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Luke 12:41-48 (NIV) reads:

The Faithful or the Unfaithful Servant

41 Peter said, “Lord, does this parable apply to us, or do you mean it for everyone?”

42 The Lord answered, “Who, then, is the faithful and wise servant? He is the one that his master will put in charge, to run the household and give the other servants their share of the food at the proper time. 43 How happy that servant is if his master finds him doing this when he comes home! 44 Indeed, I tell you, the master will put that servant in charge of all his property. 45 But if that servant says to himself that his master is taking a long time to come back and if he begins to beat the other servants, both the men and the women, and eats and drinks and gets drunk, 46 then the master will come back one day when the servant does not expect him and at a time he does not know. The master will cut him in pieces and make him share the fate of the disobedient.

47 “The servant who knows what his master wants him to do, but does not get himself ready and do it, will be punished with a heavy whipping. 48 But the servant who does not know what his master wants, and yet does something for which he deserves a whipping, will be punished with a light whipping. Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given.

Did the unfaithful servant lose his salvation or was he never saved to begin with?

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  • This has the same answer as your other question.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 20:44
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    You are asking us to distinguish between two indistinguishable scenarios, purely from the point of view of speculation. It is a Chinese room question. What could it possibly matter, if no one can ever detect the difference between someone losing their salvation and never having it but just thinking they have it?
    – Robert
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 2:02
  • @Robert it matters when you are pondering doctrines such as eternal security (aka osas).
    – user38524
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 2:08
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    @Robert if I have a passport and a visa and a flight to Europe, will I go to Europe? I certainly intend to. But what if I lose my passport? Does that mean I was never going to Europe in the first place? If I have enough time I might be able to apply for another passport. Does that mean I was the same as the guy that had no intention of going to Europe, never made a passport, never applied for a visa and never bought a flight to Europe? These two guys are indistinguishable to you? Nonsense! Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 5:59
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    Religious theological topics belong to Christianity SE
    – Michael16
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 3:41

7 Answers 7

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Not every so-called "servant of the Lord" has attained salvation.

Matthew 7:21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

It's one thing to say that one knows Jesus; it's another that Jesus knows you.

Luke 12:46 then the master will come back one day when the servant does not expect him and at a time he does not know. The master will cut him in pieces and make him share the fate of the disobedient.

This servant knows his master's orders but refuses to obey. He is disobedient. He has not truly believed.

47 “The servant who knows what his master wants him to do, but does not get himself ready and do it, will be punished with a heavy whipping.

This servant is smart enough to understand his master's will, but delays carrying out the orders. He will be punished heavily but will not be killed as the disobedient one earlier.

48 But the servant who does not know what his master wants, and yet does something for which he deserves a whipping, will be punished with a light whipping.

This servant knows his master but is ignorant of his orders. He is punished lightly.

Did the unfaithful servant lose his salvation or was he never saved to begin with?

The servant who understood his master's orders yet did the opposite, he never truly knew his master. He was never saved to begin with. He belonged to the class of willful disobedient.

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  • You did not answer the question: "Did the unfaithful servant lose his salvation or was he never saved to begin with"? Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 22:06
  • The Greek translated “to know” doesn’t mean Jesus had no knowledge of the person, it means they were never intimately aquatinted, like really close friends. It was superficial by comparison but still a relationship of sorts. He was entrusted with a portion of wealth after all. Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 6:05
  • Right. I modified.
    – user35953
    Commented Jan 31, 2021 at 15:28
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Pardon me if I am mistaken, but the wording of your question suggests that you are working backwards (from this day and age) to an ancient time when a parable was told to teach Jesus' disciples something important about what to watch out for regarding themselves, individually. Jesus was not asking them to form a judgement on whether this hypothetical character (the unfaithful servant) was 'saved' or not. He was asking them to consider how an unfaithful servant would be judged by his master. The clear point for them was to think on how awful it would be for them, as individuals, to be judged unfaithful by their Master, Jesus Christ, when he returned.

They were not interested in a non-existent, fictional character. They were not thinking in terms of that one being saved, or not being saved, because ‘Are you saved?’ is a modern-day question that has a lot of baggage attached to it. Yes, the people in Acts 2:37 asked “What must we do?” and they were told to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved. But many believers today tell others what they must do to be saved then make a judgement on whether those people get saved, or not, depending on what they do. If that is the approach to Jesus’ parable, the point of examining ourselves will be lost on us.

