sermon: Continuing on to Completion
Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
Martin G. Collins
Given 11-Feb-12; 66 minutes
Scripture makes it clear that there is no part of this Christian life that is without dangers. It is absolutely false, concerning the teaching of the New Testament, to give the impression that the moment that you believe and are converted, all your troubles are over and you will never have another problem. It is wishful thinking. We do wish that it was that way in some ways, but we would not grow very much in the way of character and spiritual growth.
Of course it is not true that there are never any troubles. It is not true because we have an enemy, and that enemy is the adversary we know of as Satan. But not only do we have to contend with the enemy, there is still the old nature within. These two together make it certain that we will have troubles and difficulties; it is our responsibility to understand the teaching of scripture with respect to these, unless we are caught by the guile and subtlety of the enemy.
He follows us as he followed Jesus Christ all the way, and when he had tempted and tried Jesus in the wilderness for forty days, we are told that at the end of it, he only left him alone for a season. He did not leave Him alone permanently; he came back again, and again.
Look at Satan's activities in Gethsemane. At the very end he was still attacking when Jesus was dying on the stake. To say that, is not to be depressing, it is to be realistic and to be realistic is always encouraging.
Although God's truth has been presented to us and we are converted, and though we have started correctly and are trying to live God's way of life, and though we heeded the warnings about the initial difficulties, if we do not continue, if we do not maintain our course, in God's way of life, we will soon get into trouble. No one can coast in the Christian life.
There is a great illustration of this in John 8:28. Jesus was preaching one afternoon about the relationship between Himself and the Father and what it takes to be His disciple.
John 8:28-32 Then Jesus said to them, When you lift up the Son of Man then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself, but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me, the Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him. As He spoke these words, many believed in Him. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, if you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and truth shall make you free.
Those Jews seemed to be starting well. They must continue if they are to be truly free, however their belief is shown to be false, as the course of the story unfolds. So “abide in Jesus words” means to continue believing what Jesus has said, walking in obedience to Him and His Father. Verse 31 shows that continuing to trust Jesus and obey Him is one test for who are truly His disciples.
It is exactly the same as some of the people depicted in the parable of the sower. There were those who received the truth with great joy, but they did not last. We will read the explanation of the parable in Matthew 13:18.
Matthew 13:18-23 Therefore hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the Kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while, for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces. Some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
The difference in these results was not in a seed, but in the soil. That is the person on which the seed fell. As the gospel of the Kingdom was presented, the good news was the same. The difference was in the individuals who heard that word and whether they were willing to continue and be good fertile soil.
The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated and permitted to bear fruit. The varying fruit must continue. Most people who hear God's truth, do not bear fruit and produce good character and works. So many are called, but few are chosen.
Jesus did not describe an age of great harvest but one in which the word would be rejected, and He was not impressed with the great multitudes who followed Him because He knew that most of the people would not receive His word within and bear fruit. They would not continue in what they had heard, or they would not produce anything of spiritual importance.
The importance of continuing, regardless of what others are doing, is a vital principle; and that is what I want to consider with you in the light of the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
Matthew 20:1-16 For the Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard, and he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, you also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you, and they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, why have you been standing here idle all day? They said to him, because no one hired us, he said to them, you also go into the vineyard and whatever is right you will receive. So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first. And when those come who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But, when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more, and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they murmured against the landowner, saying, these last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day. But he answered one of them and said, Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way, I wish to give to this last man the same as you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? So the last will be first, and the first will be last. For many are called few are chosen.
What truth is this parable meant to teach us? The answer begins with the word “for”—for the Kingdom of Heaven. It is sad that when the translators decided to divide the scriptures up into chapters, they introduced a division at this point. Some versions have it correct.
Obviously the theme is a continuation of what we have at the end of the chapter 19. What we have is the incidence of the rich young ruler. Jesus Christ's comments to the disciples about the young man who had gone away sorrowful. You remember what Peter said to him in Matthew 19:27—“We have left all and followed you, therefore, what shall we have?”
It was partly because of this that Jesus spoke the parable of the worker in the vineyard. Peter put his question this way, in effect—“Lord we have left everything and we have come after you; we have given up everything; what are you going to give us?”
