So, in the last two explorations, we discovered that God may or may not have material blessing for us on this earth according to His will and for His honor and glory. Our responsibility, then is to steward what God does choose to give us for God’s glory and honor. Undoubtedly, each one of God’s people gets to share in that glory. In the previous section, it was mentioned that those who give something up for the sake of Christ or of God’s kingdom, will be rewarded manifold. What exactly does it mean that God’s people will be given rewards in Heaven? What might it mean that we are more concerned with building up a heavenly treasure rather than a temporary, earthly treasure? Here, I hope to answer just one angle of this question.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right. ’ So off they went. About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’ ‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him. ‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first. ’ When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat! ’ He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I’m generous? ’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Salvation or rewards?
A denarius was the agreed upon day’s wages for a laborer in Jesus’ day. It was a wage, meaning that it was earned. Salvation, as we discovered in part 2, cannot be earned, but is instead a gift. Jesus Himself is the one who claimed salvation to be a gift in the previous story, just before telling this parable to His audience. So, when He tells this story, the story of a denarius that is earned, He is referring to something other than salvation. In fact, even in the previous story, Christ mentioned that some rewards would be given according to what was given up. So after mentioning rewards before, Christ now tells a parable expounding on God’s giving of rewards as payment for work done for His kingdom on this earth and in this life.
This means something significant for the one who belongs to God.
- There are rewards above and beyond salvation! For the believer, salvation is enough. Christ is sufficient. A life with God is everything. Because of God’s abounding goodness, though, He plans to give us more, beyond what we could possibly comprehend. This is not because we deserve such a gift, because we do not. Each one is a sinner whom God has redeemed. It is because of God’s goodness and God’s goodness alone.
- Salvation is not the end! God’s promise for rewards beyond salvation is evidence of a life with God and a continuation of our maturing in Christ after salvation. Due to this reality, each believer has a responsibility to continue to pursue Christ and to continue grown in God’s kingdom. Increasing his service to the kingdom throughout his life on this earth.
Working for a reward?
The first characters introduced in Christ’s story are the landowner and the first employees. The first employees, at the very least, made a verbal contract with the land owner to work specifically for a day’s wages. At the end of the story, they were given the wages that they agreed upon with the landowner. These employees works specifically for the wages earned and were more concerned with wages (as we see at the end of the story) than they were with pleasing the landowner.
I remember going to a restaurant with a friend and, as we were leaving, this friend held the door open for the lady behind us. As we continued to the car, he uttered the phrase, “Welp, there’s my good deed for the day!” He said this jokingly and did not mean that wouldn’t hold any more doors open. But the phrase, one we have all heard or even ourselves spoken, is reminiscent of a tendency within western culture. We work for wages! At least we have in the past. We have worked for what was earned and earned what we have worked for. No more, no less.
These first employees agreed on such a wage and I might argue that there is a danger when we, God’s people, agree with God to work for certain wages or work for the reward that God might give us. Our service in God’s kingdom becomes employment rather than the servant hood of a son to his father. I’m convinced that God is much more interested in having servants, rather than employees.
Working for the kingdom?
The landowner walked out later in the day only to see people standing in the marketplace doing nothing, or waiting for someone to hire them. The landowner contracted them saying only that he would pay them what was right. These later employees went and worked, most likely without expecting much and certainly without agreeing upon any set amount. These men had become servants to the landowner, and the landowner paid them just as much as he paid the employees who came earlier in the day. The reaction of those employees is worthy to note, but is not the point of the story.
The landowner was fair as he gave wages, or rewards. He was good to whom he desired to be good. When the employees worked for a certain wage, they received what was agreed upon. When others worked as servants without expectations, they received the manifold rewards of the landowner. The former employees were doing work for the landowner in order to gain for themselves, while the later simply served the man who gave them a place.
God as the giver?
So, when we are thinking of heavenly rewards, here is what we must remember:
- We do not work for rewards. We work as servants responding to the glory and majesty of God. We give ourselves to do His work wherever and whenever He chooses to have us work, and then trust in His goodness as He gives rewards according to that goodness.
- There will be rewards. Nothing we do is in vain and, where we give something up for the Kingdom, we will receive that manifold.
- Many are called to give up riches, passions, status and even relationships for the cause of God’s kingdom. We do not give up any of these things in vain.
- God is the reward giver, meaning that, since we have placed our faith in God, we can trust in His goodness as He grants rewards to His people.
 Matthew 20:1-16 (HCSB)