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"We are Unprofitable Servants"
Serving Jesus, Serving Like Jesus
“We are Unprofitable Servants”
Luke 17:7-10
 
We are learning what it means to serve Jesus by serving like Jesus. Our theme verse for these studies is 2 Corinthians 4:5 where Paul says:
 
2 Corinthians 4:5
 
We are to consider ourselves to not only be servants of Jesus, but servants of each other for Jesus’ sake. 
 
So far, we’ve looked at two key passages and I’ve drawn from those passages two quotes as titles for the studies.  First of all, in Luke 22:27 we find Jesus saying, “I am among you as the One Who serves.”  Elsewhere He said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life a ransom for many.”
 
So without argument or fear of contradiction, we can safely say that Jesus lived His life with a servant heart and attitude. 
 
Then we looked at an actual example of that, maybe the supreme example of tha,t in John 13 where we find Jesus washing the feet of the disciples while they argued about who among them was the greatest in God’s kingdom.  And in that setting, we find Jesus saying, “I have washed your feet as an example and now I want you to do as I have done.”
 
So we are not only to serve Jesus, but we are to serve like Jesus.  We let His life and actions be our model and example. We consider ourselves to be servants and we live among others as servant.
We go out into our world and our communities and our workplaces and schools and do what Christ has done and would do if He were here today.  
 
Today, I want to draw to your attention to a final passage found in Luke 17.  Listen as I read
 
Luke 17:1-10
 
Now to be honest, the first few verses of this text don’t appear to have a lot to do with the last few verses.  In fact, it’s almost as if we have this assortment of thoughts that were randomly put together with no apparent connection to each other. 
 
But that would be a wrong conclusion. That is almost always a wrong conclusion to draw about Scripture.  Very often, I have discovered that what appeared to be unconnected verses are simply my lack of understanding or insight. 
 
With this passage in particular, there is nothing to lead us to believe anything other than that Jesus said what we have here just as it appears in the text.  And to separate these statements from one another is to do a grave injustice to the text and what Jesus is communicating to his followers about serving Him.
 
I think what we have here is actually a summary of the characteristics of a servant of God that lead up to the attitude and life that makes the statement we find in verse 10.  That means verses 7-10 are not separate and distinct from verses 1-6.  In fact, these ten verses pull together a very specific description of the person who is a servant. And the overriding sense of the passage is dealing with humility.    
 
And it seems as though the Lord presents it in contrast to the mindset that was so prevalent among the religious leaders of His day.  Everything they did was motivated by pride.  They loved to be seen and recognized.  That’s why you would hear them out on the street corners repeating loud and lengthy prayers.  They made a big production of giving their offerings.  They loved to brag about how holy they were and how obedient they were and how close to God they were. They loved for people to recognize them and acknowledge their presence.   
 
This is not the first time Jesus has presented this servant mentality with a contrast.  In Luke 22, you may remember, the disciples are arguing about greatness in the kingdom of God and Jesus says, “The kings of Gentiles exercise lordship, but that’s not how my followers act.”     
 
The same is true in this text. In so many words, He says, “The scribes and Pharisees may parade around and put on a show and talk about how much they love and serve God, but here’s how real followers of God act.  Here is how they respond.  Here is the essence of obedience.  They are not proud; they are humble. They are not kings; they are slaves.” 
 
And then through these 10 verses He lays out these four characteristics of real servanthood.  So what do real servants of Jesus look like?  What do they practice?  What is it that marks their lives so that, without any confusion, they are known as servants and they consider themselves to be servants?  Let’s take a look at what Jesus says about that.
 
The first characteristic of a true servant is they are
 
  1. Rightly Related to the Word of God
 
verses 1-2
 
The stumbling block He has in mind here is the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  They say one thing and do another. They caused others to stumble on their  spiritual journey.
 
Humble servants don’t do that.  Servants of God don’t talk about how holy they are and how righteous they are and how close to God they are then go out and live like the devil.  They don’t live hypocritical lives that set bad examples. 
 
So Jesus is calling for His followers to live the kind of life that leaves no offense, that leads  no one into error or into evil, that causes no one to stumble in their faith. 
 
In fact, in verse 2 comes the warning,
 
Verse 2
 
And understand, the reference to “little ones” is not children or infants or toddlers.  He’s talking about young, newborn believers who are not yet mature in the faith. 
 