Christians are told in Romans 14:1-14 to stop judging others, especially those weak in the faith.

“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth… So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

When we read Jesus’ parable with that truth in mind, we will not even ask the question, “Did that imaginary servant lose his salvation or was he never saved to begin with?” He never existed, to begin with!

We will ask, “As Christ is my master, will he judge me as faithful or unfaithful when he returns?”

Tragically, there are some religious denominations that have made an entire doctrine out of this passage, calling themselves “the faithful servant” class, and all who disagree with them “the unfaithful servant” class. But nobody is immune to missing the point of Jesus’ parable about the need to watch ourselves. We can all be so busy looking at other people (confident in our own supposed saved status) that we are judging whether ‘they’ are saved or not. Christ is the Judge. We dare not even think about trying to usurp his role. I’m not suggesting that you are trying to do that – just flagging up the extremes of misunderstanding that can arise if we don’t stick to judging ourselves on this matter, as Jesus’ words require.

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Did the unfaithful servant lose his salvation or was he never saved to begin with?

Luke 12:41-48 (NIV):

41 Peter said, “Lord, does this parable apply to us, or do you mean it for everyone?” 42 The Lord answered, “Who, then, is the faithful and wise servant? He is the one that his master will put in charge, of running the household and giving the other servants their share of the food at the proper time. 43 How happy that servant is if his master finds him doing this when he comes home! 44 Indeed, I tell you, the master will put that servant in charge of all his property. 45 But if that servant says to himself that his master is taking a long time to come back and if he begins to beat the other servants, both the men and the women, and eats and drinks and gets drunk, 46 then the master will come back one day when the servant does not expect him and at a time he does not know. The master will cut him in pieces and make him share the fate of the disobedient. 47 “The servant who knows what his master wants him to do, but does not get himself ready and do it, will be punished with a heavy whipping. 48 But the servant who does not know what his master wants, and yet does something for which he deserves a whipping, will be punished with a light whipping. Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given.”

Theologically, two opposing views exist regarding the unfaithful servant: either he was never 'saved' to begin with, or he was saved but subsequently lost his salvation. However, since Jesus is the truth and speaks the truth, there should be one definitive answer, especially in this message concerning the potential consequences of our eternal destiny. Therefore, all ministers and teachers of the Word must exercise great care and discernment in their interpretation and exposition to the flocks. Careful examination of the text, prayer for spiritual discernment, and a commitment to understanding Jesus' intended message are essential, to avoiding presumption or bias. Let's carefully examine Jesus' words in detail.

1. Historical Context of the Parable

In ancient society, including Jewish culture, servants or stewards held pivotal roles in managing household affairs, especially in the absence of their masters. These servants carried significant responsibilities, demonstrating their masters' trust in them. The return of the master was a momentous event, where a servant's readiness showcased loyalty and diligence. Jesus leveraged this well-known social structure to impart profound spiritual truths to His disciples. By portraying the servant as one entrusted with authority and expected to act responsibly according to the master's expectations, Jesus emphasized the inherent accountability in God's work. The parable underscores the crucial importance of vigilance and faithful service in anticipation of the master's return.

2. Special Relationship of the 'Servant' to the Master

It's crucial to note that the 'faithful, wise steward' (verse 41) is described by Jesus in verse 42 as a blessed 'servant' (δοῦλος) — a bondslave. In the New Testament, this term specifically refers to believers redeemed by Jesus' blood, who willingly live under Christ's authority. 'δοῦλος' (doulos) is used figuratively to describe the Christian's relationship to God, relationships among Christians, and Christ's relationship to God. Thus, in the parable, the 'servant' is portrayed as a blessed bondslave of Christ, demonstrating deep and committed devotion rather than merely fulfilling a temporary role. This special term signifies not just duty-bound service but profound obedience to the Master, reflecting the intimate bond expected of believers redeemed by Jesus' blood. This relationship highlights the profound connection between the servant and the Master. The servant's role transcends mere employment; it signifies a life committed to faithfully serving the Master, wholly devoted to Christ and His mission.