Matthew 19:27-30 Then Peter answered and said to Him, see we have left all and followed you. Therefore what shall we have? So Jesus said to them, assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on the twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife of children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundred fold and inherit everlasting life. But many who are first will be last and the last, will be first
Matthew 20:1 For the Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for His vineyard.
The point of this parable is addressed to Peter because of that claim that he made. Jesus heard Peter's question and He answered it, but He obviously detected a wrong attitude. It was in order to admonish him and to warn him seriously, that Jesus spoke this parable.
Let us prove conclusively by the way in which He repeats the statement, “Many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.” You get it at the beginning and you get it at the end. Here is the principle in which we must concentrate—it is that all things in the Christian life pertaining to salvation are of grace from the very beginning to the very end. Because of God's grace, those who come in at the end are equal with those who went in at the beginning. Salvation is not only for young people, it is for everyone.
Sometimes a person who is converted rather late in life is tempted by Satan in this way because salvation has come to him so late. And because of the years that he has wasted. To such a person, it is a great comfort that Christ calls these people and gives the opportunity in the eleventh hour.
I want to emphasis those who went in at the beginning; no doubt the object of the parable is to address them and to issue to them this very serious and solemn warning. The point about these people is that they started in the right way and got into trouble later. It happens often; that is why it is dealt with so frequently in the New Testament in such phrases as, “You ran well; who hindered you?”
There is a sense in which many of the New Testament epistles were written to help just that kind of person. These early Christians had believed and come into the early church, but they had become depressed; and the epistles were written in order to help them to continue in their efforts. It is important to continue in our efforts, just as they did, with the encouragement from the apostles. It is very easy to fall into depression and to be weary in well doing. It is something that is constantly threatening us, and it is a danger that tends to dog our footsteps throughout our Christian lives.
It is not enough to start correctly. We must continue in the right way, and the danger for many has been to go back into bondage. It is a real danger at the present time because of so many Christian split offs and divisions. People lose heart; they lose confidence in the leadership.
People who have known the liberty of the children of God sometimes go back into bondage and become miserable and unhappy. So at this point, let us try to look at this as is presented in the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
First we will try to analyze the causes of the trouble. Why did these men who were sent into the vineyard early in the morning complain at the end? They worked hard all day, yet they were still complaining; they were discontented, murmuring and grumbling. What were the causes of the trouble? The first important cause we see in this parable is that their attitude toward themselves and their work was clearly wrong.
Matthew 20:2 Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into the vineyard.
There is great significance in this word “agreed.” We are told about this agreement only in the case of the first group of people. There is no mention of agreement with the latter people throughout that day. We are told about this agreement only in the case of this first group of people, as we are told in verse 3.
Matthew 20:3-4 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, you also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you, and they went.
There was no mention of an agreement, and he said the same thing to all the subsequent laborers, but there was no talk of an agreement with them. He simply said, “You go and work; and what is right I will give you.” And they went happily. There was a certain amount of faith that he would be fair and just.
The first people who murmured at the end about the wages paid… There seems to be a suggestion that they demanded an agreement. So it seems that at the very beginning there was something wrong with their attitude.
They had this tendency to strike a bargain; to make certain demands; and to stipulate certain things before they were willing to work. Whether we are right or wrong in sensing this about them, we can see that they are very conscience of their work. They are very conscience of what they are doing, as they are working; and in a sense keeping an eye on themselves while doing it, but there is something wrong with that.
We have all been guilty of this at some time or another; these men were clearly very conscience of everything they did. It is obvious from what they say—that they have been watching themselves all the time, and they were not giving of themselves freely, that is the key word, freely.
The next cause is that they were assessing their work; they were keeping an account of the others also, and keeping a careful record of all they did and how long they had been working, as well as how many hours they themselves had spent, and how much they themselves had done. They knew it all in detail and kept a careful record and account of it. And that is Christ's first statement about these people. He denounces that attitude he detected in Peter's statement—“We have left all and followed you, what do we get?”
The suggestion of bargain and demand is implicit here. The fundamental attitude is so wrong and so entirely hostile to God's spirit and the realm of His Kingdom, as we will see, but there it is and this wrong attitude is bound to lead to trouble eventually, as it did in the case of these men who worked all day.
What is so pathetic and tragic about this is that it brings a person into trouble at the very point when Jesus is very gracious in His dealings. What makes this parable so terrible is that these men were exposed for what they really were.
