Luke 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.
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(10) Say, We are unprofitable servants.—There is something very suggestive in the use of the same word as that which meets us in the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:30). God, we are taught, may recognise and reward the varying use which men make of gifts and opportunities. But all boasting is excluded; and in relation to God the man who has gained the ten talents has to own that he has nothing that he has not received, and to confess that he stands, as it were, on a level with the “unprofitable servant.” Any personal claim on the ground of merit falls to the ground before such a declaration, and still more any speculative theory of works of supererogation, and of the transfer of the merits gained by them from one man to his fellow-servants and fellow-sinners.

17:1-10 It is no abatement of their guilt by whom an offence comes, nor will it lessen their punishment that offences will come. Faith in God's pardoning mercy, will enable us to get over the greatest difficulties in the way of forgiving our brethren. As with God nothing is impossible, so all things are possible to him that can believe. Our Lord showed his disciples their need of deep humility. The Lord has such a property in every creature, as no man can have in another; he cannot be in debt to them for their services, nor do they deserve any return from him.Are unprofitable servants - We have conferred no favor. We have "merited" nothing. We have not "benefited" God, or laid him under "obligation." If he rewards us, it will be matter of unmerited favor. This is true in relation to Christians in the following respects:

1. Our services are not "profitable" to God Job 22:2; he "needs" not our aid, and his essential happiness will not be increased by our efforts.

2. The grace to do his will comes from him only, and all the praise of that will be due to him.

3. All that we do is what is our "duty;" we cannot lay claim to having rendered any service that will "bind" him to show us favor; and,

4. Our best services are mingled with imperfections. We come short of his glory Romans 3:23; we do not serve him as sincerely, and cheerfully, and faithfully as we ought; we are far, very far from the example set us by the Saviour; and if we are saved and rewarded, it will be because God will be merciful to our unrighteousness, and will remember our iniquities no more, Hebrews 8:12.

10. unprofitable—a word which, though usually denoting the opposite of profit, is here used simply in its negative sense. "We have not, as his servants, profited or benefited God at all." (Compare Job 22:2, 3; Ro 11:35.) See Poole on "Luke 17:8"

So likewise ye,.... This is the accommodation and application of the parable to the disciples of Christ, who whether ministers or private believers, are as servants, and should be as laborious as the ploughman, and the shepherd; and as their condition is, so their conduct should be like theirs: the employment of the ministers of the word lies in reading, prayer, meditation, and study; in preaching the word, and administering the ordinances; and in performing other duties of their office: and every private believer has business to do, which lies in the exercise of grace, as the work of faith, the labour of love and patience, of hope: and in the discharge of duty with regard to themselves, in their families, the church, and the world; and these servants should be continually employed; and when one work is done, another is to be taken in hand: saints should be always believing, hoping, waiting, loving, and doing one good work or another; as preaching or praying, reading, hearing, and doing acts of benevolence and charity; and God and Christ are to be served by them in the first place, and then themselves: but some that would be called the servants of Christ, mind their own bellies, and not the service of Christ at all; others in the service of Christ, seek nothing but themselves; others are for the serving themselves first, and then Christ; but the true servants of Christ, serve him in the first place, and seek first his righteousness, and his kingdom, and the honour of it, believing that all other things shall be added to them: and when these have done all that are commanded them, they are not to think their service thank worthy: as for instance, if the service be preaching the word, a man so employed ought to be thankful to God, that has bestowed ministerial gifts upon him, and makes his labours useful, and uses him as an instrument, to do much good to the souls of men, and for his glory, and has put such an honour upon him; but he is not to expect thanks from God, for his most diligent and faithful performance of his work, or imagine that he merits any thing at his hand thereby: or if the business be hearing the word, a man should be thankful to God, for the word, ordinances, and ministers, for liberty of waiting upon God in such a way; for health of body, and inclination of mind, for such service; and for all the good, profit, and advantage, he gains hereby; but he is not to think that he lays God under any obligation to him by so doing, or deserves thanks, or a favour from him on account of it: or if the employment be prayer, a man should be greatly thankful to the God of all grace, that there is a throne of grace for him to come to; and for a mediator, who is the way of access to God; and for the assistance of the Spirit in prayer; and for all the blessings which are given, as an answer of prayer; but he is never to entertain such a thought, that God is obliged to him for his prayers, or should thank him for them: or if the work be doing of good with worldly substance, such should be thankful to God for their substance he has given them, and for hearts to make use of it; but ought not to conclude, that they hereby merit his favour, or that this is any gain to him: but on the other hand, Christ directs his disciples, saying,

