Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Unprofitable Servants

Life of Christ 130

        I suspect a fair number of you will not like this blog post. I also suspect Jesus got a rather similar response.
          Jesus, in the weeks immediately prior to His death, is traveling with His Apostles through Perea, the mixed Jewish Gentile region east of the Jordan River. He is avoiding the two main regions of Israel because they have already rejected Him, and, in fact, are actively seeking to kill Him. His time to die will not arrive until Passover in April, and so He travels largely outside of Israel until just before then. He is preaching, evangelizing, and doing miracles, but primarily He is urgently preparing the Apostles for His imminent departure. In just a few short weeks they will be leading the infant Church without Him, and there is much they need to learn.
          Jesus was not an affirming kind of a guy. He did not mince words, and He did not praise people for things for which they should not have been praised. As such, in today's story (Luke 17.7-10), He will come across to many as harsh or unkind when the truth that all He is doing is calling us to a higher standard.
          The story He tells involves a man who hires a servant to work for him. The servant works all day in the field, and when it is time for dinner the servant still needs to serve the master before sitting down to eat himself. When all of this is done the master does not say 'thank you' for the servant only did the minimum that was expected of him. As such, there was nothing for which to thank him. He had done nothing over and above his requirements, and so there was no call for gratitude.
          In 21st century America we do not like this story. It makes God seem mean. The truth is that our culture has become pillowy softy and overly sensitive. We have taught people that they deserve to be thanked and praised for everything they do when they actually deserve no such thing.
          However, this matter of extending gratitude is not Jesus' main point here. His main point is that when we only do what is required of us then we are unprofitable to Him.
          Think with me for a moment. If I hire you for eight hours a day at $10 per hour, and you work those eight hours, and I pay you $80 I have not made a profit. All I have done is exchanged $80 worth of money for $80 worth of work. In other words, it is an equal trade. On the other hand, if I pay you $80 and you work for 10 hours, now then, I have made a profit. I have exchanged $80 worth of money for $100 worth of work, and in so doing I have realized a profit of twenty dollars.
          There are three kinds of people reading this blog post. The first kind are those who do not obey God's requirements. They are not interested in what God commands. They have taken entire areas of their life and blocked the Lord off from accessing them, let alone controlling them. They go to church occasionally because it soothes their conscience, or because they like the people there, or because they find the preaching entertaining, or because they like the music, or because the stars occasionally align absolutely perfectly. But they have chosen, and it is a choice, to consciously refuse to yield to God's claim of command over every single area of their life. There is in them no thirst for righteousness; there is no hungering after God and the things of God. Such people are so unprofitable that, if it were my choice and I were God, I would cut them loose from Christianity altogether. God does not do that, of course, but such people are unprofitable in the extreme. They are mooching off the grace of God and offering Him no return on His investment. They use God like a tapeworm uses a host.
          The second kind of person reading this blog is the kind who does obey God's requirements. They have made the adjustment from using God to obeying God. When He says, 'Jump!' they salute, and say, 'Aye, aye, sir!' There may be some areas in which He does not yet have control, but where they have clearly learned His will for their life they have chosen to give in to His demands. This is not easy for them but they do it. God has given them instructions and they have submitted. Of course, this kind of person is not easily convinced. They often want ample proof that God really does require something. They are often slow to obey, but to their credit they finally do.
          Such a person is, sadly, likewise unprofitable to the Lord. 'So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do' (Luke 17.10).
          The third kind of person reading this blog is one who exceeds God's requirements. This group has grown way beyond using God, and has even moved past obeying God, if you will allow me to use that phrase. They have gotten to the place where they live for God. They eat, drink, and breathe pleasing Him and showing Him their love. They do not use Him. They do not obey Him. They spoil Him. With praise. With gifts, With time. With everything that they have.
          Let us take the area of personal music, for instance. The first group says, 'It is my music and I will play it if I want to.'
          The second group says, 'What is wrong with this music? Are you sure about that? Prove it.'
          The third group asks itself, 'What is right with my music? Is He pleased with it? Does He delight in it?'
          Alternatively, we can illustrate this truth with money, and specifically the biblical concept of tithing. After all, the tithe means 10% so this is one of the very few easily measurable commands. The first group does not tithe. It rationalizes this by saying it does not have the money, and soothes its conscience by throwing a $20 into the offering plate every now and again. The second group does tithe. The third group also tithes, and gives to missions, and gives to the building program, and gives to people around them in need, and helps to support an orphanage in Honduras.

          Are you a disobedient Christian? Then you are unprofitable to God. Are you merely an obedient Christian? Then you are also unprofitable to God. Bear in mind, Jesus taught this lesson to His Apostles. In order for the infant Church to thrive it needed to have more than just obedient Christians – it needed profitable Christians. The Apostles had to learn to give their all to the Lord's work, and, to their credit, they did. Within 50 years, by the time those Apostles died, Christianity had gone from 120 people assembled in one room in Jerusalem into a Roman Empire wide religion with hundreds of thousands of adherents.
          Beloved, in order for your church to thrive it needs the same thing. In order for the cause of Christ to flourish in your community it needs the same thing. It does not need more user Christians who view God as a genie who pops out of a lamp in order to fulfil their personal desires. By the same token, it does not need merely obedient Christians either, for such are still unprofitable to Him. The cause of Christ, in your community and mine, needs servants who will go above and beyond the call of duty. We must present our bodies a living sacrifice wholly for His use.
          God is after a profit. If you do not believe that then go look at the parable of the talents a little more closely. Face yourself. Are you unprofitable? Are you disobedient? Are you merely obedient? Or do you cheerfully and lovingly give him $100 worth of work for $80 worth of pay? Do you return to Him two talents where He entrusted you with one?

          Are you a profitable servant?

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