It is a very dangerous thing to cause the people of God to fall into heresy and into iniquity. Humble servants of God don't do that.  Humble people understand they have a responsibility to the truth for the sake of others. 
 
 
They have a responsibility to spiritual integrity for the sake of others.  They understand they have a responsibility to not only teach what is true, But to live it out. 
 
The second thing is the servant of God is not only rightly related to the Word of God, but
 
  1. Rightly Related to Others
 
Verses 3-4
 
You will find in the true servant of God a readiness to forgive. If someone sins, and repents, they are forgiven.  In fact, it it happens multiple times in the same day, the servant just keeps forgiving. Remember, we are learning to serve like Christ. 
 
Does the description there in verses 3 and 4 sound like anybody you’ve known and experienced?  Is it not true that Jesus forgives you and forgives you over and over and over as you come to him and repent? 
 
That is a hallmark of the followers of Christ.  They are known by their eagerness to forgive.  They are merciful. They are gracious.  It doesn’t matte rhow many times they are offended, they find it in their heart to forgive. 
 
That is completely foreign to the world.  You won’t experience that anywhere except from God’s servants.  It was absolutely contrary to how the Pharisees conducted themselves.  They had nothing but disdain for sinners.  They wouldn't so much as go near the riff-raff that accumulated around Jesus. 
They had no interest in them.  They had nothing but contempt for them.  They associated them with Satan.  They were not interested in their repentance.  They were not interested in offering them grace or mercy. 
 
And contrary to that, Jesus says, "Those who are humble servants are eager to forgive, even those who repeatedly again and again and again and again and again sin against them. 
 
Here’s the third characteristic.  Obedient people are not only characterized by being rightly related to God’s Word and the people around then, but thirdly,
 
  1. Rightly Related to Themselves
 
verse 5
 
As we could well imagine, what Jesus has been teaching raises some questions and observations in the minds of His followers, so one of them makes what appears to be this random statement.  In fact, some commentators suggest this comment must have come from another setting and conversation because it doesn’t make any sense. 
 
But I think it makes perfect sense. Jesus has just presented this radical idea that runs opposite to everything they’ve ever known or heard. And now, their response to what Jesus has just said is, "Lord, if we’re going to do that, You’re going to have to help us!  Increase our faith." 
 
 
 
One of the things we often miss about the Christian life is that Jesus didn’t just come into us to find a place among everything else that’s already there.  He came to empty us out and kill off the old and take over the direction and the result is that we are absolutely remade into His image. 
 
And as the disciples process this thought of offering forgiveness over and over and over again, this disciple says, "Lord, I don't think we're up to this.  You're going to have to give us more than we've got to live like that."
 
And whether they realized it or not, Jesus is bringing them to the place of humility.  To serve God, we must come to the end of ourselves and realize we are too inadequate to do it. 
 
Well, the Lord understood their question and He agreed with it.  So notice what He says in
 
verse 6
 
Now let's talk a little agronomy here for a minute.  Jesus asks them and us to consider a mustard seed.   Mustard has been around a long time and it didn’t always come in a yellow plastic squeeze bottle.  It's an herb and it's been used in the ancient Middle East for centuries. 
 
There were a number of seeds that were for food and in Jewish culture and of all the ones they used, the mustard seed was the smallest.  In fact, one of the things that make mustard so interesting is even though it is a small seed, it produces a massive plant.
 
A typical mustard bush or tree may grow to be twelve to fifteen feet in height and in width as well.  And that's a lot coming from a tiny little seed. 
 
Here, in particular, Jesus is referencing the size of the seed.  Now remember, they’ve just asked the Lord to increase their faith.  They weren’t faithless.  They had faith.  In fact, that faith had been growing and increasing as they witnessed the power of God at work.  They had seen so amazing things take place.
 
But they are not at the place where they think they can offer Christ-like forgiveness and they ask Jesus to help with that. And He starts by talking about mustard seed-sized faith. 
 
Verse 6
 
In other words, if you just had the kind of faith that grows and expands and develops, you could do amazing things.  And He's still talking in a sort of agricultural fashion as He mentions the mulberry tree. 
 
Some of the rabbis used to say that the mulberry tree had roots that would survive for 600 years. So to uproot a mulberry tree would be a significant thing to do in and of itself.  And then to have it fly through the air and not just be thrown into the sea, but planted in the sea would be a massive miracle.  So when Jesus talks about mustard-seed faith, He is speaking in supernatural terms. 
 
