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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Be a Faithful Servant of the Master
Text:Luke 12:35-40 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 149:1,2                                                                                

Ps 79:3,5

Reading – Matthew 25:1-13; Luke 12:22-48

Ps 116:1,4,7,9

Sermon – Luke 12:35-40

Hy 41:1,2,3

Hy 67:1,2,6,7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, this congregation has a number of servants: elders and deacons. These are men who are given the task of humble service. Now, we could hesitate at that. Is it appropriate to have servants, here in the 21st century? I’m sure the labour laws prevent it. But listen to what Paul once said about his work for the Corinthian believers, “We are your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). A bondservant is someone who is placed under the continuous obligation of service. Paul says that it’s as if he’s in bonds, shackled in chains—that’s how dedicated he is to staying on task, committed to working for the church.

Being a “servant” is the essential job description of an office bearer, because this is how our Saviour and Lord approached his work! For though He was God Almighty, Jesus “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and He came in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:3). Christ esteemed others better than himself, constantly looking to the interests of others, and He served. So we know that’s also the way for us.

Throughout our chapter, Jesus is giving instructions to the twelve, those men who are going to carry on the work He started. Look at verse 1, “He began to say to his disciples first of all…” We find it again in verse 22, “Then He said to his disciples…” There’s crowds of people around who are listening in, but these are words especially for the twelve, for these “office bearers” of the church.

So today we consider one of Jesus’ lessons on servanthood. For in our text He answers some key questions: How should an office bearer view the work that he does? And what’s the ultimate goal of what we’re doing in the church? What’s a warning, and what’s a promise that every office bearer needs to hear? These are words meant not only for the leaders of the church, but for all of us, as servants of the Lord. I preach God’s Word to you from Luke 12:35-40,


            Be faithful servants of the Master!

1)     servants who are prepared

2)     and who are watchful

3)     will be richly blessed

1)      servants who are prepared: In Luke 12, we said, Jesus is talking about the calling of those in church leadership. He’s been teaching about things like reasons for anxiety and works of charity. But now in verse 35 He switches gears. For Jesus tells something like a parable, a story with a lesson. It’s a story about servanthood, and it begins with what a proper servant will, in the first place, look like.

This is what He says, “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning” (v 35). Like in all of Jesus’ parables, this is colourful language. Back then if you told someone, “Let your waist be girded,” they would’ve understood at once that you were calling them to action, to be ready and prepared. The image comes from the standard fashion of Bible times. Most people wore long outer robes, garments that stretched from the shoulders, all the way down to the ankles. Wearing one was a way to stay cool in that hot climate, and it was also a way to avoid getting covered from head to toe in dust from the unpaved roads.

Problem was, these robes were no good when you had to do strenuous labour, like working in the fields. Or what if you had to run? You’d probably trip because of all that fabric in the way. So people would gird up their robes—they’d tuck those loosely hanging clothes into the belt around their waist, to free up their movements. “Girding up your waist” became a saying for being prepared. Like we tell someone, “Roll up your sleeves!” Time to get down to business!

And if you were a proper servant, your waist was girded almost all the time. Because as a servant you were working almost all the time! No sense letting your garments down, because you never knew when the next order would come. At a moment’s notice, you had to be prepared to get up, get moving, and carry out your master’s will.

A second thing about a well-prepared servant is this: he will “keep [the] lamps burning.” Houses back then were usually very dark, because they had thick stone walls and just one or two small windows. So all the interior light had to come from a lamp. The lamp was basically a saucer filled with oil, and a wick floating in it that you would light. It wasn’t easy to start up such a lamp, so the lights were always kept burning.

When the master came home, whether it was daytime or at night, he’d want a well-lit home. So this was always on the “to do” list of a servant: keeping the lamps burning, the oil topped up and the wick lit. It was just a little thing, but well-tended lamps said a lot about the quality and character of the servant. Was he watchful? Was he dedicated?