The terrible attitude that controlled them is revealed just when the land owner, in his graciousness, gave a penny to the last exactly as he did to the first. It is then that it comes out and leads to trouble.
Look at these men. Because of their initial wrong attitude, their forgetfulness of God's grace, they expect to receive more than the others; and they felt they deserved more as well. Of course in their human reasoning they were perfectly logical; they were quite consistent with themselves, on their principle and from their attitude; it was the logical human conclusion. They had a feeling they were entitled to more, and that they should be given more, and they expected more. Because they did not get it, they were upset and ingratitude showed up.
The next cause, we are told, is that they began to murmur. Their happiness and their joy have gone altogether; and here they are murmuring because they were not given something extra. What a terrible attitude. It is possible for Christians to be guilty of this very thing. Christ depicts it in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. This tendency to murmur as the children of Israel did (and these people did at this point), commiserating with yourself, feeling you are not getting your rights, feeling you are being dealt with harshly. There is a great deal of emphasis on this in the New Testament. Remember how the apostle Paul addressed a word about it to the Philippians? He reminds them that they are to be as luminary in the heavens, like stars in the universe.
Philippians 2:14-16 Do all things without murmuring and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.
What a tragic thing it is that Christians can be miserable and murmuring, instead of rejoicing
in the Father and Jesus Christ. It is an outcome of the fact that they had forgotten that everything is given by the grace of God, and they have forgotten this great principle that goes right through a Christian’s life, from beginning to the very end.
You see it when people get dissatisfied and disgruntled about something; their attitudes deteriorate and often they become bitter. All along the way, they have a growing contempt for other brethren. You see it often when there is a split or break off, abandonment from a church group, and there have been many, sadly.
Matthew 20:26-28 Yet it shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant, and whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
So this passage is especially applied to leaders; and we are all in training to be leaders in the Kingdom of God. So, the principle here applies to every last one of us as kings and priests in training.
The men in the parable of the workers in the vineyard say these last have produced but one hour and you have made them equal to us—we who have born the burden and heat of the day. Their attitude was exposed; it was obvious what it was.
It is the principle of the elder brother of the parable of the prodigal son and again as illustrated in many places in the New Testament. So this tendency comes in and attacks members of God's church who have been faithful in their witness and have done an excellent work. Everyone is susceptible; it comes in such subtle ways and makes them miserable because their human nature feels that others have been rewarded in a greater way than they have.
These men in the parable of the workers in the vineyard felt contempt for the others; they were jealous of those men who were given so much when they had done so little, and their whole attitude was selfish and self-centered.
Above all, and this is the most serious and most terrible thing of all, they had a feeling in their heart that the land owner was unjust. As we know the landowner represents Jesus Christ. In this self-absorbed condition, they had persuaded themselves that this landowner was not righteous in his dealings with them.
They were absolutely wrong, and there was no evidence as a basis for that attitude, but they felt it. They reasoned it. So the Christian may be tempted by Satan to feel that God is not being fair. Satan comes to you and says, “Look how much you have done, and what you are getting for it? Look at the other guy. He has done hardly anything, yet look at what he is getting.”
That is what Satan says and people listen to him. “You made them equal to us who have born the burden and heat of the day.” That is the attitude. The thing that makes it so serious is that in that condition, a Christian, unless he is very careful, will soon be ascribing unrighteousness to God. He will be feeling that God is not fair to him, that God is not giving him his rights, that God is not giving him his due. This can be in any aspect of our lives—whether it be in our work, or our study, or prayers, or whatever we are doing. We can still let this attitude come in.
What a miserable thing self is! What an ugly thing! Sadly we have all been guilty of this, every one of us in some shape or form. Satan tries to influence us, and sometimes we may listen, and we begin to doubt whether God is just and righteous in His dealings with us. Self needs to be exposed for what it is. It is self-serving, and it is motivated by how it feels. It is based on emotions. That is one of the things that do so many people in. They make decisions strictly out of emotions rather than applying the principles of God and doing His will.
This applies to many different things in life. A single man asks in prayer for a women of his dreams to marry, but he does not receive her as he asks, so he begins to think that God is not fair. He thinks, “Why does so and so get a wife, but I do not?” The single women often makes the same accusations. Self goes with us wherever we go—to work, to school, and to church.
