Features of Faithfulness
Passage: Luke 12:35–12:48
Features of Faithfulness
Perhaps the best place to start this morning is with a review of where we have been. Where exactly are we in Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ life and ministry? You may remember that Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem. Luke ch9, v51 was a turning point in the Gospel account, and in that verse, Luke told us, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Since that point, everything has been running toward Jerusalem and the cross. Remember, this is why Jesus came – to offer his life as the atonement for sin – and Jesus will not be deterred from that mission. So, this is Jesus’ mindset as we come back to Luke’s Gospel – he is resolved to reach Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die for the salvation of God’s people.
At the same time, however, Jesus’ resolve to reach Jerusalem should not be viewed as tunnel vision. Just the opposite, in fact. Jesus’ journey to the cross also becomes a time of preparation for the disciples. At each step of the way, the Lord equips his servants. He teaches them about the cross, so that they will understand what happens in Jerusalem. He trains them, so that they will be ready for their own mission in his name. And Jesus corrects them, so that their understanding of discipleship begins to line up more with the cross and less with the world. Jesus’ journey is a training ground for the disciples.
And this is particularly clear in Luke 12. All through this chapter, Jesus has taught his disciples, with an emphasis on faithfulness. In fact, just scan quickly through ch12 with me, and notice how carefully and consistently Jesus prepares his followers. From the outset, vv1-12, Jesus called for faithfulness in the face of persecution. Remember Jesus’ powerful words – “Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do to you.” Then vv13-21, Jesus called for faithfulness in the challenge of prosperity. Remember Jesus’ exhortation – “be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And finally, vv22-34, right before our text, Jesus called for faithfulness in the midst of an anxious age. The Lord said – “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on….for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” You can hear the theme. Persecution, prosperity, anxiety – Jesus is preparing his disciples for faithfulness, no matter the situation.
And that emphasis on faithfulness now continues in our text. What has been true throughout chapter 12 continues in these verses. Here we find Jesus calling his disciples to faithfulness. But while the theme is the same, there is an added component in our text. Jesus continues with faithfulness, but in these verses, he encourages faithfulness in light of one very significant truth. You probably heard it as we read – it runs all through the passage. Jesus encourages faithfulness in light of the second coming. “You must be ready,” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” That is the truth that should give shape to a disciple’s everyday life. To put it plainly, you live differently when you remember that Christ is returning soon to judge the living and the dead. That’s the emphasis in today’s passage. Faithfulness, according to Jesus, means living, very purposefully, in light of the end.
So, in terms of details, our passage highlights three features of what it means live as a faithful disciple. The first has to do with watchfulness. The second focuses on stewardship. And the third stresses responsibility. Watchfulness, stewardship, responsibility. Let’s think more deeply about each of those features, particularly in light of Jesus’ return.
Faithful Disciples Remain Watchful for the Lord’s Return
The first feature of a faithful disciple comes in v35-40. Faithful disciples remain watchful for the Lord’s return. Jesus begins this section with two images, both of which communicate readiness. Notice v35 – “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning.” In Jesus’ day, to stay dressed for action was to have your robes tied up around your waist, so that you would be ready to move at a moment’s notice. This would have been particularly important for household servants, who often had to respond quickly to the Master’s call. What’s more, there was no electricity in Jesus’ day, so practically speaking, you had to keep a lamp burning to avoid being caught in the dark. Put those two together, and you hear the emphasis on readiness in v35. Have your work clothes on, Jesus says, and make sure you don’t get caught in the dark.
Then in v36, Jesus connects readiness with being watchful. Listen again, v36 – “and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.” Now, wedding feasts in Jesus’ day were extended parties. They could run for days on end, so a household servant had to remain watchful for when his master might return. If that servant let down his robes or extinguished the lamps, then he might miss the master’s call, especially since the master could come at any point – even in the middle of the night. So, to remain faithful, a servant had to be ready for action, and that readiness included keeping watch.
But Jesus also goes one step further. Faithful servants aren’t simply ready – they’re also expectant, for the Master could come at any time. Look down at v39, where Jesus shifts images. He shifts from household servants watching for the master to a homeowner watching for thieves. Jesus’ point is simple – since thieves don’t announce their intentions, a homeowner has to remain alert at all times. He has to expect that a break-in could occur any day. That’s the kind of attitude Jesus calls his disciples to display. It’s only through expectant watchfulness – like a servant expecting his master, like a homeowner watching for a thief – it’s only through expectant watchfulness that disciples are prepared for faithfulness.
