Parable of the Faithful Servant

servant

This is Part 7 in a series about reclaiming the true meaning of Jesus’ teachings (Part 6 here). Today I’ll cover The Parable of the Faithful Servant (Luke 12:35-48 and also similar texts in Matthew 24:42-51 and Mark 13:32-37).

The Parable

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

The Meaning

Jesus has just told a large crowd of people not to be preoccupied with earthly things (e.g. their reputation and physical well-being), but instead to focus their thoughts on heavenly things (e.g. God’s attributes and desires). He uses this parable to describe what will happen to us depending on where our thoughts are focused, and the crux of this text is verse 40:

“You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus is warning all of us to have a sense of urgency because He will come suddenly like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:22 Peter 3:10Revelation 3:3, and Revelation 16:15).

Peter clearly recognized the importance of this verse, because he immediately asked Jesus, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” In other words, Peter wanted to know who wasn’t yet ready that needed to hurry and get ready before it was too late: the twelve apostles or the crowd of curious onlookers (Luke 12:1)?

Peter was worried that somehow Jesus was implying that he might not yet be ready, and that’s exactly the attitude that we should have when we read this parable. Notice that Jesus doesn’t answer Peter’s question directly. He doesn’t say, “Well, Peter you and John will be saved, but Judas is definitely out.” Instead, Jesus gives us some filters that we can apply in our own lives to determine whether we’re faithful servants (Christians) or unfaithful servants (Non-Christians).

Christians

In the first half of the parable, Jesus explains what happens to those who live Christ-centered lives.

In those days, a wedding banquet didn’t follow a strict schedule, and it could last up to an entire week. Therefore, the servants would have no idea what time to expect their master back, and had to be ready at all times to meet his needs when he finally returned. In the same way, we have no idea when Jesus will return, so we should live our lives expecting His return at any moment.

The amazing news is that when Jesus returns, He will give us rewards (Revelation 22:12). He will bring us to dwell with Him (John 14:1-4) and eat with Him (Luke 22:29-30) at the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). This celebration begins at the Rapture and extends all the way through to the New Heaven and the New Earth. He will even appoint us reign with Him as judges (Revelation 20:4) during the Millennial Kingdom.

We are told to be “dressed ready for service,” or literally the Greek says, “Let your loins stay girded.” In those days, everyone would wear a flowing robe for their outer garment, and it could get caught on something or trip them up if they were running or doing manual labor. Even Roman soldiers wore loose-fitting tunics. To keep the excess fabric out of the way, then would wear a belt, sash, or girdle about their waist and tuck in the folds of their garment. An excellent example of this occurs in Exodus 12:11 when God tells the Israelites to remain fully dressed and ready to flee Egypt while they eat the Passover lamb.

How does this apply to us as Christians? We must put on the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14) and gird up the loins of our mind (1 Peter 1:13). In other words, we should rid ourselves of hypocrisy and materialism and instead live lives of sincere worship (1 Corinthians 5:8), bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8).

We are also told to be ready by keeping our lamps burning. Since God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and a light on our path (Psalm 119:105), then we should read the Bible regularly to keep the lamp of our faith full of oil. With the lamp of our faith burning brightly, our craving for sin will decrease while our desire to do good works will increase (Romans 13:11-14). Those good works will become a light shining in a dark world that will point others to our Savior and bring glory to God (Matthew 5:16).

In addition, we are told to be good stewards of the Gospel. In those days, a rich master might have many servants, and the steward of the household would be responsible for ensuring that all the other servants received their daily allotment of food. In the same way, God desires for each of us to become Christians (1 Timothy 2:3-4) and to disciple others (Matthew 28:19) by feeding them, first with spiritual milk and then with solid food (1 Corinthians 3:2).

Of course, God doesn’t expect us all to produce the same results since He blesses each of us with different abilities and opportunities (1 Corinthians 12:4). That’s why God assigns each of us a different task to complete (Mark 13:34 and Ephesians 2:10).

Non-Christians

In the second half of the parable, Jesus explains what happens to those who live self-centered lives, and He distinguishes between three groups of nonbelievers:

  1. Religious Hypocrites – These are the people who are experts in God’s written Word and who claim to believe it and follow it, yet it never truly penetrates their heart. They are responsible for leading many people away from true saving faith.
    • These are the worst kind of people, represented by the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. As a result, they receive the worst punishment in the parable: they will be cut to pieces. This is reminiscent of the strong warning that the Holy Spirit gives through Saul in 1 Samuel 11:6-7.
      • Likewise, although all nonbelievers will suffer in Hell for eternity, the punishment for religious hypocrites will be worse than for other types of nonbelievers. A judge assigning varying degrees of punishment depending on the severity of the crime was also true under the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 25:2).
    • In our day, religious hypocrites are those who claim to be Christians and who know right from wrong, but they prefer to teach false doctrine for their own personal financial gain (Titus 1:11).
      • They are taking the Lord’s name in vain and thereby breaking the 3rd Commandment (Deuteronomy 5:11), because like false prophets they are speaking presumptuously in the name of the Lord things that He has not said (Deuteronomy 18:20).
      • Their punishment will be worse because God holds pastors and teachers to a higher standard (James 3:1).
      • In the parable, they are depicted as being abusive gluttons and drunkards, and unfortunately we continue to see many similar scandals of famous televangelists involved in fraud, prostitution, violence, and drug use. This is exactly what the Jesus and Paul warned us about (Luke 21:34 and 2 Timothy 3:1-9).
  2. Lazy Procrastinators – These are the people who have heard the Gospel, and although they aren’t leading others astray, they aren’t doing anything to advance God’s Kingdom either. They demonstrate their lack of saving faith because they don’t have a sense of urgency.
    • They should respond immediately to the Gospel by repenting of their sins, but they put it off because they don’t want to give up their life of debauchery.
    • Or maybe they claim to have been saved, but they don’t feel a burden to warn others of the coming judgement. They should be eager to share the good news of the Gospel, but they never try to broach the subject in any conversation.
    • Because lazy procrastinators are not actively leading others astray, they won’t be cut to pieces like the religious hypocrites. However, they will still be beaten with many blows.
      • This brings to mind the Mosaic Law where the maximum corporal punishment was to be flogged thirty-nine times (2 Corinthians 11:24). Technically, the maximum was forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3), but the Jews were worried about accidentally losing count and administering too many lashes, so they used 39 just to be safe.
  3. Ignorant Pagans – These are the people who have never heard the Gospel, so they don’t know the will of God.
    • Notice in the parable that even though they don’t know their master’s will, they still do things worthy of punishment. That’s like someone living in a remote jungle where missionaries haven’t reached. Even though they don’t know about the Ten Commandments, they will still be punished for breaking God’s laws.
      • This is consistent with Old Testament Law (Leviticus 5:17 and Numbers 15:27-30).
      • They will be beaten with few blows. In other words, they receive the least punishment in Hell because they lacked complete knowledge about God’s standard.
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