How often do we ourselves feel unfairly treated? Quite often what we do is that we will feel unfairly treated, and we will direct our unfair feeling toward others in the church or our family and pick on them, when, in reality, what we are really doing is blaming God for the way He is working with us.
It is not surprising that Jesus dealt with this wrong attitude in the way He did in this parable—contempt and jealousy leads to misery and unhappiness. The uncontrolled self tends to mislead us for any reason it can.
Here is what we see in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The landowner, a type of Christ, is never found standing idle. Wherever he can find those who are willing to work diligently in his vineyard, he hires them. At various hours of life's day, we can begin to work for him; and demanding the longest day of service we can deliver, he promises us wages. Many people may waste time until the eleventh hour surprises them while they are sitting idle in the marketplace.
The parable of the workers in the vineyard teaches that even if we start at the eleventh hour, we will receive more than we ever hoped for. Starting under a fearful disadvantage with eleven twelfths of the day gone, we can still receive the same gift with those who started at sunrise. The parable states the fact that those repenting late may overtake those who start long before in goodness and service. It is not necessarily the length of service that tells, but the quality of it.
Are we willing to continue with the effort that it takes to be considered chosen? Discontentment, however, seems to be the essential difficulty of the parable. The discontentment of those who had labored long yet received no more wages than those who started later seems incompatible with delivering service and inconceivable in the presents of great reward. The attitude that says, “I have left everything behind in the world so what do I get?” is the mindset that tarnishes and ruins a Christians’ discontented walk.
The just landowner knows what each laborer is worth, and therefore discontentment at his rewards for services are unwarranted. Everyone who enters his service must enter with the distinct understanding that his labor for Him will not be in vain.
When it comes to the distribution of rewards for service, there will be the manifestation of three great principles—justice, sovereignty, and grace. As the landowner, He promises whatever is right or just “I will give you.” As His laborers, we are guaranteed a right and just remuneration for our service; whether long or brief, each will receive the due recompense of his reward.
As the Master or Lord of the vineyard, He claims the sovereign right and authority to do what He wills in His own business. It is not for us to question His choice of laborers, nor the respect of rewards. Because of who and what He is, He cannot act unfairly. With our finite understanding, we might question His ways. At the end, however, as the interpreter, He will make any seeming inconsistency's plain. He will reveal anything that does not seem equitable.
As a good landowner He retains for Himself the privilege, the exercise of his goodness and grace. No matter what, His generosity, His sovereignty will not be exercised at the expense of justice and of grace. The conciliation for temporary affliction and service will be for the honor of the justice and the glory of the sovereignty displayed.
Even if the last are first and the first are last, some are chosen to special services and others are chosen for special privilege, all must glorify His name. His loving kindness and truth. All will be treated the same when it comes to divine justice, sovereignty, and grace. God's vineyard requires laborers not loiters, therefore we must not be caught in idleness—the forerunner of physical and spiritual ruin. As laborers we must remember that motive and attitude gives character to service, and that acceptable service is determined not by duration, but by spirit and motivation.
By virtue of God's grace, only the called of God are truly free to exercise their will to choose good. God's grace does not merely off set the evil heart corrupted by Satan world, but His grace can thoroughly dominate and control human nature, because God works in us to do His will. A heart that is led by God's spirit is motivated to do God's will, which enables us to flee the world’s evil influence, Satan's influence, and the traps of our own human nature.
No man by scholarship, human reasoning, or intelligence, can comprehend the whole truth of God apart from the Holy Spirit. Only by the intervention of the spirit, are we called to understand it, and God by divine revelation, through His spirit, opens our minds to the mysteries of the truth, allowing us to discern which is truly vital to our salvation.
That brings us to the cure; what is the treatment? It is to understand the controlling principle of the Kingdom of God. That principle that seems so obvious and are so prone to forget in detail.
Let me simply put it in other words. The principle is that in the Kingdom of God everything is essential different from everything and every other Kingdom. Because He says, in effect, the Kingdom of God is not like anything you have ever known; it is something quite new and different. The first thing we have to realize is what Paul said in II Corinthians 5:17.
II Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away, behold all things have become new.
I have said this before, in other sermons, and I say it again because it is so important to realize. We cannot bring our baggage from the world into the church, because it is of the old world, it is of the old Kingdom that we have fled from.
