Who is the Unworthy Servant? (Luke 17:10)

Unworrthy servantHow do you see yourself? As a valued son or a worthless servant? As a beloved child of God or a mere minion?

Jesus came to reveal our heavenly Father, so a good sign that you understand all that Jesus did for you, is you see yourself as God’s dearly loved child. But what are we to make of these words of Jesus:

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” (Luke 17:10)

This seems confusing for didn’t Jesus tell the disciples, “I no longer call you servants but friends” (John 15:15)? So which is it? Are we servants or friends? Sons or slaves? We are the children of God!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

So who is Jesus referring to? Who is the unworthy or unprofitable servant? It is not you; it is faith that is never put to work.

Idle faith is useless

Read this verse in context and you will see that Jesus is addressing a request from his apostles:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)

And Jesus basically replies: “You don’t need more faith. You just need to put your faith to work.”

Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep… (Luke 17:7)

Who are you in this story? Who do you identify with? You are not the servant but the master in charge of the servant. “Suppose one of you has a servant.”

Do you see? You have a servant called faith. Faith is a gift from God, but faith that does nothing is unprofitable servant. Like a servant, faith needs to be put to work.

I like how Andrew Wommack explains this in his book You’ve Already Got It:

Not using your faith is like allowing your slave to sit on the couch and do nothing but watch television all day. Instead of growing stronger and more efficient through use, their muscles atrophy and their abilities become dull. Then you wonder why your faith isn’t producing anything. You haven’t put it to work! (p.159)

The word unprofitable appears only twice in the Bible; here in the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant and also in the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:14-30). In both stories the word is used to describe a useless servant.

In the Parable of the Talents the unprofitable servant is the one who does nothing with the talent entrusted to him by his master. The talent refers to God’s grace, which comes to us by faith alone. You may be worried that you don’t have enough faith, but that’s not the issue. The issue is whether you believe God is good, that he loves you, and wants to see you reign in life.

In the Parable of the Talents the useless servant thought his master was not good. “Master, I knew that you are a hard man” (Matt 25:24). He could not receive his master’s grace and returned it to him. He was faithless and unpersuaded and ended up in the outer darkness.

Faith is being persuaded about God

If you will not be convinced that God is good to you, your faith is useless and you will never experience his goodness in your life. You will crawl in the darkness when you could be dancing in the light.

“Sounds good, Paul. If only I had more faith.”

Aren’t you listening? You don’t need more faith; you need to put your faith to work. You need to stop wavering and make up your mind that God is who he says he is and does what he says he will.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rom 8:31-32)

Note the question in this passage: what shall we say in response? Faith is a positive response. It’s saying, “Yes, I believe God is for me.” That’s it. That’s faith.

Do you see? You don’t need more faith; you need to make up your mind. You need to stop worshipping at the altar of uncertainty and find your rest in God’s goodness and grace.

“How do I do that?”

Look at Paul’s second and third question: If God is for us…? He is. If he gave us his Son…? He did. When you consider all that God has done, faith gets off the couch. When you consider his awesome goodness, faith begins to work.

How do you put your faith to work?

By renewing your mind and being persuaded that God, who has already given us his Son, will supply you with everything you need according to his riches in Christ Jesus.

Grace and peace to you.


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40 Comments on Who is the Unworthy Servant? (Luke 17:10)

  1. Brandon Petrowski // June 30, 2016 at 1:05 am // Reply

    Very well said.

    • Brandon Petrowski // January 12, 2023 at 3:23 pm // Reply

      I have been thinking a lot about this article the past couple days. It makes me see the book of James in a whole new way. It was never some kind of tension or balance between faith and works. It’s about utilizing your faith and the fruit that comes from it.

  2. Hello Paul, enjoying the reading & I agree with you, Lk.17:7 does say “one of YOU has a servant”, but I’m trying to understand how V7 fits with the rest. I’m just not sure how the verses fit together. V8 AND V9 refer to the Master as “HE”, not “YOU”. And V10 seems to me to imply YOU are the servants, not the master. “So likewise YOU, 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.” Can you please explain in more detail the way you see it?
    I’m just trying to understand. I also wonder if Jesus is trying to say there’s no reward for doing one’s DUTY. That Salvation is by GRACE alone, through Faith. Undeserved GRACE. Thank you for all your hard work! May the Lord be gracious to you.
    ~ Natalia in Idaho ~

    • I’m wondering the same thing! I always saw it as us being the servants, and if we don’t bring Christ any profit, we’re not really saved and will be cast out (because wouldn’t real servants, well, serve?). I like Paul’s interpretation but I’m struggling.