Now, this sounds like a taxing way to live, doesn’t it? Constant readiness – expectant watchfulness. This sounds exhausting, and since Jesus is talking about discipleship, we’re reminded that this all applies to us! Jesus isn’t theorizing here. He’s talking about how you and I live. This is about discipleship, which raises the question – why would anyone choose to live this way? It’s easier to simply go with the flow in life, taking care of your own business. It’s costly to be watchful, expectant, and ready. So, if discipleship comes with this kind of cost, why would we choose to live like this?
Notice Jesus’ answer, friends. It comes in v37, and it is a remarkable motivation. Jesus says, v37, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” Now, anytime we hear Jesus declare a blessing, we ought to pay attention. Jesus’ beatitudes are always significant, for they remind us of how life works in the kingdom of God. But this beatitude – this blessing – is unusually powerful. What Jesus promises here is nothing less than a reversal of roles. According to Jesus, faithful servants receive the blessing of being served by the Master himself. That’s the scene in v37. Try to imagine it. The Master comes home, he is overjoyed to see his servants ready and waiting for him, and out of the joy of his heart, the Master lays aside his robes, seats the servants at his table, and serves them from his bountiful provision. All the riches of the Master’s house are set before these faithful servants, and in that glorious reversal, the Master tells his servants, “Feast, my friends, for my soul delights in you as much as you have remained watchful for me.”
Brothers and Sisters, that is the blessing of faithfulness to Jesus Christ. It is the promise that we will share in Christ’s joy and riches. Indeed, part of the gospel’s glory is that we have already come to share in Christ’s riches, haven’t we? We’ve been clothed in his royal robes – robes of Christ’s righteousness. We’ve received from his royal treasury – gifts of the Holy Spirit. We even share in his royal lineage – being adopted as sons and daughters of God. And all of that, brothers and sisters, is a foretaste of what is to come. To use the image of this passage, all of those blessings are appetizers to eternity’s feast. It’s almost too much to imagine. There is a day coming when the Lamb will welcome his faithful servants to his feast, and there at the Messiah’s table, we will receive from his hand the riches of his provision.
There is no greater motivation to faithfulness than this blessing. The cost of discipleship is high – make no mistake. Vv35-36 present a high calling for the Christian. But that high calling is matched in v37 with an even higher promise – the promise of participation with Christ himself, feasting for eternity at his royal table.
And so, Jesus gives a clear, summarizing principle in v40. This wraps up the first section of the text, v40 – “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” The nature of Christ’s return determines the attitude of our lives. Since the Lord’s return will be sudden and unexpected, we ought to live every day with an attitude of watchful, expectant faithfulness.
What does it mean to live watchfully? How does one live with an expectant readiness for Christ’s return? That is something I’ve asked myself this week, and I’m sure you’re asking it this morning as well. How exactly do we go about this? There are a number of things we could say. We might talk about the priority of serving Christ through the life of his church – building one another up and proclaiming Christ’s gospel among all peoples. That is an important avenue to live watchfully. We might also talk about the necessity of filling our minds with truth, particularly from Scripture, so that we are not lulled into complacency by the deceptive ease of this world. That’s an increasingly important area for Christian discipleship, isn’t it – cultivating the life of the mind?
Those are important points, but there is just one example that I want to highlight this morning. It comes from 2 Peter ch3, where the apostle Peter is discussing the same theme we find in our text – the return of Christ. And Peter says this to believers – “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved” – meaning at Jesus’ return – “what sort of people ought you to be in holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” Did you hear it, brothers and sisters? How do we wait faithfully for Christ’s return? By being people of holiness and godliness. A faithful disciple watches for Christ by killing sin and growing in godliness. If holiness is the attire of heaven, then pursuing holiness today is preparation for the final day.
Are you killing sin, brothers and sisters? Is your hunger for holiness increasing? Or are there pockets of sin in your life that you have begun to tolerate, perhaps even accommodate? Taking sin lightly is a surefire way to not be ready for the Lord’s return. Godliness fits us for heaven – not because godliness earns our status with Christ, but because it demonstrates our faith and confidence in Christ. Are we striving after godliness?
And as you meditate on that question, brothers and sisters, remember the promise of the gospel. If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse from all unrighteousness. If there are pockets of life where you’re accommodating sin, don’t despair. Confess. Bring it into the light, and then do the radical thing that defies every natural impulse we have – trust that the gospel is true. If we want to be a watchful, ready people, then let us be a holy and godly people.
Faithful Disciples Remember Their Role is Stewardship
So, that is the first feature of faithful disciples – we remain watchful for the Lord’s return. The second feature continues this theme in vv41-46. Faithful disciples remember their role is stewardship. In v41, Peter speaks up and asks a clarifying question – “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” Perhaps Peter wants to know if Jesus intends this only for the apostles. Or, it could be that Peter wonders if Jesus has the larger crowd in focus. But as you might expect, Jesus doesn’t answer Peter’s question, at least not directly. Instead, Jesus begins another section of teaching that confronts everyone with the need for faithfulness. Every disciple, Jesus will say, should recognize the need for stewardship in God’s house. Notice how Jesus makes this point.
