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Summary: The world teaches that those who finish first are always declared the winner. Much emphasis is placed on our perceived position and status in life. Jesus challenged this teaching, declaring the Last shall be First.

The Last shall be First

Matthew 20:16

Much of life is guided by perceived standards and expectations. We are quite familiar with these standards, being exposed to them as long as we can remember. In order to be accepted and successful, one is taught to believe they must abide by these long held standards.

Unfortunately, many of the standards and expectations are self-centered and self-serving. While I am well aware that we must put forth ample effort if we plan to achieve success, we must be cautious about allowing the standards and expectations of a fallen world to dictate our lives. The world teaches us to look out for ourselves first and foremost, always making sure our interests are met before we consider meeting the needs of another. The world desires to receive instead of giving, striving to gain all they can as they journey through life. The world teaches us to reach for the stars, seeking to rise to the top in our given field, through whatever means necessary. Again, there is nothing wrong with ambition and hard work, but we must learn to view life from a biblical perspective rather than allowing the standards of the world to motivate our lives.

The Bible is filled with what we refer to as paradoxes. Webster defines a paradox as “a tenet contrary to received opinion.” Dictionary.com defines a paradox as “a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd, but in reality expresses a possible truth.” Much of the Bible’s teaching is contrary to the beliefs and opinions of modern culture. A few of the paradoxes we discover are – loss actually produces gain; weakness can in fact provide great strength; giving is the best approach to receiving; and being last will actually make one first. Over the next few weeks I want to examine a few paradoxes in the Bible. We will soon discover that God’s economy is much different than that of man’s. As we move through this series, Paradoxes in the Christian Life, I hope we will learn to view life from a spiritual perspective. I want to consider the principles revealed in the text as we discuss: The Last shall be First.

I. The Setting (16) – So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. As we discuss this paradox spoken by Jesus, we need to understand the context in which He spoke. He had just shared a parable about a man who owned a vineyard, hiring servants to go work within the vineyard. Early in the morning the man agreed to hire servants to labor in the vineyard for a penny a day. Going out at the third hour, 9:00 am, he found men standing idle and hired them to labor in the vineyard as well. This process continued throughout the day. The man hired servants again at noon, 3:00 pm, and finally at 5:00 pm. When the day’s work had ended at 6:00 pm, the man paid every laborer the wages they all had agreed upon; each man received a penny, a Roman denarius for their labor. This was a good wage for the laborers, the same salary paid to Roman soldiers. As the workers began to come in from the field and receive their wages, some of the laborers began to murmur against the owner of the vineyard. Although he had kept his word, paying the salary they all had agreed upon, some were upset that those who labored only an hour received the same salary as those who had labored all day. The owner defended his actions, reminding them they each had agreed to work in the vineyard that day for an agreed amount. He had not done those who entered the field early wrong because he paid what they had agreed upon for a day’s labor.

Through this parable Jesus taught a profound truth. Many in that culture were focused solely on financial gain. They were upset that those who had labored for a much shorter time had received the same wages. Although no one had been taken advantage of, the thought of someone receiving the same wage for less work caused hard feelings. They were not concerned with the benefit others had received; they were focused solely on perceived unfairness.

As I begin to make application, I want to emphasize the main focus of Jesus’ teaching – He is referring primarily to salvation. Those who are saved later in life are no less saved than those who came to faith in Christ at an early age. The benefit of salvation is the same for all – forgiveness of sin and eternal life through Christ, regardless of the point in life we are saved. We can make application for our daily Christian walk as well. We are called to serve the Lord faithfully, regardless of the actions of others. We must keep an eternal perspective as we journey through life. Our walk with the Lord and the blessing we receive from Him is not contingent upon the actions or blessing of another. We should rejoice in the blessings we have received and share in the rejoicing of others as the Lord blesses them!

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