Luke 17:7-10: The Unworthy Servant

Truth comes in all sizes in Scripture. Some truths are pleasant and enjoyable while others are terrifying. It is true that the righteous will live eternally in heaven; that is a pleasant truth. Likewise, eternal damnation is a truth most horrifying. Consider the truth of Luke 17:7-10:

“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’?  Will 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’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”

Even on our best day, when we have done as commanded, we are unworthy. Let us unpack this short passage and draw out the lessons.

There is a difference between the master and the servants. The servants do the work given them by the master. Here, they tend fields and flocks, they serve the master and standby while he eats and drinks. Only then do they enjoy their meal.

The Christian has a marvelous relationship with Jesus. He calls us brothers (Hebrews 2:11) and friends (John 15:15). But he also asserts authority over us. Jesus is our instructor (Matthew 23:10). A prudent man will always remember his place before the Lord.

Next, there are commands to be obeyed. It is remarkable that some today affirm salvation apart from any obedience. The Bible has examples of both obedience and disobedience coupled with the requisite curses and blessings. Adam and Eve disobeyed and were cursed. Noah was blessed because he did as instructed. Jesus says “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:14). In our text, the servants are expected to obey commandments. Today, you and I must be obedient. We do not decide what is right or wrong. We obey.

The last sentence is the one that is most sobering: “We are unworthy servants.” Even after completing everything commanded by the master, we remain unworthy. We have earned nothing more. There are no promotions, no accolades. We are not worthy. We only did our job. This passage is a death knell to those who believe in earning salvation. We cannot. It was always the sweet grace of the Lord that brought salvation.

But obedience is required. The passage assumes we have “done all that you were commanded.” Christians are to obey their master (Acts 5:29, 32; Romans 6:16; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Hebrews 5:9,  et al). Within the many verses teaching obedience are those passages which specifically note that we “obey the gospel.” How curious! The pendulum wildly swings from those that earn salvation to those that do nothing (except giving mental assent of Jesus) for salvation. The truth lies in the middle. We cannot craft our path to salvation. But we can follow or obey the path set before us. Those who deny the necessity of obedience should carefully consider 1 Thessalonians 1:8 and the warning that Jesus will take vengeance on those who “do not obey the gospel.”

Out of God’s immense love for me, I can be saved. My Lord has handed me the route through the fires of life to the glories of heaven. A million lifetimes could never discover the way of truth. But now, revealed in Holy Writ, I have a path to follow. I will be saved by obeying the gospel!


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