Jesus begins with another image that sets up an important contrast. In v42, Jesus describes a faithful steward who manages his master’s household well. Listen again, v42 – “And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?’” Now, in Jesus’ day, a steward or manager was chief among the servants. It was the steward who was responsible to oversee the household when the master was away, and that meant the steward had considerable authority, even over the other servants.
But here in v42, Jesus points out that this authority was for the purpose of serving others. Instead of using his authority for himself, a faithful steward works hard to ensure that others are properly cared for. That’s what Jesus means by the final phrase in v42 – “to give them their food at the proper time.” That phrase answers Jesus’ question from the start of the verse. Who is the faithful and wise manager, Jesus asks? It is the one who looks out for the other servants, the one who gives them their food at the proper time. This is key, friends. According to Jesus, faithfulness is defined as using your position and authority to bless others, to serve them in the Master’s name.
This is a high calling, which is why, in v43, Jesus declares that faithful stewards are blessed. Look at v43 – “Blessed is the servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” Again, we see that faithfulness to the Master brings blessing. In this context, that blessing is greater responsibility, a point that we will come back to at the end of the sermon. But for now, brothers and sisters, we ought to note the connection here for the life of the church. As disciples, the way we remain faithful to the Lord is by using whatever position, gifts, and authority we have to serve others in Christ’s name.
Now, to illustrate the importance of such faithfulness, notice the contrast Jesus draws beginning in v45. After describing a faithful steward, Jesus now illustrates the opposite. Notice this despicable picture of unfaithfulness, v45 – “But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming, and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.” Clearly, this servant has failed the test of faithfulness. But where, exactly, did he go wrong? What was the turning point that led to this servant’s destruction? You could say the servant made two fatal mistakes.
First of all, the servant lost sight of his Master’s return. You can hear it in v45. The servant assumes his Master is delayed in coming, and therefore, the servant assumes he can worry about faithfulness later. “I can serve people another day. I can make things right tomorrow. I’ve got time – the Master is delayed after all. Now is the time for me to get mine.” The servant loses sight of his Master’s return.
We ought to be sobered by this. How easily do we make this same mistake? How often do we assume that Christ’s return is not imminent, and therefore, we’ve got time to sort out all those spiritual responsibilities later? We live like that most days, don’t we? Most days, it is the present that weighs most heavily on us, while eternity seems a small thing – something we can figure out later. But what Jesus urges us to understand is that this kind of oversight is not harmless. It can actually be the crossroads that starts us on the path of unfaithfulness.
But the unfaithful servant makes a second mistake that is even more significant. Not only does the servant lose sight of his Master’s return, but the servant also loses sight of his own role. Think about it. Who is the servant acting like in v45? He’s acting like the Master, isn’t he? The servant, in v45, begins to act as though others exist to serve him. He’s acting as though the Master’s provisions are his, to use for his advantage. “This is my food,” the servant assumes. “This is my wine,” he boasts. “These people exist to meet my needs, and if they don’t, then I’ll punish them as unfaithful.” Do you see the tragic mistake? This servant has forgotten who he is. He has forgotten that he is only a steward. Whatever position he occupies, whatever authority he possesses, it doesn’t actually belong to him. It belongs to the Master.
That is why the punishment in v46 is so severe. Make no mistake, v46 is a picture of judgment. The wicked servant is put with the unfaithful because that is precisely what he has revealed himself to be – unfaithful. This is a servant in name only. He doesn’t love the Master. He doesn’t trust the Master or take joy in serving him. No, this is a picture of someone who loves and serves himself, and that, brothers and sisters, is always a step down the road to judgment.
But while v46 is severe, this is actually where the application is found for us. The unfaithful servant becomes the foil that reveals the right way forward. Ultimately, faithfulness in discipleship means remembering your role. It’s means remembering your identity. It means embracing your calling to serve others in the name of Christ. That is foundational for Christian faithfulness. Whatever role we occupy, we do so for the purpose of serving others in Christ’s name. Whatever gifts we have, we possess them for the purpose of blessing others in Christ’s name. Whatever authority, whatever leadership, whatever calling we receive – it’s all for the goal of serving others for the glory of Christ.
