Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #18–Servants of the LORD

Posted by robf on May 26, 2007

I’ve been puzzling over some of the parables in Luke 15 and 17, especially the story found in Luke 17:7-10. To what extent are we to consider ourselves servants of the LORD? And what might that mean? I think to some extent we are more comfortable thinking of ourselves as children of the LORD, perhaps as either the prodigal or ungrateful sons in Luke 15. Is it appropriate for us to think of ourselves as servants? If so, what does Luke 17:7-10 tell us about how we should expect to be treated? And if we are servants, but aren’t doing all that we are commanded to do, what does that imply about our status with the LORD? The thought of being a servant of the LORD does not give me great comfort at this point, as I’m afraid I could only be considered a pretty mediocre one at best. Are we best considered servants or perhaps (somewhat wayward) children of the LORD?

57 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #18–Servants of the LORD”

  1. BrianJ said

    As I read the parable, I got stuck on the words “unprofitable servant.” I wonder if it’s helpful to think about the term “servant” here as more of a slave—someone who is purchased to work for the master. (My understanding is that a “servant” in the OT and NT was really more like a slave than an at-will employee.) Thinking in those terms, we may understand the word “unprofitable” better.

  2. JakeW said

    I like your point, Brian. I’m much more comfortable viewing myself as a slave to the LORD than a servant, because being a slave to the LORD seems to imply giving all our will to Him, and it is through completely submitting our will to the LORD that we inherit son/daughtership to Him. At least that’s my understanding.

  3. JakeW said

    Also, that seems to follow the timeline of the prodigal son parable. Once he comes before his father in hopes of becoming one of his servants, he is immediately welcomed into the house as a son.

  4. robf said

    So, everyone here is OK being a slave to the LORD? Really? Or do we value our “freedom” too much?

  5. brianj said

    Am I okay being a slave? At least I am “free” to choose to become a slave. {smile} Or perhaps I’m not free to make that choice: other scriptures say that I was “bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20). JakeW makes an important point as well: as soon as we completely submit to being a slave, we are made a son—or at least promised that we will become sons (joint-heirs).

  6. Rich subject, Rob. Brian is very right to point out that “servant” means “slave” more literally (in 1611, “servant” in English meant much the same thing, carried over more directly in those days from the Latin servus, which just means “slave”).

    This question draws on some of the most important imagery, I think, in the scriptures. Moses 6 pictures us as becoming sons of God, and I think that is important. At times, I’m tempted to call the Aaronic priesthood, the priesthood after the order of the Servant of God, as to be compared with the priesthood after the order of the Son of God (Melchizedek priesthood). Thus one has to travel from the one priesthood to the other in a rite of adoption, nicely discussed in Exodus 21:1-6 (where “judges” would better be translated “God”: the Hebrew word is elohim) and then again in Isaiah 22:20-25 (go read those if you have never studied them carefully!). That is, one must go from being a servant to being a son.

    And with which are we more comfortable? That is a very revealing question. Rob asks a lot of those. And I like the seriousness with which they force me to take this gospel.

  7. robf said

    I guess on a personal note, I just don’t think that I’ve taken the servant/slave relationship seriously. For the most part, I choose to serve when and where I want to, and on my own terms. When I read the D&C, I see the LORD almost always referring to the Church leaders as His servants–even after D&C 84 where he says he’s going to start calling the apostles His friends. There’s no way that I take my relationship with the LORD as seriously as my ancestors, who marched in Zion’s Camp, the Mormon Battalion, crossed the plains, etc. I served a full-time mission, helped build the Portland temple, have done a bit of family history work, usually do my home teaching, and muddle along with various Church callings. While I try to do more than I’m asked (at least when its convenient), I would most likely still be considered a slothful and not a wise servant. Pretty humbling.

    Re-reading Exodus 21:1-6 makes me wonder if I should be signing up for a six-year indentured servant stint with the LORD, but take it as seriously as my temple covenants really would suggest I should. These verses are calling to me, but scaring me quite a bit, testing and calling into question my faith. I would pray for more faith, but the response of the LORD here in Luke 17 keeps ringing in my ears. Do I need more faith, or just to stop belly-aching and do what I’m commanded as a servant?

    The servants in the D&C are promised all that is needed to fulfill their commandments. BTW, doesn’t the whole notion of commandments change if we see them as instructions to servants, rather than “guides to living”?

    SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSsssstreeeeeeeeetttttcccccchhhhhhhhhhhhh.

  8. JakeW said

    On feeling comfortable as a servant/slave or a son of the Lord; for me personally, I view calling myself a son of God as somehow being prideful. Not prideful, perhaps, but definitely out of place. What right have I to assume sonship? Isn’t it a gift from God? Also, is there a clear distinction between the two terms? In many ways, they overlap each other.
    This relates I have about the unprofitable servant parable in Luke 17; 7-10. Does the unprofitable servant represent mankind, or can it represent Christ Himself? Does Christ view himself as an unprofitable servant to God the Father?

