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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Blessing of Working in God's Kingdom
Text:Matthew 20:1-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Added:2024-01-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Lord God of Hosts, in Mercy
I Will Sing the Wondrous Story
Marvelous Grace of Our Loving Lord
O Jesus, I Have Promised         

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


The Blessing of Working in God’s Kingdom
Matthew 20:1-16
 
We begin a new chapter of Matthew’s gospel, but its background springs from the previous chapter. In the previous chapter, a rich young ruler came to Jesus asking what good thing he must do to enter the kingdom of God. When that man heard of the complete commitment that the Lord requires, he went away sad because he idolized his wealth and had made wealth his god.
 
After that rich young ruler left, Jesus described how it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle – an impossibility – than for a rich man to be saved. The disciples had asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” and Jesus had replied, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” It was after that exchange when Peter said, “We have left everything to follow You! What then will there be for us?”
 
In the last part of chapter 19 Jesus assured Peter – and assures us – that there will indeed be great blessings for all who sacrificially follow Him. But in this chapter, He begins by telling the parable of workers in a vineyard. Through this parable Jesus is still replying to Peter and He gives him an answer which teaches that our work in God’s kingdom does not obligate Him to bless us, nor does it merit His reward.
 
The men who were hired early in the morning, there in verses 1 and 2, failed to see that our work does not obligate God to reward us or to “pay” us. But those men described in the parable are not alone in their belief that somehow the Lord owes people something for what we have done.
 
Many people are like the man who asked a question of Dr. R.A. Torrey, pastor of Moody Church many years ago. Torrey was at a conference in Melbourne, Australia. He had preached at the conference and then opened it up for a question and answer period. One of the questions was in the form of a handwritten note.
 
The person who wrote the note was very perplexed. God had not answered his prayers as he wished. The writer explained that he had been a member of the Presbyterian Church for thirty years, that he had been the Superintendent of Sunday School for twenty-five years, and also had served as an elder for twenty years. He wrote. “Yet God does not answer my prayer. Can you explain why?”
 
Torrey read the note out loud and replied, “It is very easy to explain it. This man thinks that because he has been a consistent church member for thirty years, a faithful Sunday School superintendent for twenty-five years, and an elder for twenty years, that God is under obligation to answer his prayers. He really is praying in his own name, and God will not hear our prayers when we approach Him in that way.”
 
After Torrey had finished speaking, a man came up to him and admitted that he had written the note. He admitted that Torrey had accurately described his problem; he saw the error of his thinking.  (R.A. Torrey, The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power, pp. 138-139)
 
His mistake was that he thought somehow God owed him for his service in God’s kingdom. He failed to grasp the power of that rhetorical question raised in Romans 11:35:  "Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?" We always have to ask ourselves, “Are we working in God’s kingdom for what we can get from Him, thinking that somehow we will obligate Him to reward us? Or are we working in His kingdom because we love Him, are so grateful for His redeeming grace, and desire to express our gratitude for His honor and His glory?  
 
Blessings from God’s Grace
 
The reason why our work does not obligate God to reward us is because our blessings from God are due to His grace, not our works. The Bible teaches that our works are indeed rewarded, but that reward is due to God’s grace, not the merit of our works. 
 
All of our work is stained with sin and as such does not deserve payment from God. Instead, our sin-stained work deserves God’s judgment. Have you ever gone to the store and set your eye on some shirt or blouse that you thought looked really nice, and then, on closer inspection, found that it had a big blotch on it, or a rip or tear? If that’s the case, you wouldn’t buy that item. It’s defective.
 
Even our best work in the kingdom of God is stained, ripped, and defective. In the words of Romans 3:23 we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yet God rewards us. He gives us way more than one denarius, the equivalent of one’s day’s wages in New Testament times. He gives us eternity in heaven. He bestows on us riches and blessings far beyond what we can imagine. 
 
He rewards us this way even though He is the author of our salvation, not us. He sought us out. He redeemed us from the pit of our sin and misery. He sent His Son to suffer and die for us. He sent His Spirit into our lives to bring us new birth – salvation – and to serve as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. He is the One who enables us to persevere in our faith being confident of this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)
 
Our salvation is all of God’s work. It is because of His work in us that we are enabled to fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith.” But who is rewarded?  We are. 2 Timothy 4:8: Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
 
Grace, in its simplest definition, is unmerited favor. The workers who came at the eleventh hour did not merit the pay they received. Neither did the other workers. But neither do you or I. Our salvation is all of grace, and in the context of Peter’s question, “We have left everything to follow You! What then will there be for us?”, Jesus is saying, “Peter, your reward is given you on account of grace, not on account of anything you have done.” 
 
