Lately while doing my morning workout I’ve been listening to George Verwer of Operation Mobilisation fame preach through passages of Scripture that have most significantly affected his life over the years of his ministry.
The most recent one focused on a couple of the letters to the churches in Revelation. No one exhorts like brother George and this message was no exception, particularly when he came to the question of pastors and the tendency we can have toward pride.
He questioned how we could even entertain such a notion given a passage like Luke 17:7-10.
7″Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”
Earlier in the context Jesus challenges the disciples to a radical standard of forgiveness that includes a frequency of seven times a day when an offending brother repents (v. 4). The disciples respond with incredulity and a plea for increased faith to obey (v. 5). After making a statement about the amazing power of even minimal faith, Jesus goes on to tell this story as another way of reinforcing his teaching on love and grace in offending relationships.
It has everything to do with understanding our fundamental identity as servants of the living God. He makes an argument from the lesser to the greater to drive home His point. He borrows from the culture an illustration about servants and masters and the way they relate. He asks a series of questions which imply their own answers.
The upshot is this. After working hard all day in the field, the servant does not expect to come into the house and find the master inviting him to recline at table for a well-deserved meal. In fact, he expects just the opposite. He expects to be told to make the master’s meal and to dress properly (literally – gird up the loins) for even more service. Only then when his duties have finished may he sit down to eat. Nor does he expect any thanks. This is just the way it works for one designated a slave. If this kind of mindset fits the lesser realm of the world, how much more so does it pertain to the greater realm of the kingdom.
I think this text has at least four things to say about our relationship to God as servants that should color everything about the way we go about obeying the Lord’s commandments in our lives. First, we should serve enduringly. The dutiful servant plowed the field, tended the sheep, AND prepared the meal. He worked hard all the day. We never rest from our labors as God’s servants until we go home to be with Him (Rev. 14:13). May our service endure over the length of our days.
Second, we should serve vigorously. The command to dress properly, gird up the loins, speaks to a certain energy and enthusiasm with which we must go about our service. The men in this day and culture dressed in long robes that were not conducive to manual labor. So when they wanted to get down and dirty with hard work, they tucked up their clothes into their belt to facilitate freedom of movement. Our service for God ought to have a flavor of eagerness and vigor to it that suggests we do our work unto Him with a whole heart.
Third, we should serve humbly. This is the main point of the story. Jesus signals this by the transition in v. 10 – So you also. He explains how a servant of God should talk after he finishes doing what God commands. The way he talks matters because it reveals the inclinations of his heart. What should we as God servants say? We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.
The word for unworthy appears only one other time in the New Testament in Matthew 25:30 in the parable of the talents. Jesus calls the one talent man who buried his master’s money in the ground rather than invest it worthless. Another way to say it would be unprofitable. He brought no return by his efforts.
So when we admit after laboring hard for God that at best those efforts are unworthy, what we are saying is they have merited nothing in and of themselves. They merit no thanks or reward. We have simply done what is required, commanded, obligatory for a servant to his master. Now we know from the Scriptures that God does indeed reward our service to Him, but He is under no obligation to do so and grants rewards by His grace just as He does everything else about our relationship to Him. Even if we forgive an offending brother or sister seven times in a day, it’s no big deal for a servant of God. You just do what you ought.
Lastly, we should serve completely. The text says when you have done ALL that you were commanded (emphasis added). God’s servants must not pick and choose from His word like some ala carte menu what they obey and what they will not obey. All His prescriptions for a holy life pertain to every one of His servants and they must compel our dutiful obedience.
Thomas Watson wrote in his classic A Godly Man’s Picture: A servant must not do what he pleases, but be at the will of his master. Thus a godly man is God’s servant. He is wholly at God’s disposal. He has no will of his own.
Do we see ourselves in such radically different terms? Has the identity of unprofitable servant sunk home in our hearts and dispositions? If so it will compel an attitude of service toward his requirements in our lives that is enduring, vigorous, humble, and complete.
The last notion we will ever entertain is that of pride.