This paper was motivated by the words that Jesus spoke as recorded in Luke 17:10.
Luk 17:10 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 believe this example is referring to our relationship to Jesus and his Father as their servants.
We are familiar with the example of the servant that Jesus spoke about in Luke 17:7-10 and I would imagine most are fairly familiar with the generally accepted spiritual meaning of it. THAYERS GREEK ENGLISH LEXICON provides the following explanation under the definition of “unprofitable” (G #888) for this verse.
G888 akh-ri'-os From G1 (as a negative particle) and a derivative of G5534 (compare G5532); useless, that is, (euphemistically) unmeritorious: - unprofitable.
--- “the servant calls himself unprofitable because, although he has done all, yet he has done nothing except what he ought to have done; accordingly he possesses no merit, and could only claim to be called profitable should he do more than what he is bound to do” ---
The Amplified, Living, and other Bible translations read right along this line of thinking.
Some time ago I had an uneasy feeling about this understanding of these words that Jesus spoke to his disciples. What was bothering me was, that if I did EVERYTHING that someone instructed me to do or in harsher terms “commanded” me to do, concerning a job, I would have a hard time thinking that I was not profitable (even if only a little) to that person. So, in thinking of our relationship with Jesus, how can a perfectly obedient servant be told by Jesus Christ to consider himself unprofitable?
If we consider all things that Jesus has instructed us in or appointed or ordained us to do (the word commanded can also be translated “appointed” or “ordained”), it would relate to everything that we could possibly experience in life. If we were able to be obedient in all those things --- do all that Jesus has commanded us to do --- HOW COULD WE DO ANY MORE THAN THAT to become profitable???
There is a very important verse that relates to what we are thinking about here. It is John 8:28
Joh 8:28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.
This statement is awesome in its importance. It can be directly applied to Luke 17:10. Jesus, as a human being, was stating that he was completely dependent on God the Father for instruction in what he should teach. His essential work on earth was teaching. So, why then do we think we can or should do more in our life than Jesus did? Or as in the example of Luke 17, go beyond the instructions that were given to become profitable? We are completely in need of God’s guidance, for all that we do. How can we possibly be profitable to God in our present state? If we believe that it is possible, then we don’t really understand who we are or how we have been made.
There is something else that we should notice in this example. Jesus doesn’t call the servant unprofitable but instructs him to consider himself unprofitable. So we must remember, in searching for the truths that are embedded in this example, there is nothing negative that is given in reference to the servant. In fact, the master may have thought well of his servant. The question is, how does the servant consider himself? In other words, how much in touch with the truth is the servant?
If we consider the “apprenticeship” system that was used in the past, it will go a long way in helping us to understand this example. --- Any time we are learning a job we can be considered an apprentice. Some years ago, when we were in Williamsburg Virginia we saw some handmade furniture that was absolutely beautiful. It was made there using the tools and methods that were in use three hundred years ago. They were for sale, and as you can imagine, the prices of the pieces were out of sight. --- The following is from Colliers Encyclopedia relating to apprenticeship.
apprentices were boys who were learning their trades in the shops under the
supervision of individual masters. The apprentice lived and worked with his
master under an indenture or contract. According to the usual agreement the
apprentice promised to be industrious, honest, and faithful, to obey all the
master’s commands, and to protect his goods, trade secrets, and other
interests. He was not to marry, frequent taverns or gaming houses, or engage in
any escapades that might injure or bring disrepute to his master. In return the
master agreed to provide technical training in the craft, food and lodging,
clothing, and pocket money, as well as moral guidance with chastisement when
necessary. If the apprentice tired of his work and ran away he could be
brought back and punished.
At the height of the system promotion was sure for the able and hardworking apprentice. He could look forward to becoming a master.”
The parallels to our relationship to Jesus Christ are absolutely astonishing.
We, who are called to be a “first-fruit”, are in a time of learning. We are apprentices. Again consider the servant of Luke 17. It is clear that he was given much instruction. For he did “ALL” that was commanded him. It is evident that he was not able to do the job without valuable instruction. Likewise, we need to recognize our absolute need of God's continual guidance in becoming qualified to be his first-fruits. Consequently, we would be in trouble, if at any time, we thought we were actually doing something for God.
