Luke 17:7
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?
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(7) But which of you, having a servant . .?—The words contain in reality, though not in form, an answer to their question. They had been asking for faith, not only in a measure sufficient for obedience, but as excluding all uncertainty and doubt. They were looking for the crown of labour before their work was done, for the wreath of the conqueror before they had fought the battle. He presses home upon them the analogies of common human experience. The slave who had been “ploughing” or “feeding sheep” (the word is that always used of the shepherd’s work, as in John 21:16, Acts 20:28, 1Peter 5:2, and so both the participles are suggestive of latent parables of the spiritual work of the Apostles) is not all at once invited to sit down at the feast. He has first to minister to his master’s wants, to see that his soul is satisfied, and then, in due course, his own turn will come. So, in the life of the disciples, outward ministerial labour was to be followed by personal devotion. In other words, the “increase of faith” for which the Apostles prayed, was to come through obedience, outward and inward obedience, to their Master’s will. Faith was to show itself in virtue, and virtue would bring knowledge, and knowledge would strengthen faith. Comp. 2Peter 1:5, as showing that the lesson had been learnt.

Luke 17:7-10. But which of you, &c. — But while you endeavour to live in the exercise of this noble grace of faith, and in a series of such services as are the proper fruits of it, be careful, in the midst of all, to maintain the deepest humility, as in the presence of God your heavenly Master, on whom, as you are his servants, you can have no claim of merit: Which of you, having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, &c. — To make his disciples sensible that, after they had done their utmost to discharge the whole duty incumbent on them as God’s servants, sent forth to seek and save lost souls, they had merited nothing thereby; he bade them consider in what manner they received the services of their own dependants. They reckoned themselves under no obligation to a servant for doing the duty which his station bound him to perform. In like manner he, their Master, did not reckon himself indebted to them for their services. And therefore, instead of valuing themselves upon what they had done, and expecting great rewards for it, it became them, after having performed all that was commanded them, to think and say that they had done nothing but their duty. When ye shall have done all, say, We are unprofitable servants — For a man cannot profit God. Happy is he who judgeth himself an unprofitable servant; miserable is he whom God pronounces such. But though we are unprofitable to him, our serving him is not unprofitable to us. For he is pleased to give, by his grace, a value to our good works, which, in consequence of his promise, entitles us to an eternal reward.

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.Having a servant ... - This parable appears to have been spoken with reference to the rewards which the disciples were expecting in the kingdom of the Messiah. The occasion on which it was spoken cannot be ascertained. It does not seem to have any particular connection with what goes before. It may be supposed that the disciples were somewhat impatient to have the kingdom restored to Israel Acts 1:6 - that is, that he would assume his kingly power, and that they were impatient of the "delay," and anxious to enter on "the rewards" which they expected, and which they not improbably were expecting in consequence of their devotedness to him. In answer to these expectations, Jesus spoke this parable, showing them,

1. That they should be rewarded as a servant would be provided for; but,

2. That this was not the "first" thing; that there was a proper "order" of things, and that thus the reward might be delayed, as a servant would be provided for, but at the proper time, and at the pleasure of the master; and,

3. That this reward was not to be expected as a matter of "merit," but would be given at the good pleasure of God, for they were but unprofitable servants.

By and by - This should have been translated "immediately." He would not, "as the first thing," or "as soon" as he returned from the field, direct him to eat and drink. Hungry and weary he might be, yet it would be proper for him first to attend upon his master. So the apostles were not to be "impatient" because they did not "at once" receive the reward for which they were looking.

To meat - To eat; or, rather, place thyself at the table.

7-10. say unto him by and by—The "by and by" (or rather "directly") should be joined not to the saying but the going: "Go directly." The connection here is: "But when your faith has been so increased as both to avoid and forgive offenses, and do things impossible to all but faith, be not puffed up as though you had laid the Lord under any obligations to you."Ver. 7-10 Lu 17:7-9 are plainly a parable, a part of a discourse wherein our Lord, under an earthly similitude, instructs us in a spiritual duty. This duty is easily learned from the epiparabole, Luke 17:10, and it lieth in two things:

1. That we ought to do all those things which our Lord hath commanded us.

2. That we, when we have done all, are to look for our reward, not of debt, but of grace.

He illustrates this by a similitude or parable. He supposes a man to have a servant ploughing or feeding cattle for him. By servants we must understand such servants as they had in those countries, who were not day servants, or covenant servants, who are only obliged to work their hours, or according to their contracts with us; but such servants as were most usual amongst them, who were bought with their money, or taken in war, who were wholly at their master’s command, and all their time was their master’s, and they were obliged by their labour only to serve him: such servants our Lord supposes to have been abroad in the field, ploughing, or sowing, or feeding cattle, and at night to be come in from their labour. He asks them which of them would think themselves obliged presently to set them to supper, (for meat, drink, and clothes were all such servants wages), or would not rather set them to work again, to make ready their master’s supper, and then to wait upon him, tying up their long garments, which they used in those countries to wear, promising them that afterwards also they should eat and drink. And suppose they do that without murmuring, he asketh them again, whether they would take themselves obliged to thank them for doing the things which their master commanded? He tells them he supposes they would not take themselves to be under any such obligation. Now what is the meaning of all this he tells them, Luke 17:10,

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; for the infinitely glorious and blessed God can receive no benefit by our services; we have done that which was our duty to do. By which we are instructed,

1. That we are wholly the Lord’s, all our time, strength, abilities; we are obliged to love the Lord with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.

2. That our labour for the Lord must not cease till the Lord ceaseth commanding, till we have done all that the Lord by his revealed will lets us know we have to do.

3. That when we have done all we shall have merited nothing at God’s hands;

a) Because we are servants.

b) Because we have but done our duty.

4. That the Lord may delay our reward till we have done all that he hath commanded us.

5. That when we have it, it is not a reward of thanks, but of grace.

This parable is excellently added to the former discourses. Our Saviour had before pressed the doctrine of charity, he had also showed what must be the root of it, viz. true and lively faith; he here showeth us what we should propose to ourselves as our end in such acts, viz. not to merit at the hand of God, not merely in hope to receive a reward from him, but the glorifying of God by a faithful obedience to his will, owning him as our Lord, and ourselves as his servants, without any vain glory or ostentation, and in all humility confessing ourselves servants, unprofitable servants, and such as have but done our duty, no, though we had done all that he commanded us; waiting for our reward with patience, and taking it at last as of his free grace with thankfulness; which is indeed requisite to the true and regular performance of every good work which we do, and our duty, if the infirmity of our flesh would allow us to do all whatsoever God hath commanded us; but much more when our performances are so lame and imperfect, that the greatest part of what we do amounts not to the least part of what we leave undone.

But which of you having a servant ploughing,.... In order to keep the disciples humble in the performance of such miraculous works; and that they might not imagine they could have any thing at the hands of God by merit; and to excite them to go on from one duty to another; and never think they have done, or done enough, or more than what is their duty, Christ delivers the following parable.

Which of you having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle; or "sheep", as the Syriac and Persic versions render it; or a "ploughman", or a "shepherd", as the Ethiopic version; which are both servile works, and done in the field: not that the disciples had any such servants under them, though the words are directed to them, for they had left all, and followed Christ; nor were they brought up to husbandry, but most of them in the fishing trade; Christ only puts this for instance, and supposes such a case:

will say unto him by and by; or straightway, immediately, directly,

when he is come from the field; and has done ploughing, and feeding his cattle, sheep, or cows, or whatever they are; as soon as ever he comes home; or "first", as the Persic version; the first thing he shall say to him, upon his return from thence,

go; to the other side of the room, and to the table there ready spread, and furnished; or "go up", as the Arabic and Ethiopic versions render it; go up to the upper room where they used to dine or sup; see Luke 22:12 or "come in", as the Persic version renders it; and which some learned men observe, is the sense of the Greek word here used; come into the house,

and sit down to meat? or fall, and lie down on the couch, as was the custom in those countries at eating.

{4} But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?

(4) Seeing that God may rightfully claim for himself both us and all that is ours, he cannot be indebted to us for anything, although we labour mightily until we die.

Luke 17:7-10. To such efficiency will faith bring you, but guard yourselves withal from any claim of your own meritoriousness! Thus, instead of an immediate fulfilment of their prayer, Luke 17:5, as conceived by them, Jesus, by the suggestion, quite as humbling as it was encouraging, that is contained in Luke 17:6, and by the warning that is contained in Luke 17:7 ff., opens up to His disciples the. way on which He has to lead them in psychological development to the desired increase of faith. Here also Maldonatus, Kuinoel, de Wette, Neander, Bleek, Holtzmann deny the connection.

ὃς κ.τ.λ.] ἐστί is to be supplied before.

