THE LAST WILL BE FIRST (A call to faithfulness)

MATTHEW 20:8-16: “Now when evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, starting with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. And so when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day’s work and the scorching heat.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go; but I want to give to this last person the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I want with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ So the last shall be first, and the first, last.” NASB
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OBSERVATION: Am I focused on faithfulness when it comes to serving the Lord? Do I view my call to discipleship like a job or is it a stewardship of His grace that has been freely given to me? When I observe others being blessed do I rejoice or do I respond like the ones in Jesus’ parable who were hired at the beginning of the day?

Grace is never tied to our works. God’s goodness is freely given out of His love and the rewards of discipleship are not based on the number of our accomplishments but on our faithfulness to His calling. The world does not understand this principle of the Kingdom. This is why the laborers who were hired at the beginning of the day were upset when those hired in the 11th hour received the same wages.

This parable speaks both of our salvation and our eternal rewards. We are all saved by grace through faith and not by our works or merit. Therefore, it is easier for us to understand that the gift of eternal life is given to all those who believe – whether they believe for a lifetime or receive Christ in the closing moments of life, as did the thief on the cross. Yet, when it comes to our eternal rewards our thinking is not the same.

We tend to think of God’s blessings and rewards as something we earn from our efforts and hard work. The more we do, the more we accomplish, and the greater the reward. This is the way the world works and we bring that into our Kingdom thinking. Yet, if we are saved by grace through faith, do we fulfill our calling in Christ by works? Paul speaks to this in his epistle to the Galatians.

  • “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” ‭Galatians‬ ‭3‬:‭3‬-‭5‬ ‭NASB

Paul concludes that everything in life that we receive from the Lord or accomplish in our lives is the result of the hearing of faith. God does not look at us as a man looks. He is not measuring us by our productivity or accomplishments. God is measuring us by how we steward the grace that He has given to us.

  • “However, since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them properly…”. Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭6‬ ‭NASB
  • “Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” I Corinthians‬ ‭4‬:‭1‬-‭2‬ ‭NKJV‬

When I look at my life I am always tempted to measure it by what I have accomplished. The pitfall that we all face is, in doing so, we measure what we have accomplished against someone else. If we have accomplished more we can feel like the laborers who were hired at the beginning of the day. Surely we deserve a greater reward. If we have accomplished little we tend to dismiss our lives as insignificant.

Yet, the reality is that God never measures us against someone else. Our calling in life is unique. We are gifted by His grace to accomplish something that only we can do. It may be seen on the world stage or it may be hidden from all. The key is not how it can be measured outwardly. The key is whether we are faithful to our calling before the Lord. Most of us will not be Billy Graham or Sister Theresa. Yet, God is not expecting us to be like them. He is calling us to be faithful to who He has created us to be and what He has called us to do.

There was a time in my life when I thought I would never have the opportunity to pastor a church again. I had been the senior pastor of three churches and now I was working full-time for a food distributing company and my opportunities to preach and teach were very few. Frustrated at the closed doors before me I began to complain to the Lord. It was then that I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart –

“Be faithful!”

Be faithful? Lord, do you mean I am going to be stuck in this job for the rest of my life? What about my call to ministry? What about all the years I faithfully served you? You know I am not using my gifts where I am at! What do you want me to do?

“Be faithful!”

These were the two most humbling words I ever heard. I had to realize that my heart attitude was all wrong. I was one of the laborers complaining about my reward. My heart and attitude needed to change. I will never forget when I prayed –

“Lord, if my calling in life is to work at this job, and that is all my calling is, then help me to be faithful. Help me to seek You and serve You, not for what You will do for me, but because of who You are. Let my life and my devotion be pleasing in Your sight.”

Something happened when I prayed this prayer. I found a new joy in my work. I grew in my devotion to the Lord. God’s Word started to come alive in my heart. All the frustration that I was carrying washed away and I was content with my station in life. I discovered the truth that God does not desire our accomplishments he desires our hearts!

To some degree, we are all the laborers who were hired at the first hour and also those hired at the eleventh hour. Our call is to focus on faithfulness and to guard our hearts against envy which comes from comparing ourselves to others. The Lord did allow me to pastor again. I spent the last 15 years of my pastoral ministry in a church planting with the most wonderful people anyone could have ever asked to serve.

Now, I am in a season where I need to be reminded of my calling to be faithful. At the end of our lives, it will not be how many talents we have gained but what we have done with the talents we were given. This is the call to stewardship and faithfulness. If we have been laboring in the same field for 12 hours – be faithful. If we are called at the end of the day and there is not much time left to work – be faithful.

Lord, help me to be a grateful and humble steward of the things you have placed in my hands. Keep me from presumptuous sins and from the pitfall of comparing myself to others. Grant me the grace to run the race that is set before me with faithfulness and gratitude. Let me labor faithfully until I hear the words,

  • “…Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.” Matthew‬ ‭25‬:‭21‬ ‭NASB

In Jesus’ Name!

About Kirk's Devotional Journal

Kirk L. Zehnder is the Founder of Resurrection Christian Outreach. RCO is a ministry that promotes the growth and vitality of the local church through speaking engagements, seminars, various media tools, and written curriculum and books. This ministry was started over 35 years ago by Kirk as a means to strengthen the church that he was pastoring. It grew as Kirk began to share these tools with other churches. Today many of the materials are being used by local churches both nationally and internationally. Kirk's Devotional Journal is a result of struggling with Bible reading programs that never seemed to work. Kirk feels the Lord helped him discover an easy-to-follow program to Read, Reflect, Pray, and Journal through the Bible in one year. This program is called L.I.F.E. Unlike other programs there are no dates to follow. You can miss a day and still complete your reading. You never feel like the dates and verses you missed are chasing you. You are free to enjoy your daily Biblical journey and listen to the voice of The Lord. For more information on the L.I.F.E. plan, send an email to rcoutreach@aol.com. Kirk is also available for speaking engagements, seminars, and retreats. With over 40 years of professional business and pastoral ministry experience, Kirk brings a unique combination of practical wisdom, humor, and Biblical insight. If you would like Kirk to speak at your church, school, or ministry, please send an email to rcoutreach@aol.com and we will get back to you as soon as possible to discuss your opportunity.
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