FAITHFUL AND UNFAITHFUL SERVANTS
D. M. PANTON, B.A.
It is one of the mysteries of exposition that no expositor even attempts to plumb the depths of what the Lord says He will do to that servant whose life has been an unbroken fidelity. Our blessed Master’s unexampled humility blends with a stupendousness of reward that stuns us. "Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you" - for the revelation rests solely on the assertion of Christ - "that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them" (Luke 12: 37). The Lord of the universe will make it His business - "he will gird himself" - to exalt those who have served His interests throughout: irrespective of class or rank, education or culture, age or experience, race or clime, every servant of God thus watchful - all life squared to a returning Lord - passes into this immense beatitude of Christ. In the words of Lange :- "With the exception of (perhaps) the promise in Rev. 3: 21, we know no utterance of the Saviour which holds up before the life of the faithful so rich and ravishing a reward as this."
But our Lord follows with a little parable, based on our ignorance of the hour of His Coming, in which a burglar breaks into a house which is undefended because all within are in a deep slumber. Peter is roused by these challenging words. "Lord," he asks, "speakest thou this parable unto us [apostles], or even unto all [disciples]?" Our Lord counters with the obvious reply - Who is ‘the master of the house’ during the absence of ‘the Lord of those servants’? for on him the thunderbolt of this revelation must fall. “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?" The Lord, who constantly questions, here probes home to the conscience and judgment of His hearer: every [regenerate] believer is to listen to the question, and to give his own answer: the Lord assumes that so obvious is the reply that to every clear and unbiased mind He need say nothing; the steward will be visible to all throughout the Christian ages.
So now, obeying Christ, we answer His question. The householder in the parable is a ‘servant’, invariably in the New Testament a converted man, even the Apostles so describing themselves - "Paul, a servant" (Titus 1: 1), "James, a servant" (Jas. 1: 1) “Peter, a Servant” (2 Pet. 1: 1), "Jude, a servant" (Jude 1). Moreover, he is a ‘steward’, a specially commissioned servant; and so the Apostles also describe themselves as ministers of Christ, and stewards of 'the mysteries of God" (1 Cor. 6: 1): "the overseer," Paul says, “must be blameless, as God's steward" (Titus 1: 7). Moreover, he is one who is set in his position by Christ Himself - "whom his lord shall set over his household"; he is no usurper, or unregenerate ecclesiastic; but he is in charge of "the flock in the which THE HOLY GHOST hath made you overseers, to feed the Church, of God" (Acts 20: 28).* And the Lord’s question ranges over the entire future:- "whom his Lord SHALL set over his household": even when apostles have ceased, stewards remain: all down the Christian ages - whether named bishops or pastors or brethren in oversight, or by the more general term ‘ministers’ - the stewards co-exist with the Church; set for the feeding of ‘the household of the faith’ (Gal. 6: 10), throughout the twenty centuries of the absence of the Household's Lord.
[*Here the ordinary interpretation goes bankrupt. E.g., the Student’s Commentary says :- "the whole passage concerns the judgment of false and true servants": on the contrary, it ought to be obvious that it is the judgment of genuine servants, not a discrimination of the faithfulness or unfaithfulness of God-chosen and God-appointed stewards over the Household of Faith. The Lord carefully distinguishes between ‘servants’ and ‘citizens’ in a parable (Luke 19.), the Citizens refusing His lordship and ending in total destruction (verses 14, 27), while to the Servants without distinction He entrusts ‘his goods’ (Matt. 25: 14). Once ‘servants of sin,’ we are now [or ought to be] ‘servants of righteousness’ (Rom. 6: 18, 20), and only the regenerate are so.]
Now therefore the Saviour re-affirms, but on this occasion on its material rather than on its spiritual side, the stupendous recompense awaiting the watchful, the faithful [of His regenerate servants]. "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you" - for once again it rests solely on the assertion of Christ - "that he will set him over ALL THAT HE HATH."* It is impossible to express in words, it is impossible even for the mind to conceive, a material promise richer, ampler, more all-comprehensive. Success, ability, opportunity we cannot command; watchfulness, fidelity, we can ; and the Lord’s entire wealth * waits on our doing what it is in the power of us all to accomplish.