εὐθέως] is connected by Erasmus, Beza, Calvin, de Wette, Bleek, and others with ἐρεῖ. But that it belongs to what follows (Luther, Bengel, Lachmann, Tischendorf, Ewald, and others) is indicated in the context by μετὰ ταῦτα φάγεσαι κ.τ.λ., which is the opposite of εὐθέως παρελθ. ἀνάπεσαι. As to ἀνάπεσαι, see on Luke 14:10.

Luke 17:8. ἀλλʼ οὐχὶ κ.τ.λ.] but will he not say to him? ἀλλά refers to the negative meaning of the foregoing question. See Krüger, ad Anab. ii. 1. 10; Kühner, ad Mem. i. 2. 2.

ἕως φάγω κ.τ.λ.] until I shall have eaten and drunk, so long must the διακονεῖν last.

φάγεσαι κ. πίεσαι] futures. See Winer, pp. 81, 82 [E. T. 109, 110].

Luke 17:9. μὴ χάριν ἔχει] still he does not feel thankful to the servant, does he? which would be the case if the master did not first have Himself served. On χάριν ἔχει, comp. 1 Timothy 1:12; it is purely classical, Bremi, ad Lys. p. 152.

τὰ διαταχθ.] the ploughing or tending.

Luke 17:10. οὕτω καὶ ὑμεῖς κ.τ.λ.] like the slave, to whom no thanks are due. We are not to supply ἐστέ after ὑμεῖς.

ἀχρεῖοι] unprofitable slaves. Comp. Xen. Mem. i. 2. 54: ὅ τι ἀχρεῖον ᾖ καὶ ἀνωφελές. On the contemptuous meaning, see Lobeck, ad Aj. 745. The point of view of this predicate[215] is, according to the context (see what follows), this, that the profit does not begin until the servant goes beyond his obligation. If he do less than his obligation, he is hurtful; if he come up to his duty, it is true he has caused no damage, but still neither has he achieved any positive χρεία, an must hence acknowledge himself a δοῦλος ἀχρεῖος, who as being such has no claims to make on his Lord for praise and reward. Judged by this ethical standard, the χρεία lies beyond the point of duty, for the coming up to this point simply averts the damage which, arising from the defect of performance, would otherwise accrue. The impossibility, however, even of coming up to this point not only excludes all opera supererogativa, but, moreover, cutting off all merit of works, forms the ethical foundation of justification by faith. The meaning “worthless” (J. Müller, v. d. Sünde, I. p. 74) is not the signification of the word (any more than in LXX. 2 Samuel 6:22, שָׁפָל), but it follows at once from this. Moreover, the passage before us does not stand in contradiction to Luke 12:37, since the absence of merit on the part of man, by which Jesus here desires to humble him, does not exclude the divine reward of grace, by which in Luke 12:37 He encourages him. It is incorrect to say that Jesus promised to His disciples no other reward than that which is found in the fulfilment of duty itself (Schenkel).

[215] Otherwise Matthew 25:30. The different reference in the two passages is explained from the relative nature of the conception. Bengel aptly says: “Miser est, quem Dominus servum inutilem appellat Matthew 25:30; beatus, qui se ipse.… Etiam angeli possunt se servos inutiles appellare Dei.”

Luke 17:7-10. The parable of extra service, in Luke only. For this name and the view of the parable implied in it see my Parabolic Teaching of Christ. It is there placed among the theoretic parables as teaching a truth about the Kingdom of God, viz., that it makes exacting demands on its servants which can only be met by a heroic temper. “Christ’s purpose is not to teach in what spirit God deals with His servants, but to teach rather in what spirit we should serve God.”

7. having a servant plowing] The Parable of the Ploughing Slave is simply an illustration from daily life. The slave is working in the fields, at ploughing or pasturing, and when he comes back the master orders him to prepare his dinner, nor does he give him any special daily thanks for his ordinary daily duties, even if they be duly performed. So even the best of us do not do more than our commonest and barest duty, even if we attain to that. Perhaps the “which of you,” as addressed to the poor Apostles, may be surprising; but the sons of Zebedee at least had once had hired servants, Mark 1:20.

feeding cattle] Rather, tending sheep. So that here we have two great branches of pastoral work.

will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat] ‘By and by’ is an old English phrase for ‘immediately,’ and the verse should be punctuated ‘will say to him, when he enters from the field, Come forward immediately, and recline at table.’ There is none of the harshness which some have imagined. The master merely says, Get me my dinner, and then take your own.