    One more question; what does it mean to even be a son/daughter of God?

  9. DevanS said

    Luke 17:7-10 talks about how we should plow the field, and then prepare supper for the master, and then afterwards we may eat and drink. This makes me think about the relationship between master and (as was clarified already) slave, (opposed to servant.) The master has servants becuase he cannot do all the work himself. Seeing the master as a symbol of Christ, what is to be said of how we benefit Him? Are we to say that Christ truely needs us to do His work? It could be said that we are needed to do His work in the ways of teaching others about the gospel, but is that all? In terms of this parable, I only see that as the work in the field, what are we to think of preparing the meal for the master?

    The straightforward thought on this is (at least to me) that we should serve our master before ourselves, and that we should not expect any thanks in return. We are eternally in the debt of our Lord becuase he provides for our needs as the master for the servant. (“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…”) Although we are the ones in debt it is still promised us that He will give us all that we need if we but seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. So could this mean that as long as we are in the service of our Father, we are considered his slaves, and he our master, who is still willing to provide all for us if we but submit our will unto Him? (Does this sound a bit like the parable in which the men are hired at different hours, and yet recieve the same pay? They all submitted their wills, and so, recieved the same pay for their various hours of work. This ties in with the question of being “wayward children” of the LORD in that perhaps those men were not prepared to work in the field yet, or perhaps, were they never told that there was work to be done?)

    … And just another thought, what about the relationship between this in Luke 17:8 “…Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink” in relation to the sacrament? Perhaps that is not closely related enough for this discussion, but i thought i would throw that out there.

  10. DevanS said

    Luke 17:7-10 talks about how we should plow the field, and then prepare supper for the master, and then afterwards we may eat and drink. This makes me think about the relationship between master and (as was clarified already) slave, (opposed to servant.) The master has servants becuase he cannot do all the work himself. Seeing the master as a symbol of Christ, what is to be said of how we benefit Him? Are we to say that Christ truely needs us to do His work? It could be said that we are needed to do His work in the ways of teaching others about the gospel, but is that all? In terms of this parable, I only see that as the work in the field, what are we to think of preparing the meal for the master?

    The straightforward thought on this is (at least to me) that we should serve our master before ourselves, and that we should not expect any thanks in return. We are eternally in the debt of our Lord becuase he provides for our needs as the master for the servant. (“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…”) Although we are the ones in debt it is still promised us that He will give us all that we need if we but seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. So could this mean that as long as we are in the service of our Father, we are considered his slaves, and he our master, who is still willing to provide all for us if we but submit our will unto Him? (Does this sound a bit like the parable in which the men are hired at different hours, and yet recieve the same pay? They all submitted their wills, and so, recieved the same pay for their various hours of work. This ties in with the question of being “wayward children” of the LORD in that perhaps those men were not prepared to work in the field yet, or perhaps, were they never told that there was work to be done?)

    … And just another thought, what about the relationship between this in Luke 17:8 “…Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink” to the sacrament? Perhaps that is not closely related enough for this discussion, but i thought i would throw that out there.

  11. DevanS said

    (sorry for the double post, it was my first, and i didn’t know how that worked)

  12. Devan (is Devan who I think she is?) nicely articulates “the order of the servant” here, I think. The structure of servitude is that of infinite debt: the servant is always necessarily unprofitable.

    And this is forcing me to look quite a bit more closely at this parable. It is perhaps a bit richer/more complex than I at first recognized. The Greek word behind “unprofitable” is achreioi, more literally, “unnecessary,” “not needed.” But I don’t think this implies that the master is without need: the master, as Devan points out, needs slaves in order to accomplish the task; but any particular slave is, by the nature of the thing, unnecessary (a profoundly Marxist point: capital/servitude alienates in a reduction to interchangeability). Hence, the master needs slaves, but needs no particular slaves. Thus the statement to be said, according to verse 10: “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

    That this little parable follows on verses 5-6 suggest to me that Jesus is calling the apostles to sonship, suggesting that there is something more He would like them to do than just to “have more faith.” Might this parable be fleshing out Jesus’ apparent frustration with their request? Having more faith, it might be suggesting, is not the point. But that calls me to a more careful hermeneutic still.

    Richer and richer…

  13. BrianJ said

    JakeW: “I view calling myself a son of God as somehow being prideful. What right have I to assume sonship?”

    You’re correct: we have no right. Unless, of course, God chooses to call us such and then we have to go with him. But your point is so very important: son-ship is not automatic and not earned.

    “Does the unprofitable servant represent mankind, or can it represent Christ Himself?”

