Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Parable of the Faithful Servant: Watchfulness in a time of Spiritual Warfare

In an article from The New Yorker, Captain Donna Kohout, thirty-two, Dillon, Colorado. Letter to members of the Dillon Community Church. April, 2003. “I’m still praising God for the opportunity to spend five months in the Middle East both to serve in the largest conflict of our day and to witness the wonders He was working at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, where I lived. I don’t know how to describe the feeling that there was a spiritual element to what we were doing…

I wish I could describe the feeling of flying across what we called the T.E. (Tigris-Euphrates) Line in the months prior to “Night 1” of Operation Iraqi Freedom (O.I.F.). The T.E. Line, which marks the edge of the settled area, is just south of the Euphrates River. South of the line is barren desert… …One clear day, I looked down at the rich greens of the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates and pondered over the fact that these were the Tigris and Euphrates that I’d learned about in church and school my whole life. Genesis describes the Garden of Eden standing at the headwaters of four rivers, two of which are the Tigris and Euphrates. That places the Garden just north of Basra, within sight of where I flew almost daily.

In O.I.F., I flew only nights, except for the occasional late-evening or sunrise flight. At night a person can see every bullet and missile launched, near and far away, with the aid of night-vision goggles. Thankfully, most of what the Iraqis shot was unguided and too small to reach the altitudes at which we fly. However, it is still nothing shy of a miracle that given the sheer number of airplanes in the sky, they didn’t shoot down a single fighter, bomber, or tanker with all the projectiles they launched over those three weeks. Praise God for the safety He has provided so many of us over the last several months…”

Another soldier, Captain Ryan Kelly, wrote in an email to his mother, from Kuwait, in 2003,

“The worst thing here is not the searing heat or the cold nights. It’s the waiting. Waiting for the wind to quit blowing and the sand to quit grinding against your skin. Waiting for a moment of privacy in a tent packed with seventy other men, in a camp packed with seven hundred other tents, in a base packed with fifteen thousand soldiers, all looking for a clean place to go to the bathroom. . . . Waiting for the bone-rattling coughs from dust finer than powdered sugar to stop attacking the lungs. Waiting for the generals to order the battalion to move north, toward Tikrit, where others—Iraqis—are also waiting: waiting for us. . . .”

Captain Ryan Kelly, thirty-six, Denver, Colorado. E-mail to his mother, from Camp Buehring, Kuwait. December, 2003.


The perspectives of these two soldiers from wars of the past remind me of our duty as Christians to serve God faithfully in times of good and in times of ill.

A soldier on guard, on patrol, has to be watchful, and quiet. They are serious. Early in the morning they’ve carefully put on their uniform. They’ve tightened their belt to fit their waist. Their uniform is clean and pressed. Their boots are polished and tied tight to their feet. They put on their knee pads, their field load carrying vest, a quartz size canteen of water, MREs which are ready to eat meals, a compass, a bayonet, sometimes a first aid kit, and of course their pistol side arm, bullet proof vests, night vision goggles, an M4 rifle, and extra ammunition. Often all of this equipment weighs 60-100 lbs.

But they are ready for combat, ready to fit for their lives everyday.

It should be similar with us as Christians. We should be ready for spiritual battle each day. We should make sure we have all of our spiritual armor on.

Memorize the armor of God. Write it down, and pray it every morning, and as you do, you’ll start to remember, yes first the head, the helmet of salvation, then the body, the breastplate of righteousness, then the belt, the belt of truth, then the shoes, the shoes of the readiness of the gospel of peace, then the shield of faith, then the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. In this world of growing evil, and of growing hope, we must be ready for battle on a daily basis.

We have to be ready for battle. And our enemy is clever and crafty. Often times I will get bad news, or some sort of controversy or drama will strike right when I’m at my weakest. When we’re tired after a long week, or when we’re up late at night and very tired, or awake early in the morning and kind of crabby, then the enemy strikes. So we have to be ready day and night for the spiritual battle taking place in our lives and in the world.

Which brings us to our parable for today, which is the parable of the faithful servant. And I think you’ll see this parable is similar to the parable of the ten virgins, in fact, in one of the gospels, Matthew, this parable comes right before the parable of the ten virgins.

The parable of the faithful servants shows up in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But we’re going to focus on Luke’s depiction of it, which tends to give us the most detail.

I’d like to break it into two parts, so let’s first take a this section of it from Luke 12: "Let your waist be dressed and your lamps burning. Be like men watching for their lord, when he returns from the marriage feast; that, when he comes and knocks, they may immediately open to him. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord will find watching when he comes. Most certainly I tell you, that he will dress himself, and make them recline, and will come and serve them. They will be blessed if he comes in the second or third watch, and finds them so. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore be ready also, for the Son of Man is coming in an hour that you don't expect him."

So our question of reflection today is: “Are you a watchful Christian?”

Notice how it mentions being dressed and ready. Other translations say “girded up” and if you look on screen, you’ll see how soldiers and travelers would “gird up their loins” to be “ready” in ancient times for combat or danger.

