God Doesn't Owe You Anything (Luke 17:7-10)
Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Passage: Luke 17:7–10
I. What Parents Owe
Let me ask you this: “Do parents owe it to their children to provide for and protect them? Do parents owe it their children to nurture them? ”
I would guess that all or at least most of you would say yes. Absolutely, yes. But what if the parent is going through a hard time? Or what if the child is going through a hard time? Does that change anything? I'm guessing all or most of you would say, no, that doesn't change anything? Parents owe to their children to provide, to protect, to nurture... no matter what is happening in terms of difficult circumstances, difficult behaviors, etc..
But if that's true, why is that true?
Keep those questions and ideas in mind as we look together at God's word this morning, specifically, Luke 17, one of the chapters from Our Bible Reading Plan this past week.
II. The Passage: “We Have Only Done What Was Our Duty” (17:7-10)
Look with me at the teaching of Jesus that Luke has recorded for us in verses 7-10. We read...
“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
So... what are we, as disciples of or learners under Jesus, supposed to do with a passage like this? What does God want us to learn here about who he is... and who we are?
1. A Response to Their Response (vs. 3-6)
Well, what I'd like to do first is consider the context of this passage, specifically the passages just before this one. Look with me if you would at 17:3, 4:
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,  and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Now look at what we learn in verse 5 about the apostles' response to this command...
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Think for a moment about the logic of their request in light of Jesus' command to forgive. In verse 3 Jesus is talking about sin in general, that is, about a brother or sister who is struggling with and straying because of their sin. But in verse 4 things get personal. If your brother “sins against you”. How often? “...Seven times in the day...”. What are you to do? If he repents, then “you must forgive him.” So you can imagine what's going through the minds of these apostles: “Seven times in the day? How are we supposed to deal with that level of offense? With all of the anger or hurt or fear or frustration that sin will inevitably produce? Isn't there a point when I should say... when I have to say, 'enough is enough'?”
And so what is their response? “[Lord], increase our faith!” “It's a lot, Rabbi, therefore, we need a lot of faith.” But notice how what follows is actually a response to their response. I believe Jesus responds to their plea in two ways:
First, he tells them that the issue is not the quantity of their faith, but the quality of their faith. Look at how communicates this in verse 6...
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
So Jesus uses this exaggerated image to help them understand that though the call to forgive an offending brother or sister seems daunting, though it can seem overwhelming, it is more than possible through genuine faith.
But there's a second way he responds to their response. And I would argue the second thing he wants to communicate to them is found in our main passage, verses 7-10. How does our main passage fit into the flow of Christ's teaching here? By revealing something important to them about the quality of this 'tree-uprooting', 'sea-planting' faith. If the issue is not the quantity of their faith, but the quality of their faith, then what does the illustration in verses 7-10 reveal about the quality of genuine faith?
2. Who Owes Who? (vs. 7-10)
Look back at our main verses. Jesus has provided here an illustration for his disciples, one that should make perfect sense in light of how the world around them works; or more specifically, about the nature of certain relationships. The relationship in view here is the relationship between a master and a servant or slave. A slave's work day is not completed when he finishes his outdoor tasks and is getting hungry, or when everyone else is eating. No. His work day is completed when he finishes everything he ought to do.
A servant or slave's duty, what he or she ought to do, in light his or her role, and in light of the master's position, is not a matter of debate. He or she is called to obey; to carry out the Master's will. Whatever you think about someone being a servant or slave, that's irrelevant to the point Jesus is making. Masters command and servants obey. That's it. Full stop. That's the nature of those roles. No, the master here is not uncaring. He provides a time for the slave to (v. 8) “eat and drink”. But it's “afterward”; after the slave has completed his tasks. The lord of this estate is not expected to pamper his servants, or order things around their feelings, or even thank them, as if they were doing him a favor. No. That's not the nature of a master/servant relationship.
Like so much of Jesus' teaching, the main point really comes into focus in the final phrase. Look back at verse 10. Listen to how the servants affirm a right understanding of their role:
“We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”
The word translated duty there is a Greek word that really just means, 'doing what ought to be done'. In Romans 15:1, Paul uses it in the sense of obligation: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” It is what we ought to do. In Luke's Gospel, this same word is used in four other verses and always refers to a debt; to what someone else is owed.
So to better understand the illustration Jesus is using here in Luke 17:7-10, we could ask, “Who owes who what in this passage?” When we look at the slaves' reply in verse 10, it's clear they are owed nothing. “We are unworthy servants...” Though this word can be translated as 'worthless' or 'useless' or 'unprofitable', I think the context here leans toward another translation, something like what one commentator suggests, “slaves to whom no favor is owed”.
