Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. -Ephesians 3:8
The apostle Paul felt it a great privilege to be allowed to preach the gospel. He did not look upon his calling as a drudgery, but he entered upon it with intense delight. Yet while Paul was thus thankful for his office, his success in it greatly humbled him. The fuller a vessel becomes, the deeper it sinks in the water. Idlers may indulge a fond conceit of their abilities, because they are untried; but the earnest worker soon learns his own weakness.
If you seek humility, try hard work; if you would know your nothingness, attempt some great thing for Jesus. If you would feel how utterly powerless you are apart from the living God, attempt especially the great work of proclaiming the unsearchable riches of Christ, and you will know, as you never knew before, what a weak unworthy thing you are.
Although the apostle thus knew and confessed his weakness, he was never perplexed as to the subject of his ministry. From his first sermon to his last, Paul preached Christ, and nothing but Christ. He lifted up the cross, and extolled the Son of God who bled thereon. Follow his example in all your personal efforts to spread the glad tidings of salvation, and let “Christ and him crucified” be your ever recurring theme.
The Christian should be like those lovely spring flowers which, when the sun is shining, open their golden cups, as if saying, “Fill us with thy beams!” but when the sun is hidden behind a cloud, they close their cups and droop their heads. So should the Christian feel the sweet influence of Jesus; Jesus must be his sun, and he must be the flower which yields itself to the Sun of Righteousness. Oh! to speak of Christ alone, this is the subject which is both “seed for the sower, and bread for the eater.” This is the live coal for the lip of the speaker, and the master-key to the heart of the hearer.
Among the many general causes of decline in grace, we may assign a principal place to spiritual pride and self-admiration. If our attainments in knowledge and giftedness, and even in grace, seduce us into a good opinion of ourselves, as if we were wise and good, we are already ensnared, in danger of falling every step we take, of mistaking the right path, and proceeding from bad to worse, without a power of correcting or even of discovering our deviations! That is, unless and until the Lord mercifully interposes, by restoring us to a spirit of humility, and dependence upon Himself. For God, who gives more grace to the humble, resists the proud! He beholds them with abhorrence, in proportion to the degree in which they admire themselves! It is the invariable law of His kingdom, that everyone who exalts himself—shall be abased!
True Christians, through the remaining evil of their hearts, and the subtle temptations of their enemy, are liable, not only to the workings of that pride which is common to our fallen nature, but to a certain kind of pride, which, though the most absurd and intolerable in any person, can only be found among those who make profession of the gospel. We have nothing but what we have received, and therefore to be proud of our titles, wealth, knowledge, success, or any temporal advantages by which the providence of God has distinguished us, is downright sinful! For those who confess themselves to be ‘sinners’, and therefore deserving of nothing but misery and wrath, to be proud of those peculiar blessings which are derived from the gospel of God’s grace, is a wickedness of which even the demons are not capable of!
The apostle Paul was so aware of his danger of being exalted above measure, through the abundant revelations and peculiar favors which the Lord had afforded him, that he says, “There was given me a messenger of Satan to buffet me.” He speaks of this sharp trial as a great mercy, because he saw that it was necessary, and designed to keep him humble and attentive to his own weakness.
Ministers who are honored with singular abilities and success, have great need of watchfulness and prayer on this account! Simple-hearted hearers are apt to admire their favorite preacher, taking it for granted that he is deeply affected himself with the truths, which, with so much apparent liberty and power, he proposes to them. While, perhaps, the poor worm is secretly indulging self-applause, and pleasing himself with the numbers and attention of those who hang upon his words!
Perhaps such thoughts will occasionally rise in the minds of the best ministers; but, if they are allowed, if they become habitual, and enter strongly into the idea he forms of his own importance; and if, while he professes to preach Jesus Christ, he is preaching himself, and seeking his own glory, he is guilty of high treason against the Majesty of Him in whose name he speaks! And sooner or later, the effects of his pride will be visible and noticed. Doctrinal errors, gross misconduct, an abatement of zeal, of gifts, of influence, are evils, always to be dreaded, when spiritual pride has gained an ascendancy, whether in public or in private life.
