March 28, 2014 Broadcast

The Faithful Servant

A Message by R.C. Sproul

If a wealthy man leaves to attend a wedding feast, and pays servants to watch over his house while he’s gone, what happens when he returns to find that they have fallen asleep on the job?  And how does this apply to our lives?  Hear the answers in this message from Dr. R.C. Sproul, on Luke 12:35-48. 

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    How to Serve

  2. devotional

    Servants of the Lord

  3. devotional

    The Parable of the Tenants

How to Serve

Most of us readily identify such things as Bible study, prayer, and worship as essential to the Christian life and our growth in holiness (sanctification). We may be less likely, however, to identify service in the same way. This is unfortunate, as service to the Lord is emphasized from Genesis to Revelation.

Consider, for example, how God called His people to serve Him while they were slaves in Egypt, sending Moses to call the pharaoh to release them (Ex. 8:1). Throughout his epistles, the Apostle Paul describes His relationship to Christ as one of servant to master (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 4:1; Gal. 1:10). Of course, the call for us to serve the Lord is quite obviously discerned in Scripture. Sometimes, however, it is harder to remember that one of the ways we serve God is in our service to others. After all, our Savior tells us that "whoever would be great among you must be your servant" (Matt. 20:26).

Service to the body of Christ is not a calling that is given only to ordained ministers and church leaders. When Paul explains that God's people have gifts to use in the church, he is not speaking only of select individuals but of everyone who is in Christ by faith alone (1 Cor. 12:1–11). Some gifts, such as teaching, are exercised in a manner that is more prominent than others. That does not mean, however, that the Lord sees some gifts and roles as inherently superior to other gifts that might be less visible to the body of Christ as a whole (vv. 12–31). Deacons attend to the needs of the widows and orphans not because it is beneath the dignity of elders to engage in mercy ministry but because elders are specifically gifted for prayer and teaching, and deacons are specifically gifted to steward the church's resources for the benefit of those in need (Acts 6:1–7). Believers whose gifts are exercised behind the scenes are no less important to the functioning of the church than those whose gifts require them to be in front of people all the time.

Those whom God has gifted to teach must teach. Those whom He has gifted with hospitality must serve, as best they can, the church's hospitality ministry. We could go on, but the important point to remember is that Jesus commands all of us to exercise our gifts in the church, to develop our ministry skills, and to help His church grow into full maturity (Eph. 4:11–14). Let us obey this call and be active, faithful servants.

Servants of the Lord

Despite their differences in grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and more, various languages often display remarkable similarities to one another. A good example of this is the word for the assembly of God’s people in English (church), Dutch (kirke), and German (kirche). All of these words sound alike and are spelled similarly, having a hard k or ch sound at the beginning of the word and an r in the middle. The reason for this is that all of these words find their origin in kuriakē, which is Greek in origin. This term means “belonging to the Lord,” and it is derived from the Greek word for “Lord”—kurios. It is a good root term for “church” and its equivalents in other languages because the church is, chiefly, that group of people who belong to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Ancient Greek-speaking people used kurios for various lords, including slave masters and those who had servants. If a kurios had servants and you belonged to him, then you were a servant. This is one reason why Paul can speak of himself in today’s passage and throughout his letters as a “servant” of Christ.

Christians are servants of the Lord, people owned by the Savior Himself. Regarding ourselves in this way is not to imply in any way that Jesus is a harsh Master, for it is impossible for Him to mistreat His people. But He does own us as our Master, for He has bought us from the cruel masters of sin and death (1 Cor. 7:23). Because He is our new Master, we owe Him our wholehearted loyalty.

Practically speaking, what does it mean for life in the church if its members are servants of the Lord? If every Christian belongs to Jesus, then to mistreat another believer is to mistreat the Lord Himself. We draw this conclusion from several different passages. For example are His body (1 Cor. 12:12–31), and so to dishonor any part of His body is to dishonor the Head of the body. Furthermore, as Jesus told Paul, to do wrong to God’s children is to do wrong to Christ (Acts 9:4). Because we are servants together in the kingdom of God, let us never forget that He pays close attention to how we treat His people. To serve other believers is to serve our Lord and Savior (Matt. 25:31–46).

The Parable of the Tenants

As we have seen thus far, Jesus has harsh words for the Jewish leaders, based largely upon their failure to see their need of repentance (Matt. 9:9–13; 21:28–32). The parable of the tenants recorded in Matthew 21:33–46 reveals a further reason for our Lord’s condemnation of the scribes and elders in their unwillingness to bear fruit for the Creator and thus draw the nations unto Him.

Teachers throughout church history have often misused this parable to prove that Gentiles replace ethnic Jews in God’s plan. The transfer of the kingdom from one group to another (v. 43) may imply that Gentiles play a prominent role in the present era. Yet the passage is concerned not with the displacement of Jews in general, but with the inclusion of the new covenant community over against the corrupt leaders of Jesus’ day. Clearly, the parable is based on Isaiah 5:1–7; thus, the vineyard of Matthew 21:33 is the old covenant community. Jesus does not say that the vineyard is uprooted; rather, the vineyard’s tenants, those responsible for its upkeep and care, are judged (v. 43). These wicked tenants are ethnic Israelites, but not every ethnic Israelite. Furthermore, the new tenants are not of Gentile stock alone. Jews like the twelve disciples are also included.

God displaces the first tenants because of their abject failure. By grace alone the Almighty redeemed His people from Egypt (Ex. 20:1–2) and gave them all they needed to bear fruit for His kingdom (Matt. 21:33) — to be a light unto the world (Isa. 42:6). Under the old covenant many failed at this task, especially the religious leaders; even worse, they persecuted those servants (the prophets) who exhorted Israel to fulfill her call (Matt. 21:34–36). But God will be patient until they go past the point of no return and murder His Son (vv. 37–39). By this dreadful deed the evil tenants will earn their own destruction (vv. 40–41).

In fulfillment of Psalm 118:22, the rejected Son is the “cornerstone” — the stone at the corner that joins two walls together. By combining the prophecies of Isaiah 8:14 and Daniel 2:34, 44, Jesus claims to be, as the founder of God’s kingdom on earth, the Lord over all earthly kingdoms. As the “stone,” He will crush all opposition to the kingdom of God. (Matt. 21:42–44).

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