If only we realize that here we are in a realm in which everything is different—the whole foundation is different. It has nothing do to with the principle of the old life. Things in God's Kingdom are not judged by the same standards as Satan's in the world’s kingdoms. There is no room for “self” in the Kingdom of God.
We have to work this out in detail. First let me underline again a new principle for the new creation: we must say to ourselves every day of our life, “Now I am a Christian, and because I am a Christian, I am in the Kingdom of God, and all my thinking must be different. Everything thing here is different. I must not bring with me those old ideas, those old moods and concepts of thought.” We tend to confine salvation to one thing, namely forgiveness, but we have to apply the principle throughout our Christians life. We must continue on to spiritual completeness and perfection, and that requires a great deal of hard work.
Bearing that in mind, here are some of the details. The first thing is this: do not think in terms of bargains and rights in the Kingdom of God. It is seriously wrong to suppose that because I do this or because I have done that, I have the right to expect something else in return.
Now some say, “If we pray for certain things, we are bound to have them.” For instance if we pray all night for a job we are bound to have one, but theirs is an Aladdin lamp view of Christianity. In their human reasoning, they just rub the lamp and their wishes will come true. But all they are doing is lying to themselves, because that is not according to scripture. This type of thinking is to deny the whole principle of Jesus' teaching. It does not matter what it is…whether prayer or anything else. In no respect should we ever expect that because we do something we are entitled to get something. Never! The principle can be seen to be true in practice.
What God decides to do are not matters of emotion but of will. It does not matter whether we think that they are right or wrong, fair or unfair, it means nothing. We just do not think the way He does; and what we think on these issues is insignificant, because the creator God can do as He pleases, and what He does is always right and the best thing.
Remember what we read in Matthew 20:15. “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” We are not completely masters of our own destinies, and our free moral agency has limits, which is sometimes humbling and difficult to except. Sometimes God chooses to treat someone with what might seem like favoritism, as if some were better than others, but God is never guilty of the sin of favoritism.
Notice how John the Baptist reacts when he is seemingly being pushed aside; he could easily have felt slighted by what was happening to his shrinking ministry.
John 3:26-30 And they came to John and said to him, Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him. John answered and said, A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.
John had to accept that the bulk of his responsibility was being passed to or reassigned to another, and he understood that his function in the whole scheme of God's plan of salvation was being shifted to Jesus, according to the will and wisdom of the Father. What a wonderful attitude John displayed, here.
Never-the-less, John had to continue on and fulfill the commission he had been given; he was still expected to work and produce fruit, all the while living as a true witness of God's way of life and as a preparer for our savior's ministry and purpose. John had to continue on, even seeing the decline in his own ministry.
We tend to forget that the omniscient God is working things out according to His purpose and not ours. The Omnipotent God answers to no one and is perfectly free to do as He sees fit.
I Corinthians 4:6-7 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you glory as if you had not received it?
We have no reason to believe that we have a right to be puffed up or jealous. John the Baptist declared truth and was the greatest prophet and still he did not think to highly of himself. I Corinthians 12 makes it clear that God places us in the church as He pleases, and He gives gifts to us so we can fulfill our responsibilities. The gifts do not make us better, just more prepared to serve in a preordained way.
What if, instead of receiving exactly the right gifts we need from our all wise master, we could command the things we think we need from our master? It is a good thing we cannot do that because human reasoning is not wise, and we would inevitably command the things that are potentially harmful to us. Also we have to be careful we do not have a bargaining attitude—that if I do this, then that will happen. Just because we do certain things does not mean we are owed anything.
God and Christ are sovereign beings, and they send gifts in their own time and in their own way, according to their will, not according to our will. That is the essential question, “How do we conform to their will?” In other words we must realize that we have no right to anything at all.
But, says someone, “Does not Paul teach about judgment and rewards, in II Corinthians 5?” Certainly he does, and he does so also in I Corinthians 3. In Luke 12, Jesus Christ Himself talks about those who are beaten with many stripes and those who receive few stripes, and so on.
The reply is that even the rewards are of grace. He does not have to give them. If we think we can determine and predict how they are to come, we would probably be wrong. Everything is of grace in a Christian’s life, from the very beginning to the very end. Never-the-less, we have our responsibilities to achieve, submission, obedience, repentance, overcoming, service and so on.