      • I talk about the unprofitable servant in my article on the Parable of the Talents.

      • I was wondering the same thing. I also read “The Parable of the Talents” by Paul Ellis, but that still doesn’t clarify why Jesus said: “So YOU too, when YOU have done everything that was assigned…”. I guess this may be what Joseph Prince explains about rightly dividing the scriptures – before and after grace (Jesus’ finish work at the cross). If someone is under the law, and that person fulfills everything, then he is an unworthy servant – he merely did what he ought to do.

    • Natalia – If I am off the mark here, please don’t take offence, but help me see why friends must be servants.

      Take a look at 1 Cor 3:13-16. Do these verses help show a the difference between “obedience to God” while learning to trust him vs the opposite way round__ “trusting God” with obedience being somewhat the trailer?

      The Master as “He”, is still “You”. When the slave [servant] agrees to the wage for service, the wage is the reward. Our wage is the Person of Ya’shuah (Jesus). Hearing + listening + doing what we see Him doing – is He our duty; no, He is our privilege. We are bought with a great price; it’s our privilege to give & simultaneously receive as a friend along side God – to be affecting those who cross our path. To see (disciple) that person into Kingdom Culture.

      There is no duty, there’s only loving – one anothering.

  3. good clarification Paul, i have pondered this for 40 some odd years,every little bit helps, I always end up trying to muster up faith,it will manifest it self as your trust and relationship with father grows

  4. Great insight into the word of the god,have heard that prayer a couple of times before increase my faith but it’s true we have already got it😃 god bless

  5. God is good even when you are bad. He says you are worthy even when you think you are not. He loves you even when you see yourself as unlovable.

  6. Realising faith is our servant is massive! The Word says “greater is He that is in us than He that is in the world” and “This is the victory that overcomes the world even our faith”. Surely here is our answer to any challenge we could ever be faced with in life!
    All that is asked of us is that we believe and it’s ours! Clearly we need to take action (believe) and put our servant to work! Be healed, cast your fear out, thank Him for the provision you need, draw on His Wisdom – and let us remember faith always comes,
    If we go it God’s way, and heed what He says ie. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God!!
    Amen!! Trevor

  7. Wow! Going to print this out and keep it in front of me….
    I NEED THIS!!! Thank you brother:)

  8. Thank you for unveiling this hidden treasure for us to see and understand. I am thankfully established in grace, the truths of Grace first began to be sent my way through Neil Anderson, Freedom in Christ ministry’s (1994), Dayne Massey, Word of Life Ministry (1999); then John Sheasby, Liberated Living ministries (2000), then Frank Viola, Joseph Prince and you (2006). I am so thankful for my heart being established, no more sin consciousness, only Christ consciousness, righteousness consciousness. Thank you for sharing this hidden treasure I often wondered about the confusion of the word that talked about servants and sons. I know I am his precious daughter and I know he values me and he is living his life in and through me and this is peace.

  9. Thanks Paul! Very encouraging word! Faith comes by hearing the goodness of God in the Gospel!

  10. Mubela Mutale // June 30, 2016 at 2:10 am // Reply


  11. Needed to hear this today, Paul. Thanks, bro 🙂

  12. Thank u Paul, always an eye opener…. Maybe u can help with my new dilemma . I’ve heard that if we aren’t being persecuted, then maybe we aren’t followers of Christ. I haven’t felt persecuted as yet in 5 years….

  13. Awesome! This concept could change Christianity as a whole, and I pray it does. Thanks for teaching! God bless you.

  14. Wonderful. Absolutely insightful. Thank God for His word.

  15. Thanks Paul. You always explain things so clearly. I’ve just forwarded this to a friend who is struggling with this very issue.

