Sermon for Sunday August 26th, 2012

The Profitable Servant by Jeff Strite

Luke 17:3-17:10

OPEN: The KJV translates Luke 17:10 this way: “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.’”

I don’t want to be an “unprofitable servant”.
I want to be a profitable servant for God.
Don’t you?

So, what kind of things might I do to be useful to God?
What would you expect I’d have to do to be a “profitable” servant?
(allow audience time to respond)

That’s all great stuff!
Those are the kinds of things you’d expect from a profitable servant.
But then we encounter THIS verse that says you can do all the good things you want to do… and still not be profitable for God.

In this story Jesus tells us about a servant who works all day long out in the field, or out taking care of the flock. And after he works all day long, he comes into the house… and he doesn’t even get to set down and rest and eat his own meal. Instead, he is required to serve his master his meal FIRST. Then he can sit down and eat and rest.
And after doing all that work - all day long - there’s no word of thanks, no gratitude. And Jesus closes out this parable by saying that the servant was unprofitable because he only did what he was told to do.
Then Jesus says to us: When YOU have done everything you were commanded to do you should say “I’m an UNPROFITABLE servant. I’ve only done my duty.”

That’s not right!
I’ve been brought up to believe that if you put in a day’s work you should get a day’s pay. And I’ve read enough psychology to know that many workers NEED positive reinforcement. They need to know they’re appreciated. They need to hear that they’ve done a good job. Because no matter how much money a person is paid being appreciated is far more important to most people than how big their check is.

But here we have Jesus saying: “Sorry. You don’t get any “atta boys”. You don’t get any pats on the back. In fact you should just say, ‘I’m an unprofitable servant… I don’t deserve any praise!’”

That makes no sense to me.
And that’s why I picked this verse.
It doesn’t make any sense… and (as with all verses that puzzle me) I’ve learned something there – something intriguing – something I hadn’t thot about.
Now, whenever you run into a verse you can’t understand, that seems odd or out of place, the first thing you need to do is look at the context.
Context – is when you look at the verses around the verse you’re studying.

In this case, it appears that Jesus has just got done teaching some certain issues right before He made this comment about us being “unprofitable.” And that’s where I got my 1st clue to what Jesus was trying to teach us.

In the two previous verses we’re told:
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’
He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Lu 17:5-6

What would my faith have to do with being a “profitable” servant?
Well, Hebrews 11:6 tells us “… without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who diligently seek him.”

Without faith, God will NOT be impressed with anything you or I do.
A person who works hard for Church - and yet has no faith -is an unprofitable servant.

ILLUS: A dramatic example of this kind of thing comes from an article I read some time back. Tufts University in Massachusetts did a study of preachers in different denominations. Apparently they asked them if they really believed what they were preaching. In response:
· One of the preachers revealed that “he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know it”.
· Another preacher said he was not convinced of Christian teachings in Scripture but he continued to preach because “it’s the only way of life he knows.”
· Still another preacher declared that he didn’t believe in the Bible but he remains in the ministry “largely for financial reasons”
(Preachers who don’t believe? The Baptist Press 4/30/10 - cited on 5/5/10)

Now… are these “supposed preachers” profitable servants for God? (No.)
They’ve got the titles and degrees, and congregations that look to them for guidance (or at least they sleep comfortably through their sermons). But these “preachers” are not profitable for God because they have no faith… none at all.

They are “unprofitable servants” - not because they don’t work hard but because they have NO faith that God even exists. As Hebrews 11 says “… without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists...”
These guys don’t!!!

But that’s only half of the verse.
The other half says: “…AND (we must believe) that he rewards those who diligently seek him.” Heb 11:6

It’s obvious when a supposed servant of God he doesn’t believe in God. That servant is obviously unprofitable. But what is not so obvious is a Christian doesn’t believe that God will actually DO anything for us.

It’s possible to be a nice church goer.
It’s possible to be an active church member.
It’s possible to be involved with any number of ministries/ missions
It’s possible to be a leader in the congregation and even preach from the pulpit and still be an unprofitable servant.

Because they don’t believe that he rewards those who diligently seek him.”
Faith that simply believes that God is out there… somewhere… doing something… is NOT the faith of a profitable servant.

In God’s kingdom, the faith of a profitable servant is one who believes that this is joint venture with God.

ILLUS: One day a small boy tried to lift a heavy stone, but couldn’t budge it.
His father, watching, finally said, "Are you using all your strength?"
"Yes, I am!" cried the boy.
"No, you’re not," said the father. "You haven’t asked me to help you."

Too often, Christians try to do Christianity all by themselves. They don’t ask God for help - they don’t expect God’s help - because they don’t believe that God rewards those who diligently seek him.

In fact, there’s a saying people like this use to justify the fact that God’s not in the picture. It’s one of the most popular non-Christian statements ever spoken:
“God helps those who help themselves.”

That is NOT true.
It’s not found anywhere in Scripture.
In fact, it’s not only NOT a Christian teaching – it’s a pagan teaching

It comes from Aesop’s fables, where a man asks Hercules to help him get his wagon out of the mud. But Hercules can’t be bothered… so He replies:
’Man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods (not God) help them that help themselves.’

It’s a pagan teaching.
And it’s entirely false.
If it were true, Jezebel would be one of the most Godly queens in Scripture.
If it were true, Judas would be the patron saint of all who follow Jesus.