To think in terms of bargains and to murmur implies distrust in God, and we have to watch our own attitudes lest we entertain the thought that He is not dealing with us justly. If we start in that way, we end up by robbing ourselves. If we try to strike up a bargain with God, it is almost certain if we get anything, we will only get our bargain and no more.
God spiritually blesses us beyond belief. He blesses us abundantly, and if we try to bargain with God, we are limiting what we may receive. These laborers at the very beginning had this agreement for one penny per day. “Very well,” said the landowner, “I will give you a penny.” But when the others came, he said to them, “You go and work, and I will give you that which is right.” They received much more than they expected; they really could have just expected a penny, less than or a fraction of a penny than the first ones received. They got far more than that because they did not bargain.
Of the Pharisees, Christ says, “Truly they have their reward. They do these things in order to be seen by others.” That is what they wanted and that is all they will get; they will get no more.
The next principle is: do not keep a record or an account of your work. Give up being bookkeepers. Our main purpose must be to please God and to always work to glorify Him, So do not keep your eye on the clock, but keep it on Him and His work. Do not keep recording your work and labor. Keep your eye on Him, on His love, His honor, and glory, and His soon coming Kingdom. Do not be concerned with how many hours you have given to the work of God or how much you have done. Leave the bookkeeping to Him.
Matthew 6:1-4 Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them, Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. [That is the way we are to work in His Kingdom; we are to work in such a way that our left hand does not know what our right hand is doing.] That your charitable deed may be in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.
There is no need to waste time in keeping accounts; He is keeping them. The last will be first and the first will be last; everything upside down compared with what is accepted as normal in the world.
God knows us so much better that we know ourselves, and He is always giving us surprises; we rarely know specifically what He is going to do. Christ spoke it again in Matthew 25. Do you remember His description of people who come before Christ for judgment at the end and expect a reward but to whom He will give nothing. And then to the blessed of God, He will say in Matthew 25:31.
Matthew 25:31-40 When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, come you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me, Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, Lord when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? And the King will answer and say to them, assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.
What a surprise that will be in the realm of God's Kingdom. He is the one who keeps the account according to the grace of God. That brings us to another principle, which is that we should not only recognize that it is all of grace, but rejoice in the fact that it is so. That was the tragedy of the men in the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
They see a penny given to those who only worked for one hour, and instead of rejoicing at the sight of it, they began to murmur and complain. They felt it was unjust, and they were not being dealt with fairly. The secret to a happy Christian life is to realize that it is all according to God's grace and to rejoice in that fact. Notice what Christ says, in Luke 17:10.
Luke 17:10 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.
That is the true perspective and that is the secret of it all. This was from Christ's own mind; it is His own way of life. Notice what the apostle Paul says about the same thing in Philippians 2:4-5.
Philippians 2:4-5 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
You see what it means. He did not look at Himself. He did not consider Himself and His own interest only. He made Himself of no reputation. He did not regard His equality with God as something to use at His own gain. He humbled Himself. He forgot Himself. He continued to be faithful, and He carried out His responsibility despite the ridicule and the persecution that He had to endure. Through it all He did it all to glorify God.
Christ did not watch the clock. He did not assess the amount of work He did. He did not keep a record in a book, but He focused everything on glorifying God. The parable of the workers in the vineyard ends this way in Matthew 20:16.
Matthew 20:16 So the last will be first, and the first last, For many are called, but few chosen.
Many are called means that many have been invited to the wedding feast, but not all those invited are actually the ones who will be there, because few are chosen. Some Bible commentaries refer to this as a general calling. The gospel is proclaimed to all people everywhere, both to those who believe and those will not.
Paul mentions another kind of calling, an effective calling from God, that comes powerfully to individuals and brings a positive response. When the gospel is proclaimed, only some are effectively called—those who are the elect who respond with true faith.
I Corinthians 1:22-29 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.
So the chosen are the direct opposite of the world; again we see the old kingdom and we see the new Kingdom; all things are new and all things are a reverse of the old.
When we are called, we must respond to God's gift of grace, and we must continue to take action according to His will. It is not enough to respond in believe only, the apostle James tells us, for without the body, the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. God inspired the apostle Paul to put things in right balance when he tells us here in Ephesians 2:8:
Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We can add the word “continually” to that—we are to walk in them continually, to continue on. We have to continue on from there with action, obedience, repentance, overcoming, with good works, producing spiritual fruits, and serving others. All these things and more are manifestations of our response to God's calling; they are how we love God in return.
