The Spirit Of Service
The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
In this study, we have been considering the Lord's ideas concerning quality goods and quality service. The element of quality undoubtedly will be one of the factors determining the rewards that will be given to the servants of God. This discussion on the rewarding of the saints, however, would be incomplete if we did not look at two other determining factors. One of them is the spirit in which we serve. This teaching is set forth in Matt. 19:16-20:16.
"For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that was a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard" (20:1). This parable has been greatly misunderstood, because it has been interpreted apart from the occasion which called it forth. The circumstances under which our Lord gave this teaching must be understood clearly.
A young Jewish man, according to 19:16, asked what good things he should do that he might inherit eternal life. It was evident from his question that he thought eternal life was contingent upon good works. In order to call forth an expression of his faith, the Lord Jesus asked why he called Him good. Then he exhorted him to keep the commandments if he wished to enter into life. "Which?" the young man replied. In answering, our Lord referred to several commandments --"Thou shall not kill, Thou shall not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother; and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (vss. 18, 19). Immediately, trying to justify himself, the man insisted that he had kept all of the commandments from his youth up. In the same spirit, he asked what he still lacked.
Being able to see into the very depths of his soul, our Lord knew the young man's difficulty. Hence he said, "If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me" (vs. 21). The young man, having great possessions and not being surrendered to do God's will, went away sorrowful.
Realizing the young man's spiritual poverty, our Lord declared to His disciples in a most solemn manner: "It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you. It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (vss. 23, 24).
This doctrine seemed very strange to the apostles. In amazement they asked, "Who then can be saved?" Quickly Jesus replied that "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."
In his impulsive manner Peter spoke, "Lo, we have left all, and followed thee; what then shall we have?" By this question the Apostle Peter was attempting to drive a bargain with the Lord relative to the reward of the future world. This point will become apparent as we study the parable itself, which was given to illustrate this query.
To Peter's question the Lord replied, "Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (vs. 28). In this promise our Lord assured the apostles that they, His followers, would sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel during the period which He called "the regeneration when the son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory." (Later we will study more fully about "this throne of glory" upon which our Lord will be seated in the Millennial Age.)
To the apostles, then, the chief position of rulership and authority will be delegated. From Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 6:1ff it is clear that all Christians will reign with Christ over the earth during the Millennium. This promise was also confirmed by our Lord's statement in Rev. 3:21: "He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne." In Rev. 20:4 we are told that those who come with the Lord (see 19:14) and the martyrs of the Tribulation period will reign with Christ a thousand years. From these passages it is clear that the saints of God will reign with the Lord during the thousand-year period mentioned in this chapter.
Being able to discern the motives of the heart, Jesus saw that there was an element of selfishness prompting Peter's question. There also was evidence that Peter had a dickering, bargaining spirit, otherwise he never would have asked, "What then shall we have?"
Our Lord dislikes very greatly the least taint of commercialism in spiritual matters. Hence in the last two verses of Matt. 19 He said there would be many who now are first but who will be last and vice versa. To explain what He meant, He gave us the story of the laborers in the vineyard.
That this parable is explanatory of the verses immediately preceding it is evident from the introductory conjunction "for." The promotion of some and the demotion of others at the coming of the Lord is illustrated by a householder who in the early morning hired laborers to work in his vineyard. He entered into a legal contract with them, guaranteeing a shilling a day for their labors. At the third, sixth and ninth hours, he likewise went out and employed others, assuring them that he would pay whatever was right. They trusted his honor and integrity and were willing to let him determine the price. At the eleventh hour he also went out and, seeing others idle, asked why they had remained unemployed all day. When they replied that they had desired work but no one had employed them, he immediately invited them to work for him.
At the end of the day the householder instructed his foreman to begin with those who labored only one hour and to give each a shilling. The men were to be paid in reverse order of the time of their employment. When those who had entered into an iron-bound contract and had labored all day for a shilling received their pay, they immediately began to complain against their employer, saying he was partial and unjust with them. The master remonstrated, pointing out that they had entered an agreement to work for a shilling a day. They had worked and he was paying the price agreed upon. Therefore he reasoned that he was doing them no injustice. If he chose to give the same amount to those with whom he had no agreement, that was his privilege.
From this parable it becomes immediately evident that one of the great factors determining the reward each will receive is the spirit in which he serves. Through love we are to labor for the Lord. We know that He is loving and kind and will do for us far more exceedingly, abundantly above anything that we can think or ask.
According to the teaching of the Apostle Paul, we are to do all things heartily as unto the Lord, not with eye service as men pleasers, but as doing the will of the Lord from the heart. From this angle all toil, regardless of what it is, is lifted from the low level of menial labor to the high plane of delightful service for the Master's sake.
From the parable of the talents we saw that quality goods and quality service were emphasized by our Lord. Here we see that the amount of our reward and the positions of trust and honor which we shall receive will be determined largely by the spirit in which we serve.