My Little Faith (Part 2)

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:5-10 ESV). We return to yesterday’s reading so that we may learn Jesus’ second secret to growing a strong, vibrant faith. In the latter part of this passage he tells them that when they have done all they are commanded to do, they are still radically dependent on grace. Jesus gives an illustration. You might want to read it again (verses 7–10). The gist of it is that the owner of a slave does not become a debtor to the slave no matter how much work the slave does. The meaning is that God is never our debtor. Listen to the final verse: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We are always his debtor. And we will never be able to pay this debt, nor are we ever meant to. We will always be dependent on grace. We will never work our way up out of debt to a place where God is in our debt. “Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” (cf. Romans 11:35). When he says that the owner does not “thank” the slave, the idiom for “thank” is provocative. I think the idea is that “thanks” is a response to grace. The reason the owner does not thank the slave is that the servant is not giving the owner more than what the owner deserves. He is not treating the owner with grace. Grace is being treated better than you deserve. So it is with us in relation to God. We never treat God with grace. We never give him more than he deserves. Which means that he never owes us thanks. God never says “Thank you” to us. Instead he is always giving us more than what we deserve, and we are always owing him thanks. So the lesson for us is that when we have done all we should do, when we have solved all our pastoral care problems and fixed the attitudes of all our people and mobilized the most missions and loved the poor and saved marriages and reared godly children and boldly proclaimed Christ God owes us no thanks. Instead we will at that moment relate to him as debtors to grace just as we do now. This is a great encouragement to faith because it means that God is just as free to bless us before we get our act together as he is after. Since we are “unworthy” slaves before we have done what we should, and “unworthy” slaves afterwards as well, it is only grace that would prompt God to help us. Therefore he is free to help us before and after. This is...

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