For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it why do you boast as though you did not? 1 Corinthians 4:7
“Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.” Luke 22:24
We see in this passage how firmly pride and love of preeminence can stick to the hearts of Christian men. The strife was one which had been rebuked by our Lord on a former occasion. The Lord’s Supper which the disciples had just been receiving, and the circumstances under which they were assembled–made the strife particularly inappropriate.
And yet at this very season, the last quiet time they could spend with their Master before His death, this little flock begins to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest!
Such is the heart of man–ever weak, ever prideful, ever ready, even at its best times, to turn aside to what is evil!
The sin before us is a very old one. Ambition, self-esteem, and self-conceit–lie deep at the bottom of all men’s hearts, and often in the hearts where they are least suspected! Thousands imagine that they are humble, who cannot bear to see an equal more honored and favored than themselves. Few indeed can be found who rejoice heartily in another’s promotion over themselves.
If we make any profession of serving Christ, then let us live on our guard against this great evil. The harm that it has done to the Church of Christ, is far beyond calculation. Let us learn to take pleasure in the prosperity of others, and to be content with the lowest place for ourselves. The rule given to the Philippians should be often before our eyes, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” The example of John the Baptist is a bright instance of the spirit at which we should aim. He said of our Lord, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Jesus is the great teacher of ‘humility of heart’. We need daily to learn of Him. See the Master taking a towel and washing His disciples feet! Follower of Christ–will you not humble yourself? See Him as the Servant of servants–and surely you cannot be proud!
Is not this sentence the compendium of His biography: “He humbled Himself.” Was He not on earth, always stripping off first one robe of honor and then another–until, naked, He was fastened to the cross. There He not emptied out His inmost self, pouring out His life-blood, giving up for all of us, until they laid Him penniless in a borrowed grave.
How low was our dear Redeemer brought! How then can we be proud?
Stand at the foot of the cross and count the scarlet drops by which you have been cleansed. See the thorny crown and His scourged shoulders still gushing with the crimson flow of blood. See His hands and feet given up to the rough iron, and His whole self mocked and scorned. See the bitterness, the pangs, and the throes of inward grief show themselves in His outward frame. Hear the chilling shriek, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me!”
If you do not lie prostrate on the ground before that cross–you have never seen it! If you are not humbled in the presence of the sin-atoning Savior–you do not know Him. You were so lost that nothing could save you, but the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son. Think of that, and as Jesus stooped for you–bow yourself in humility at His feet.
A realization of Christ’s amazing sacrificial love has a greater tendency to humble us than even a consciousness of our own guilt. May the Lord bring us in contemplation, to Calvary. Then our position will no longer be that of pompous pride–but we shall take the humble place of one who loves much, because much has been forgiven him.
Pride cannot live beneath the cross!
Let us sit there and learn our lesson.
Then let us rise and carry it into practice.
Which one of you having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me until I have eaten and drunk; and afterward you will eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done. –Luke 17:7-10 -New American Standard Version-
This parable at first glance can seem a bit perplexing as we try to understand what it is that Jesus is telling His disciples. But as we dig deeper it is quite an amazing teaching because in one short story Jesus shows that works are completely useless for earning salvation and completely necessary in another sense.
As you exegete scripture, you must always start with the context in which you find the passage. This parable is the response Jesus gives his disciples because they had requested more faith. Before Jesus begins to tell this parable, He lays two difficult commands on the disciples; first, he tells them not to cause anyone to stumble for it would be better to have a millstone tied around their necks and be thrown into the water; second, He tells them that they are to forgive anyone who wrongs them and asks for forgiveness, even if they do it seven times a day. In this context, seven represents the perfect number, which means there is no limit to how many times you are to forgive someone. It is these seemingly impossible commands that caused the disciples to ask Jesus for more faith, because they see the difficulty of the commands and understand their own weakness. As David Brown says, in the Critical and Experimental Commentary,
“What prompted so peculiar a petition? No doubt the felt difficulty of carrying into effect such holy directions—the difficulty first of avoiding offences and next of forgiving them so divinely.” (Brown, 298)
Jesus goes on to confirm their lack of faith by telling them that if they only had the faith of a mustard seed they would be able to do many wonders. This is used not only to humble them, but also to encourage them by showing the power of faith in Him. What they could never do themselves, would in fact be accomplished through faith. It is in this context that we find this parable, which cues us into the fact that faith has something to do with what Jesus wants to teach them.
