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  • The Waiting Servants

    By Peter Amsterdam

    Audio length: 11:58
    Download Audio (10.9MB)

    Within the Gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus spoke of His return in two different parables. While they’re somewhat different from each other, they both make the same point.

    The first parable, found in the Gospel of Mark, is told by Jesus, followed by explanations for His disciples regarding the parable’s application. Prior to telling this parable, Jesus was speaking about events which would precede the parousia (His return at the end of time). He said that only the Father knows when that time will come, but in the meantime, His disciples were to “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:32–33).

    He then proceeded to tell them the parable:

    It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake (Mark 13:34–37).

    The master of the house set things in order by making sure each of his servants knew what they were to do during his absence. He made a point of telling the doorkeeper to stay awake, to be ready for his return, and to open the door upon his arrival. Generally the duty of a doorkeeper was to keep out possible intruders, but in this case he was instructed to be prepared to open the door on the master’s return. However, he wasn’t given any indication as to when that would be.

    Jesus then went on to tell His disciples that they too are to stay awake and alert, because they don’t know when their Master will return. Jesus made reference to the four watches of the night that the Roman soldiers used—the evening, midnight, cockcrow, and morning. His inference that the master could come suddenly didn’t mean soon, but unexpectedly—that he could come at any time and no one would know exactly when he would arrive. If the servant was found sleeping when the master arrived, he would have failed in his duty.

    Similar calls to stay awake and to be alert are found throughout the Gospels: “Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42). “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

    To be discovered sleeping when one is supposed to be on duty would be considered a shameful failure to fulfill one’s obligations. We read of this very thing happening on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion when Jesus told Peter, James, and John to “remain here and watch” as He prayed. Later we read that “He came and found them sleeping,”and said to Peter, “Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:34–37).

    Jesus stressed that His disciples must be alert, awake, aware, and vigilant, for no one knows the time of His coming. What Jesus said to His disciples, He says to all Christians in all times, including us today. Jesus calls us to vigilantly live our faith in a manner that ensures we will be ready to meet the Lord. In Matthew 24, Jesus says, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matthew 24:45–46).

    It’s easy to let our spiritual lives drift to the neglect of our faith and relationship with God. The cares of our everyday lives require us to focus on our daily duties, work, family, friends, and the never-ending affairs of everyday life. It takes intentionality, as well as time and effort to actively live our faith, to feed our souls, to keep our spiritual lives vibrant and relevant, to fulfill Jesus’ call to us: Stay awake!

    The second parable, which has a similar message, is found in Luke 12:

    Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 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. 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. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! (Luke 12:35–38).

    Jesus opens this parable with a call to “be dressed for action.” This expresses the idea of being in a constant state of readiness to act, as 1 Peter 1:13 reiterates: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

    Jesus follows this call to be ready for action with another phrase which makes the same point: “Keep your lamps burning.” This reflects being prepared to take action at night. Both point to an attitude of preparedness that Jesus is calling His disciples to have as they wait for His return.

    The third word picture completes the idea of being prepared: “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.” Wedding feasts during that time period could last for days, and even up to a week, so the servants had no way of knowing when their master would come home. They had to be constantly ready and alert as they waited.

    Jesus used three examples of readiness—being dressed for action, keeping the lamps burning, and being prepared at all times for the master’s return—to express the need for His followers to live in a manner which reflects His teachings. We are to live a life guided by His Word, with one eye heavenward looking expectantly for His return.

    He then focuses on the reward of those who are ready. “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” Those who are awake at the master’s return will receive God’s favor. They have been spiritually vigilant, living their faith.

    Jesus then spoke of the behavior of the master who has returned home and found his servants awaiting him. “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” The master will reverse roles with the servants, which in essence means that the servants no longer have the same status as before. The actions of the master in this parable reflect the actions of Jesus at the Last Supper when He washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:4–5).

    After doing so, He said to them: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14–15).

    This concept of Jesus as the one who serves is found throughout the Gospels, such as when Jesus said that He “came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45), and “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

    Jesus went on to say: “If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!” Unlike the four Roman watches of the night used in Mark’s parable above, in this case Jesus refers to the three watches of the night used by the Jews. He tells those who follow Him that the time of His return is uncertain, and that those who are awake and ready no matter what time the master comes will be blessed.

    Twice Jesus called those servants who are ready and awake when He comes blessed. Scripture teaches that Jesus will return, but that no one knows when His second coming will happen. Like the servants in the parable, none of us know the day or the hour of our Master’s return, but we are exhorted to always be vigilant in spirit in anticipation of that time. At some point the Lord will return, and we want to be ready when He does.

    We can also take the same principles to heart regarding the time of our death. No Christian in history has experienced Christ’s return, but all Christians who have passed on from this life have come into His presence. None of us know exactly when we will die, we only know that we will. From what Jesus taught in these parables, we should recognize that we don’t know when the Master will call us home, and therefore we should strive to be spiritually awake and ready at all times.

    Originally published July 2018. Adapted and republished May 2024. Read by John Laurence.

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Directors’ Corner

Faith-building Bible studies and articles

  • 1 Corinthians: Chapter 2 (verses 9-16)

    As we continue with our study of 1 Corinthians 2, we read in verse 9:

    As it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”1 Paul had said earlier in chapter 2 that those of “this age” do not understand the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (v. 6–7) but that what was once a mystery has now been revealed. Christ, God’s Son, came to earth and was crucified. He is the Lord of Glory and has been revealed to all those who are His through the preaching of the gospel.