A girded waist, and burning lamps—these were the marks of a faithful servant. It’d be just like a boss telling his employees today, “Keep your tool belt on. Don’t turn off your phone. Because when I call you, you’ve got to be ready to go.” Now, we like to put aside our work sometimes, have a break on the weekend, even take some vacation time. But that’s not the kind of servant Jesus wants. He says, “You have to be ready to carry out my commands, and ready all the time.” Serving in his church—even being a faithful child of God—is demanding work, and it’s constant. Can you be a casual Christian? A part-time believer? Christ’s words don’t allow it. Is your waist always girded? Are the lamps always burning?

Let’s say more about what this means. Some verses before, Jesus told his disciples not to worry about things like food and clothing and riches. Of course that’s an exhortation for everyone, but remember who Jesus is talking to in the first place: those who will lead in the church! “Do not worry about your life,” He tells them (12:22).

There’s a good reason He says this. Because if elders and deacons (or ministers) are always stressed about their material things, they won’t be ready to work wholeheartedly for Christ. Or maybe they’re worried about other matters: maybe their health, their family, even their competence and ability. If always we’re fretting about life, giving mental energy to this or that concern, we won’t be servants who are single-minded in wanting to serve Christ.

This is why Jesus reminds us that there’s no need to become anxious. He says that if you’re a servant of the Lord, then He’ll provide exactly what’s required: “Your Father knows that you need these things” (v 30). It’s when we can bring our cares to God, when we can stop worrying, that we’re ready to do our work. There will be burdens for a servant to carry, the troubles and concerns that always arise among God’s people. But we don’t need the extra burden of worrying about things God has promised to provide!

Yes, “let your waist be girded.” Picture again that servant, tucking in his robe. He makes sure he’s not going to trip, and he’s prepared for action. We too have to get rid of whatever impedes our work for Christ. Each of us should ask ourselves: Are there things in my life that get in the way of whole-hearted service to God? Do I have an attitude that could make me stumble? Maybe our pride gets in the way when it’s time to serve those who are needy. Maybe we have a critical spirit. Maybe there’s an unconfessed sin in our life that prevents us from speaking openly and honestly to others. Maybe I’m impatient, or too fearful of what people think. Jesus says, “If there’s a wrong attitude or habit, or if there is sin, get it out of the way. Sort out and straighten your life, so there’s nothing that keeps you from serving God!”

Our priority is made clear just a few verses earlier. There Jesus gives this assignment to the disciples: “Seek the kingdom of God” (v 31). Seek the kingdom first! He tells them, and He tells us, “No matter what you were doing before, this is your new priority. This is what should fill your days: the cause of the Kingdom of God.”

“And let your lamps be burning.” Picture that servant again, going around and tending carefully to the lamps, hour after hour. That’s an example of giving our attention to the duties of service. Each one of us has to know what the Lord wants us to do. Keep your eyes on these obligations—even those little duties and responsibilities. Sometimes we have big visions for what we should be doing, and we like to do things that are exciting and notable, maybe things that get recognition. But notice how these faithful servants are busy with the ordinary: they’re tending the lamps.

What are the oil lamps in your life—what are the daily obligations and small tasks that God has put before you? What are you called to do at the office? What does the Master say is your task among the children at home? What job has He given you at school? In the community? It’s in the little things that we show our quality as God’s servants. Are we faithful? Are we diligent? Is your lamp burning?

With these words, Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when He’d depart. Soon they would be the servants in God’s household, given full charge of his people, tending to their well-being and faith. And the elders and deacons today have the same task of supervision and spiritual care, of caring and helping. This position involves work. There are late nights. There can be difficult and urgent situations which demand time and energy, and require you to respond promptly. But there are also many ordinary tasks: regular visits, regular meetings, ordinary conversations, counting money and reading reports. Yet this is important work, and this is good work—for it’s the Lord’s work. So they should be ready, with girded waists and burning lamps.