  16. Lawrence Lerewanu // June 30, 2016 at 8:23 pm // Reply

    Thanks Ellis for this new line of thought on the above. Putting faith to work as a servant is a great idea, but need further exploration, especially when confronted with issues which as it were don’t budge, eg cancers, congenital cases etc. I’ve pondered over this issue of Jesus’ words in the Luke 10: 12 verse and I think that that the pronoun and additive: you also…leaves little room for the implication that the intended object is faith and not humans. Metaphors are just that: and we are marvelously glad for this. Aren’t we all unworthy of the grace that in the first place makes us children of God? We need to tread cautiously.

  17. Yeah, way off on this one. The text clearly implies Jesus compares the disciples, and thereby us, to the unworthy servants. The implication that Jesus suddenly starts talking to the disciples faith in the second person doesn’t make any sense.

    Also, the text calls the servants ‘unworthy’. Paul rewords this as ‘worthless servant.” That is a big difference. Unworthy is merit based and is a comparison to someone or something. Worthless is a claim of identity and being. Huge difference.

    Our relationship with God is multi-faceted and cannot be encapsulated in just one idea. We are called sons and servants. Bride and brothers.

    • Tim, I can tell that you are not a father for no parent thinks of their children as their servants. Nor does the Lord: “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever” (John 8:35). Don’t confuse identity with occupation. We are the children of God first, second, and third. We are not God’s servants but his sons. “I no longer call you servants” (John 15:15). More here.

  18. Thanks, Paul, for clarifying. I struggled for years with feelings of unworthiness. The main culprit: RELIGION.

  19. Conversation starter – Is there a two-fold thing going on here? 1.) What do we do when we read, [Q: P. Ellis] “it’s not you, it’s faith that is not put to work…” Is this pointing to faith without works is no faith at all? Perhaps many of us are trusting our faith to faith alone & not in the One who grants it? Could it be too, a cousin to the parable of the sowing of the seed? If any here be the case, then Matt 7: 21-23 [past tense] speaks to a very pressing issue – no? How can a true friend of Ya’shuah (Jesus) best hear + listen + be doing what they see Him still doing in the Earth & not GO & do what they see Him doing? Perhaps it’s already in the Word’s words__ “…I never knew you.”

    2.) or, could there be a correlation with 1 Cor 3:13-16… salvation yes yet, only as through the flames. What does this actually say? That (some, many…) believers truly will go through some of the tribulation terrible broken earth times__??

    Paul – great get on this on

  20. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I thought I was going to “THE POT” because i felt unfaithful or didn’t exercise faith. When all the time it was (and still is) there just waiting for me to kick it out of bed and shove it out the door to go to work! I tell ya! If I could sue the Law for damages, I’d be a billionaire!

  21. In the master/servant illustration, the point that jumps out at me is similar to the wine skins parable – new covenant faith has no mixture with old covenant adherence to commands.
    As far as the unworthy servant – he’s saying it’s US who will view ourselves as unworthy, nothing special, just doing what we are told – where’s the fun in that relationship. The master -servant symbolizes old cov relationship and even if we were excellent servants, it would get us no closer to resting in the Father’s love – which is faith at its core. (I’m not saying that seeing yourself as a servant as the apostle Paul did is incorrect – Just that in the context of these vs, Jesus wants to straighten their crooked view of faiths roll). We think (as they thought) that he’s looking for employees and that’s why they wanted more faith – to be better workers. Thankfully Jesus sought to correct that. Jesus’ whole deal was trying to reveal a loving Father that adores his children and inviting them to partake in His love. It’s religion that wants to sign you up for employment, not Mr. Grace. Jesus literally wants to win you over as a friend.
    Faith is relating to God void of any manipulation tactics. Obedience was the teaching/demand of the law, not faith. Until faith was revealed we were held by the law. A man under law obeys, a man under grace has faith.
    Most Christians have been taught that Christianity is about like a dog learning to do certain tricks to get treats. How sad. Christians are the receivers of the abundant miraculous love of God apart from your efforts to achieve this status, it has been gifted– there’s no manipulation necessary.
    When it comes to walking with God, we need to switch to faith mode. Nothing else will work.
    He puts the master – servant (employer, employee) relationship on display from both sides to make a point. The master is not overly appreciative or thankful or gracious to the servant but expects the orders to be followed. And the servant is not expectant of any special treatment for doing their job because they are only doing as told (unworthy). Grace and faith are non-existent in such a relationship.

