By J.R. Miller
Our Lord often taught the lesson of watchfulness. The duty is one which cannot too frequently be impressed. We are all apt to grow negligent concerning things which we do over and over, day after day, through many years. We need to have our thoughts often called to the duty of unceasing watchfulness in service, instant readiness for anything that may come.
The lesson opens with a wise counsel: "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning." These figures suggest readiness for instant and intense action. The loose garments must be kept drawn up and tied, so that without a moment's delay we may be ready for the march, and may not be impeded in our journey. The lamps must be kept always burning, so that whenever the Master may come, we shall be ready to rise and go with Him. A characteristic phrase more than once reappearing in Paul's epistles is, "I am ready." Every Christian should hold himself ready at a moment's notice to do anything or go anywhere at the bidding of his Master.
Men looking for their absent master, waiting for his return--is the figure used to illustrate the waiting of the Christian for his Lord. No promise of Christ's was given more often, or repeated more impressively, than that He will come again. The time of the return--is indefinite and unknown; but of the fact that He will come--there is not the slightest doubt. His coming is always imminent--any hour He may come. These truths are presented in the parable we are now studying. The master is away, and his servants are left in charge of his house. When he will come back, tonight or a month hence, they do not know. But they are so to conduct themselves that, at whatever moment he may return--they will not be confused, and he will not be disappointed.
It is high honor which the Master shows to the servants whom He finds faithful. "It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them." No honor could ever be higher than this--that the master should bid his servants sit at the table, while he himself takes the servant's place and waits on them. Yet this is just what Jesus will do for His faithful ones, at the heavenly feast. He did it, indeed, at the Last Supper, when He washed His disciples' feet. He said also to them, "I am among you--as he who serves" (Luke 22:27). We cannot understand this--but we know that heaven holds for us surprises of blessedness far beyond our highest dreams. The picture suggests to us also--the dignity and nobleness of service. We may think it menial and degrading to serve--but in Christ's kingdom those who serve--are the highest. Love always serves, and love is divine.
Christ sought to make it very plain to His people--that the time of His coming to them cannot be known. He may come in the second watch, or in the third watch, or in the dawning of the morning. The value of this uncertainty as a factor in life--is to press the duty of incessant watchfulness. "If the good man of the house had known in what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through." Of course. But that is just what men cannot know--when the thief will come. Thieves do not send, beforehand, a notice of the hour when they intend to break into a man's house. They come when the master of the house is least likely to be watching. So Christ will come as a thief in the night. This means that His coming in the last days will be entirely unexpected and will be a surprise!
The great lesson impressed in this passage, is the duty of readiness for the coming of Christ. While the words had special reference to the great and final return of Christ to the world--the lesson applies to every coming of Christ. We never can foretell any future, even the nearest to us. We never know what may happen in the next hour. We should so live--that any moment of our days and nights we may be ready for any coming of Christ, ready for any duty that may be most suddenly given to us; or ready to die if the call to go home should come to us.
What does this mean? For one thing, it means that we must be at peace with God, reconciled to Him. It means that we must be faithfully following Christ, doing our work day by day, hour by hour--as it is given to us. One who is not saved--is not ready for Christ's coming. DEATH is a coming of Christ to men, for it ends their probation and ushers them into the presence of God. No one is prepared for death--who has not accepted Christ as Savior, and is not living in Him.
There is a beatitude in our lesson which we should take into our lives. "Blessed is that servant whom the master finds so doing--when he returns." "So doing"--how doing? Doing his work with fidelity. If a man went away and left a servant in charge of a certain piece of work, fixing no time for his returning, what should the servant do in the master's absence? Sit in the doorway and watch to see his return? That is not the kind of watching that will please his master. He wants his servant to attend to the duties assigned him--and desires to find him, on his return, not idly gazing out at the window--but busy at his work! The way to be ready for Christ's coming, whenever and in whatever way He may come--is not to sit down in idleness and watch for His appearance--but to keep at one's tasks with unceasing diligence, so that when He comes He may find our work all finished!
Again and again is repeated the warning to those who are unfaithful. "The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers!" There are several things said about this servant. For one thing, he is unbelieving. "My master is taking a long time in coming." As a result of his unbelief he is unfaithful to his duties and to the trust reposed in him. Then, besides unfaithfulness in duty, he is unjust to his fellow servants. He becomes selfish, grasping, domineering, and cruel. Then in his own moral habits he becomes debased. He is found eating, drinking, and drunken.
The punishment of the unfaithful and evil servant is stated clearly in the last verses, "He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows!"
It is a fearful thing to disregard life's solemn responsibilities. We should compare these two pictures--the faithful and the unfaithful servant--and know positively which one of the two is our own portrait.