Verse of the Day Devotion Luke 17:10
“So, you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, we are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” – Luke 17:10
Most theologians do not see this as a parable, as some perceive it, but as an illustration. Jesus starts this with a question. “But which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, Come immediately and sit down to eat? But will he not say to him, Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk; and afterward you will eat and drink” Luke 17:7-8. Here he speaks of slaves serving their master in the custom implicit in this time period. This meant the responsibilities of doing what the master included serving him before he served himself. The conditions in this illustration reflect these customs. If a master has a servant who comes in from plowing or tending sheep, the master does not instruct the servant to meet their own needs first. Rather, the servant is expected to tend to the master’s needs, and only afterward to his own. The servant should expect no special recognition or reward for so doing, for he is a servant, after all, and has only done what is expected of servants.
Then He continues with the following rhetorical question, “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?” Luke 17:9. Jesus here is saying the master will not thank the slave because He only did what was required. He was not thanked when he plowed the field. Nor was he given special recognition or reward for the work in the field and then the preparing of the meal. He only did what was required of him, not anything extra. These were his responsibilities.
This brings out the difference between asking and commanding. If we are asked to do something, we may say yes or say no and these are both acceptable answers. If we are commanded, and the person has the right to for they are over us, then the only acceptable answer is yes. The Greek word translated commanded is διατάσσω or diatassō, which has the meaning to direct, or order to be done. More directly, doing what the master commands. And because he commanded him, there was no purpose in thanking the one who did it.
And then to our focus verse. “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” Luke 17:10. Why should we say this? Because we are. We sinned and lost our opportunity for salvation. However, God made a way by sending Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. And there is nothing we can do that even comes close to what He did. Therefore, we owe Him everything and He owes us nothing. The idea of ‘unworthy slaves’ has the idea of meriting nothing. We have not benefited God or laid him under obligation. If he rewards us, it will be a matter of unmerited favor and grace. And this is true in relation to Christians in all respects. Jesus is telling them that what the Pharisees believe is contrary to the truth. He opposes any suggestion that obedience might be construed as a means to gain honor, or that one might engage in obedience in order to receive a reward.
In closing, theologian Robert H. Stein puts it this way, which could not have been said better. “The last saying is directed to the church and reminds the readers that there is no place for boasting and that disciples must remember who is to serve whom. Luke may even have been warning the church leaders among his readers that their service did not merit them any special reward. There will always be a need to emphasize this, for at times some Christians tend to reverse these roles and see God as their servant. Whereas a sovereign God delights to bless his servants (See below Luke 12:35-37). The church must always remember that he is the Lord of all creation and that they are, even at their best, forgiven sinners. Believers are the apples of God’s eye, and woe to those who would cause them to stumble; but believers who see clearly only confess, ‘We are unworthy servants.’ All too often they are not even able to say, “We have only done our duty.” Believers have no claim on God. Their only hope is God’s gracious character and promise.”
“Be dressed in readiness and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.” Luke 12:35-37.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.