 
 
So what does it all mean?  Is He saying that if we had enough faith we could actually move a tree?  Or if we had enough faith we could actually move a mountain from here to there? Is He talking in purely physical terms? 
 
To think that is to trivialize the teaching.  Remember, He’s using a physical story, but He’s teaching a spiritual truth so we must look deeper than the surface to see what He means. 
 
The point of our Lord's lesson is simply this:  Jesus is saying, “If you will trust Me and trust My strength, you will have the power to do supernaturally what you cannot do spiritually.”
 
A small growing faith can do unimaginable things, even if it means forgiving someone who offends you seven times a day.  As you learn to entrust yourself to the power of God, He does His work through you.  The Lord is not saying do pointless things. He's not saying do crowd-pleasing tricks.
 
He is simply saying if you don't think you can live a godly life or speak the truth correctly or be the right kind of example or forgive when you need to, I'm telling you, if you will just trust Me, you can do more than you ever imagined. 
 
Listen:  You can live like you’re supposed to live and respond as you’re supposed to respond and do what you’re supposed to do when you don't trust in your own flesh.  That is the strength and power that is our through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 
 
 
The power is available and the only thing often restricting that is we aren’t willing to do what the disciples did when they said, “Lord, we need help!”
 
But that’s what usable, spirit-filled servants do.  They depend upon the resources of the master and live by faith. 
 
Servants are not only rightly related to the Word, t others and to themselves, they are
 
  1.  Rightly Related to God
 
verses 7-10
 
Isn't that an interesting story?  It focuses on slavery and in particular a bond slave.  That would be slave who lived in the house of his owner and was cared and provided for by the owner. 
 
It wasn’t a bad arrangement actually, especially if the owner was a decent man.  In fact, it is a perfect illustration of the relationship between a believer and God.
 
So in the story Jesus tells, we have this slave who is going about his responsibilities.  He’s been out plowing and tending to the sheep. And Jesus proposes this hypothetical situation for his listeners to ponder. 
 
Suppose this slave comes in from a busy day and the master asks him to sit down and eat a meal that has been prepared. Could any of you imagine that happening? 
 
 
Could you imagine the master saying, “You've done so well today and you’ve been busy and I know you’re hot and tired.  Just sit down, take a load off and let me serve you!”
 
That is not going to happen!  This servant knew his place.  He knew his responsibilities He knew what was expected. He knew what he deserved. 
 
So everybody knows the answer to the question?  Which of you is going to treat your slave that way?  Nobody!  Nobody will do that because a servant is expected to do his duty.
 
Instead, verse 8 says, when the guy comes in, he’s going to receive the next instruction which is to prepare a meal, get cleaned up so you are presentable, and serve me.  And once the master is satisfied and all of his needs are met, then the slave can think about eating and resting.  And according to verse 9, he’s not going to do any one it expecting a thank you, because everybody knows he is nothing more than a slave and has only done his duty. 
 
There’s a guy named Kenneth Bailey who has done a lot of study regarding the life in the villages of the ancient Middle East and even modern Middle East.  Regarding this story Jesus tells, he writes,
 
"In a technological age with a 40-hour week, powerful labor unions and time and a half for overtime, the world of this parable seems not only distant but unfair. After a long, hard day in the field such a servant surely has earned the right to a little appreciation, some comforts and a few rewards.  But Jesus is building on a well-known and widely accepted pattern of behavior in the Middle East. 
The master-servant relationship and its ancient and modern expression implies acceptance of authority and obedience to that authority and it's a matter of honor.  Yet the outsider needs to be sensitive to the security that this classical relationship provides for the servant and the sense of worth and meaning that is deeply felt on the part of a servant who serves a great man. 
 
These qualities of meaning, worth, security and relationship are often tragically missing from the life of the modern industrial worker with his 40-hour week. The servant offers loyalty, obedience, a great deal of hard work, but with an authentic Middle Eastern nobleman, the benefits mentioned above are enormous. 
 
Certainly no one in any Middle Eastern audience could imagine any servant expecting special honor after fulfilling his duty.  The master is not indebted to him for having plowed the field or guarded the sheep.  We're not even dealing with harsh hours imposed by an unfeeling master, but rather the normal expectation of a relatively short day's chores."
 
So when Jesus asks the question, everybody knows that this servant is just doing what he was supposed to do. 
 
