants

Cece here from the Dallas First Church! I hope you will be blessed by some discussion notes from our Stepping Stones lesson on Saturday! Our parable this week is a story which I bet you’ve never heard a sermon on. (Do I have your attention yet?) It is the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant found in Luke 17:7-10:

“And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable [useless] servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'”

So, I have to admit when I first sat down to read this parable, I didn’t get the warm, fuzzy feelings that I normally get from Jesus’ teachings. My response was more like: “Lord, what on earth am I supposed to do with this parable??” But, as I kept studying the story, I am actually really excited about what we’re going to learn together! I hope you’ll stick with me over the next few paragraphs!

First of all, we must remember up front that Jesus is intentionally drawing upon the harsh social realities of His day. His audience would be able to relate to Him all the better because he depicted the social conditions just as they were in the Eastern context. (By the way, I certainly want to give credit to my primary study source for this week’s parable. Most of my thoughts today originate from Dr. Mike Bagwell’s website.) We also looked at this parable from a spiritual perspective. For example, we noticed that the servant’s duties included plowing and tending the sheep. When we think of plowing, I am reminded of all of the agricultural parables we’ve read thus far which depict the spreading of the gospel! (See Matt. 13:1-43.) As Christ’s servants, we are to prepare the fields (hearts) for sowing (the Gospel) and help reap the bountiful harvest! As servants in His church, we are also given responsibility to help tend the flock. (See Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). And, we also talked about how our work is never really done while we’re in this world.

But, let’s face it: one of the biggest problems people have with this parable is that the servant is never thanked for his work. Surely, after all we’ve done for God, we must deserve at least some thanks! This just irked me to no end! But then, as I was studying, I ran across a rather shocking statement that Dr. Mike Bagwell makes. He writes, “But here’s the kicker: I can find no place in the whole Bible where God thanks man for anything!” Wait, what? Seriously? This forced me to stop and check my attitude. And, you know what? I learned something about myself. If you’re anything like me and this piece of information irks you just a little too, allow me to suggest what is really at the heart of our motives: At the bottom of it, we think we can somehow do something to earn God’s appreciation and, therefore, His love and grace. But how can God thank us for ANYTHING when it is HE that has given us EVERYTHING!? This parable rips open and exposes our selfish, prideful motives. We are faced with the reality that there is absolutely nothing we can bring to the table in our relationship with God. Instead, we must receive everything from Him!

All right, are you ready to explore the next layer of this parable? Trust me, it gets really good! What if the focus isn’t on us in this parable, but on the Son of Man? What if the servant here is a picture of Jesus Christ Himself? We know that Jesus is the Great Farmer, the master tiller and sower of the soil of our hearts. Jesus is also the Good Shepherd! (See John 10.) And look at Jesus’ words in Luke 22:26-27: “he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”And here’s Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” And, finally, let’s look at how Jesus completely flips this whole thing around in Luke 12:37: “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.” Do you see unmistakable connection with verse 8 of our parable? The amazing, nearly-unbelievable truth is Jesus submitted to the Father in everything and completely emptied Himself to come down to this dark, sin-sick world to serve….US! It is Jesus who is the Perfect Servant! He is the true Profitable Servant!

Let’s try to spend some time this week thanking God for everything and everyone that He has brought into our lives. And let’s remember that it is only when we have allowed Christ to serve us and send His transforming Spirit into our lives that we can become profitable servants for His kingdom.

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