Luke 12:35 – 48

In the course of our Lord’s ministry in Luke 12 He exhorted His disciples, in view of His going away and coming again, to gird up their loins, to have their lamps burning, and to be like unto men that wait for Him, as the hour of His return was uncertain. He calls those servants blessed whom He should find watching at His return, and bids them to be ready, “for in the hour in which ye do not think it, the Son of man comes”. This led Peter to say, “Lord, sayest thou this parable to us, or also to all?

Our Lord’s reply is full of instruction. He said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent steward whom his lord will set over his household, to give the measure of corn in season? Blessed is that bondman whom his lord on coming shall find doing thus; verily I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he has”. Taking up the figure of a steward, in relation to his responsibility to his lord, He applies the truth to all who, during the hour of His absence, take the servant’s place. And He goes on to show how He will treat both the faithful and the unfaithful at His return.

The two chief qualities that He looks for in those whom He gives a charge over His household are faithfulness and wisdom. And the object of their appointment is, that they may give to His own their portion of meat in due season. To carry this out, the entrusted steward must walk in simple-hearted subjection to Himself. It is only as taught and directed by his Master that he will be cognisant of the need of those who are His, and will be enabled to give them food convenient for them. The Master alone reads the heart and knows the inward workings of the soul, and He only can direct to the portion that shall feed and nourish.

Now, He expects that His servant, whoever he may be, will continue this service till He come, and to him He gives this precious and encouraging promise, “Blessed is that bondman whom his lord on coming shall find doing thus; verily I say to you”, (note the certainty of it) “that he will set him over all that he has”. Blessing rests on the faithful and wise steward, and in the coming day of glory he shall be given a position of favour in association with his Lord.

“But if that bondman should say in his heart, My lord delays to come, and begin to beat the menservants and maidservants, and to eat and to drink and to be drunken, the lord of that bondman shall come in a day when he does not expect it, and in an hour he knows not of, and shall cut him in two and appoint his portion with the unbelievers”.

“But if that bondman should say in his heart“. If the heart is not right, it very soon manifests itself in the conduct. If the Master cometh not quite so soon as the heart anticipated, it soon grows weary, and its inherent wickedness shows itself in thinking that the Lord delayeth His coming. And what are the terrible consequences? He begins “to beat the menservants and maidservants”. What a sad, but perfect, picture of that which has actually taken place within the sphere of christian stewardship! The Lord’s menservants and maidservants are beaten; if not openly, as of old, with the blows of persecution, they are assailed with bitter tongue and evil pen. But what will be the end thereof? Ah! what, indeed. Hear what the Lord Himself has said: “the Lord of that bondman shall come in a day when he does not expect it, and in an hour he knows not of, and shall cut him in two and appoint his portion with the unbelievers”. Fearful end!

How terrible the fall! A professed servant, but a religious hypocrite; a so-called spiritual adviser, but with a heart full of unbelief; a saint in name, but content with the mere form of godliness; hand — in-glove with the world that spat upon Christ and crucified Him. He is caught, as it were, red-handed, and the Lord will cut him in sunder, and appoint him an eternal portion with the unbelievers. No wonder he wished in his heart that the Lord would delay His return.

Moreover, “that bondman who knew his own lord’s will, and had not prepared himself nor done his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew it not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few”. In these two verses we appear to have a general description of so-called Christendom and the outside nations. In verse 47 the Lord still uses the figure of the bondman, but in verse 48 He says simply, “but he who knew not”. Men are responsible according to the position that they take.

Christendom professes to be in connection with Christ; she boasts in the possession of the Bible and in its vast circulation. She says openly, or in her heart, We are not heathen, Mohammedans, or Jews; we know the Lord’s will. But, said the Lord, that bondman who knew his own lord’s will and prepared not himself. And is it not true? Is Christendom prepared for Christ’s return? Would all the church-, chapel-, theatre-, and concert-goers, with the water of baptism on their brow, with the sign of Christ’s cross upon them, like Christ to come in the midst of their religious observances or worldly pleasures?

Dear reader, if this is a description of your state, be warned in time, we beseech you; for the Lord added, that bondman “shall be beaten with many stripes”. Think of it, “many stripes”! Not only will the Christless professor be shut out for ever from the presence of God, but beaten with many stripes. You have light, you enjoy privilege, you profess Christianity, and hence are far more responsible than ignorant men. According to your privileges, profession, and works will you most surely be judged by a just God. “But he who knew not”. As already pointed out, he is not looked at as a servant; its application is to those who are outside the sphere of Christian privilege — God is very patient with ignorance — brought up in ignorance, he follows his natural conscience; he is a responsible creature; he sees the wonders of creation on all hands (Romans 1:20), and under the power of sin, of a fallen race, he sins. He commits things worthy of stripes; hence he is justly punished. But the severity of his punishment is not so great as that of the one who had light; hence he is beaten with few stripes. The perfect justice of God shines out in all His ways with men; His balances are exact: “And to every one to whom much has been given, much shall be required from him; and to whom men have committed much” — mark that well — “they will ask from him the more”. Is God less righteous than man? Far be the thought.

Now, seeing that our Lord has brought the final issues of faithfulness and unfaithfulness so clearly before us in this solemn passage, how deeply important that each reader should earnestly consider his course! All, in one sense, are called to serve the Lord. Are you characterised by faithfulness and wisdom, seeking to minister to others in communion with Him according to your measure, waiting and watching, ready to meet your Lord? or are you content with formality, your heart being away from Him? The Lord is at hand. No one knows the day nor the hour of His return. Blessed are those bondmen whom the Lord when He cometh shall find watching and serving according to His mind.

Let us take these things to heart. All is fleeting here: a life of selfishness is a life not worth living. If you live and die a mere formal professor, it were better that you had never been born. If you are found to be without Christ, and living for the world, at His return — and He may come at any moment — your eternal punishment will be sure and your stripes many. But if found to have been faithful and wise — a man that has given up his own will to delight in the will of the Lord, seeking alone to please Him — eternal blessing will surely be yours, with the approval of your Lord. And His reward is with Him to give to every man according as His work shall be (Revelation 22 12). May such be your blessed portion at that day.

Edward H. Chater

Simple Testimony, Volume 17 (1900), pages 105 – 111.


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