Laboring For The Lord

Bible Book: Matthew  19 : 20
Subject: Service for Christ
Series: Points in the Parables

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in December of 2007, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was at 5%. While 5% does not seem like much, that 5% equates to 7.7 million people without jobs. While close to eight million people were without work in December, 146.2 million people were employed in some sort of work.i

If you are a Christian, you are technically never unemployed. There may be a time in which you are not a part of America’s workforce, but there is never a time when you are not a part of the Lord’s workforce. For the child of God, there is always work to be done.

In Matthew chapter twenty, the Lord Jesus gave a parable that dealt with the subject of labor and service in the kingdom of God.

The parable is the story of a vineyard owner that hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Throughout the day, the owner continued to hire more and more laborers, finally hiring the last group at somewhere around 5:00, working them for only one hour.

When it came time to pay the laborers, the owner did something strange. He paid all the workers a full day’s wage; even those that had only worked an hour.

This infuriated those who had worked all day, and the grumbled to the owner when they received their pay. The Lord Jesus closes the parable in verse 16, with an interesting phrase. He says, “So the last shall be first, and the first last…”

To truly understand and rightly interpret this parable, you have to look at it in light of the previous chapter. There in Matthew 19:27, we find Peter asking this question, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?”

Jesus goes on in the next few verses to graciously answer Peter’s question, and then in chapter 20, He gives this parable to address a further aspect of Peter’s question.

To be honest, many different preachers and writers have different opinions as to the correct interpretation of this parable.

For our purposes, rather than debating over the different opinions regarding this text, I would prefer us to simply draw out some lessons that are clearly found in this story. There are three lessons we find here that speak to us about laboring for the Lord Jesus. Notice first of all:


One thing that is clear regarding this parable is that it has to do with the subject of working, or serving. The backdrop of the story is a vineyard where people are sent to work.

Contrary to what some may believe; God does not save a person so that they can live in a sort of spiritual retirement, with no requirements and responsibilities.

The truth you find as you study the Word of God is that we are saved to serve! Each and every one of us has a place in which we are to work and labor for the Lord.

In this parable we find a couple of truths that remind us that there is a place for our service. Notice them with me. Notice first of all:

A. There is a great demand

Over and over again in this parable, we find the owner returning to the marketplace in search of workers for his vineyard. Even though he had hired other crews, the demand of the work called for more and more laborers.

I found a sign that I am going to hang somewhere in our church. It is a sign that would be fitting in most churches. Here it is (It is a “Help Wanted” sign).

No matter the size of a church, or the number of its ministries, there is always a great demand for more and more laborers.

As long as we are called to reach out to our community with the gospel, as long as we are teaching our children, and as long as we are ministering and serving one another, there will be a place for you to serve at this church.

If you are doing nothing right now for the kingdom of God, I assure it is not because there is nothing to do. There is a great demand for workers!

Notice also further that there is a place for your service, not only because there is a great demand, but also because:

B. There is a great duty

Pay attention to the question the owner asks in verse six. He says, “Why stand ye here all the day idle?”

It is a valid question to ask many people in the church? Why do you the waste the days God has given you doing nothing?

Why would you accept the grace of God in Christ Jesus and then do nothing for Him in return? Why would you be idle when you have a duty to serve the Lord Jesus?

In 1Corinthians 15:58, Paul challenged the believers in Corinth to “always be abounding in the work of the Lord.”

Friend, you were not saved to sleep through your Christian life. You were saved to serve with your Christian life. You have a place to serve because you have duty to serve.

Right now, there is something for you to do in the kingdom. You have a role, a labor, a work to do. There is a place for your service.

Notice a second truth we draw from this parable. Notice not only that there is a place for your service; but notice also secondly that we see this truth:


In chapter 19, Peter asked a question that, if we were honest, most of us have asked at one time or another in our life. That is why we love Peter. He says what most of us are thinking.

In verse 27, Peter asked, “…what shall we have therefore?” Peter essentially was asking, “Lord, what are going to get for serving you? What is in it for us?”

It sounds like an irreverent question, and to some degree it is. Yet, our Lord tells Peter that those who give themselves in the service of the Lord can rest assured that He will take care of them.

As you look at how the Lord responded to Peter in chapter 19, there are a couple of truths we find about the promise that comes with our service.

Notice first of all that:

A. The promise of reward is clear

Peter blurts out this selfish, and yet all too human question in verse 27. Peter says, “What’s in it for me?” While most of us may not say those very words, there is a part of us that wants to know that we are going to get something for our efforts.

You would almost expect the Lord Jesus to rebuke Peter, but instead he tells Peter, along with the other disciples, that they are going to be rewarded with the privilege of reigning with Him when He sets up His kingdom on this earth.

He goes on in verse 29, and says, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

The Lord makes it clear that those who sacrifice in this life to serve Him will be handsomely rewarded. Time spent in service to Christ is time that will reap eternal and extraordinary rewards.

I read once about a preacher that died and went to heaven. When he arrived in the celestial city he realized that a New York taxi driver had been given a bigger mansion than him. He complained to St. Peter, but to no avail. Peter explained to him that in heaven, rewards are given based on results. He went on and said, “When you preached, some listened and some slept. When this man drove his taxi, the people riding with him not only stayed awake, they prayed.”