A third truth this parable teaches is that since God is sovereign, He is free to do as He wishes with His blessings. From our finite, human point of view, this parable strikes us as being unfair. Most of us can relate to how the workers hired at the beginning of the day felt. We might believe that those workers certainly deserved more pay than those who came later, especially in the last hour of work. 
 
We might also question the wisdom of the businessman who would pay the part-time worker the same salary as the full-time worker. That’s not how you operate a business, and if you do, you will go bankrupt, we might reason. But God is sovereign, and He is certainly free to do as He wishes with His blessings. 
 
Not only do we see His sovereign right to do as He pleases, but we also see that what motivated Him to hire the workers at the eleventh hour was His great generosity. In verse 15 Jesus describes how the owner of the vineyard said, Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”  
 
The generosity is seen in that the workers hired at the eleventh hour were hired, not so much for the labor that could be gained from them, but to help them. We see that in verses 6 and 7: About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’  ‘Because no one has hired us’ they answered. He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’”  He hired them, not because he needed them, but because they needed him. Recognizing their need for pay, he hired them out of his generosity.
 
Whatever we have by way of blessing is due not to ourselves and our work, but our blessings are a direct result of the generosity of our faithful God who in sovereign grace has called us and equipped us to serve in His vineyard.
 
The Blessing of Working in God’s Kingdom
 
By way of application, this parable reminds us, first, that it is a great blessing to work in God’s kingdom. The men who were hired in the early morning failed to see that the real blessing of working in the King’s vineyard is not the payment of a denarius, but the privilege of being a fellow worker in God’s kingdom. That is such a great privilege that the Apostle Paul, who was able to support himself financially, refused payment from the churches he served. For him, and for every true believer, the joy of serving the Lord is linked not to a monetary payment, but to the privilege of working in God’s kingdom as a fellow worker with Him.
 
For me it is a blessing, as a minister, to work in God’s “vineyard.” But it is equally a blessing, or even more of a blessing, for you to work in God’s kingdom. Many council members, at the conclusion of their term of service, have remarked on what a blessing it is to serve in God’s kingdom. But it isn’t just service in council or consistory that is a blessing; all service in God’s kingdom is a blessing. As David put it in Psalm 84:10, Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God” – a doorkeeper was like a custodian in those days –than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”
 
Likewise, Paul frequently thanked those who served as fellow workers with him in God’s kingdom. In Philippians 4:3 Paul describes how various women in the church, along with Clement and others, were fellow workers with him. There is a great blessing in that. We see that even in our preparations for meals, whether after a funeral, or after celebrating the Lord’s Supper, or when it is time to host classis. Before any of those events, the sign-up sheet is full. We have many people who work hard behind the scenes, often unrecognized in their work, yet laboring diligently and faithfully because they realize the blessing isn’t in a monetary payment; the blessing is in the privilege of being fellow workers with God. 
 
Comparisons Leading to Covetousness
 
A second application: Comparing what we receive to what others receive usually leads to envy and covetousness. In 2 Corinthians 10:12, as the Apostle Paul defends his ministry, he writes: We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
 
The men who were hired early in the day compared themselves to those who were hired later in the day.  When they realized that they were getting paid the same as those who were hired later, they became discontent and began to grumble against the landowner.
 
It is sad to see how the human heart, blighted by sin, thinks when it begins to make comparisons.  And I’m speaking about my own heart. Years ago, we bought a house on a cul-de-sac. I always thought it would be nice to be on a cul-de-sac, away from the traffic, a bit of peace and quiet. And it is nice. But because the house we bought is at the end of the cul-de-sac and facing the street, when you look through the front window you see the parked cars of your neighbors.  
 
I had resigned myself to that view when my wife and I went garage sailing shortly after buying our house. Two blocks over there was a multifamily sale in a cul-de-sac. As my wife was looking at clothes for the grandkids, I was looking at those houses. They were on a shorter cul-de-sac, so instead of seeing your neighbors’ driveways, you would see across this short cul-de-sac to some nice-looking homes on the street adjoining the cul-de-sac. And behind the homes on that cul-de-sac there was a forest of beautiful trees. They bordered on a little stream, so they have complete privacy, whereas our backyard looks out at our neighbors’ backyards. 
 
And the pastor who reads the ten commandments to you every Sunday, including the tenth commandment which is broken before any of the others, stood there, as his wife picked out clothes for the grandkids, breaking the tenth commandment. I stood there, discontent at what God had graciously given me because I was comparing what I had received to what others had. 
 
