15. The Unprofitable Servants

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 15. The Unprofitable Servants

Luke 17:7-10:  “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Context: We have said a number of times in this series that the context of the parable should help us understand it, understand how Jesus was using it in the context of current circumstances or current teaching. However when we come to this parable, the context, at first sight anyway, doesn’t seem very helpful. Now we have to add that of course it may not have been exactly the chronological flow of talk that came from Jesus’ mouth, but it may be that when Luke was collecting his resources, he put them in an order that seemed to make sense to him, so one way or another we would hope there is a continuity of thought that would make it clearer to us.

In the verses before this parable, Jesus had spoken about things that can act as hindrances to the faith of his disciples, to which they responded, “Increase our faith,” (v.5) to which he then spoke about how just tiny faith can achieve great things. Now my feeling is that instead of making this comment about achieving great things through faith something spectacular, it seems that Jesus, in this parable, is showing that faith is simply getting on and doing what you are told to do. I will say more after the parable.


  • someone pays (assumed) a servant to work them.
  • that may involve looking after sheep or plowing.
  • now that service is all-embracing and doesn’t stop when the servant comes in.
  • indeed the employer expects the servant to continue his duties which includes making the evening meal.
  • thanks are not going to be handed out because the servant simply does what he is employed to do.

The punchline of the parable is, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Application: I suspect in this modern world of individualism, we don’t like talk of being told what to do, even if we are Christians.  Nevertheless, when we talk about coming to Christ and letting him be both Saviour and Lord of our lives (because anything less than this puts a question mark over whether you are a Christian), when it comes to the ‘Lord’ part, it means that we acknowledge that God knows best for our lives and as one of the reasons for coming to Christ is to straighten out and put right our lives, then that surely has to involve him telling us what to do. Now that may happen as we read the New Testament and realize what we are called to be, to do and to become, or as we hear it preached, or as the Holy Spirit speaks God’s will into our hearts and minds.

Now this doesn’t make us special as far as our own achievements are concerned because prior to coming to Christ we were both helpless and hopeless and our salvation is all of his work. All we can do is surrender to him and then go along with what he declares over our lives and calls us to do. There is a sense whereby, to maintain a right perspective of ourselves, that we are to see ourselves as ‘disciples’ – those called to learn and to change to conform to our master’s image (2 Cor 3:18) – and ‘servants’ – those called to serve God in His mission to bless His world and draw to Himself all those who will hear and respond.

Faith & Servant-hood: We sometimes seem to make a big thing of faith but it is simply responding to what we hear God saying (Rom 10:17). Thus if we hear the Holy Spirit saying to us, “Tell that mulberry bush to move,” (v.6) when we do, that is faith and God will respond by moving the bush. It is that simple. Or perhaps not. It is the hearing God bit that is sometimes not so easy, but the good news is that God is not put out when His children step out ahead of His wishes. Coming to the point of being open to God for whatever – and not taking the credit for it and allowing pride to hinder – is what growing up in the faith is all about. Yes, we are servants, no big issue! We do what God says because He knows best and whatever He says is for our good and for the good of others, no big issue. If He calls for a miracle to be performed, no big issue because He’s the one who will do it; we’re just called to announce it, so to speak, on earth.

So that punchline contains so much truth: “say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”  In myself, I am not special (as a child of God, I am!) I’m just a servant in this context. Duty? Just what God calls me to do. Because so much modern-day Christianity does not contain faith, we see these things as big issues whereas the point of the parable is that we should see them as normal and not special, just part of our everyday lives, living by faith not by sight. Amen? Amen!