We are Worthless Slaves?

Jesus Teaching
Jesus Teaching

Jesus doesn’t seem very nice when he says stuff like this.  Some help please.

Luke: 17:7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

I thought we were supposed to be “friends of God”.  Like in John 15:15, “I do not call you servants any longer…but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”

What gives?

Is this two side of the same relationship with God?


7 Replies to “We are Worthless Slaves?”

  1. This is passage is difficult to interpret. There are several things about it which aren’t clear to me (and this is not helped by the seeming disconnection between it and the context).

    Is this instruction envisioning people serving a human master or serving God as the master? It seems like in verses 7-9, Jesus is addressing people who have servants/slaves, but if so, when he flips things in verse 10, who have they been commanded by? This might favor the interpretation that it’s obeying God which is in view.

    Why would a servant/slave doing what they were commanded to do think as a result that they are unworthy/useless/worthless? What should they have done instead? More than they were commanded? So is the instruction to those who are focused on identifying the bare minimum they need to do to satisfy God?

    Or is the idea to move the discussion onto other ground completely? Is it a subtle way of making the point “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” Fixating on (and limiting yourself to) what you are supposed to do for God is never going to be enough.

  2. When are we ever done serving God? When do we get to take a break and tell God to serve us? All of our righteousness is a filthy rag, nothing to be proud about, nothing by which we can demand special treatment. It is only by God’s grace and power that we are able to love as we should.

  3. I wonder if the audience has something to do with this?  Here in Luke Jesus is talking to Pharisees who probably thought that they new when they had finished God’s work and congradulated themselves for it (lots of back clapping).  So to them he is saying, “Hey, when you think your are done, you aren’t.  And when you want to thank yourself, don’t.”  

    But in John he is talking to his disciples who were learning that they could love God because God loved them.

  4. I think it was Dallas Willard who offered that we sometimes miss the point point that Jesus was trying to make by assuming a literal interpretation when in fact Jesus was being almost sarcastic. The example I remember was about casting pearls before swine. Willard argued that if you think of people as swine don’t be surprised when they behave that way even in regard to what you value most. Perhaps that is what is happening here as well? Jesus is telling those who pride themselves in being people who do the right things who think that those things somehow obligate God to them are mistaken. If they want to be slaves to God then they should expect to be treated like slaves, if God is understood as master then you should expect the behavior of a master and masters owe nothing to slaves. But God does want a different relationship with his people and it doesn’t include a renegotiated old relationship but something new. God is not a master who now owes thanks to slaves or a place at the table when the slave wants it all the while allowing a business like relationship in which no one gets too close. Rather God is father, God is friend, God wants co-laborers, people in loving mutual relationship working toward the full realization of the Kingdom.

    1. TimSeiger Tim, Yeah I think the almost sarcastic side must be intended.  Something like Paul in Galatian about returning ourselves to slavery under the law.  Jesus is basically saying, “If you really want to be a slave to the law/master then don’t expect any thanks for it.  Just keep working!”

  5. The translation used doesn’t help the matter. “Worthless” is a far cry from “unworthy,” as most other translations seem to use.

  6. <b>chuckmcknight</b> makes a good point.  The word used is <i>???????</i> (<i>???????</i>), and it does not mean worthless: it means unprofitable or without merit.  Saying “worthless” denotes a lack of intrinsic value, and that’s not what this passage is about, to say nothing of how perilous such a notion could be in general.  To say that the servant is unprofitable, though, and indeed should declare himself so, underscores that nothing the servant has originates with him, but, rather, comes from his master: there is nothing you have that God did not give you, one way or another.  So why should God say thanks, and why should you on your own declare yourself or behave as though you were something other than a servant?

    Keep in mind that these comments by Christ come after he has been asked to increase the apostles’ faith, and, right before he says the bit quoted above, he says that with faith they could uproot the works of evil, subject them to their faithful command.  But of course no reasonable or realistic person takes this to mean that every Christian has the power to defeat every instance of evil—uproot by verbal command and cast into the sea every mulberry tree—on his own.  “Increase our faith,” they asked, and Christ responded by telling them that what their faith could produce would flow from doing God’s will, doing what was their duty to do (“what we ought to have done” in the translation above).

    This is not inconsistent with Christ’s remarks in <i>John</i> on being called a friend rather than a servant.  <i>A servant does not know what his master is doing</i> as He says in the portion of <i>John</i> 15:15 that you omitted above (although the part you did quote says something very similar), but through Christ we are invited to know what God is doing and to participate in it.  Is that not the faith that can command mulberry trees into the sea, the faith that participates in knowledge of God’s will?  Consider also the preceding verse where He says that his disciples are His friends, if they do what he commands.  Here’s the crucial detail about being His friend: the Lord says <i>He</i> stops calling those who follow His commands friends, and <i>He</i> no longer calls them servants.  In Luke the servants themselves say (or should say) “We are unprofitable servants.”  We act as servants by obedience, and the wonder is that in this God declares us His friends.  It is God who grants us the friendship for obeying Him, and we who can accept it in that way.

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