    Interesting question. However we answer, couldn’t we say either way that Christ represents mankind? (That makes the argument somewhat circular, but I found the thought helpful to me.) Anyway, I appreciate your question because it highlights something about Jesus: we don’t find him assuming roles and titles in the scriptures, rather we find him submitting to his Father’s wills and the roles and titles that go with it. Ultimately, in glorifying the Father’s name, Jesus is himself glorified (“becoming” a son—or The Son—a title you allude to earlier). But Jesus does not glorify or exalt himself, just as we do not take upon ourselves son-ship.

  14. Robert C. said

    Joe #12, here’s a thought about context:

    After the hard teaching about forgiving others, the disciples ask for more faith. It is this asking which seems to be parallel to the unprofitable servant (seemingly) expecting to be given a feast of meat. This suggests to me that the servants should be exercising faith, analogous to the servant preparing the master’s dinner, rather than asking for faith to be given.

    I usually like to think that faith is a gift rather than something that should be exercised, nevertheless this is what the text seems to be suggesting when I read it….

  15. Very interesting, Robert. I’ve got some thinking to do (especially in light of a rather lengthy discussion my wife and I had about faith this morning…).

  16. BrianJ said

    Robert: I think you’re on the right track, but I’m not sure how that fits with some of the other details in the parable. The way Jesus seems to regard the disciples’ forgiveness of others is as “that which was [their] duty to do” (verse 10). He takes a request for faith and turns it around by saying, “It’s not about faith, it’s your job.”

    I’m not sure where that leads (or even how to articulate my question), but it seems that Jesus is making a distinction between faith and obedience; namely, obedience is not faith, so don’t ask for more faith just because you’re having a hard time being obedient. Maybe there is something to be said here about faith coming after obedience, not before. (Note that I’m using the word “obedience” and not “works,” simply because I want to avoid the “faith vs. works” debate.)

    If I’m on the right track (and I really am not sure about that), then consider what Jesus says in verse 6:

    And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.

    Paraphrasing (again), he says, “If you had faith you’d be able to work mighty miracles. But I didn’t tell you to work a miracle, I just told you to forgive others. It’s not about faith, it’s your job.”

  17. robf said

    So, with all of these thoughts about being a servant/slave, I was extended another challenging calling in my ward on Sunday–a calling I have no idea how to fulfill. My initial thought would have been to ask for more faith, but given my thoughts about this scripture this week, I’m not sure that’s the wisest move! I’m still struggling with this passage. Thanks for all the good comments so far.

    I’m having thoughts about Pres. Monson’s familiar “who the LORD calls, the LORD qualifies” counsel, as well as Pres Benson’s “the LORD will make much more out of your life than you can by yourself if you let him” teachings. I’m starting to see just how challenging this servant doctrine really is, and that it may require some huge lifestyle changes on my part if I’m to take it seriously.

  18. BrianJ said

    robf: my empathy (not just sympathy) goes out to you. I wrote on the topic of refusing callings a while ago on my blog. (Here is the link). I don’t mean to throw you a “filed answer” as though your question has already been answered, but I hope my post will be helpful. On your larger point: yes, I too am beginning to feel the pressure of Jesus’ doctrine (notwithstanding his words about easy yokes and light burdens).

  19. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #16, you make a good point. I was thinking more along the lines of a paraphrase like, “You ask for an increase in faith, but it’s not more faith that you need, but a new understanding of faith (an understanding that is based in obedience and a belief that God will give you the strength to fulfill your duty).” Like you, I’m not sure how justified and/or fruitful this approach is….

  20. Cherylem said

    Bailey says that a more correct translation of this parable would have us to understand that the last part of the parable means: “We are servants to whom nothing is owing; we have only done our duty.” That is, the literal rendering, “unprofitable” really is “without need,” with special neareastern understandings of that word. Bailey says that the parable really is about our inability to earn our master’s special favor by obedience, by being obedient servants who do what is, after all, expected. In the larger scheme of things, it is about not adding up our obediences in order to gain reward. Rather, the servant in the parable says: “nothing is owing me; I have only done my duty.” He quotes Hunter, Interpreting the Parables, 1960:

    “The parable of the Farmer and his Man therefore warns us against importing into religion that book-keeping mentality which imagines we can run up credit with God by our works. Jesus says it can’t be done. So does the Apostle Paul.”
    Quoting another paragraph:

    “The Egyptian commentator Sa’id sees the parable as relating specifically to the doctrine of justification and affirming that God’s grace cannot be earned. This becomes abundantly clear when the original language is allowed to surface from the traditional translation. The parable asks the question, “Does he (God) have grace/merit for the servant because he did what was commanded?” The answer is clearly, No! Jeremias is correct in identifying the parable as “a demand for reununciation of all Pharisaic self-righteousness.”