3. Theological Implications of Losing Salvation

The question of whether the unfaithful servant was never saved or lost his salvation explores the tension between God's sovereignty and human free will. Throughout the Bible, narratives of God's sovereignty and human free will are intertwined. God, in His sovereignty, granted humans autonomy, blessing them with the command to 'be fruitful and multiply.' However, the Scriptures show that people can change and act against God's will. For instance, Adam and Eve took the fall by choosing to disobey God's explicit commandment and side with the Serpent, demonstrating their free will and the resulting consequences.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus illustrates that good seeds sown on good soil yield varying harvests, revealing differing levels of obedience and fruitfulness among believers. The first three types of soil—the road, the rocky ground, and the thorns—each receive the same good seed but respond differently. The seed on the road is quickly snatched away, showing a careless disregard for the word. The rocky ground initially accepts the seed but falls away due to persecution, representing a shallow commitment. The thorny ground allows the seed to grow but is ultimately choked by the cares of wealth and desires, illustrating a change in priorities. These responses are based on personal choice, highlighting the role of volition in spiritual outcomes. It is noteworthy that these soil types symbolize different responses among God's chosen people, reflecting their varying attitudes toward His word.

Despite God's goodwill and grace, humans and God's people can resist, as further evidenced by Israel's historical rejection of God's calls to return and their rejection of Jesus.

These biblical examples emphasize that individuals act of their own volition rather than being preordained by God. In the parable of the 'Blessed Servants,' Jesus indicates that while God entrusts His grace and tasks to believers, they can indifferently fall away through deliberate and unrepentant disobedience. This is akin to a branch grafted into Jesus, the true vine, ceasing to bear fruit and facing eternal demise.

4. Practical Applications for Believers

To ensure that believers remain faithful servants, it is essential to stay vigilant, regularly examining one's life and actions to ensure alignment with God's will. This involves daily prayer, self-examination through the lens of Scripture, repentance, and confession of shortcomings while seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance.

Engaging in community with other believers provides support, encouragement, and correction when necessary. Being part of a church or small group fosters mutual accountability.

Approaching every task, whether big or small, as an opportunity to serve God means acting with integrity and dedication, even when no one is watching. Recognizing that our ability to serve faithfully comes from God's grace, believers must remain humble and dependent on Him, avoiding the pitfalls of pride and self-reliance.

Conclusion

Biblically and contextually, Jesus implies in this parable that the 'unfaithful' servant, though redeemed by the blood as a bondslave, can lose his salvation if he remains unfaithful and defiant until the Master's coming, challenging some traditional theological views.

This underscores the importance of faithful obedience in maintaining one's relationship with Christ. The parable serves as a gracious and loving exhortation from Jesus to all believers who are blessed bondslaves redeemed by His blood.

Let us receive this parable with humility, avoiding endless theological debates with views that misinterpret Jesus' intended message. Instead, let us align our lives with His teachings, pledging our faithfulness and devotion until His return.

Jesus' words stand as truth and offer salvation to all who heed them!

Sola Scriptura! Soli Deo Gloria!

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  • "avoiding theological debates that distort Jesus' teachings" - how can a debate distort teaching? Is not a debate the only means to spot and repel by arguments distorted teachings? You have good ideas and they are against John Calvin's predestinarian idiocy, so should not you debate against Calvin or what? Commented Jun 14 at 3:50
  • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. The revision should more clearly represent my intention.
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 14 at 5:52
  • Gal.4:1-7 explains Jesus speaking of servants before his death, those serving God in Judaism. Wicked servants would be cast out and never appointed as sons in God's household. But sons are heirs and secure. Christians "art no more a servant but a son... an heir of God through Christ." I should have put that in my answer. This is not about free will/choice, but God liberating those in bondage under the law, which had led them to Christ, placing them now as sons, not servants. Judaic law = those in bondage with Hagar. Sarah's 'son' of promise = Christians, heirs, no longer servants.
    – Anne
    Commented Jun 14 at 14:16
  • @Anne “Son”, “servant”, “slave”, “daughter”, “bastard”, “dauphin” etc etc does nog matter at all, at all, at all! If a legit son abuses free choice and sins, he will be punished even more than a bastard. “This is not about free will/choice” …. WHAT?!!! This is ONLY about free will and choice! Only! Commented Jun 14 at 20:39
  • @Ann - Paul emphasizes in Galatians that all believers are now 'sons' of God and 'heirs' in Christ, apart from the old ways of the law. Galatians 4:7 states, 'you are no longer a slave,' meaning 'no longer a slave to the Law.' This does not negate being a 'slave of Christ,' as Paul proudly declares himself 'δοῦλος Χριστοῦ' (a servant of Christ). Indeed, in Christ, we are sons and heirs of God, ambassadors of Christ, and proud to be reckoned as 'slaves of Christ.' Regardless, Jesus's word saves and must be upheld above all interpretations.
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 15 at 22:32
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Let’s slowly work through this passage. The section your quoting answers a question, asked by Peter, about the parable Jesus had just told. Like many other parables, this one involves a steward. (Servant).