But then Jesus makes the application in
 
Verse 10
 
 
 
In other words, don't pat yourself on the back and think that God's really impressed and that He owes you some special favor.  You'll get your reward in heaven.  But don’t do what you do in serve for the Lord thinking you deserve anything in return for it. 
 
When you and I have done everything we're supposed to do,  no matter how well we've done it,  no matter how faithful we think we’ve been, no matter how it outshines what everyone else has done,  we do it understanding we have never been able to do what God is worthy of.  In fact, we are nothing more than unworthy servants who don’t even deserve a thank you. 
 
Listen, true servants know they're not in God's debt.  They know they're still living under grace.  You are justified by grace, you're being sanctified by grace, you'll be glorified by grace and you'll be rewarded in heaven forever by grace.
 
Therefore, we serve, understanding we don’t have any rights.  We make no demands.  We don’t sacrifice to serve the Lord.  We are never able to say we don’t deserve what has happened to us.  Never do we merit anything God gives us.  We are simply humbled and honored that God has not given us what we do deserve and has instead given us what we don’t deserve. Humble servants never forget that reality.  We don’t expect His thanks, we simply need His grace! And we consider ourselves to be nothing more than unporifable servants. 
 
I daresay most of us don’t think of ourselves in that way.  We tend to think of what we do and how we give and the time we spend and we evaluate our faithfulness and profitability to God in that way. 
But Jesus says, “Don’t think of yourselves that way.  That’s the way the world thinks.  That’s the way the Pharisees evaluate themselves.  After you’ve done everything you were supposed to do, then think of yourself as nothing more than an unprofitable servant.”
 
Now if you miss this, you miss the message. So come all the way awake and listen very closely.  Jesus did not say that God thinks of us as unprofitable, He says to think of yourselves in that way.  See the difference?
 
On the one hand, I can get cocky and think about how fortunate God is to have me and how the church can’t do without me and how profitable I am as a servant of God or I can think of myself as an unprofitable servant who is only doing what is expected.
 
So what difference does it make?  Let me show you.  Turn back just a few pages in your Bible to Matthew 25 where Jesus tells another story about servants.  In this story, a man has three servants and he gives each of them a certain amount of money to invest while he’s away on a journey. 
 
When he returns from the trip, he calls them in to see how they fared in their investments.  Only two showed any return.  The other buried the money in the ground and returned only that amount to the man.  And the man deals very harshly with this servant calling him lazy and wicked. and listen to how he is described in
 
Verse 30
Jesus classifies this lazy, wicked servant as unprofitable. And ultimately he is thrown into hell.  
 
Then the very next thing the Lord talks about is the difference between sheep and goats and they are evaluated on the basis of how they treat people who are hungry, thirsty, needy and in prison. And it all boils down to the fact that how we treat those people is how we treat Jesus Himself.
 
And at the end of those verses, those who have refused to minister to those in need wind up being thrown into hell also which leads me to conclude He is teaching us that unprofitable servants are those who refuse to use what God gives them, give no evidence of a changed life, offer no service in the name of the Lord or to the Lord and wind up in hell. These are the ones who are categorized as “unprofitable servants.”
 
There is a great difference between considering yourself to be an unprofitable servant and having the Lord classify you as an unprofitable servant.  In fact, it is to the one who sees himself as an unprofitable servant and does all that is expected and required that Jesus says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
 
This is what Charles Spurgeon called “The Verdict of Grace.”  Now here is the paradox of service.  It is the man who admits he is nothing more than an unprofitable servant that is blessed by the Lord. 
 
And notice, the “Well done” of the Master is given for faithfulness. It is not “Well done, you good and brilliant servant” or “well done, your talented servant”.
It is not, “Well done, you great and distinguished servant”.  He is simply the one who did his best with his “few things,” and never wasted an opportunity for doing good, and so he proved himself to be faithful that hears the “well done” of God. 
 
It doesn’t matter what you say or what others say of you or your value, but only shat God says.  And if that means I must consider myself to be nothing more than an unprofitable servant to hear God says of me, “Well done, good and faithful”, it will be worth it. 
 
Spurgeon said, and I close with this: 
 
“Serve God with all your might. Do more than the Pharisees, who hope to be saved by their zeal. Do more than is expected of you, and then, when you have done all, lay it at your Redeemer’s feet with this confession, “I am an unprofitable servant.” It is to those who blend faithfulness with humility and ardor with self-abasement that Jesus will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of your Lord.”
 
Let’s pray.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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