    These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.2

    Paul expresses that the deep things of God include what he has been writing about, and that these are revealed through the Spirit. The Spirit alone can tell the depths of God’s purpose and His sacrifice in Christ crucified, which the rulers of this age can’t comprehend. In his use of the word “us,” Paul includes all the Corinthian Christians, but he especially emphasizes those who love God.

    Having introduced the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to God’s purposes in verse 4, the work of the Spirit is the focus of his letter until the end of chapter 2. Some of the Corinthian Christians were making a big deal of being spiritual. Paul addresses this by helping them to see the role of the Holy Spirit in revelation.

    In the second part of this verse, Paul describes the ongoing work of the Spirit. He describes the Spirit as actively “searching,” which is what the Spirit does and continues to do. The Spirit bridges the distance between human beings and the depths of God. The Holy Spirit fully knows God and understands the deep things of God. There are things which are shared with those who have the Spirit (v. 12), those who love God, which is referring to all Christians. The Spirit “searches all things” in that He seeks out and knows the plan and purpose of God, and communicates this wisdom with “those who love him” (v. 9).

    For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.3

    This verse expands on what Paul said in verse 10. Only God’s Spirit can truly know God Himself—His ideas, plans, purposes, and desires. This being the case, the deep things of God could only have been revealed by the Spirit of God, since He alone knows them.

    Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.4

    Paul continues to make his argument that there are two groups of people who must be distinguished: those who follow the “spirit of the world” and those who have received the Spirit of God. Paul assumes that all who have believed in the crucified Christ have received the Spirit, who is from God. The Spirit has been given to us so that we might understand. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every believer has the same spiritual wisdom or understands all spiritual mysteries.

    And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.5

    The contrast between human wisdom and that given by the Spirit continues, as Paul goes on to describe the manner of his own teaching. The means by which the gospel is delivered doesn’t have anything to do with “human wisdom,” rather it is proclaimed by the enabling of the Spirit. Paul speaks of what is or is not of the Spirit and who is or is not of the Spirit. There are some who understand and some who don’t. It is important for Christians to understand that they, as “spiritual people,” have the Spirit to help them evaluate whether things are or aren’t “spiritual,” meaning of or from the Spirit of God.

    The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.6

    This verse harkens back to chapter 1 (verses 18, 21, 23), where Paul writes that the unspiritual person is one who thinks that the things of the Spirit are “foolishness.” Such a person might have been called “a person of this age,” where belonging to “this age” is seen as not belonging to Christ, and therefore coming under judgment. Paul’s use of does not accept indicates that the natural person is not able to understand the things of the Spirit of God. The things of the Spirit of God are the “spiritual truths” mentioned in verse 13, and these are the things the natural person will not entertain. What comes from the Spirit and points to Christ will be seen as “foolishness” (1:23). The unspiritual person is unable to understand that the crucified Christ could be “wisdom.” In Paul’s view, the reason that spiritual truths are not received by the “natural person” is that this requires the presence of the Holy Spirit, who enables understanding. The unspiritual person does not accept the things of the Spirit, and therefore cannot understand them.

    The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.7

    By contrast with the “unspiritual person,” the “spiritual person” can “judge,” and so can make right judgments and know “all things” (v. 10) that the Spirit has revealed “to us.” Such people understand that Christ is the center of all truth and wisdom and will avoid making false judgments based on the values of the age. The spiritual person will rightly judge all things, by grace.

    In this passage, Paul also says that this spiritual person is himself to be judged by no one. There were problems among the Corinthian believers, with some judging others and considering some members to be more spiritual than others. This was often due to believers following different church leaders. Paul is affirming that Christians, who are spiritual people because they are filled with the Spirit, shouldn’t be judged by others. He makes the same point in Romans: Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.8

    “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.9

    Here Paul quotes from Isaiah 40:13, though he doesn’t include the full verse. In the Old Testament, the answer to this question, Who has understood the mind of the Lord, could only be “God.” But Paul takes the reader further. He has said that the Spirit of the Lord knows the mind of God, and therefore those who possess the Spirit can know all that the Spirit reveals. Thus, “we have the mind of Christ.”

    Paul has shown that this “mind,” this understanding or knowledge, is something that all Christians should have because they have the Spirit. It contrasts with the mind of the world, which judges people by their abilities, their status in the community, their prowess in communication, etc. The mind of Christ is one that understands that Christ crucified is what life is all about. The Christian life is one of humility and accepting that all that believers have is by grace and from God. The mind of Christ is one that is in tune with the “wisdom of God” to the extent that it follows the Lord’s will rather than human will.


    Note
    Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


    1 1 Corinthians 2:9.

    2 1 Corinthians 2:10.

    3 1 Corinthians 2:11.

    4 1 Corinthians 2:12.

    5 1 Corinthians 2:13.

    6 1 Corinthians 2:14.

    7 1 Corinthians 2:15.

    8 Romans 8:33.

    9 1 Corinthians 2:16.

     

  • May 14 Virtues for Christ-Followers: Joy
  • Apr 30 1 Corinthians: Chapter 2 (verses 1-8)
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  • Mar 12 1 Corinthians: Chapter 1 (verses 17-25)
  • Feb 27 1 Corinthians: Chapter 1 (verses 4-16)
  • Feb 14 The Book of 1 Corinthians: Introduction
  • Feb 6 Communication—A Key Part of Relationships
  • Jan 30 The Book of Galatians, Chapter 6 (verses 6-18)
   

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