“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 while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink ‘? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 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 17:7-10 NASB)
One of the elements of Scripture that is often misunderstood is the status of the disciple of Jesus. Jesus creates the potential of this misunderstanding when He tells us we are both “slaves” and “adopted children”. We are both at the same time, and hold these two status’ in tension. It is somewhat like working for your parent. You would be loved more than other employees, but still have the responsibilities of an employee.
The reason I point this out is that Scripture uses this image of slave for followers of Jesus but we ignore it. We typically run our normal entitlement approach because in our minds we can’t be both slaves and children. Jesus seems to think we are. We are adopted children who are called to serve our King/Father. So when we reach these verses in Luke 17, we usually just move on. Today, we will not be. Today we will wallow in them, soaking in their truth.
The basic idea is easy to grasp. A slave isn’t given a break until the day is done. Then they have time for themselves. They didn’t come in from the fields and were fed, they came in and continued to serve their master. This sounds hard, but at the end of the illustration Jesus says it’s what is expected, that’s how slavery works.
Not us. We want “kudos” for a days hard work. We want the “master” to serve us! It’s what we deserve for all our hard work. It’s also completely false, and worse, selfish and self-centered. Jesus makes it pretty clear here that once the day of work is done, our response should be ‘We are unworthy slaves, we have done only what that which we ought to have done.’
Doesn’t that “unworthy” just stick in your throat? You may be able to say it, but think through what this means. You just worked your behind off and you are unworthy, having done only what you were supposed to. No kudos for you. No plaque, no parade, no attaboy, not so much as a thank you. Now how do you feel?
If that is difficult for you then you are finally getting the point. Now before we go all “cultural setting then and now” on this passage, remember that if this were obvious to them, Jesus wouldn’t have had to say it. Sure it made sense in how He described it, but it didn’t make sense in how He applied it to them. In fact, from conversations of the disciples recorded in the Gospels, we get the clear sense they thought they were entitled. So this very definitely applied to them in that day, and yes it means we’re not entitled either.
So, when we work in a ministry, whatever it might be, with children, with the homeless, with community leaders, or heaven forbid with youth; we are unworthy slaves having done only that which we ought to have done. No thank you necessary. No gratitude needed on the part of our Master or those whom we serve. Uncomfortable yet? I will go a bit further. I will venture to say that “burn out” is selfish and demonstrates immature discipleship. Oops, that was probably too far for some of us. Consider why we get “burned out”. It isn’t because we view what we’re doing as the work of an unworthy slave, only what we ought to have done. It’s usually because they pay off (for ourselves) just doesn’t seem worth what it costs us to do it. We loose the motivation, we forget we’re unworthy slaves.
Now, I will allow that this is true also for leaders who either forget this is true for them, or who will mistreat the “slaves” as if they are the Master. Jesus has their punishment all set. And I don’t think we’re called to follow those who are not following Jesus. That’s another entry topic later I’m sure. But it will suffice to say that burn out for those simply tired of doing what they’re doing is immature discipleship. So am I saying we should pour out our lives into ministry with nothing to show for it? Let me answer that with another question. Do you believe in heaven? If so, why would such a question even come to mind? Any other questions?
That’s my view from this knothole. What do you see?