when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you; as preaching, or hearing, or reading, or praying, and every other act of divine and religious worship; or all acts of justice and benevolence among men; every duty both for matter and manner, as it should be, according to the will of God, from right principles, and to right ends, and by the assistance of the Spirit and grace of God:

say we are unprofitable servants; not in such sense as unregenerate men are, who are disobedient, and to every good work reprobate and unfit, Romans 3:12 or as the slothful servant, who did not what his Lord commanded, Matthew 25:30. Nor is this the sense, that they are unprofitable to men; for they may be, and are very useful and serviceable to men, and to the saints; but that they are so to God, by whose grace and strength they are what they are, and do what they do; and can give nothing to him but what is his own, and his due; and so can lay him under no obligation to them, nor merit any thing from him; no, not even thanks, and much less heaven and eternal life. The Persic version, quite contrary to the sense of the words reads, "we are pure or clean servants, for we have done", &c. and the Ethiopic version leaves out the word "unprofitable", and reads "we are servants"; we acknowledge ourselves to be servants:

we have done that which is our duty to do; wherefore, as diligence is highly proper, and reasonable in doing the work of the Lord, humility is necessary, that a man may not arrogate that to himself, which do not belong to him; or boast of his performances; or place any dependence on them: or have his expectations raised on account of them; since when he has done the most and best, he has done but what he should, and what he was obliged to, and in that is greatly deficient: a saying somewhat like this, is used by R. Jochanan ben Zaccai (z);

"if thou hast learned the law much, do not ascribe the good to thyself; for, for this wast thou created.''

(z) Pirke Abot. c. 2. sect. 8.

{5} 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.

(5) No matter how perfectly we may keep the law, it deserves no reward.

Luke 17:10. οὕτως, so, in the Kingdom of God: extremes meet. The service of the Kingdom is as unlike that of a slave to his owner as possible in spirit; but it is like in the heavy demands it makes, which we have to take as a matter of course.—διαταχθέντα, commanded. In point of fact it is not commands but demands we have to deal with, arising out of special emergencies.—δοῦλοι ἀχρεῖοι: the words express the truth in terms of the parabolic representation which treats of a slave and his owner. But the idea is: the hardest demands of the Kingdom are to be met in a spirit of patience and humility, a thing possible only for men who are as remote as possible from a slavish spirit: heroic, generous, working in the spirit of free self-devotion. Such men are not unprofitable servants in God’s sight; rather He accounts them “good and faithful,” Matthew 25:21. Syr. Sin[135] reads simply “we are servants”.

[135]yr. Sin. Sinaitic Syriac (recently discovered).

10. when ye shall have done alt] and this can never be, Psalm 143:2. Even if it could “non est beneficium sed officium facere quod debetis,” Sen. Controv.

We are unprofitable servants] The same word for unprofitable occurs in Matthew 25:30; Romans 3:12. This verse, like many others (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:27), cuts at the root of the whole Romish notion as to the possibility of ‘works of supererogation,’ see Article XIV. “Servi inutiles sunt, insufficientes quia nemo tantum timet, tantum diligit Deum, tantum credit Deo quantum oportuit,” Augsb. Conf. “We sleep half our lives; we give God a tenth of our time; and yet we think that with our good works we can merit Heaven. What have I been doing to day? I have talked for two hours. I have been at meals three hours. I have been idle four hours. Ah! enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord !” Luther. Yet in a lower sense—though ‘insufficient,’ though ‘unmeritorious’—it is possible for us to be ‘good and faithful servants,’ Matthew 25:21; Matthew 25:23.

