Do you know what it means to be a worthy or profitable servant? Do you sometimes feel that, despite your efforts, you are not growing spiritually as you should?
More than once, I have heard a disheartened Church member exclaim: "I'm trying the best I can, but I just don't see much spiritual growth in my life. What's wrong with me? Am I really an unprofitable servant?"
These questions concern every one of us in God's Church.
We are to overcome our carnal tendencies and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). But what causes our growth to be slow at times? Can we be "good Christians" yet still be unprofitable servants? What does God require of His begotten children?
Christ Gave the Answer
One of the best-known incidents in the Bible is the short conversation that took place between Christ and a rich young ruler. From all indications, this young man was conscious of his duties, faithful and respectful. He knelt before Christ, and asked Him what he should do in order to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17).
Christ told him to keep the commandments. Then, to make His meaning even clearer, He quoted the commandments that define man's relationship with his neighbor. Unlike many people today, the rich young ruler did not argue with Christ's answer. He recognized the validity of the order, and the importance of keeping God's laws. In fact, in his own mind, he considered himself to be a profitable servant. "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth," he told Christ (v. 20).
This was an unusual man, indeed! He loved God and was loved by Him. Not many, nowadays, could stand before Christ and tell Him boldly that they had observed from their youth His commandments. But, in his own righteousness, this rich young ruler thought he had passed the test. What else could there have been for him to do, in order to receive his reward?
Christ then told him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me" (v. 21).
What a harsh order—or so it seemed! Why should anyone be asked to give up so much, if he was already doing his best to "be good" and keep the commandments? It did not make sense to this rich young man. He was unwilling to go that far, to sacrifice to such an extent. So he went away "sorrowful," because he had many possessions (v. 22).
Was he a profitable servant? Would you have done better had you been in his place? Are you actually doing any better with what Christ is asking of you right now—however big or small? If your sense of values is no better than the rich young ruler's, are you then an unworthy or unprofitable servant?
Does God Ask the Impossible?
You might be shocked and even irritated if you were told that God expects the impossible of you! That is how the apostles felt when they heard the answer Christ gave the young man.
Would God really ask the impossible? It depends what is meant by impossible and who is doing it. Christ told His disciples that all things are possible with God—even what seems impossible to us.
What is the greatest gift you can receive in this life? Surely it is God's Spirit. If you are a member of His Church, God has given you something the rest of the world does not have. Much will be required of you, because much has been given to you (Luke 12:48).
For instance, you cannot by yourself conquer your human nature, however great your human efforts. But God can do it, and He does it in you through His Holy Spirit. You cannot win a fight against Satan and the lust of the world, but God can and will if you obey Him. Consequently, though on your own you are unable to do much, with God's Spirit you can do the impossible!
Your part is to do God's will—to surrender to Him and let Him shape and use you as He wishes. Some in God's Church believe they are doing their share by merely living good lives. They may be members in good standing, willing to serve whenever called upon. Just like the young man with great possessions, they may consider themselves "good Christians," wondering what is left for them to do to inherit eternal life.
But that is not enough to please God. Even people in the world—people who do not have God's Spirit—can be "good Christians" that way. If your righteousness and deeds do not exceed theirs, you will not enter the Kingdom. They do not have God's Spirit, but you do. Christianity must have for you a different connotation.
Keeping God's commandments, paying His tithes, observing His Sabbath and His Feasts—all these things are required of you. But they will not make you a worthy servant. You must go over and above all these requirements— you must do what others in the world cannot do. God's Spirit in you will not only help you obey His commandments in the letter and in the Spirit, but will also help you fight against the things you are humanly unable to conquer.
You must go over and above the call of duty because you have received God's Spirit—the Spirit of love and power, which enables you to do what, with human nature, you are unwilling or unable to do. That is why Christ said, "when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:10).
God's Spirit Works Through Us
Jesus Christ revealed, in the Sermon on the Mount, the difference between what we humanly can do, and humanly impossible things God's Spirit can do through us.
He stated, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder'" (Matthew 5:21). This is a law any human can learn to keep if he has received proper education. He might even be able to go through life without ever being guilty of a crime. But that will not make him a profitable servant in God's sight.
Christ specified, "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (v. 22).
Think of it! This aspect of the law is impossible for any human being to keep without God's Spirit. But the Spirit of God gives you the help you need, not only to help you not insult your brother, but even to help you not grow angry with him.
Christ said, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery'" (v. 27). Many people in the world have learned not to commit adultery. They are faithful to their mates. Are you in this respect a better Christian than they? Do you obey Christ, who said that "whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (v. 28)? If you are a faithful husband or wife, but you still lust after another person, you are far from being a worthy servant.
