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(Part 135)


August 23, 2017
Today’s gospel: Matthew 20:1-16

Today’s parable stresses the reality that those who turn to faith in Jesus, at whatever point in their lives, would merit the same eternal life in heaven. But we can also look to this parable to teach us about servant leadership.

This is the essence of servant leadership: “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (v.16). The last (the servant) will be the first (the leader), and vice versa. The servant is at the lowest level, has no authority, and is just to be ordered around. The leader is at the highest level, has the authority, and does the ordering. For the authentic servant leader, it is living out both. But more importantly, the servant leader, like Jesus, is not to be served but is to serve.

God makes the work of His Kingdom dependent on servant-workers. “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.” (v.1). The earth (the land) is the Lord’s, but unfortunately is under the dominion of the evil one, and will have to be recovered for God. To do so, God makes use of human instruments. He needs workers for the harvest.

But true workers are what are lacking.

  • There are many Christians who do not know about and and thus do not participate in the work of the Kingdom, especially the work of evangelization and mission. They are just “standing idle in the marketplace” (v.3b). Indeed, they might even be part of the problem.
  • There are other Christians who are not proactive, who do not go forth on their own initiative, who are unmindful of the call to lay empowerment. They are looking to be taught what to do. They are idle, giving the reason: “because no one has hired us.” (v.7a).
  • There are those who dictate on the Master how the work is to be done. They begin to look to themselves as the owner of resources made available for their work. They think they know better than God. But the Spirit blows as He wills. “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” (v.15a).
  • There are those who are envious and resentful of their fellow workers, who seem to be getting ahead of them in recognition or reward. To those who worked longer but received the same pay as others, the Master says, “Are you envious because I am generous?” (v.15b).
  • There are those who do not recognize the great privilege that it is to serve God, who are not grateful for whatever blessings have been received, as “on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner” (v.11). They think God owes them for their work, and if unsatisfied with what they get from God, they take it against Him.
  • There are those who serve God but are basically out for themselves for personal benefit. It might be for power, for position, for perks. They might have their own agenda, and follow their own priorities. They are like the first laborers to be sent, who “thought that they would receive more” (v.10a)

Authentic servant leaders must know the God whom they serve.

  • He is merciful. God wants His people to experience salvation. As such, He sends out laborers to the vineyard. “You too go into my vineyard” (v.4a).
  • He is just. God rewards His workers. He assures them, “and I will give you what is just.” (v.4b). God will never be outdone in generosity. He is never unjust. “My friend, I am not cheating you.” (v.13a).
  • He gives us the privilege to embrace His cross, as workers “who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” (v.12b). Servant leaders are those who follow in the footsteps of their Master, who endured much for our sake.

God is constantly calling on workers for the vineyard, from dawn, to nine o’clock, to noon, to three o’clock, to five o’clock. There is no reason for His people not to hear His call. They are given every opportunity to respond.

But is it fair for those who work longer but receive the same wage? Is it fair to those who accept Jesus earlier in their lives when those who have a deathbed conversion are assured the same reward in heaven? It is more than fair. Servant leaders who toil longer and harder and endure so much more pain and suffering must recognize how these are blessings. They have actually been favored by God, in allowing them to become more like Christ.

So what are you waiting for? There is much work to be done. “Why do you stand here idle all day?” (v.6b).

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