A steward is someone entrusted with administering or managing other people’s wealth or affairs. The possessions stewards control are not their own, and they do not have the freedom to do with them whatever they wish. They are supposed to carry out the desires of those who made them their stewards.

This steward was told to manage these until his master returned. Now back to the answer to Peters question. We find this clearly spelt out in the parallel account in Mark 13.

MARK 13:37 And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”

So, the steward had to watch, and wait for his master. Now here’s the ‘key’ - and then he would/will be judged! So this answers your question - the steward (servant) was not ‘saved’ at the start, in the first place. His ‘judgement’ was not applied until the maser returned, and, as a result of that, he was judged. I say judged, but you seem to want to apply the term ‘saved’. And, you can’t, because of the context.

So let’s briefly look at the context. Jesus is talking about a parable, and parables are all about ‘doing the right thing’ , or in other words, righteousness. Parables [generally] were all about how to live in a Kingdom, and what that kingdom would be based on - right living, doing the ‘right thing’. And, importantly, this is what people will be judged on. (In the Kingdom of Heaven). Works!

Where as us, we believers, living in this church age, we gain our righteousness through Christ. It’s not the same. The point is, you can’t use the term ‘saved’ here, in Luke, with the same ‘meaning’ we apply to it in this church age - which you are trying to do. Hopefully this clarifies why.

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I think the original question is not the focus of Luke 12. I would counter, that a modern, or more accurately, a Post- Reformation view is being superimposed on the chapter.

The chapter is not about assurances of salvation and damnation.That conflict is best seen in the context of European wars and politics of the 1500's and resulting legacies.

Jesus is addressing the Jews in person, and those who come after through the centuries. He specifically addresses the fact that he has servants. We who are part of the Kingdom, are servants.

We individual servants are stewards. Stewards will give account and be reconciled at the completion of our assigned duties. These duties must always be understood as having two parts. A here and now, and a hereafter, following a death or end of the age. Death is central to Luke 12.

The question of whether or not the servant was ever saved, is flawed. He is rewarded according to service. A seditious servant, is a servant, as is the faithful. He does not get saved or unsaved.

But in ch.12 we find a servant who is corrupt, violent and acting to destroy the Kingdom. If he attacks the citizens of the Kingdom, he attacks the Kingdom. A sentence is handed down, of death. The servant status is irrelevant, when one attempts to undermine the King.

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Personally I don't think it is helpful to look for verses about eternal security or salvation in parables when we have plenty to choose from elsewhere. There is a lot of debate about this particular parable and also eternal security . I say let the scriptures speak for them selves. John 3 , FOUR times promise of eternal security John 6, TWICE John 10, TWICE 1 Ephesians 1 Peter 1 Hebrews 10

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The concept of salvation in Christianity involves an initial event of Justification and an ongoing process of Sanctification, and finally receiving an assurance of Salvation.

  1. Justification - This is the initial step where a person accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and their sins are forgiven.
  2. Sanctification - This is a lifelong journey of spiritual growth and maturity.
  3. Glorification - This is the final step which takes place when believers are united with Christ in eternity, receiving an immortal, imperishable bodies at the resurrection.

Regardless of whether one is faithful or unfaithful, servants of God take the initial step by acceptance Jesus Christ as their Lord. However, unfaithful servants do not progress through the stages of Sanctification. According to Luke 12:46, they will be judged with a status equivalent to that of unbelievers.

This parable underscores a crucial truth: faith in Jesus Christ require not only belief but also action. Jesus Himself emphasized this in Matthew 7:21

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (NIV)

Therefore, the answer to the question is not about "losing" salvation or being "never saved". Instead, it lies in recognizing that the unfaithful servants has never completed the sanctification process, and as a result, they lose the justification to be glorified.

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