Recently I received the following question from a Missouri reader named MJ:
“I have a friend who is a preacher and who also is a Lordship Salvationist. He uses Luke 17:9-10 to show me that the doctrine of rewards should not be a motivator for the Christian. In other words, we should not expect to receive rewards just because we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. What do you think about this text? Is this what it is talking about? Please give me help.”
Luke 17:9-10 deals with a master and his treatment of his servant. It says:
Does he [the master] thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 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.”
The objection of MJ’s friend is groundless. Whatever Luke 17:9-10 means, it can’t contradict other Scripture. Clearly our Lord taught in Matt 6:19-21 that we are to be motivated, at least in part, by the doctrine of rewards. He commanded us to set our hearts on treasure in heaven. So did the apostle Paul in 1 Cor 3:10-15; 9:24-27; and 2 Cor 5:9-10. So did the apostle John in 1 John 2:28. So did the apostle Peter in 1 Pet 4:13 and 5:1-4. Clearly the interpretation that Luke 17:9-10 teaches that we shouldn’t be motivated by eternal rewards isn’t correct.
Luke 17:9-10 teaches that God is not inherently obligated to reward us for our labors. The reason He will reward us is that He chooses to do so, not because He has to. Charles Erdman comments, “In other parables our Lord taught the certainty of rewards which He is to grant faithful servants not as a matter of compulsion on His part but in loving grace” (The Gospel of Luke, p. 175). God has chosen to obligate Himself. However, if He hadn’t so chosen, then there would be no rewards.
Of course, this passage does say something about our attitude toward serving the Lord. The word translated “unprofitable” can also be understood as “not needed” (see Ethelbert Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, p. 833). Our attitude should be that God doesn’t need us. His kingdom work will go on just fine without us. It’s our privilege to be able to serve Him. When we do our duty, we do something which is profitable, yet it wasn’t necessary that we do it. God could use someone else. He could use an angel, or He could do it Himself. Our attitude should be a humble one. We are the servant and He is the omnipotent Master.
When it first dawned on me that God didn’t need me, it was a shock. Yet it was also liberating. It made me see God for who He is. He is so great that He doesn’t need anything. When I used to think that God needed people to serve Him, my concept of God was much too small.
Lordship Salvation theology has little or no place for eternal rewards. According to its teaching, entrance into the kingdom is itself a reward for work done. Since all believers will persevere according to Lordship thought, they can’t tolerate any doctrine that says that non-persevering believers will get into the kingdom, yet miss out on eternal rewards.
Any view of Scripture must take into account all of Scripture. Lordship Salvation doesn’t do this. It can’t harmonize all of the Scriptures because the Scriptures do not teach Lordship Salvation! The way in which Lordship Salvationists handle (or ignore) the doctrine of rewards is a case in point.