    I feel a little apologetic about always quoting Bailey but he is simply the best I’ve found regarding the parables in Luke. For those of you who want to do the work of reading the 13 pages he devotes to this parable, with a lot of technical stuff about the original text and comparative texts, you could actually go to the book on Amazon: Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant eyes, and search the book in the following way:

    1st search: The obedient servant (gets you the first three pages: 114, 115, 116)
    2nd search: This flow of ideas (gets you the 2nd group of three pages: 117, 118, 119)
    3rd search: servant who serves a great man (gets you pages 120, 121, 122)
    4th search: worthless in reference to (gets you pages 123, 124, 125)
    5th search: evoke from the disciples (gets you final page of the chapter)

    I hope this doesn’t break any copyrite laws . . . but it is all there on Amazon.com.

    . . . And rereading the various comments on this subject, I see that Devan #9 and Joe S #12 have already come pretty close to Bailey’s interpretation themselves.

  21. Cherylem said

    Bailey’s interpretation of the parable reminds me of the female Persian Sufi poet Rabi’a (717-801), who wrote:

    O my Lord,

    if I worship you
    from fear of hell, burn me in hell.

    If I worship you
    from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

    But if I worship you
    for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.

  22. BrianJ said

    Cheryl: If I understand correctly, Bailey’s interpretation is that the word “unprofitable” applies to the bondservant, not to the master. In other words, the bondservant’s work is of no profit for the bondservant (he cannot add up some account against his master), even though the work is very profitable for the master (his investment in buying/contracting the bondservant was wise; he is getting his money’s worth).

    Also, thanks for that beautiful poem. (I’m sure it is even better in its orginal language.)

  23. Cherylem said

    BrianJ #22
    Yes, I think you are right about Bailey’s interpretation. However, the emphasis is on the bondservant, not on the master. That is, the idea that the work is very profitable for the master is not actually in the parable – just in Bailey’s justification for looking at the parable as he does. So that our work as very profitable for our master is not part of the lesson we’re to draw.

    What we do understand, being servants/bond servants, is that we work for the master – he doesn’t “owe” us anything for the work we do as servants. He certainly doesn’t owe us special favors, and we don’t tally the work we’ve done at the end of the day and say: now do something special for me.

    So the “unprofitable” does apply to the servants, but the word itself isn’t quite right. What the parable says is that special favor from the master is “not needed” nor is it expected.

    And yes to the beauty of that poem, which talks about our motivation for service . . . not fear of hell, or hope of reward, but just love.

  24. BrianJ said

    Cheryl: “However…our work as very profitable for our master is not part of the lesson we’re to draw.” Yes, I got that, but I can see how I could be misread. I think that’s actually an interesting part of the parable: there is no information as to whether the master is “making money” off the work or not; as bondservants, it’s really none of our business. Thanks again for helping me to think through this parable—it makes soooo much more sense (I wish I could reward you somehow….){smile}

  25. nhilton said

    I take exception with the concept that we are only sons AND daughters of God through our efforts, thereby earning such a title, a title awaiting bestowal. I do not believe this. First, I could do nothing to earn such a title. Second, it is inherent in my very nature as an offspring of God: therefore we are each a son or a daughter of God.

    Certainly this title could be assumed with arrogance and one should shun such an attitude. But, never, NEVER should we think that we are anything BUT a son or a daughter of a Heavenly Father. Even if you’re citing the “sonship” as being begotten of Jesus in the atonement sense, this is something that we do not do for ourselves and something that is freely given.

    The Young Womens’ theme which they recite weekly espouses this very fact: “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father…”

    I think the message is that we are unable to partake of the fulness of the associated blessings of being such literal offspring unless we loose ourselves in his service and become completely reliant on God for our very existence as is “a grain of mustard seed.”

    The key to this parable, I believe, is in v. 10 when the servant/slave says “we have done that which was our duty to do.” This means that the servant/slave did it out of duty rather than out of any hope for reward. I think this is the point Jesus is trying to make in a culture (yesterday & today) of people doing things for reward.

  26. nhilton said

    Ah, additionally, the converse is true about this servant/slave and son relationship. The identifier of a son is that he becomes a servant/slave as did Jesus for the Father. This is the master/servant metaphore played out again.

  27. robf said

    Thanks for these thoughts. I wonder though if we are a bit too cavalier about the son/daughter relationship, and merely expect to inherit “all that the Father hath” without giving our all to the family business? I think that has maybe been my tendency at times, and most of what I hear at Church seems to partake of that sentiment–if we just keep our noses clean, we’ll go back to live with Heavenly Father someday. Have we become so My-Turn-On-Earthified that we’ve lost a full sense of our duties and obligations as children/servants of God?

  28. BrianJ said

    nhilton, #25: “Certainly this title could be assumed with arrogance and one should shun such an attitude. But, never, NEVER should we think that we are anything BUT a son or a daughter of a Heavenly Father. Even if you’re citing the “sonship” as being begotten of Jesus in the atonement sense, this is something that we do not do for ourselves and something that is freely given.”

