FAITHFUL AND DISCREET SLAVE
When answering the apostles’ question concerning his future presence and the conclusion of the existing system of things, Jesus Christ included a parable or illustration dealing with a “faithful and discreet slave” and an “evil slave.” The faithful slave’s master appointed him over his domestics or household servants to provide them their food. If approved at his master’s coming (evidently from some trip), the slave would be rewarded by being placed over the master’s entire property.—Matt. 24:3, 45-51.
In the parallel illustration at Luke 12:42-48, the slave is called a “steward,” that is, a house manager or administrator, one placed over servants, though he is himself a servant. Such a position was often filled in ancient times by a faithful slave. (Compare Genesis 24:2; also the case of Joseph at Genesis 39:1-6.) In Jesus’ illustration the steward is first assigned only to the supervision and timely dispensation of the food supplies to the master’s body of attendants or servants, and later, because of his faithful and discreet handling of this ministry, his assignment is widened out to embrace supervision of all the master’s holdings. Regarding the identification of the “master” (Gr., kyʹri·os, also rendered “lord”), Jesus had already shown that he himself occupied such position toward his disciples, and they addressed him as such on occasion. (Matt. 10:24, 25; 18:21; 24:42; John 13:6, 13) The question remains as to the application of the figure of the faithful and discreet slave or steward and what his dispensing food to the domestics represents.
Commentators often view this as a general exhortation to any and all who have individual positions of responsibility in the Christian congregation. The principle of faithfulness and discreetness in discharging responsibility clearly applies to all such. (Compare Matthew 25:14-30; Titus 1:7-9.) Yet, the impossibility of each and every one of these individuals being placed over “all” his master’s belongings at the same time, the time of the master’s arrival, is obvious. This, however, does not require that the “slave” prefigure only one particular person who would be so privileged. The Scriptures contain examples of the use of a singular noun to refer to a collective group, as when Jehovah addresses the collective group of the Israelite nation and tells them: “You are my witnesses [plural], . . . even my servant [singular] whom I have chosen.” (Isa. 43:10) Similarly, the figure of the unfaithful “evil slave” could apply to a collective group in the same way that the “antichrist” is shown to be a class made up of individual antichrists.—1 John 2:18; 2 John 7.
Those forming the Christian congregation are referred to by the apostle Paul as “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15), and the same apostle shows that ‘faithful stewardship’ among such household members involved the dispensing of spiritual truths on which those becoming believers would ‘feed.’ (1 Cor. 3:2, 5; 4:1, 2; compare Matthew 4:4.) Whereas this was a prime responsibility of those appointed as ‘shepherds’ of the flock (1 Pet. 5:1-3), the apostle Peter shows that such stewardship of the divine truths was actually committed to all the ‘chosen ones’ of the Christian congregation. (1 Pet. 1:1, 2; 4:10, 11) Thus the entire Christian congregation was to serve in a united stewardship, dispensing such truths. At the same time the individual members making up such composite body or, the “domestics” making up the “house” of God (Heb. 3:6; Eph. 2:19), would also be recipients of the “food” dispensed. (Heb. 5:11-14; compare 1 Corinthians 12:12, 19-27.) Expanded responsibility would result from faithfulness maintained until the master’s promised ‘arrival.’—Matt. 24:46, 47; Luke 12:43, 44.