I doubt you have heard very many messages on the servants in Luke 17:10. It is one of the sayings of Jesus we like to avoid because it conflicts with want we what to believe.
"So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Luke 17:10, NIV
“If any of you has a servant ploughing or looking after the sheep, are you likely to say to him when he comes in from the fields, ‘Come straight in and sit down to your meal’? Aren’t you more likely to say, ‘Get my supper ready: change your coat, and wait until I eat and drink: and then, when I’ve finished, you can have your meal’? Do you feel particularly grateful to your servant for doing what you tell him? I don’t think so. It is the same with yourselves—when you have done everything that you are told to do, you can say, ‘We are not much good as servants, for we have only done what we ought to do.’” Luke 17:7-10, Phillips
As Feed Yourself students know, context is important. The context here is interesting. Jesus began by talking about forgiveness. The disciples realized how impossible it was for them and asked Him to increase their faith. Jesus responded by saying you can do great things with only a small amount of faith and then launches into the story of unprofitable servants.
With this story Jesus strikes at the core of pride. It is easy for us to think that we are giving God what He deserves. We can become proud because we are giving so much, or giving up so much, or suffering so much for the kingdom of God. We begin to view - unconsciously - God as lucky to have such wonderful people as ourselves working for Him. We pat ourselves on the back or perhaps have a little pity-party.
Jesus had no time for such nonsense. He cuts right to the heart of the matter. If we offered God perfect obedience - if we did everything He asked exactly when He asked it - and did it perfectly with a joyful attitude, we would still fall far short of giving God the honour and service which is His right. We would not have given anything more than what it was our responsibility to do anyway. As frail human beings we can never give God all that He deserves - let alone more than He deserves. We can never place Him in our debt by our wonderful service or expect that we have earned His favour in anyway.
"She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your men must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!" 1 Kings 10:6-8
We - at least in North America - have such a negative view of serving. It is looked down upon as inferior. It is a sinful attitude. To be the servant of a great master was a tremendous honour. The queen of Sheba viewed Solomon's servants as blessed because they were able to be near Solomon…and someone greater than Solomon is here. It is the highest honour possible to offer God our best service and obedience. Servanthood is not something to be dreaded or avoided whenever possible. It is to be joyously embraced. Our goal should be to be the best and most productive workers possible while at the same time realizing that our Master is so great we can never give Him all that He deserves.
If we truly understand this principle we will want to obey. We will want to give our lives in the service of the Master. No cost will be considered too great, no effort too much. If the “want to” isn’t there we have yet to see the greatness of God and the honour of obeying Him in whatever capacity He places us. We are, in effect, making a god out of our own sinful desires, preconceived ideas, and will and we are serving that god. It is a god without honour, only momentary sensual pleasures. Either way we are servants. No matter what we think or do we can never rise above that position. Embrace servanthood and serve the greatest Master and King of the universe. There is no higher calling.
Jesus joined this teaching on unprofitable servants with faith. We know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. But how does faith grow? That is what the disciples - as disciples of all ages - wanted to know. The answer of Jesus is simply: faith grows by humble obedience.
It is as we obey God we exercise our faith. We show that we believe He is real and expects obedience. We show that we trust Him above our own limited sight. It takes faith to put God’s way and will above our own. As we obey, our faith in God and our love for Him will grow. Faith and obedient servants are linked. They will grow together or they will shrivel and die together.