    I’m not sure where you are reading someone as implying that we can do anything to merit or deserve or demand to become a son/daughter (in the begotten of Jesus sense). Perhaps when you write, “I take exception with the concept that we are only sons AND daughters of God through our efforts, thereby earning such a title, a title awaiting bestowal. I do not believe this.” you are responding to comments made outside this discussion?

    I’m just a bit confused by your comment, because it seems like it was written as a rebuttal to what was said here, and yet I agree with what you wrote (see #2, 13). (I will say that I think everyone was talking about “sonship” in the “begotten of Jesus” sense that you mention.)

  29. Isn’t it that we were sons and daughters of God, but that we have forgotten that in falling away from it (into khora, as the parable of the prodigal son would have it)? Thus we subsequently offer to become servants, and we just might be made sons and daughters again. Creation, fall, atonement…

    I have to admit that I cringe every time I hear someone assert brazenly, “But I am a daughter/son of God!” Only in the Only Begotten Son are we daughters/sons anyway, and so brazen an assertion sounds very like the language of the son of perdition: “I am also a son of God! Worship me!”

    But who am I?

  30. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #28, I sense at least some distance between what you’re articulating and what robf says in #27, and I think that distance marks the root of nhilton’s comment #25.

    Regardless, I for one still have a lot of questions. Let me approach this from a different approach on infant baptism. On the one hand, it seems that our belief that infants don’t need to be baptized pushes us toward “nhilton’s view” (that we are born as sons and daughters of God, thanks to Christ’s atonement, and will receive a grand inheritance as long as we don’t lose our way). On the other hand, inasmuch as we as Mormons are unique in advocating works as a complement (or manifestation of, I would say) to faith, it seems that we are pushed toward “robf’s view” (that we must repent and do good works in order to become worthy of the inheritance which the likes of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Noah, etc. have inherited…).

    I think there are ways to reconcile these two views—views which I’ve tried to articulate as being opposed to each other—but I think any such reconciliation is far from obvious and that there is much still to work out (at least in my mind). And I think that however we work out this dialectic between these two views is profoundly relevant, esp. to how we teach our youth. As a gross generalization, I think our tendency is to take nhilton’s view with our young women and robf’s view with your young men. I don’t think this is necessarily bad, after all I think today’s culture makes self-esteem more of a struggle for young women, whereas perhaps our young men struggle relatively more in, say, taking blessings for granted….

    [Oops, just noticed Joe’s comment, sorry for repeating the same general idea.]

  31. robf said

    Does the discussion of servants and heirs in Gal 4:1-7 illuminate anything on this discussion here, or is it just a separate analogy comparing the old and new covenants?

    As children, and potential heirs, do we have to do more than just keep our noses clean (obey the temple recommend type commandments) to inherit? Or do we have to be servants–committed to obedience to every word of command to us personally, and to sacrifice, the law of the gospel, to chastity, and to consecrating all of our time, energy, talents, etc. to doing our Father’s work?

    And what does it mean to be children of God? Of Christ? Heirs? Joint heirs? How are these different? Where does servitude fit in and what are the requirements? Will we be judged as servants? Rewarded? How does this relate to grace v. works? Salvation v. Exaltation?

    I’ve got a hundred questions racing through my mind. How am I saved by grace after all that I can do? What if I don’t do all that I can/could/should do?

    Why do these sound like questions an investigator should have, rather than someone who has served in the Church all their life?

  32. We’ve only barely touched on the question of works and grace before here, and never really in any detail. It might be worth taking it up. Those who are on LDS-Herm should have received something I posted yesterday on that very subject, in fact, on pre-destination as Paul teaches it. Would that be something I might copy over as a post here, fleshing it out a bit so that it is not quite so abstract or disconnected?

  33. Cherylem said

    I do want to make a personal application to this issue of obediences/rewards (something different than works vs. grace, I think – though the more serious discussion of works vs. grace, or work and grace is important and I hope it continues).

    I think one way we might look at this issue of the obedient servant includes:

    Example 1:

    I have done everything ever asked of me. I’ve felt close to God. I think I walk with the Spirit. I am an obedient daughter of Heavenly Father.

    So . . . why did my adult child decide to quit participating in church? God OWES me an obedient righteous child for my years of service to him.

    Example 2:

    I believe in obedience. I do everything I’m asked. I teach my children that obedience is the highest law of heaven. I teach the same thing in all my various callings. And I AM OBEDIENT.

    So why does Sr. ______ seem so much happier than me? She only obeys half the rules, darn it. Or less.

    God owes it to me to give me happiness after all these years of obedience.

    Example #3

    I am an obedient daughter of God. I keep a list of the things I do and I go crazy trying to do them all, but I do do them – VT, callings, compassionate service, tithing, temple attendance, fast offerings, and a gajillion other things. Plus I never question authority either.

    All these things make up oil in my lamp. I am determined to have my lamp full.

    But, today in SS the teacher said that the oil in the lamp was not a list of obediences at all. What in heck (I mean, in . . . blazes)was she talking about? Is she teaching wrong doctrine? Maybe I’d better report her to the bishop . . .