So, I want you to think about the people in your life whom you have the opportunity to serve and care for each week. It could be your spouse or your children. It could be co-workers or students or neighbors. It certainly includes other members of this church. Those opportunities to serve are more than obligations and duties. Those are opportunities to display love for Christ and commitment to his name. Those are opportunities to testify that you belong to the King, and your role is to steward the gifts of Someone greater than yourself. Brothers and Sisters, there is no higher calling than that. It’s the calling to be faithful – right now – in serving others through the means God has provided.
And that changes your perspective on today’s responsibilities, doesn’t it? Your job becomes more than a mere paycheck. It’s a place of kingdom faithfulness that honors Christ. Your family becomes more than series of tasks you have to manage and muddle through. It’s the arena of Christ-like faithfulness that displays the glory of God. Your church becomes more than a place for you to consume spiritual services. It’s ground zero for faithful disciples, as each one of us uses our various gifts to serve others in the name of Christ. I don’t know about you, but that puts some fresh resolve in my heart to serve. And from that resolve, brothers and sisters, faithfulness springs forth and grows.
Christ is returning soon to judge the living and the dead. We want to be found faithful. How do we do that? In part, by remembering our role is stewardship and then serving others in Christ’s name.
Faithful Disciples Recognize the Responsibility of Service
And so, that brings us to a final feature of faithful disciples. This closes the passage, vv47-48. Faithful disciples recognize the responsibility of service. Jesus ends this section with a summary principle that highlights the responsibility, even the accountability, that comes with knowing and serving Christ. Notice what the Lord says, v47 – “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating.” Now, what is Jesus getting at here? The roots stretch back to the OT, particularly to the Law of Moses. In the Law, there was a category of sin called sinning with a high hand. It applied to those who knew God’s commandments but disobeyed them anyway. So, it was more than disobedience – it was disobedience with a defiant attitude.
And Jesus, here in Luke 12, is bringing that principle into his teaching on discipleship. It is always wrong to disobey the Lord’s teaching, but there is a unique accountability that comes to those who clearly receive Jesus’ teaching and disregard it anyway. That kind of defiance, according to Jesus, receives a greater punishment. Now, to be clear, all disobedience is worthy of judgment. Notice in v47 that any disobedience, whether done in defiance or ignorance, receives the Lord’s judgment. But Jesus’ point is to warn us that receiving his teaching brings a greater responsibility.
In fact, Jesus makes this point very clear in the final lines of the passage. Here, the Lord lays out the principle. Notice the end of v48 – “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” That’s the spiritual principle, friends – greater privilege brings a greater responsibility. The more we hear the Lord’s teaching, the greater our accountability becomes. That’s not to say that those who have never heard of Christ are free of responsibility. All will give an account to Christ. But the point is to press upon us the unique responsibility we have as those who have received Christ’s word.
Now, in the context of this passage, I’ll argue that Jesus is making a specific point to the disciples. Of all people, the twelve disciples received the greatest privilege in connection with Christ. They heard his voice and saw his miracles and broke bread with him. And therefore, their responsibility to be faithful was perhaps the highest of all. This is why Scripture speaks so forcefully about the heinousness of Judas’ betrayal. It’s unthinkable that you would betray the Lord of glory, but to do so after walking with him for three years – that is a depth of wickedness that is unique to Judas. So, in the context, Jesus’ principle applies most directly to the disciples.
But that does not mean we can ignore Jesus’ principle. As those who have ready access to God’s Word and relative ease to gather in Christ’s name, we too have received much. In fact, this is something we often overlook. We have been given a stunning amount of spiritual privilege. Did you know 1 in 5 people on the globe have no access to the Bible in their language? Nearly 4,000 language groups have no Scripture. I have six translations on my shelf, and countless more at my fingertips. We have an incredible about of spiritual blessing, brothers and sisters, and that means our responsibility to serve the Lord is all the greater. Will we be faithful? That’s the question Jesus urges us to answer in this text. Will we recognize the responsibility that comes with knowing the Lord and receiving his Word?
Brothers and Sisters, I hope you don’t hear me as trying to frighten anyone into faithfulness. The Lord Jesus is not attempting to scare his disciples into serving him, and neither am I. But I would say that there ought to be an appropriate soberness, an appropriate realization that of all the countless believers down through the ages, we are arguable near the top of the list when it comes to spiritual blessing and privilege. That reality should rest on us in a way that leads to deeper faithfulness.
And so, that is perhaps the best place to end this morning – with this question: How can I press deeper into the faithfulness that Christ calls his disciples to display? Where can I grow in godliness, and how do I plan to do so? Where can I serve, and how will I get started?
And as we ask ourselves those questions, let’s remember the glorious blessing Christ himself promises us in v37 – “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” To feast with the Master, at his table, sharing his joy. Brothers and Sisters, there is no greater joy than that. May the glory of that promise spur us on to be faithful. Amen.