You see, this phrase about the identity of the servants seems to stand in contrast with what the rest of the servants' words. 'We are not owed anything... but we have done that which is owed to our master.' Why is the master owed this service? Because of who he is, and because of the nature of the relationship. Do you remember the first question I asked you this morning? “Do parents owe it to their children to provide for and protect them and nurture them?” The answer is yes! Why? Because of who they are (i.e., parents), and because of the nature of the parent/child relationship. It is what every parent ought to do.
Now, with all that being said, notice how Jesus applies this final verse to his disciples (v. 10):
So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty [i.e., what we ought to have done].’”
So here's where the “must” of 17:4 (i.e., “you must forgive”) comes back around and connects to the word “commanded” in verse 10. We are the servants. God is the master. Masters command and servants obey. That is the nature of our relationship. Whatever exactly the apostles were thinking about his hard commandment regarding forgiveness, Jesus' response makes it clear that he understood something about their motives or perspective: they were forgetting, or at risk of forgetting, this fundamental truth about their identity in light of God's identity: we are sinful creatures; He is our holy Creator.
III. That Fundamental Ought
So let's take a few minutes and put this into some really practical terms. Why is this passage so important? Because it anchors us in the fundamental ought of our relationship to God. Let me suggest two reasons this is critical:
First, this passage corrects us when wrongly believe God is somehow in our debt. The 17th century commentator Matthew Henry put it plainly: “God cannot be a gainer by our services, and therefore cannot be made a debtor by them.” Based on the context and Jesus' response, it sure seems like Jesus wanted to correct some misguided thinking among the apostles; thinking that seemed to equate their obedience with going above and beyond for God.
“Jesus, what you're calling us to do in terms of forgiveness is like next level, Lord. Isn't it enough that we've followed you? Isn't our sacrifice and obedience thus far... enough?” And so maybe they thought that if they went 'above and beyond', God would have some special blessing for them, some special appreciation.
Sometimes we can fall into some version of this mindset: “Father, I've made some serious sacrifices as of late, and I've been steering clear of those sins that once consumed me. Would you now grant me this special prayer request?” Or, “God, why is all this hard stuff happening to me? I've been doing everything you've asked of me, even the hardest things. I don't get it!” Do you see the problem with this thinking? It assumes some kind of relationship with God in which he owes us something when we do what he wants.
But brothers and sisters, friends, we exist for Him. He doesn't exist for us. We need Him. He doesn't need us. When it comes right down to it, we do everything He commands because he is the Creator and we are the created. We forgive because we ought to forgive. We abstain because we ought to abstain. We speak because we ought to speak. We go because we ought to go. We bless because we ought to bless. Why? Because our Creator said so. Our obedience requires no other reason.
But that brings us to another idea. This passage is also important because, second, it reminds us of our fundamental ought when even better motives are muddled. Even though our obedience requires no other reason, God has in fact given us even better motives to obey, motives that build on, rather than replace, that fundamental ought. What motives am I talking about? Maybe thankfulness. Maybe joy. Maybe a recognition of the goodness of God's commands. But highest on that list of motives should be love. As we heard in Luke 10:27...
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind...” [The Apostle John later talks about this love. He writes...]
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:3)
Wonderfully, the servant/master image is not the only image that describes our relationship with God. Of the many images revealed in Scripture, the most precious has to be the Father/children image. We love our Father because he first loved us, and made us his children. And that love should, above all, fuel our obedience. But when any of these better motives get muddled because of sin (and they often do), this ought should always serve as our foundation.
Please hear this: we can expect God's favor. Why? Again, Matthew Henry... “We expect God's favor, not because we have by our services made him a debtor to us, but because he has by his promises made himself a debtor to his own honor.” God's undeserved, unmerited favor is called by another name in Scripture: “grace”. And wonderfully, God is amazingly gracious, for the sake of his glory. And as we learn from Scripture, the gift of Jesus himself is the ultimate expression of that grace. Here's the good news: though God doesn't owe you anything, he gave you every-thing when he gave you Jesus. Why is forgiveness an ought? Because of the forgiveness He bought... for us... on the cross. We forgive as we have been forgiven. We bless as we've been blessed. We love as we've been loved. However you're struggling please remember, you don't need more faith; you need true faith; a faith that first and rightly sees the fundamental nature of our relationship with God, and then receives power through God's Spirit, because of God's Son, to not only live out that ought, but also to do so from a heart of gratitude, joy, worship, and love.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
August 14, 2022It Really is Finished (John 19:28-30)
August 7, 2022Your Survival Kit for a 'Jesus-less' World (John 14:25-27)
July 31, 2022Hearing the Voice of Jesus (John 10:22-27)