We find in this parable two main characters; the master and the servant. In his book, Interpreting the Parables, Craig Blomberg lays out the idea that there will be a truth, or point, that can be derived from each character in the parable.
The first character we will consider in this parable is the master. It is clear that the master is the figure of authority, which immediately causes us to see him as a representation for God. The master places demands on the servant, with which, the servant is required to comply. We can see that the master is not an equal with the servant. He is clearly above him in authority, and the servant has no authority to question his commands.
The authority of the master is made explicitly clear in the fact that no “thanks” is required in the servant’s compliance with the master’s demands. When one of two people who are equals asks the other to do something for them and it is done, a thanks is usually required because the person who was asked had no real obligation to do it. This is not the case here. The master has the right to command the servant as he pleases and no thanks is required, even if the commands are difficult.
The servants are the subordinates. If the master is a representation for God, then clearly the subordinates are his disciples. As we consider the demands, we observe that they may be difficult, but they are nevertheless just. There is nothing in the demands that is too harsh. In light of the context we understand that the commands are representations of; not causing someone to stumble and to forgive others when wronged.
Before we consider Jesus’ final statement to the disciples concerning this parable, it is important to point out that He begins this Parable with the phrase “Which of you.” Jesus starts many parables with this type of question. When He does this, he is usually expecting a unanimous and obvious answer. As the disciples would have heard this, they would have recognized the master’s authority over the servant, and the servant’s duties to feed the master and gird himself. So when they heard the question that was being posed, –Would you let your servant sit down and eat first before he fed you?–they would have of course answered, “No.” Jesus used what is called an “a fortiori”, or “lesser to the greater” argument. This means that He is saying if a human master has the right to command his servant this way, how much more does God have the right to command his disciples? In other words, if we think a human master has the right to require this of the servant and offer no thanks, then how much more does God have the right to do the same?
Understanding this, we are able to move to Jesus’ closing statement that says, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done’.” It is in this statement that Jesus makes his reasons clear for telling this parable. Nothing we can do causes God to be indebted to us. Matthew Henry puts it this way,
“God cannot be a gainer by our services, and therefore cannot be made a debtor by them. He has no need of us, nor can our services make any addition to his perfections. It becomes us therefore to call ourselves unprofitable servants.” (Henry, 618)
This same truth is found in Job 22:2-3, which says, “Can a vigorous man be of use to God, or a wise man be useful to himself? “Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect?” We have nothing that can make God indebted to us. We are truly “unprofitable servants.” If we do anything right, we have only done what is required. Even if we go beyond the call of duty, we have been required to go the “extra mile.”
As stated before, this is in a teaching about faith. How does this parable give us instruction about faith? David Brown explains…
“The connection of this with the subject discoursed of (faith), may be thus expressed—‘but when your faith has been so increased as both to avoid and forgive offences, and do things impossible to all but faith—even then, be not puffed up as though you had laid the Lord under any obligation.” (Brown, 298)
Without faith we can do nothing that is pleasing to God, but with faith as small as a mustard seed we can move mountains. Even when we are doing things only possible by faith, we have no reason to boast of our benefit to God, because we are not profitable to Him. Jesus seems to be answering their inquiry about faith by saying, do not worry, you do not have it now but you will, and when you do, do not become proud thinking you have earned anything.
In one short parable Jesus has shown that works are useless in meriting our salvation, but for those who have faith they are absolutely required, because faith produces works. Even the disciples understood this truth. This is why when they are commanded to do great works they respond in asking for more faith. They also understood that faith comes from God, and not something they muster up themselves.