    Some possible results:
    Example 1:
    This whole church thing doesn’t work. My child is absolutely not interested in church. I am so disillusioned. I think I’ll quit myself.

    Example 2:

    I wish I knew how to be happy. I really thought obedience would bring happiness. But now, after all these years, I’m not sure what happiness really is.

    Example 3:
    The Bishop thanked me for my call but didn’t offer to reprimand the teacher. He thinks the teacher made an important point. What point??? What can God want from me other than I have given? Haven’t I given everything? Isn’t my lamp full of oil? I don’t understand this teacher at all.

    . . . Those are my applications for now.

  34. Cherylem said

    And of course #33 relates to the Parable of the obedient servant . . . does the master owe the servant some special favor, some gift of grace, because the servant is obedient, works hard, and does what he is supposed to do?

    Well . . . does the master owe him?

    The parable says no, but . . . there is some tension in our scriptures regarding this.

  35. JakeW said

    Joe #32:

    Yes.

  36. brianj said

    Robert, #30: If there is a difference between what I am saying and what you and robf and nanette and others are saying, I am too dense to see it. Or I am not looking hard enough. (And yes, I can see what you mean about how we teach YW v. YM.)

  37. nhilton said

    Brianj, In answer to your question, I think comments #8 & #13 instigated my “exception” about our inherent relationship with our FATHER in Heaven.

  38. Robert C. said

    Brian #36, in #13 you say, “son-ship is not automatic.” You continue by saying son-ship is also “not earned” which I skipped over without thinking about sufficiently. But I still wonder, in what sense is (or isn’t) son-ship (and daughter-ship!) automatic? (It was automatic for the prodigal son, right?)

  39. nhilton said

    I believe the whole point of the parables in this lesson is RESTITUTION. That implies that our relationship with our Father in Heaven is one of inherently being a son or daughter and it is only through the fall of Adam and our own carnal nature that we distance ourselves in this relationship. The relationship remains, however. This restitution takes place through the gift of the atonement, no matter what we did/do. To enjoy the FULLness of this relationship requires both works and grace as so beautifully illustrated in the parable of the LOST SON. The beauty of this last parable is that it’s open ended. We don’t know how the story ends. There is still room for full restitution for the 2nd son, both sons, everyone, each of us.

    Point is: We are daughters and sons of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him. Period. This relationship is not based on merit.

  40. robf said

    nhilton, while I think I agree with this last statement, how do you see this relating to our roles as servants of God?

  41. Robert C. said

    I really like nhilton’s point here, and I think I’m just barely beginning to appreciate why. Notice that the older son in the prodigal son story feels the need to remind his father that he as served “these many years” (Luke 15:29). I don’t think there’s that much difference between a slave, servant, or son in terms of how they serve the father/master of the house, at least there doesn’t seem to be a difference that is highlighted in scripture. Rather, the difference is in how the father/master rewards each. And in this sense, I think nhilton is right to point out the prominent doctrine that we are born as children of God and only actively lose that status through disobedience and rebellion.

    But, I think robf is also right in pointing out the danger of taking this privileged position for granted. That is, in fact, what I think the main point of the prodigal son story (which I just tried to articulate in this comment on cheryl’s thread). The trick, it seems to me, is to develop a truly humble attitude of gratitude for the extremely generous (grac-ious!) blessings we are given as children of God.

    I did an interesting little thought experiment about the prodigal son and his older brother about what might occur afterwards. I think a very plausible scenario is that the younger son, based on his experience, becomes a very grateful and diligent son whereas the older son becomes more and more resentful and eventually leaves the household in disgust. Somehow, in contemplating this scenario, the parable takes on deeper meaning for me. Like any good father, I think God is much less interested in the extent to which we rebel, and much more interested in our developing a healthy sense of gratitude for all the gifts we have been (and will be) given. In this sense, Jesus is our ultimate example in that he understood more clearly than us his divine Sonship, and yet also being the most grateful and willing to serve….

  42. robf said

    Thanks Robert. I like this, it highlights something that may be missing–that sense of responsibility that sonship/daughtership confers, whereas sometimes we may be inclined to focus on what we consider the benefits/rewards without taking into account our obligations to our Father’s house.

    That said, what about the relationship we have with our Father and the relationship we have with Christ? Is there something about taking upon us Christ’s name that changes our relationship? Is there a difference between being children of our Father in Heaven and children of Christ? Does this matter? When we serve one are we serving both? Or is there something else here?

  43. Certainly the prodigal is still a son in a certain sense while he wanders in khora, but I’m not sure exactly how to think about that, or how to identify in what sense he remains a son while “distancing” himself from his father. In other words, I think if we come to this parable saying “We are daughters and sons of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him. Period,” we are very unlikely to hear what it has to say about family. I think a much better approach would be something like: “We are daughters and sons of our Heavenly Father who loves us and we love him. Comma…”

    In other words, who are we to put periods at the end of anything? I say nothing so pointed, nor am I punctual enough, that I have anything to say without canceling—or at least dulling the puncturing point of—my periodic thoughts.