But to understand the meaning of this parable, in Matthew’s gospel when talking about this parable it prefaces the parable by saying, Matthew 24:37-44 “"37 As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. 38 For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark. 39 They didn’t know[r] until the flood came and swept them all away. So this is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be: 40 Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day[s] your Lord is coming.” — Luke 12:35-40 (WEB)

As in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of Jesus. The days of Noah were a time of infinite evil. Everything was thoroughly wicked. There was adultery, there was fornication, there was homosexuality, there was child sacrifice, and no one even bothered to worry about God, and so they just went about their business, marrying, buying things, living life, and it will be the same when Jesus returns, so much so, that people will be doing their work, in fields, and at tables, at businesses and family gatherings, and one will be taken by the Lord, and the other left standing there shocked. Many believe this refers to a rapture of the church, before the time of the great tribulation.

So we see the theme of this parable is about diligent watchfulness. We must be on guard. Why does Jesus remind us of this? Because it’s easy to get complacent. It’s easy to begin to settle down, and live for ourselves. It’s easy to drift away from church, and start to skip our Bible reading time, and skip our prayer time, we start to drift and coast, and get lazy, and Jesus warns us, hey hold on, you need to be a watchful servant.

Then in the second half of the parable, Peter asks a question.

“Peter said to him, "Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everybody?”

The Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the right times? Blessed is that servant whom his lord will find doing so when he comes. Truly I tell you, that he will set him over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My lord delays his coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken, then the lord of that servant will come in a day when he isn't expecting him, and in an hour that he doesn't know, and will cut him in two, and place his portion with the unfaithful. That servant, who knew his lord's will, and didn't prepare, nor do what he wanted, will be beaten with many stripes, but he who didn't know, and did things worthy of stripes, will be beaten with few stripes. To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.” — Luke 12:41-48 (WEB)

Jesus seems to indicate to Peter that he is specifically telling this parable to his disciples, you might say, to his teachers. To his pastors. To his leaders. Why would we think that? He mentions “giving his household their portions of food at the right times.” For us as pastors and teachers our job is to make sure there is spiritual food ready for you to eat. Delicious, meat and potatoes, desserts, snacks, and so on.

We’re told that for those who have had much entrusted to them, much will be required, so if God entrusted me to be your pastor, I’ve been entrusted with a lot, so a lot will be required of me. That’s kind of nerve wracking isn’t it?

Yet Jesus also seems to indicate that those who aren’t specifically leaders, but are Christians, are still accountable for that which they are given as well. For many of us, we have wealth, we have technology, we have influence, and we are accountable to use those things wisely for God’s glory.

We’re given two qualifications by Jesus here, as far as how to obey this parable. We’re told we need to be faithful and wise. To be faithful Jesus indicates means “to do what he wanted” to live the way the master commanded while he was away. And “to be prepared” that would be the wise part, to be wisely ready at any moment for the masters return.

The parable pictures a master who has gone away to a wedding, and the servants are up late waiting for his return. Obviously someone coming from a wedding would probably come home late, and it pictures this closed door, with the servants waiting, fully dressed in their service uniforms, with a towel ready, some oil ready, a basin ready to wash the masters feet and they are just watching that door like hawks, ready at the first sound of a knock to open up and care for the master after his journey home. As time passes, maybe they go clean in the kitchen, they check the livestock pens, they make sure the candles are lit, and the bedroom is clean, but always they have an ear aimed toward the front door, so they can drop everything and run to serve the master when he returns.

And that is how we should live as Christian heroes, Christian warriors, Christian soldiers, covered in the full armor of God, at work, sharing the gospel with our friends and neighbors, loving others, meeting peoples needs, teaching truth, being salt and light to society, but always with an ear toward the door, an eye toward the return of Jesus Christ, hopefully awaiting when that day will come.

We also see here, the severity of God, the fact that God is a just judge. Should he find his people have gotten lazy, and they are double-minded, and they have gone off into sins, and are living compromised lives, getting drunk, sleeping around, stealing, lying, cheating, and aren’t being watchful, he says, he will cut them in two, some translations say cut them into pieces, and give them the same inheritance as the ungodly. So he will send them off to outer darkness. Don’t get lazy brothers and sisters, stick with it, I’ve seen it many times, people are on fire for God, but after a few years, they get tired of it, they drift off, back into the world, and go back to their old lives. And I pray they repent before Jesus returns, because this is serious stuff. Be watchful.

Yet in the parable we see the beautiful humility of Christ as well. We get something really beautiful in this parable, it says, “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord will find watching when he comes. Most certainly I tell you, that he will dress himself, and make them recline, and will come and serve them.”

To a middle eastern audience, this would be absolutely shocking. Servants, slaves, in the household, were not regarded as important. Yet Jesus tells us, that when he returns, and claims us, you might say, raptures us, one is taken, one is left, guess what, we get this picture of Jesus saying alright, my beloved child, sit down comfortably, and let me serve you at the table, let me wash your feet, let me get you something to eat. This is just shocking.

But Jesus is saying that when he returns, and claims his church, and brings us to heaven, for this heavenly banquet, called the marriage supper of the lamb, he tells us, that he will have us sit at tables, and he will serve us. That is just incredibly beautiful. It shows God’s incredible love for us. We are always his servants. He is our Lord. But for this brief moment of celebration, it seems that Jesus will serve a meal to us, just as he washed the feet of his disciples at the last supper, so this will be our marriage supper of the lamb. Isn’t that beautiful? Hallelujah.