You’ll be ready, when you’ve been praying: praying for your people, praying for wisdom, praying for the Spirit. You’ll be ready, when you’ve been in the Scriptures, knowing the Scriptures, following the Scriptures. You’ll be ready, when you’ve been going to the Master for all the ability and strength and love you need.


2)     servants who are watchful: Jesus has explained what these servants look like. Now Jesus speaks about they’re doing. They’re watching. Sure, they’re working, but as they do, they’ve got their eyes on the door. “You yourselves be like men who wait for their master” (v 36). This is because the master of the house has gone away. They need to take care of his business, and manage his household well.

So it’s an all-important question: Will they show him that they’re faithful? When the master comes back, will they be waiting so “that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately”? (v 36). His servants shouldn’t be distracted, or fooling around. They’re shouldn’t be nodding off, but alert and expectant. They’re ready to open the door the moment he arrives, ready to hand over the care of the house. “That’s what my servants are like,” says Christ, “this is how they’ll do their work.”

This is a lesson about the kind of attitude that office bearers must have. It’s the attitude that we’re only servants, and that we’re working for Christ. We look at the church as his household. We look at the members as his people. And it’s his time—even all the hours in the day. These are the Master’s goods that He’s entrusted to us, for us to steward well.

And there’s a big consequence here, for it means we need to answer to Christ. That’s for all of us, whether office bearers or not: we report to Him. While He’s away in heaven above, are we taking good care of the Master’s business? When He returns, are we ready and unashamed to tell Him what we’ve done with his gifts? Will the Lord have good things to say about our service? Will Christ be pleased with the job we’ve done?

These are real questions. Because the Master is returning. There will come a day for giving an account, for reporting on what we’ve accomplished. Just like the servants in the parable, we’re not just working, but we’re watching and anticipating. And when He returns, will He be pleased with what we’ve done?

Did you notice in the parable how Jesus slips in a reference to where the master has gone? He hasn’t just gone on a business trip or a tropical vacation. He’s gone to a wedding. In the teaching of Jesus, weddings are so often a symbol for the time of Christ’s return. That’s because leading up to a wedding there is much expectation, and at a wedding there is much joy, together with the gift of fellowship and unity, and a special banquet.

If we bring that symbolism into our parable, it becomes even more clear who these servants are working for, and who they’re waiting for. The master is Christ. He’s gone away, but He’s going to return. And the servants don’t know when it’ll be. Point is, they’ve got to be ready to open that door: “And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants” (12:38). When was the second or third watch? It was anytime from 9 pm to 3 am—that’s a long time. It’s also a dark time, in the middle of the night, when people are sleeping. This is exactly when the servants have to be working, and watching.

For as Christ came to earth once, so He’ll come again. “Be watchful,” He tells them, “be ready for the hour of my return. Keep your eye on the door, not forgetting that I’m coming back. And make sure things are ready for when I do.” That’s an encouragement that office bearers need. As servants in God’s household, we must have an eternal perspective—a perspective that looks all the way to the time of Christ’s return.

Sometimes the work done by the elders and deacons feels like it’s just about today. It’s about the here and now, because we’re giving financial support, and trying to develop better marriages, and teach healthier habits, and promote Bible study. All this can seem like it’s only to do with this world and the present life. But if you peel back a layer or two, you’ll see there’s something greater going on. We’re working to make Christ’s people ready for his return! We’re working to have the household prepared for the Master. We want the household cleaned, and well-lit, for when He knocks at the door.

So that should be a regular theme of the preaching—the urgency of the time, the closeness of Christ’s coming. Each of us needs to live in expectation, preparing to meet the Saviour, and putting things in order for his return.

Christ’s second coming also gives a direction and purpose to church discipline. Putting someone under discipline is not a happy task. It’s difficult for the elders, and it can also be misunderstood. Isn’t this all too harsh and severe? But we do it with an eye on the door, with eternity just a moment away. If someone is enslaved in his sin, we pray and work because we don’t want him to perish in his disobedience. We want this sister, this brother, to be saved on the day of Christ—to greet the Master with joy, not terror.