    And so I think you are right, Nanette, to say that this relationship is not grounded at all in merit. Isn’t this the thrust of the father’s words toward the end (“Your brother, who was lost, is found”)? That is, the prodigal precisely did not return on his own, but was found through the father’s love (I’m veering, I can feel it, towards my predestination post). But God’s infinite goodness does not equal—does it?—universal familial relationships… I would think…

  44. Robert C. said

    robf #42, great follow-up questions, to which I don’t have any good response. I’m inclined to start thinking about the Fall, and Atonement, and a host of other rather large questions…. Nevertheless, at first blush, I’m inclined (from my orthodox Mormon upbringing I suppose) to think that the Father’s love for us is made manifest to us through Christ, and that in becoming sons and daughters of Christ we are becoming sons and daughters of the Father since the Father and the Son are one (after all, Christ is referred to as the Father rather frequently, though Mosiah 15 is the only passage I can cite off the top of my head…). So I’m inclined to think your question makes too much of a distinction between Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father as separate personages since they are seldom distinguished in scripture (D&C 130:22 is one passage—anywhere else?).

    Joe, good point about an open canon and hence open-ended dialog/theology/hermeneutics. At first I was inclined to disagree with your claim that the prodigal did not return on his own, but then I recognized the trap! That is, I think it is probably a trace of the father’s love working in the prodigal son that gives him hope that when he returns to his father that he will not be turned away. Perhaps you had more than this in mind?

    Also, Joe, can you clarify your last statement (#43) about God’s goodness not equaling universal familial relationships—I have only wild guesses as to what you might be getting at….

    (And since we don’t have the Joe-glossary page up and running yet—wasn’t it John or Douglas who suggested that in our first few weeks?—here is a Wikipedia link to khora.)

  45. brianj said

    Nanette, Robert: Thanks for your responses to my question. I haven’t been ignoring you; I’ve been out of the country for a while. You helped me understand my mistake in this conversation, and that is that I was using the term “son/daughter” in a certain way and assuming everyone else was as well. I reread the thread and I can see how confusing my words could be. I should be more careful.

  46. Oops, I didn’t see your response until just now, Robert (#44).

    You are thinking along the same lines I am with the trap/trace business.

    With my last statement, I was trying to suggest that while some have called Mormonism a kind of universalism (on the grounds of D&C 76…), I don’t think it makes much sense to call us universalists in the end. Any kind of absolute claim to daughter/sonship seems to me to be an affirmation of a universalist position. But I’m not sure where to take that. Hence my hedging and my ellipses.

    As for khora, I am indeed drawing on all the implications of what you can read in that link, but I am also drawing on the Greek text of the parable of the prodigal son. The Greek word khora, “thematized” by Derrida, is the word translated “country” (the prodigal goes off to a far “country”). There is something rich in that, and this is something Marion picks up on in his discussion in God Without Being.

  47. Robert C. said

    Joe #46, regarding universalism, I’m a little hesitant to link this issue to the claim to daughter/sonship, for the following reason: if we choose (assuming this is a possibility!) to remain prodigals for eternity, in what sense would are we no longer sons/daughters? I’m not suggesting an answer either way, just that I think the questions might be taken up separately (as well as jointly).

    I think the key verses in the parable here are 21 where the son says “[I] am no more worthy to be called thy son” (I think the story shows this to be a wrong-headed assumption), and 24 where the father says “For this my son was dead, and is alive again”—in what sense was the son dead? (Perhaps the sons truly wasn’t worthy to be called the father’s son in his state of rebellion;—only upon returning, effectively being reborn, can the son be worthy of being called a son…?)

  48. Jim F. said

    Robert C: I think you’re right. In rebellion, the son has denied his inheritance, his sonship. He has squandered it and denied his father. Only by being reborn can he once again be a son, which is what happens when he returns and the father places a robe and a ring on him, making him a son again. As a rebel, the most he could make himself would be a hired servant. Only his father could make him a son again.

  49. Robert and Jim, I think I agree with everything you both said, so I’m not sure whether I’m missing a difference between our thinking that you (or just Robert?) is catching, or whether my own thinking is simply muddled here.

    I do think that Robert has caught onto the key verses: 21 and 24. That this is so wrapped up with adoption rituals (in the Law as much as in modern temple worship) is so key to making sense of all of this as well.

    I suppose much of the question of “grace” in all of this is wrapped up in a kind of LDS reading of Isaiah 22: each couple who has their calling and election made sure becomes, in Isaiah’s words, “a nail in a sure place,” upon which so many other souls can be hung (in Isaiah, pots, vessels, flagons, etc.; in Mormonism, the saved).