Who will get the most rewards in heaven is something we do not yet know, which is part of the reason the Lord gave the parable in chapter twenty.

What we do know is that the promise of rewards is clear. Those that labor for the Lord will be rewarded.

There is something else we must see about this promise that comes with our service. Notice not only that the promise of reward is clear, but notice also that:

B. The promise of reward is conditional

While your salvation is by grace through faith, and there is nothing you can do to earn it, that is not the case when it comes to rewards.

The rewards given in heaven are based upon your work. Those who work will be rewarded. Those who do not work should not expect to receive anything.

While the owner in the parable was generous with his money, he was not giving away his money. Only those laborers that entered into the vineyard to work were rewarded at the end of the day.

Don’t be foolish. If you do nothing for Christ down here, don’t expect Him to commend and reward you up there. The rewards of heaven are conditional, based upon our labors on this earth.

In 1877, Charles Luther heard a preacher tell the story of a young man who had just recently accepted Christ, but was very rapidly nearing his death. His pastor was trying to encourage him, when the young man said, “I am not afraid to die. Jesus saves me now. But must I go empty handed?” From that story, Luther wrote these lines:

Must I go and empty handed,

Thus my dear Redeemer meet,

Not one day of service give Him,

Lay no trophy at His feet.ii

One day you and I are going to stand in the awesome and overwhelming presence of the living Lord Jesus! If we have done nothing for Him down here, we will have nothing to give Him up there.

Don’t go empty handed. Don’t meet with regret the Christ that redeemed you! Serve Him now so that you may have something to give Him then!

This parable reminds us that there is a place for your service, and there is a promise with your service. Both of these are important truths, but neither of them are the real reason this parable was given.

Notice with me a third, and most important truth we find in this parable. As you come to the close of the story, we see thirdly that:


When you read the Lord’s response to Peter’s question at the close of chapter 19, you almost wonder if the Lord was ignoring Peter’s mercenary, “what’s in it for me” attitude.

Then, when you read the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, you understand that the Lord used this parable to warn Peter about the attitude that prompted his question.

In the character of the first laborers hired, and their frustrations at the end of the day, we learn about some perils, some dangers that we must watch for in serving the Lord.

Here is where this quaint parable suddenly becomes a sharp and biting story. Notice with me these perils we must watch for when we serve the Lord. The first peril is the peril of:

A. Negotiating the favor of God

Look back at chapter twenty, and notice the close of the parable. When the owner paid the employees for the day, and the first workers saw that they had been paid equal to the last workers, verse 11 says that they “murmured.”

They began to gripe about the fact that while they had worked all through the day, those who had labored only an hour received the same wage as them.

Now notice verse 13. The owner answers them and says, “Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?”

The owner was right. At the beginning of the day, in verse two, the first laborers negotiated their price, and agreed to a penny.

The other labors went into the vineyard based on the agreement found in verse four. The owner said to them, “…whatsoever is right I will give you…”

There are those who will serve God, but they want to negotiate their price up front. They say, “Lord, I will serve you, but you had better bless me financially.” Or, others will say, “I will work at the church for the Lord, but I better get some kind of recognition. I will not work without getting some kind of credit.”

Do you see that subtle peril? Don’t negotiate with God for His favor! Just agree to serve Him, and let Him take care of taking care of you!

There is another peril that we find addressed in this story. You find not only the peril of negotiating the favor of God, but you find also the peril of:

B. Debating the fairness of God

Look with me at verse 12 in the parable. They first workers are grumbling, and they say, “These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.”

The first workers did not think what the owner was doing was fair. It did not matter that he was the owner, and could do whatever he wanted. It did not matter that he was taking care of them just as he had promised. They still debated the fairness of their master.

There are those who are constantly looking around at what God is doing in the lives of others, and if God blesses someone around them, they are hurt and bothered by what they perceive to be an injustice.

They say, “I have done more for God than them. Why does God continue to give them so many blessings? It is not fair!”

Notice very carefully the owner’s response in verse 15. He says, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”

The rebuke is clear! The Lord uses this parable to remind us of an age old truth. We must mind our own business!

If God chooses to bless my neighbor; that is between God and my neighbor. It in no way means that He is not fair to me!

If we are not careful, like Peter, we will begin to ask, “Lord, what’s in it for me?” The simple answer is that there is more “in it” for us than we could imagine.

Yet at the same time, when we begin to negotiate the favor of God, and debate the fairness of God, we miss the whole point of laboring for the Lord, and in many ways, we run the risk of being last (in terms of rewards), even though we were first (in terms of service)!

This is a parable that deals with some very relevant and important issues. The church of Jesus Christ needs more of its professing members to become participating members.

There is work to be done, and it is astoundingly rewarding work. Both of these truths are presented in this story.

And the heart of the story deals with an even greater issue – our motives. Why do you serve the Lord Jesus? Why do you worship Him, and live for Him?

Is your faith a utilitarian faith? That is, are you a Christian simply because of what you get out of it?

May God help us to serve out of pure heart, understanding that if we get nothing for our labors, the Lord is still worthy of all we can give Him!


i; accessed 1/10/08

ii; accessed 1/10/08