But Scripture doesn’t teach that God helps those who help themselves.
What Scripture REALLY teaches is this: God helps those who obey Him.
In fact 2 Chronicles 16:9 says "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him…" (NKJV)

God’s looking for someone to help.
He’s looking for someone to show Himself strong in their lives.
He’s looking for YOU.
He’s looking for the profitable servant.

I want to be a profitable servant.
But how I do know if I am being profitable?

Well, a profitable servant would be one who would want God’s Kingdom to succeed. They would be willing to do whatever is necessary to accomplish that goal.
Jesus said: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of heaven and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”
That’s the attitude of the profitable servant.

But a profitable servant ALSO needs to realize that it’s NOT THEIR Kingdom – it’s His. And this is where things can get a little ticklish.

You see, a lot of Christians get hung up on their version of what God’s Kingdom should be like. And so they can get to be difficult when things don’t go the way THEY think it ought to. Sometimes they just KNOW God needs something done, but nobody will let me do it. They just know that their idea is the best idea for certain ministry in the church.
Or for the way worship is run.
Or for the color of carpet that’s on the floor. (How many churches have split because they couldn’t agree on the décor of their building?)

But nobody seems to be listening to them,
So, they get upset/angry.
They begin to complain…
And they’ll tell anyone who will listen how foolish the people are for ignoring THEIR vision.

Does that reflect the faith of a profitable servant?
Does it reflect the faith of someone who believes in a God who rewards those who diligently seek Him?

No, it reflects the attitude of a person who doesn’t expect God to do anything.
And since God won’t do anything about it… well, that only leaves one person who will: ME!

When Jesus talked about faith he said: “"If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.’” Luke 17:6

Does Jesus say: that if you want tree to move into the ocean, should you complain about it to your friends? That you should sputter and fume and get your blood pressure high about it?
No. Jesus says – USE your faith!
Faith in what? (In the God who rewards those who diligently seek him).

Now who is moving that tree into the ocean?
Is it ME?
Or is it GOD?

You see, if I have the faith of a mustard seed, my faith is in God.
My faith is in His Will and purpose in my life/ in HIS Church.
My faith is in His ability to make it turn out ok in the end.

Because – as a profitable servant - I believe that God not only exists but that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him! (AMEN???)

Now, one more thing about being a “profitable servant.”
In fact, this one more thing is SO important - if I miss this I WILL be unprofitable to God. If I miss this, I can do anything I want for the kingdom and have faith to move mountains… and I’ll still be unprofitable.

Jesus starts out this little sermon about the unprofitable servant by saying this:
“So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him." Luke 17:3-4

Jesus is declaring that if you do not forgive others their sins against you, you will not be a profitable servant for Him.
You can read your Bible every day
Pray without ceasing
Support missions
Give HUGE donations to the Church
You can preach and teach and witness till judgment Day…
And it won’t make a bit of difference.
It won’t matter.
You will be unprofitable to Jesus if you do not forgive.
Because you’ll hurt His kingdom and damage His church.

This so serious that Jesus taught this principle in what we call the Lord’s Prayer.
Repeat it with me.

“Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

Did you catch that part about God forgiving us as (in the same way as) we forgive others?
Jesus meant it.
In fact, right after He taught His disciples that prayer, He said this:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15

Because Jesus’ kingdom is all about forgiveness.
When you became a Christian that’s what it was all about – God forgiving your sin.
When you believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God; when you accepted the idea that you were a sinner and needed to change your life (repent); when you confessed Jesus as your Lord and Master; and when you allowed yourself to be buried in the waters of Christian baptism and risen up to a new life – your sins were all removed.
God removed them from you as far as the East is from the West.
He buried them in the very depths of the sea and promised He would not remember them ever again.

Jesus shed his blood so that our sins would be forgiven.
His blood covered ALL of my sins, and God remembered them no more.

Now, as servants of the most High God, God calls on us to do the same to those who have sinned against us. Ephesians 4:32 tells us to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Jesus even told a parable about this (found in Matthew 18:23ff)
He said there was once a man who owed a King the equivalent of several million dollars in debt. The king had him brought before him and proclaimed that the man would be thrown into prison until he’d pay the last dime of his debt.
The man fell to his knees before the king and pled for mercy. He promised if he was let go he’d pay everything back.
The King was moved to compassion and forgave the man’s entire debt and set him free.
The man went on his way rejoicing… but then he came upon a man who owed him the equivalent of a few thousand dollars of debt. The first man grabbed the 2nd by the throat and demanded he pay back his debt to him. But the 2nd man pled for mercy. He promised, if he was let go, he’d pay everything back.
But the 1st man refused to listen to these pleas and had him thrown into prison.
Word got back to the King and he was enraged. He called the 1st man back into his court and put the man’s entire debt back on him and had him thrown into prison.

That’s how Jesus views the value of our forgiving others.
Jesus demands that we learn to forgive others.
It’s not an option.
It’s what profitable servants do.

Think about it:
When you became a Christian, did God ask you to pay a huge sum of money to be forgiven?
Did He ask you to go and perform a bunch of good deeds?
Did He tell you that you had wait a long period of time to be forgiven?
No, God forgave you immediately and freely.

CLOSE: God did not forgive us because we deserved it.
He forgave us because we needed mercy.
In the same way, He doesn’t ask us to forgive others because they deserve it but because He showed us mercy … and now He expects us to show mercy to others.

ILLUS: A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offense twice and justice demanded death.
"But I’m not asking for justice," the mother explained. "I’m pleading for mercy."
"But your son does not deserve mercy," Napoleon replied.
"Sir," the woman cried, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for."
"Well, then," the emperor said, "I will have mercy."
And he spared the woman’s son.