What does God owe you? The answer we give determines our whole perspective of life in this world. We might think that we should not experience suffering. We may think that we should have a long life, free from serious health problems. We think we should be married and have children. We think that we should outlive our children. We think that we should have wealth. We think we should own a house. We think we should have a good job where we are respected and appreciated. We have all of these kinds of expectations in life. I tell this story not to be humorous but to observe the thinking that we can so easily adopt. A woman came to be and her faith was broken and she was in turmoil because her pet had died. She was distraught because she did not understand how God could do that to her. So I ask the question again: what does God owe you?
Unworthy Slaves (17:7-10)
Notice the story Jesus tells about a master and his servant. When the servant is done plowing or keeping sheep, does the master tell the servant to sit at the table for dinner? Of course not, the master tells the servant to make the dinner and serve the master while he eats. After the master has had his meal, only then does the servant eat and drink. It is a pretty obvious picture. The servant waits on the master. The master does not wait on the servant. Further, the master does not thank the servant for his work. The servant is supposed to do what he was commanded. The master does not have to thank him for doing so. After eating a meal at a restaurant, have you ever gone back into the kitchen and thank the chef for the meal he prepared? Of course not, because that was his job. It is his duty to prepare the meal. That is what he gets paid to do. He does not need thanksgiving because he is simply doing his job. You do not thank the bag boy at the grocery store for bagging your groceries. You do not thank the clerk for scanning your groceries and taking your money. It is their job. Now listen to the point Jesus makes in verse 10.
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 17:10 ESV)
Jesus says that when you have done everything that God has commanded you to do, here is what you are supposed to say: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” It is not the master’s responsibility to make life easy for the servant. God does not exist to make our lives easier. It is the servant’s responsibility to work hard for the master. After we have worked hard for the master, we have only done our duty.
We are not deserving of some sort of special recognition. We are not deserving of a pat on the back for the work we have done. If we had not done what we did, we would be a failure. We would be a rebellious servant. By doing all that God has commanded, we are simply being a servant. We are not anything special and have not done anything extraordinary. All our moral goodness merits nothing. All the good we can possibly do is only our duty. It is what we should have done! We must move our hearts and minds to the place where we understand that we deserve nothing from God and he demands everything from us. We are unworthy of any praise.
We are to have such a high view of Jesus that we make nothing of ourselves. Our high view of Jesus causes us to see ourselves as merely servants doing our duty. If we do not elevate Jesus to that level, then we come in with our pride and think that we are doing something special for God. If this sounds harsh, then it sounds harsh because we have self-righteous pride. We think we are something before God. We think that our actions are some kind of favor for God. We think that we are really doing something great when we come to worship, or do good for others, or some other godly act, when in reality all that we have done is what we were supposed to do in the first place. “I forgave that person seven times today. How righteous and holy am I!” No, that is what you were supposed to do (17:4). Any good you do is what you were supposed to do. Stop acting like your good deeds and righteous acts are something special. Can you imagine the servant in the story going around thinking how awesome he was because he plowed the field and made the master dinner? What a fool! Those are your duties. That is what you were supposed to do. God owes us nothing! There is nothing we can do to put God in a position of owing us something. There is nothing we can do to place God in our debt. Jesus says in verse 10 that we are unworthy of any praise.
What We Owe God (17:11-19)
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus entered a village where he was met by ten lepers. We saw Jesus encounter a person with this serious skin disease back in Luke 5. Remember that the Law of Moses declared people with skin diseases unclean. Therefore, we see these ten lepers standing at a distance from Jesus, crying out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priest. Leviticus 14 instructed that those who were healed of skin diseases were to show themselves to the priests. Upon examination and an eight day cleansing ceremony, they would no longer be considered unclean and could reenter the community. So the ten leave, and as they go they are cleansed. This is an interesting miracle. Jesus does not immediately heal them and then tell them to see the priest. Rather, they are told to start going to the priest and along the way to see the priest, the ten are healed from this skin disease. This sounds like the end to a nice story. But the story has just begun.
In verse 15 we read that when one of the lepers realized he had been healed, turned back, praised God with a loud voice, and fell on his face at the feet of Jesus, giving him thanks. But Jesus is surprised. Where are the rest of the people who were healed? Where are the other nine? How many of us are like the nine who have received the blessings of God, but never thank God for what we have received? We are happy to receive blessings from God but do not see what God has done as mercy and grace. They see this as the right thing to have done for them. This is what God should have done for them. If they did not think this way, they would have also returned to Jesus, praising God, bowing before Jesus, and thanking him. The problem is self-righteous pride. God owes me this. One person of the ten realizes that God owes him nothing. He is the only one who returns to Jesus, praising God and giving thanks. Notice that he is a Samaritan. He is not presuming the grace of God or presuming a relationship with God. He understands that God owes him nothing, while the Jews thinking that God owes them something.
Consider how we do even worse than what we read in this event. Not only do we take the blessings of God, without giving thoughtful thanks to God and praising God for what he has done for us, but we complain about our blessings. We complain about what we have. We complain about how God is ruling in our lives. We complain to God, as if God owes us a particularly way of life. The nine think that God owed it to them to no longer be lepers. One realized that God did not owe him healing. God does not owe me wealth. God does not owe me health. God does not owe me a long life. Everything we have and everything we experience is a blessing of God. The breath we just took in is a blessing from God. Yet not only are we not grateful, we complain about the breath we just took.
Notice what Jesus says about this in verse 19: And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19 ESV) What a minute! Did Jesus heal all ten as they went on their way to show the priest. Yes, Jesus did. But only one of these ten received spiritual healing. Only one of these ten were saved from their sins. Many experienced the blessings of God, but only one was saved.
Luke’s Teaching Point
Those who are saved, those who are truly healed, and those who are in the kingdom of God are those who recognize that God owes them nothing and owe God everything. Those in the kingdom realize that all our good deeds and righteous acts amount to nothing because that is what we were supposed to do. It is our duty. Therefore, all that we have and all the blessings of God are not due to us and are not owed to us. Everything is a gift of God’s grace to us. Those in the kingdom of God see everything as God’s grace, turn to Jesus, fall at his feet in submission, praising God and thanking him for what he has done for them.