Luke 17:7. Τἱς, who) viz. is there?δὲ, but) There is apprehended by faith the Divine omnipotence, Luke 17:6, but what is still more blessed, the Divine compassion and grace, and that pure unmixed grace; Luke 17:7, et seqq.; comp. ch. Luke 10:20. [The fact of the disciples’ “names being written heaven,” is to their faith a greater cause for joy than “the spirits being subject” to them].—ἐξ ὑμῶν) of you, men, or disciples. Bartholomew is said to have been a nobleman.—δοῦλον, a servant) Christ, whilst He increases their faith, seems to lessen (disparage or impair) it [by putting them on the footing of a servant or slave]. The groundwork that lies underneath great faith and prayer is lowly poverty of spirit, and a profound sense of our ἀχρειότης, unprofitableness, and of the debt of duty we owe Him. Psalm 147:11; Psalm 123:2, [“Behold as the eyes of servants look unto the hands of their masters, etc., so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until He have mercy upon us.”]—ἀροτριῶντα, plowing) during the whole day: whence there follows, δειπνήσω, “wherewith I may have supper” [the meal at the close of the day].—εὐθέως, forthwith, quickly) In antithesis to μετὰ ταῦτα, afterwards, in Luke 17:8. Therefore we should construe εὐθέως with ἀνάπεσε, forthwith sit down to meat. Others [as the Engl. Ver., “will say unto him by and by,”] join εὐθέως with ἐρεῖ, will forthwith say, which gives a rather ax sense. For whether the master says this or that to the servant, he says it ‘forthwith,’ as soon as ever the servant hath come in from the field. But those persons wish forthwith or quickly to sit down to meat, who after they have laid aside all their other duties, fancy that the highest degree of faith should be ascribed to them, [“Qui missis cæteris officiis fidem sibi summam conferri oportere putant.”] Whereas they please God, who walk modestly, and demand nothing in a spirit of arrogance.—παρελθὼν, go forward and) See note, ch. Luke 12:37ἀνάπεσε) Others read ἀνάπεσαι. But both Aorists of this are of frequent occurrence in the Active, not in the middle.[181]

[181] BD read ἀνάπεσε. AΔ, and probably L, read with Rec. Text ἀνάπεσαι. Luke has undoubtedly ἀνέπεσεν in ch. Luke 11:37, Luke 22:14. Therefore it is not likely that in this case alone he would adopt the form found in John, Matthew, and Mark, ἀνεπεσάμην, from which ἀνάπεσαι comes.—E. and T.

Verses 7, 8. - But which of you, having a servant ploughing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by-and-by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? And here we have the Lord's answer to his disciples' request to increase their faith. They were asking for a boon he would not, nay, could not, grant them yet. A small measure of real faith was sufficient to teach them that God would give them strength enough to keep themselves from committing this offence against love and charity of which he warned them so solemnly; but they prayed for more. "They were asking for faith, not only in a measure sufficient for obedience, but for a faith which would exclude all uncertainty and doubt. They were looking for the crown of labour before their work was done, for the wreath of the conqueror before they had fought the battle... In other words, the 'increase of faith' 'for which the apostles prayed was only to come through obedience to their Master's will" (Dean Plumptre). The little parable was to teach them that they were not to look to accomplishing great things by a strong faith given to them in a moment of time, but they were to labour on patiently and bravely, and afterwards, as in the parable-story, they too should eat and drink. It was to show them that in the end they should receive that higher faith they prayed for, which was to be the reward for patient, gallant toil. And gird thyself, and serve me. It is scarcely wise, as we have before remarked, to press each separate detail of the Lord's parables. Zeller, quoted by Stier," makes, however, an application of this to the 'inner world of the heart,' in which there is no going straightway to sit down at table when a man comes from his external calling and sphere of labour, but we must gird ourselves to serve the Lord, and so prepare ourselves for the time when he will receive us to his supper." This is interesting, but it is doubtful if the Lord intended these special applications. The general sense of the parable is clear. It teaches two things to all who would be, then or in the ages to come, his disciples - patience and humility. It reminds men, too, that his service is an arduous one, and that for those really engaged in it it not only brings hard toil in the fields during the day, but also further duties often in the evening-tide. There is no rest for the faithful and true servant of Jesus, and this restless work must be patiently gone through, perhaps for long years. Luke 17:7
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