    So thankful for E2R – teaching the realities of the New Covenant!

  22. Jason Arthur Crockett // September 29, 2018 at 8:17 am // Reply

    “Do you see? You have a servant called faith. ”
    Stop Preaching Speculation!
    Luke 17:10 – Says Otherwise!

  23. That verse on the 17:10 refers to true Christians if you consider your self as one of them you will understand that verse, that verse reminds us to be humble, whatever good deeds we do we don’t give the credit to our self, we have to honor it to God because we can’t do anything without him. Sorry about my English

  24. It is a beautiful interpretation but has nothing to do with the story. We believers are incredible, when the bible clearly says one thing we see what is not there!
    Dear Paul, I do not know what lighting you had but the word servant refers to the disciples and not to the faith.

    • john kariuki // December 15, 2020 at 6:16 pm // Reply

      dear Ezekiel, I suggest the problem is solved if we view faith as our servant to help us carry out the will of our master whose servants we are in verse to. We are servants that have a servant.

  25. This is the way I interpreted the Luke 17 10 parable it’s amazing to see so many different ways people see this in a negative way or interpretation. You know as well as I that all Jesus did and said was and is positive and prosperous for us in him thank you for your interpretation it made my day

  26. Thank you! This has really helped.

  27. Jenny Beauchamp // December 12, 2019 at 3:43 am // Reply

    We were never slaves to God. We are slaves to faith because it’s now our nature. If ever being a slave is good, this is it! Only God could make that so. Also, remember He is the author and finisher of our faith. An Author is the start/beginning of something, Jesus is the One Who created faith and He will finish it in us. I don’t think we will need faith when we are standing face to face, when we will see as we are seen! Our part is to enter and remain in His Rest. If we want to work for God, work hard at remaining in His Rest! Crawl in the back seat and let Him drive–Let Go and Let God! The marvelous ride will be ABUNDANT Joy and Peace with God/Jesus driving. Walking out faith is not a complicated thing-if you have faith that you have mail in that box at the street, then get up and walk out and open the box and get your mail. If you have a good thought, know that it’s from God and just do what the thought was. Trust Him! The focus is Jesus Christ each and every time, our faith is from Him and in Him! May He renew our minds today–of Who He is in us! Blessings.

  28. I reread and reread and reread the passage and again what you wrote. I regret what I wrote some time ago! Thanks Paul, I want to translate it into Italian.

  29. I wish I had read your essay before my interpretation of this parable cost me my last job, three years ago. I was just about to start a new job in a care home, and I imagined Jesus saying to me, ‘You’re going to screw this up, because you’re just an unworthy servant. You wicked, lazy servant! Depart from me, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels!’ So, from day one, I behaved inappropriately, and was sacked within a few months. When I was sacked (and therefore, there were patients in the care home whom I was no longer feeding), I imagined Jesus saying to me again, ‘Depart from me, into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.’ It seemed to me that an inferiority complex was both something Jesus commands us to have as a sign of humility (this parable) and a self-fulfilling prophecy which is the reason he is going to send us to hell (Parable of the Talents).

    To me, it feels as though Jesus is saying, ‘If you had servants, you wouldn’t treat them with any respect or consideration, would you? Of course not! So don’t expect God to be any different – know your place!’ I’m glad you think differently – but it may take a while to get used to believing that Jesus is nice.

  30. sometimes I go back to reading this parable and I thank you for having opened a window with this explanation but the text leads me to ask myself the same question … first Jesus compares me to the master but to v10 “so do you also …” to the servant useless. I do not understand how it can be said that the useless servant is faith. Can you help me understand it better?

  31. john kariuki // December 15, 2020 at 6:11 pm // Reply

    i see that people have a problem because verse 10 seems to identify the believer as the servant. i suggest to you that both faith and the believer are servants. faith is my servant to help me carry out my masters will. then Jesus points out my servanthood in verse 10. The centurion had the same experience. He identified himself as a boss to his servants but also identified Jesus as the Ultimate Master of all. These two stages of mastership and servanthood will solve the problem of this text. Faith is my servant and I am a servant of Jesus.

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