[* "All that He hath" as the Son of man must include this presently cursed earth (because of Adam’s sin in the Garden, Gen. 3: 17; Rom. 8: 19-21) during His millennial kingdom when the curse will be lifted by Him; and after the that ‘age’ (Luke 20: 35) has ended, the eternal kingdom of Christ will commence - (after the resurrection of all the remaining dead - who missed the former resurrection of reward, Luke 14: 14) - in ‘a new heaven and a new earth’: (Rev. 21: 1). See, 1 Cor. 15: 24, 25; Rev. 11:15; Rev. 20: 5. cf. 20:15.]
One word now reveals the critical and decisive force of the parable. For reward is a two-edged weapon: if there be a recompense for good works, there must be an exactly corresponding recompense for evil works: justice holds exact scales: so therefore our Lord now seizes on the same man to enforce both truths. "But if THAT servant shall say in his heart": the Saviour does not single out another servant, but confines Himself to the God-chosen steward capable of achieving God’s very highest: it is one and the same man, but with a sharp difference of conduct. And the very wonder of the reward prepares us for a startling gravity of censure.
“But if that servant shall say in his heart" - not necessarily announcing it as a doctrine - "My lord delayeth his coming"; it is not a direct denial of the Advent, but a dismissal of it as visionary and remote; all accountability, the heart-discipline of imminent judgment, recedes with the receding vision of the judgment Seat*: "and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants" - he grows intolerant and autocratic - "and to eat and drink, and to be drunken" - he lapses into gross worldliness: excessive severity towards others is often combined with excessive laxity towards oneself - "the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not" - the very doctrine he had abandoned suddenly actualizes - "and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful."**
[*This is a marvellous forecast of the great Creeds, which postpone the Second Advent without denying it: "He shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead," but in a fashion so unknown and at a date so remote as to make the fact practically negligible. Even a post-Millennial Advent is an immense ‘delay’.
**The Authorized Version supplies the sole plausible argument for the un-conversion of the Steward, and the Revised Version completely removes it. “Appoint his portion with the unfaithful," not with the unbelievers. The primary meaning of the Greek given by Liddell and Scott is - ‘not to be trusted; not trusty, faithless’.]
Lest we should assume that only on a servant so responsible as a steward can fall so stern a principle of recompense, the Lord now widens it so as to cover all His servants without exception, in one of the most solemn passages of the Bible. "And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but" - for we are thoroughly to understand that justice throughout, not grace, regulates the judgment Seat, and all justice is exact in its proportioned recompense - “he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes." Nor is there any doubt when this [punishment, for not disclosing this unpopular truth], occurs. The Saviour has just said of the steward - "The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not"; "when he was come again, he commanded these servants to be called" (Luke 19: 15): these ‘stripes’ therefore, are not chastisements in this life, but penal consequences at the [time of the] return of Christ. It is manifest that our whole conduct must be completed before our entire service can be thus weighed and appraised. None will dispute that only in the Bible can we find the will of Christ, and our Lord assumes an open Book in the hands of us all; we can know His will, and therefore we ought; and our judgment will be merely the disclosure of how far we turned that will into conduct [in this life]. And the consequence is most grave. However parabolic the words may be, no meaning of a parable, its actual fulfilment in fact, can be less forceful than the imagery, or else the parable is convicted of exaggeration, and is untrue: stripes, in some form or other, await the unfaithful [regenerate] believer at the return of Christ.*
[* All denunciation of this truth [by any of the regenerate] as ‘purgatory’ condemns the Lord Jesus [and His teachings] at least as sharply as it criticizes His commentator. Roman error on the point is lodged in making a believer’s punishment hereafter [or in the underworld after death] a means to his fundamental [eternal] salvation, and an integral part of the Atonement. It is a fatal objection [by multitudes of regenerate believers] to the ‘unfaithful servant' being merely an unregenerate ecclesiastic that, if so, no genuine but unfaithful [regenerate] servant appears in the whole purview of Christ’s vision of nineteen centuries, and therefore does not exist; - a conclusion which, in the context of the passage, and with the facts of life before us, is a reductio ad absurdum.]
the Lord, in conclusion, lifts the whole revelation on to its rock-plateau of
principle as it affects the
[* Reflection on this error only deepens the sense of its gravity. It silences Christ; it forbids the servants doing the very will for obeying or disobeying which they will be judged; it robs the Church of one of its most dynamic stimulants; it relegates our Lord’s words to Jews long dead, or else to Jews not yet born, while yet circulating those words throughout the Church for two thousand years; it exacts a far higher and more difficult spiritual conduct from the Jew than from the Church, with its infinitude of higher light; and it directly contradicts our Lord’s last commission on earth - "TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER I COMMANDED YOU" (Matt. 28: 20).]