Using Blomberg’s system, we learn something from both characters in the parable. He finds that the two main points of this parable are as follows: First; “God retains the right to command his followers to live however he chooses.” Second, “God’s people should never presume that their obedience has earned them his favor.” (Blomberg, 263). Although both of Blomberg’s points are true it seems to leave out the emphasis on the faith that is required to do such works.
This parable should cause us to be humble as we do great things for God. Anyone who thinks that they have earned some special favor with the Lord because of their good works or service is severely mistaken, because this is what we are supposed to do. Even some of the greatest men who have ever lived such as the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, John Calvin, Charles Wesley, or Charles Spurgeon, have not caused God to look with favor upon them. It is only by God’s grace that He looks with favor upon such people and upon us. There is nothing in ourselves that makes us worthy of being called children of God. That is why some translations of Scripture call the “unprofitable servants” the “unworthy servants.” In ourselves we have nothing of worth before God, but it is God’s love for us that gives us worth. As James Sire states in the Universe Next Door, “God does not love us because we are valuable, we are valuable because God loves us” (Sire, 29). Therefore, as we move forward doing the work God has commanded us to do, we can only do it by faith, and we must never begin to think that we are of such value that God owes us anything. For it is by grace through faith that we are saved, and anything we do for Him is the result of our salvation and not the cause of it. The favor God gives us is completely unmerited.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.– Mat. 5:5
Meekness is one of those qualities we understand, but it can be difficult to articulate. So what does it mean to be meek? In general usage, we relate it to being humble, patient, gentle, and kind, but as with all of the beatitudes, there is a spiritual element that we must not miss or we could go astray. Even the natural man, apart from Christ, can display gentleness and kindness, and they will not inherit the earth. Jesus clearly meant more than that.
In Matthew chapter five, the first four beatitudes focus on our relationship to God and the last four, our relationship to man. We should not forget, however, when we live out the first four in relation to God, it will affect our relationship to man, but the relationship to God must be primary. With this in mind, meekness in the Sermon on the Mount should be understood in light of our relationship to the Lord.
The first beatitude, poor in spirit, means we understand our spiritual poverty apart from God, which leads to the second beatitude which mourns over our sinful condition. Following directly from this comes meekness. In this context, meekness involves a humility before God, a submission to His will, and an end of trying to justify ourselves before Him and submitting to His way of salvation.
As mentioned earlier, the primary focus of the first four beatitudes is our submission to God in our state of spiritual poverty, but if we are meek before God, we will also be meek before men. We see many examples of meekness in the pages of scripture. Abraham was meek in letting Lot have the first choice of land, even though he was the patriarch. Moses lived in Pharaoh’s palace but gave it all up to do the will of the Lord, and David, though he was anointed as king by God, humbled himself before Saul.
We also see meekness in Jesus. In fact, Jesus tells us the reason we should come to Him when we are heavy laden is that He is “gentle and lowly in heart.” It is here we will find our rest (Mat. 11:28-29). The God of all the universe takes on flesh and is meek. There is no greater example for us to follow. We should desire to be conformed to His image.
Are we meek?
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book on the Sermon on the Mount, gives us some great tests to examine ourselves to see if we are meek. Here are a few of his ideas reformatted to fit this context. Do these describe you?
Meek people do not boast in themselves. They do not find glory in themselves and do not desire that others glory in them either.
Meek people are not sensitive about themselves, and will not always need to defend themselves when people point out their flaws and weaknesses.
Meek people have a teachable spirit. They are not gullible, but they are open to criticism and expect it because they know they have a lot to learn.
Meek people love the word of God and submit to it. They do not chafe against it.
Meek people tend to be satisfied because they do not always believe they are entitled to more.
Meek people are not weak people. A meek person will stand immovable in God’s truth because they submit to God before they will submit to man.
The meek shall inherit the earth
The meek will inherit the earth
even though they are not arrogant nor do they demand it. In one sense, they
already have it because they are satisfied with what they have. They do not
feel that they deserve more and find joy in the world that the Lord has already given them. Ultimately, however, it means,
because they come to Christ on His terms for salvation, by faith alone, they will
reign with Him as co-heirs.