    In a word, I’m trying to think about the difference between “Mormon grace” and other versions of grace. To oversimplify grossly: Judaism is the grace of “God in search of man”; Christianity is the grace of “God becoming man”; and Mormonism is something like “God searches out men who become gods so as to search out other men”…

    Maybe they’re all right that we’re nuts! :)

  50. robf said

    I probably shouldn’t go too far with this, as it could easily end up getting me lost in some kind of Space Doctrine…but maybe we have to expand our minds a bit beyond our traditional My Turn On Earth timeframe to comprehend all of this about sons/daughters/servants.

    If we are eternal beings (King Follet Discourse, Abraham 3:18), then our current status as sons/daughters/servants has something to do with something we’ve been doing back through the eternities of time. Given that there appear to have been ordinances involved with our previous existence (cf. Alma 13:3 where this whole Feast Upon the Word project began more than two years ago!), and our continuing status as sons/daughers/servants seems to be tied to our partaking of ordinances and covenants in this life, perhaps we should be thinking of this in a much broader time frame.

    Looking through a glass darkly, did we become adopted sons and daughters to our Heavenly Father in a previous eternity through some sort of adoption ordinance? Coming hear to this earth as his sons and daughters, are we not expected to continue to serve Him, as potential heirs and joint heirs with Christ? Having fallen in this current estate, we cannot be profitable servants, but if we partake of the ordinances of the gospel, we can be sealed or adopted as sons and daughters of Christ as we take upon us His name. Through His grace, we can continue as heirs and joint heirs, onto whatever that means in the next estate, where we may become Priests and Kings, Priestesses and Queens to The Most High God. And beyond that? Eternal progression–whatever that means, but potentially to go on and inherit eternal increase?

    I’ve probably said too much already, exposing my general ignorance of the whole thing. But I just have to wonder, as my mind tries to stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, if this whole thing points us to times, eternities, and glories beyond the pale of post-Nicean Christiandom, and only barely hinted at through modern revelation.

  51. Jim F. said

    robf: I don’t think anything you got as far as “space doctrine.” In fact, I follow you in all but one thing: why assume that we were previously adopted rather than born as spirit children of heavenly Parents? I’m not arguing for the second option, but it is the usual way in which Latter-day Saints describe our original relation to Heavenly Father. Why the alternative?

  52. robf said

    I know that we have always assumed that we were “born” as spirit children of God since we are his children, but since we are also eternal beings (and some references say that our spirits are eternal), I have no idea (and it has never been revealed) what it might mean to be “literally” born as a spirit. For me, its easier to see my relationship as a spirit child of God more in terms of my being an eternal being who chose sometime in the past to be adopted to Him, perhaps through some ordinance similar to how we become adopted children of Christ in this life.

    I don’t have any specific reference for this idea. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it taught. It makes sense to me. Tastes good. But I recognize it isn’t official LDS doctrine. It may or may not relate to speculation about multiple eternities/mortal probations. I could be way off. That’s why it gets the Space Doctrine label.

    But back to the here and now, whatever else we are as sons/daughers or potential whatevers, we are to serve the LORD. We are given priesthood to facilitate that. We promise to do so through the ordinances. We make sacred covenants to do so in the temple. And though we are unprofitable servants due to our fallen natures, we become sanctified as we serve, as the grace of God makes up for our failings. We consecrate everything we have. All our time, energy, talents–everything, and dedicate them to serving. Only then, after ALL we can do, can we be exalted and continue on to whatever awaits us.

    Those who don’t raise to this standard can be saved in one of the other two Kingdoms of God–eventually–by accepting the adoptive ordinance of baptism (3 Nephi 11:33–I’m presuming that “saved” here means saved in one of the kingdoms of glory). They do not recieve His fullness as sons [and daughters] (D&C 76:56-58), though they are “heirs of salvation” (D&C 76:88) and shall become “servants of the Most High” (D&C 76:112).

    I’ll leave it off there for now–with all becoming servants, and some becoming sons or daughters and heirs–at least for now, as I continue to ponder and hope to eventually to receive the white stone that will tell me about kingdoms higher than the Celestial (D&C 130:10).

  53. robf said

    I’ve tried twice to reply here, but there seems to be some sort of posting seraph with a flaming sword preventing my posts from getting through! Maybe I’m being protected from going beyond what I should really post here, who knows!

  54. Robert C. said

    (robf #53, I found your messages in our spam blocker, which has been performing poorly of late—I deleted your first comment since it seems it was included in your second comment, which is now #52….)

  55. robf said

    Thanks Robert, so it was a flaming seraph after all!

  56. robf said

    Looks like our friends over at New Cool Thang are talking about some of the space doctrine I brought up briefly here. Are spirits born in the premortal existence, or is something else going on?

  57. robf said

    And more even more recently from New Cool Thang here.

    The topic has cropped up just before Father’s Day the last two years.

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