"Again," Christ said, "you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord'" (v. 33).
Any well-intentioned human being with the right education can refrain from taking God's name in vain, and can avoid cursing or using other foul language. But you, as a true Christian with God's Spirit, must do something others cannot do. You must "not swear at all: neither by heaven… nor by the earth… nor by Jerusalem… Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black" (vv. 34–36).
And how about love? Is your love, as a Christian, different from the love of someone who does not have God's Spirit? Christ said: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'" (v. 43).Many people succeed in obeying that command. It is easy to love someone who loves you or is close to you—and it is just as easy to hate someone who is your enemy or wants to hurt you.
But Christ added something more, saying that true Christians must "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (v. 44).
You cannot possibly love your enemies the way you love your friends, unless you have God's Spirit. It can be hard to ask God to bless someone who hates you, and who will seize every opportunity to hurt and persecute you. But as a Christian, you must help your enemies in need, do good to them—and even lay down your life for them!
Indeed, much is required of profitable servants.
Giving and Good Works
You do not work, give or serve to be seen of men, but of God. Ultimately, your reward is not of men, but of God. You can only strive toward perfection by allowing God's Spirit to do through you what you humanly cannot do, or do not want to do. If keeping the commandments has become a routine for you, or if you keep them just because it is required of you, then you are indeed an unworthy servant.
During the receivership crisis in the Worldwide Church of God, one Church member asked a minister whether tithes and offerings sent to Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong in Tucson, Arizona, were tax deductible. "If not," this man added, "I want to send them somewhere else so that I can be given credit."
The spirit of getting will not make anyone a profitable servant!
Of course, that man did not show much understanding or conversion. If you are paying God's tithes because you can get a tax deduction, then none of the money you pay—even if you give millions—will make you a worthy servant.
To serve or give because we expect something in return shows carnal- mindedness. Compare that man's attitude with that of the poor widow who gave two mites as an offering. Did she expect anything in return? Did men see it?
No, but God did, and Christ said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had" (Luke 21:3–4).
That poor widow was a worthy servant, not because of what she gave, but because of the spirit in which she gave—her godly attitude, her devotion and her love. That is what made her do more than was required of her.
Do you know the difference between a good work and good works? Whatever your task, you must endeavor to do a good work. That is required of us. But besides doing a good work, we must have good works— works that are not required of us, which we perform without expecting anything in return.
Consider what happened to Dorcas, a widow who did more than was required of her. She was full of good works. Notice the reward she received after she fell sick and died (Acts 9:37– 41). Her friends who had seen her good works sent for Peter. They showed him the coats and garments Dorcas had made while she was alive.
Peter prayed for Dorcas, and God heard his prayer. Dorcas was brought back to physical life because of her good works! She had probably never dreamed, while she was alive, that one day her good works would be a testimony that would favor her to be brought back to life. Dorcas had done more than was required of her without expecting anything in return. She was a worthy and profitable servant.
How about you? Do you have good works? Just remember that keeping the commandments, praying every day and living a "good" Christian life are only part of the requirements of conversion; these works will not necessarily make you a worthy servant. You have to do what those without God's Spirit cannot do.
It Takes Effort
Mr. Armstrong set us a good example; he put forth intense effort doing good works. Ambassador College in Pasadena, Calif., had the reputation of being one of the most beautiful campuses—if not the most beautiful—on the face of the earth. But it did not just happen to be built that way. It required much hard work, drive, determination and vision.
Mr. Armstrong often said that it was God, not him, who did everything. That was true! However, as Mr. Armstrong also explained, he had to work as hard as if he had done it! That is precisely what it takes to be a profitable servant. God is at work, but you have to strive as though you were doing the work. You must push harder and harder as time goes on. That is what Mr. Armstrong strove to do, and that is what Mr. Meredith strives to do—and it is what we all must do!
You cannot be a profitable servant if you are selfish and lazy. You cannot please God if you only do what is required of you or do it in order to be seen by men. If you have God's Spirit, you must live to help and serve. You are a Christian soldier whose fighting is done by God!
Look at Christ's example. Look at how hard He worked, how much He sacrificed and what He gave up! More than anyone else, He lived to help, to serve and to sacrifice. He always did more than what was required of Him.
We should do our good works without ever expecting anything in return. If the people around us do not see our works—or if they do not seem to appreciate them—we should not worry about it. Perform every task as best you know how. God will always give you whatever help you need. Pray for His Work. Learn to love and to serve.
If God sees your good works, that is all that really matters. He will find you to be a profitable servant, and one day you will hear Christ tell you; "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).