Our response is to be one of the called according to His purpose, one of the elect. Of course this does not apply to those who have merely received an invitation from God.
We have seen and heard how His notification has gone out to many more than who have actually responded to it. We see a similar thing in media advertising. The offer of some service or item goes out over a wide area to millions of people but very few respond by placing an order, for whatever the item or service is. Some people totally ignore the AD; some less think about it briefly; some few actually place an order; and a minute number of people actually make use of the service or item. We see an element of human nature in this. This is the way the human mind naturally works.
God's calling is similar. The invitation goes out to many, but few become part of the elect. If we meet the conditions God requires, He is with us, and we can take great encouragement and great comfort in that assurance.
Presently, the churches function is not judicial but declarative, and the church is responsible for warning sinners of the dreadful consequences of sin and warning of the time of God's judgment coming upon all humanity. The church's responsibility is also to provide a witness of God's way of life, as well as to proclaim the return of Christ and the establishment of God's wonderful benevolent government here on earth.
Although a final judgment is coming to the world, the church is now under God's judgment and not only is the sentence coming, but our conduct and growth are also currently being judged. Christ is evaluating whether we meet His high standards. Ultimately everyone is judged the same way, according to the same standard, by the same criteria. The terrors in the church are not for the elect saints to judge. Jesus, the righteous judge, has promised to judge all with impartiality and equity.
Psalm 98:9 For He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity.
In chapter one of Peter's first epistle, he refers to persecution and suffering as trials that refine and prove one's faith if reacted to in accordance with the will of God. In chapter four, he adds that God allows persecution as judgment to purify the lives of those in the family of God.
I Peter 4:17-19 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God, and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now if the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him, in doing good, as to a faithful creator.
In the Old Testament, house of God refers to the temple, but now God's people are His temple and judgment begins with God's house where God purifies His people. Judgment, here, beginning with the house of God is not disciplinary but purifying and cleansing; suffering refines God's people.
We know we are to rejoice in our trials, and we are to rejoice in our suffering because we look to the coming Kingdom of God and all that means for us—the glory of it and our entrance into eternal life.
I Peter 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, thought now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of you faith, being much more precious that gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
There we see it. That is where we find our great rejoicing: in the praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We have a lot to look forward to, to say the least. If the people of God need purifying, then the judgment of those who do not obey the gospel will be much more severe. Our calling would go nowhere beyond the meaningless invitation, if God was not faithful to forgive our sins. Without forgiveness and cleansing there is no access to Him, therefore no relationship with Him develops and matures.
Scarcely saved, in verse 18 of I Peter 4, does not mean that the righteous just barely receive salvation. Scarcely is from the Greek word molis; it is literally with difficulty. This means that the righteous are saved in the midst of suffering; their salvation is not easy and simple; it is with difficulty.
We just read in I Peter 4:18, that members of God's church are to commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful creator. Committing our souls, heart, mind, and bodies to God in doing good can also be expressed in this way. We are to continue on in faith, continue believing in what Jesus Christ has said, and walking in obedience to God.
Verse 19 encapsulates the message of first Peter. We suffer in accord with the will of God, because He rules over everything that happens to us and all that He does is right.
As the sovereign creator, God is also loving and faithful. Therefore we should entrust our lives entirely to Him just as Jesus did when He suffered. Such trust in God manifests itself in doing what is right and good.
James 2:17-22 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, you have faith, and I have works, show me you faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe and tremble. But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect.
Not all are expected to produce the same results, but all are expected to be equally faithful to the gifts God has entrusted to them. The one who is faithful to what God gives him fails to produce based on his reasoning that God is unfair, and like so many people today the full day laborers in the vineyard, of Matthew 20, felt victimized. To continue on is the same as what the author of Hebrew 6 says, “Go on to perfection, to completion.” Even so it is important to continue regardless of what others are doing. We cannot pay attention to what somebody else is doing or what they appear to be accomplishing or how they appear to be serving. We have a relationship, personally with God, and that is where our motivation should come from.
What a privilege it is to be called to work for Him; what a privilege it is to be a member of the family of God. Because of the abundance of spiritual blessings we receive, we must diligently continue in the faith and not allow ourselves to be side-tracked by anything, so that we might be among the chosen.