It is helpful to see how God has used the words that are related to “profitable” in the New Testament. The words profit, profitable, profited, profits, profiteth, profiting were used thirty times. The context of the usage of the words, twenty-five of the thirty times, directly related to mankind profiting one way or another. Most of the time the context is speaking about how we may be profitable to each other. There is not one hint that we can be profitable or useful to God.
That is certainly not to say that we shouldn’t feel good or even rejoice in things that we know are pleasing to God. The Bible is FILLED with examples of people pleasing God --- just as a master craftsman can be very pleased with the progress of his apprentice. It’s just that we must keep in mind the truth of the matter. We are students that are just beginning to learn of the nature of the righteousness of God. We are being permitted to “see through a glass darkly”.
It is very hard for us to leave a way of thinking that is normal to the carnal mind. We do have the most wonderful God-given ability to have a significant mental unity with other people and events that we have an interest in. This is very much a way reflecting the relationship Jesus had with the “least” of his brethren as shown in Matthew 25:40. But, it is our nature to “get” something from these relationships. For example: those who enjoy watching football know that we can feel so good when we see our favorite running back make a spectacular broken field run. We are able to momentarily put ourselves in his place and share a portion of his and the team's success ourselves. That may or may not be just good fun, but if we think that we may associate ourselves with some good thing that was done for God, something that was “profitable” to God, we are in error.
A perfect example of people thinking more of themselves than they should is illustrated in the following verses in Matthew chapter 7
Mat 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Mat 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Mat 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Verse 16 tells us that we will be able to discern the unrighteous. The word “corrupt” in verse 17 leads us to an understanding of the nature of the unrighteous. Both Strong’s and Thayer’s agree that it essentially means “worthless”. Verse 21 is very clear in that those who are obedient to God, in other words follow the instructions of God, will be accepted. Now we come to verse 22; “have we not prophesied in thy name”? And the inference is that they cast out demons and that they did many wonderful works. These are good things to do. But, they implied that they were doing the work of God by doing it in the name of God --- instead of the work of God being done through them. They little realized how ignorant they were of who they were or how they were made.
I think a perfect example of many today who want to do something for God comes in the context of keeping Christmas. It’s not hard to prove to someone that Jesus was not born in the winter. But, so often when you do prove it to someone, their response is that the time of His birth doesn’t matter, what matters is that they are honoring Jesus by honoring His birthday. But, where is the instruction to honor Him by keeping His birthday? They are simply, literally, going beyond the instruction of God (or the Master) in trying to do something FOR God. God has made it very plain that He simply desires our obedience. It is just not possible to create something for God’s good.
Most of us who were in The Worldwide Church of God really thought, during the time before Mr. Armstrong’s death, that we were involved in a great work and as such we were profitable servants. We used to say, look at the fruits!!! --- Ah, but look at us now. Besides the fracturing, many of the Churches of God go to great lengths to keep their membership from taking in any information from other Churches of God.
As a result of our fundamental nature, the nature we were born with, we are all so susceptible to think more of ourselves than we should. Paul shows how vulnerable we are through his statement in 1 Corinthians 15:10.
1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but "I" laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
It appears that Paul slipped up for just a moment, but he knew he did and immediately corrected himself. He could take no credit for his labor. So then, to help us in our weakness God specifically instructs us to think of ourselves as unprofitable servants. Which in truth we are.
Our responsibility is to be learning about and gaining appreciation for the righteousness of God. That righteousness is revealed by His instruction to us
(2Ti 3:16) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
But what good is learning about righteousness if we aren’t growing in our ability to apply it in our daily life? And if we are disobedient to clear instruction of God we are in serious trouble. If a master craftsman had an apprentice that would not follow instructions, there would be little hope of that person EVER becoming profitable. WE have a lifelong commitment to grow in right doing. Paul again says it so perfectly in Philippians 3:13.
Phi 3:13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
If we consider the body of instruction that relates to laboring and striving we can easily see “our” apprenticeship is a lifelong endeavor. The result of the endeavor is a reward that will provide an eternity of the most complete fulfillment for the “spirit-minded" person.
Phi 3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The Prize is becoming the WIFE of Jesus Christ. And as such she will be involved with the work to bring eternal fulfillment to the rest of mankind. At this time, it is simply beyond our ability to understand and appreciate the scope of the blessings that she will experience as she helps to bring salvation to this world. There is no question that the wife of Jesus Christ, being sinless and fully qualified to rule with Jesus, will become profitable to her husband.