Luke 17:10. Ὅταν ποιήσητε, when ye shall have done) The consideration of the apostles was at the time fixed too intently upon the obedience which they had heretofore rendered, especially as they saw the scandalous perversity [or the perversity which took offence (σκάνδαλον) at the Saviour] on the part of others. See ch. Luke 16:14. The Lord calls them back from the remembrance of such things [which tended to lead them to exalt themself by the comparison].—[λέγετε, say ye) We are to understand and supply the following, So your faith will become great. When the obstacles to faith have been taken out of the way, among which rashness and self-confidence easily hold the first place, faith of its own accord increases. For then the pure and unmixed grace of the Lord has unrestricted room for its exercise.—V. g.]—ὅτι) ὅτι seems twice to have the same force by Anaphora.[183]—ΔΟῦΛΟΙ ἈΧΡΕῖΟΙ, unprofitable [dispensable] servants)[184] The emphasis lies on the word servants (slaves), and every servant ought to confess himself unprofitable from the very fact that he is a servant who owes all things [to his heavenly Master], who, if he is guilty of a delinquency, deserves stripes; if he does all things required of him, he deserves nothing as a matter of debt; he ought to feel as if he had done nothing; no thanks are to be considered due to him, whose part it is not to demand aught of importance to be assigned to him as regards either trouble or reward. God can do without our usefulness (services), being Himself alone ‘good.’ Romans 11:35. [Who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again], Matthew 19:17. David saith, ἔσομαι ἀχρεῖος [Engl. Ver., vile], ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς σου καὶ μετὰ τῶν παιδισκῶν, ὧν εἶπάς με μὴ δοξασθῆναι, 2 Samuel 6:22, where the antithesis δοξασθῆναι follows, not without mention of servants [παιδισκῶν]. He is wretched whom the Lord calls an unprofitable servant, Matthew 25:30 : Happy is he who calls himself so. As to the word ἀχρειο͂ς, see Eustathius.[185] There is a Metonymy of the consequent for the antecedent. Say ye, We are unprofitable servants; that is to say, there is no greater return of thanks due to us, than if we had done nothing: Job 9:21; Job 10:15.[186] Even the angels may call themselves unprofitable (dispensable) servants of God. And also the servant of a man may call himself an unprofitable servant, although he be profitable (serviceable) to his master. The reason is, I. The condition itself of a slave or servant [which makes service a matter of course, not something that can claim a reward]. II. In respect to God, there is to be added His own perfect blessedness. Acts 17:25 [Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things]. Ἀχρεῖος is either used transitively, of one who is not profitable to another: or intransitively, of one who is of no profit to himself: and this again either of one’s own accord, as David says that he will be [in the passage quoted above, 2 Samuel 6:22], (not in the Hebrew, but in the Greek), or else involuntarily, as a servant or slave.—ὨΦΕΊΛΟΜΕΝ, we were bound by our duty) as servants. The emphasis rests on this word, rather than upon the word, πεποιήκαμεν, we have done.

[183] The figure by which the same word is repeated in the beginnings of sentences, clauses, etc. But ὅτι is omitted before δοῦλοι, and before ὃ ὠφέιλομεν by Lachm. AX Syr. Vulg. abc Cypr. omit the ὅτι before δοῦλοι. But BD Orig. have it. ABDLabc Vulg. Memph. Orig. 3,565c Cypr. omit the ὅτι before . Rec. Text has it without any of the oldest authorities.—E. and T.

[184] Ἀχοεῖος is not worthless or of no value; for that servant is not useless who does all that his master orders him. Ἄχρηστος is not one who does not what is commanded—one who yields no benefit—one useless. But ἀχρεῖος is one οὗ οὐκ ἔστι χρέια or χρέος, of whom there is no need, a person we can dispense with, dispensable, one to whom God the Master owes no thanks or favour. Human pride is liable to fancy that it has done God a favour by doing well. and that God could do without men’s services. See my note Matthew 25:30, and Tittm. Synom.—E. and T.

[185] Matthew 25:30, the servant is condemned for being ἀχοεῖος: whereas here the servant is commanded to call himself ἀχοεῖος. The reason is, because the former had been also ἄχρηστος, one who did not work and yielded no benefit, and in this sense was not wanted (ἀχρεῖος). But here he is ἀχρεῖος in the sense, not indispensable to his Lord.—E. and T.

[186] Comp. Job 35:7-8, “If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him? or what receiveth He of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man.”—E. and T.

Luke 17:10Unprofitable (ἀχρεῖοι)

From χρεία, requirement; something which the master must pay. Not useless, but having rendered no service beyond what was due. "The profit does not begin until the servant goes beyond his obligation" (Meyer). "A servant owes all things" (Bengel).

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