Summary: Will I be rewarded for what I do for the cause of Christ? It is a question many Christians ask, and perhaps many more hold unconsciously in their mind.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
The issue raised may be phrased in different ways, any of which you have undoubtedly heard at some time, or perhaps that you have even raised in your own mind. “What’s in it for me?” “Why should I work hard when I get the same reward as those who do nothing?” “God doesn’t seem all that fair if someone else who comes to faith late receives the same reward as I receive.” The question is tough primarily because we want to think in terms of being recognised for what we have done. Unconsciously, we believe that God is our debtor.
At the outset, let me set the thought of labouring for rewards against a truth Jesus taught the Twelve. The Master said, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” [LUKE 17:7-10].
Note that the parable before us is not about salvation; no one works for salvation, which is the free gift of God. Paul writes, “The free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” [ROMANS 5:15-17].
Neither is the parable before us about rewards for service. God rewards believers differently, according to their service. You may recall that Jesus said, “Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together” [JOHN 4:36]. Similarly, Paul has written, “He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour” [1 CORINTHIANS 3:8].
Rather, the parable before us focuses on examining our attitudes—focusing on motivation in service and teaching about gratitude. It is only through the intervention of the Master that anyone receives anything. If we imagine that we deserve anything for our time, our effort or our commitment to serve, we negate the true value of all that we might have done. We respond to grace extended and we serve because of grace. We dare not measure our worth by what we may have accomplished or the labours we may have performed. When we fall into that trap, we shortly begin to question the wisdom and the fairness of God, and we grow envious of other fellow servants of the Master.