Office bearers need to be watchful for Christ’s return, and they must teach the members to be watchful too. This is what Paul says, “The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. Therefore let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light” (Rom 13:11-12). Paul is saying that we’re in a time of waiting, and also a time of darkness. So there’s a danger that as the years pass, as the bridegroom seems to postpone his return, we might fall asleep, or grow inattentive, or even wander off into the night.

Thus we need a warning, Christ’s call to stay awake. That’s why Jesus goes on in the next verses to talk about another servant, someone careless. This is a servant who says, “My master is delaying his coming” (v 45). He can’t be bothered with the lamps, and he begins to act violently, and to eat and drink and get drunk. This servant will not be ready. This servant will not be prepared to give an account.

For this much is certain: Whether it’s next week or the next millennium, the Master will return! And when He knocks, will you be ready to open the door? When He shows up, will your lamp be burning, bright and clear?

The same lesson is taught in that other parable about the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids. They waited for the bridegroom to show. He delayed, and they slept. But when the cry went up that he was coming, only the wise ones had lamps that were ready to light his way (Matt 24:42-51). The foolish ones tried to make up for lost time and fill their lamps before the door closed, they made their excuses and pleaded, but too late. Shut out in the darkness!

The Son of Man will come to us suddenly, unexpectedly. Even with all the signs of the times that point to the end, we’re going to be startled to see our Saviour at the door. No matter what, it’s going to be a surprise, so any preparations for it must be made ahead of time. If you’re a servant of the Master, you need to be watchful. Let the office bearers be watchful! Let the members be watchful! Let this entire church be a household of servants who are faithful and zealous and expectant in their work for the Lord.


3)     servants who will be richly blessed: A good story often has a twist, something unexpected, a new development towards the end. Jesus does this in his parables too. He said already that those servants whom the master finds waiting for him will be blessed (v 37). By “blessed,” we could understand simply that these faithful servants don’t lose their job—or their heads. But Jesus means much more.

For here’s the twist, that when the master returns, and he finds his servants watching and the house well-cared for, he turns around… and he serves his servants! Listen again to verse 37: “Assuredly, I say to you that [the master] will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.” This is shocking. It goes directly against the culture of Jesus’ day, and our day. The president of a large company wouldn’t humble himself to visit the lowly lunchroom of the janitors so he can hand out coffee and donuts. He won’t serve his servants!

But the gospel turns things around and upside down. Christ is our glorious King, but He’s also one who serves, so that He can bless those who labour for Him. He does the same thing that He expects his servants to do, and he “girds himself.”

Think for a moment of John 13. It’s before the final Passover meal, and all the disciples are gathered together. Jesus then “took a towel and girded himself” for service (v 4). And bending down, He washed his disciples’ feet! It’s an act of deep humbling, yet it’s only a hint at what Christ will do the very next day: He’ll give Himself up to a shameful death, being killed on the cross to save sinners, and to give everlasting life. Jesus, the Son of God, came to serve and to give himself as a ransom for many. He came to bring the richest blessing to his people—even redemption from sin. And when He comes again, He’ll bring still more blessing.

And on that day He’ll reward his servants generously. The Master will take good care of those He’s employed. This is the promise Peter sets before the office bearers: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet 5:4). For those who serve well in the church, there’s the hope of a lasting prize. Those who can give a good account on that day will receive a crown from Christ!

It’s another pointer to where we’re headed. One day the Master will return, He’ll call his servants before Him, and He’ll commend those who have served Him well. He’ll give all the glories of God’s kingdom to those who’ve faithfully done his will. They did it in his strength, and through his Spirit, but He rewards them anyway.

Whether or not we’re elders or deacons, the Master has given each of us a place to serve, and He’s called us to be his faithful servants. Think of the example Christ set before us—His own example of putting aside his glory and dignity, and being a servant for the lowly. As a servant of Christ then, let your waist be girded and let your lamps be burning. Be ready, so that when Christ comes and knocks you may open to Him at once, and you may be with Him forever.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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