That is sin. It is sinful not only by breaking the tenth commandment, coveting my neighbor’s house. But it is also sinful in not being totally grateful for what God has given me. I had to stop and pray about that. But that is what often happens when we compare what God has given us with what He has given others.  
 
By contrast, my mother often mentioned this parable regarding her situation as a widow. She was widowed in 1964 when inequality in pay for women was common. She had several jobs where she had been hired at a salary, and then later on, men were hired for the same job at considerably higher pay.
 
Instead of comparing herself to them and getting bitter about what was, in her case, an inequity, she would quote from verse 13, where the landowner says to those who are complaining, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?” She would say, “I agreed to work for the salary I’m getting, so I can’t complain if others receive more.”
 
Whatever we have in life is given to us by God. Our material blessings, or the lack of material blessings, are directly related to God’s providence. Often, He withholds from us for our spiritual good. By the same token, He may allow the wicked to prosper but their prosperity keeps them from the kingdom of heaven as they become mastered by their money, as the rich young ruler in the previous chapter was.
 
God has a reason for distributing His gifts as He does. We are not to compare ourselves to others, asking why they seem to get more blessings for less work in His kingdom. Rather, we are to be thankful that by His grace we are in His kingdom. Godliness, with contentment,” Paul wrote to Timothy, is of great gain.”  (1 Tim. 6:6)
 
The Eleventh Hour
 
A third application: When we have done all we can in serving God, we are to acknowledge that we “are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” That is the terminology Jesus uses in a similar passage on service in Luke 17:10. The servants hired early in the day believed they had earned the pay, but those hired at the eleventh hour realized it was all of grace that they received full pay for one hour of work.
 
But as we have seen, all of our work is tainted with sin. We are all unworthy of the reward that God gives to us. It is again, all of His grace, not of our merit, even if we work hard as the Apostle Paul worked with such zeal and enthusiasm. Yet he never took credit, but instead wrote to the Corinthians, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
 
The entire parable teaches the truth of Verse 16, “So the last will be first and the first will be last.” And the reason why the last will be first and the first last is rooted, not only in God’s sovereignty but also in our motives. The first workers were motivated by what they could get from the owner of the vineyard; they were motivated by a denarius, by money.  From verses 1 and 2 it seems as though they negotiated with the landowner and thus worked for what they could receive monetarily from him. 
 
Those who were hired later worked eagerly, even though the amount they would be paid wasn’t specified. They simply trusted the owner of the vineyard when he said, “I will pay you what is right” (v. 4). They were just thankful for the privilege of working in the vineyard. And the eleventh-hour workers realized more than any of the others that what they received was all of grace not of works.
 
However, just because this parable stresses God’s grace, even to those spared in the eleventh hour, it doesn’t mean that we should try to be like the thief on the cross and believe at the “eleventh hour” – at the last moment. It is crucial for you children and young people to take to heart now the truths of God’s Word because if you don’t, you will become hardened by sin. If you try to delay committing your whole life to the Lord you will become hardened in your sin and unlikely to know the joy of salvation later in life.
 
Solomon recognized that. In Ecclesiastes 12:1 he wrote, Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them...” And the Apostle Paul urges us in 2 Corinthians 6:1-2: “As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, 'In the time of My favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.' I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation."
 
And for you and me, if by God’s grace we are in His vineyard, working in His kingdom, we must always examine our motives. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I working in God’s kingdom for what I can get from Him, thinking that somehow my work will obligate Him to reward me? Or am I working in His kingdom because I love Him, am so grateful for His redeeming grace, and desire to express my gratitude for His honor and His glory?”   Amen.
 
 
sermon outline:
 
  “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in
    the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.” – Matthew 20:1
 
               “The Blessing of Working in God’s Kingdom”
                                         Matthew 20:1-16
 
I.  The background of this parable springs from Peter’s previous question,
     “We have left everything to follow You! What then will there be for us?”
      (Matthew 19:27).  The reply of Jesus, through this parable, teaches:
      1) Our work in God’s kingdom does not obligate Him to bless us,
           nor does it merit His reward (1-2; 10-14)
 
 
 
      2) Our blessings from God are due to His grace, not our works (9-14)
 
 
 
      3) God is sovereign and generous; He is free to do as He wishes with
          His blessings (15)
 
 
 
II. Applications:
     1) It is a great blessing to work in God’s “vineyard” (1, Psalm 84:10)
 
 
   
     2) Comparing what we receive to what others receive usually leads
          to envy and covetousness (12; 2 Corinthians 10:12; 1 Timothy 6:6)
   
 
 
     3) While God is gracious to those who begin serving at the “eleventh
          hour” (9), our entire life should be a sacrifice of praise for His
          redeeming love (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Roman 12:1)
        
 
 
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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