Why Believe and Obey God?
by David A DePra
Transcribed from the audio sermon entitled, “Why Believe and Obey God”
Audio message is
Back to the Goodnews
We are going back to the Book of Job today. Now, the title for today is going to be in the form of a question, and that question is, “Why should we believe and obey God?”
What we are going to discover today is that if we are asking that question -- we are already deceived. If we are asking that question -- it betrays at the least a blindness and ignorance -- and at the worst tells us that we are in error. We would not be asking that question if we really saw the Truth about our own condition and need -- the Truth about our total lack of righteousness and resource; the Truth about our spiritual deadness without Christ. And we wouldn’t be asking the question if we really saw the Truth about Almighty God and His Son, Jesus Christ -- and all that He has done for us. A Christian person who is walking in the light doesn’t ask the question, “Why should I believe and obey God?” We should NOT be asking, “Lord I will obey You and believe You -- but what am I going to get out of it?” If that is what we are asking, we are deceived, and we may even be in unbelief.
The Cost of Truth
Now, I am not over exaggerating this problem -- despite the fact that I think that many Christians, if not most, DO ask that question -- certainly a lot in the beginning, and maybe from time to time along the way. Because the fact of the matter is that you and I are going to discover very quickly in the Christian life that it is NOT going to PAY us to believe and obey God -- as much as it’s going to COST us. Now of course, when I speak of COST for belief and obedience, I am talking about a cost to the flesh -- a cost to the material life; to the physical life. There is going to be a cost there in order to believe and obey God. Now, there WILL be spiritual blessings -- but we usually push that to the side. No. It is going to COST us to believe and obey God.
Have we come to terms with that yet? I am not saying there are not blessings for believing and obeying God -- but I am saying that there is tremendous cost involved. And, yet, for a Christian, it won’t matter because we will freely give all of ourselves to Jesus Christ -- no strings attached. We’ll freely GIVE to Him ourselves in faith and obedience because we will know that we have freely RECEIVED all things from Him -- and because we love Him.
Now, I am talking about a motivation here that is the outcome of seeing the Truth; of coming into an inward realization of Jesus Christ. If you see Jesus you will see the Truth – and then -- I would submit -- that there isn’t any possible way that you are going to obey God because it pays you. You’re going to obey Him even if it does cost you, and you are going to believe even if it costs you your very life. And as I noted: It is going to.
We’ve been quoting lately, in the last couple of messages, the fact that Jesus Christ said, “If any man would come to me -- if any man would come after Me -- he needs to deny himself and lose his life into My hands under the work of the cross, and then he will find MY life.” So what we see there is that if we follow Jesus Christ that faith and obedience WILL be involved. But it’s going to cost you your SELF-life. It’s going to cost you that old natural life. And while you are going through that, and paying that cost, it’s going to seem like a tremendous price. It’s going to seem like you’re losing everything that is of value. But as you progress in that, and God reveals to you the Truth, you are going to come to the same place that Paul came -- and he was able to say in Philippians 3, “I suffered the loss of all things for the sake of Jesus -- but I count what I lost as dung -- that I may win Christ and be found in Him.” So we come to the place where we see and embrace the Truth -- and Christ begins to be revealed in us. Then we see that this tremendous cost of losing our life to Christ through faith and obedience really wasn’t a cost at all. We are simply being set free from what binds us, and we’re coming into a freedom and a realization of Jesus Christ.
Now, that is the Truth -- and it is the Truth that will set us free from all the nonsense of, “trying,” to believe and obey God (to earn) -- or of thinking that because we serve God that He’s going to give us a big reward in return. It’ll set us free from that nonsense because we will see that the very Truth of grace -- and remember grace and Truth came in Christ -- that grace is really a Person. If you look at God you will see that He is the God of all grace. If you look at Jesus, He is personified grace. You will see, if you see the Truth, that God has truly given us all things freely in His Son. And so we do not need to earn it -- we must not, “try.” If you try to EARN what has already been freely given – you are in error and in darkness. In fact, if you try to EARN what can only be freely given, you are displaying the fact that you think there is something of value that YOU have to offer in exchange for the pricelessness of the Person of Jesus Christ.
If you see the Truth on this matter -- that all things are freely given in Christ -- then you will be free to freely give of yourself back to God and to others. That’s the Truth and it’s the only place seeing the Truth is going to bring us in our heart attitude. How many realize that what I’ve just described cannot be accomplished, or lived out, simply by memorizing bible verses? Memorizing Bible verses, and revering the Word of God, is great -- and we ought to -- but all of this Truth is instead the outcome of death and resurrection in Jesus Christ and its being worked out in our lives.
Now, this question as to why we ought to believe and obey God is fundamental to the Book of Job. It is really fundamental to suffering -- because, as was the case with Job -- without our knowing the reason, and without our being able to connect the dots, we are often plunged into great trials. (When that happens) we may be one who asks that question. We may say, “Lord, I was seeking You; I was believing You as much as I knew to believe; I was obeying You as much as I knew to; but now these calamities have come upon me.” And the question is liable to arise in our heart, “Well, what good did it do me then? Why believe and obey God? – because if you do (believe and obey) and then calamity comes anyways -- then what is the purpose of doing it?”
We tend to have this legalistic mentality about us -- and if we have been somebody who perhaps has made some terrible mistakes, and committed some terrible sins, and we have turned and tried to seek God, and calamity has come upon us anyways, we are liable to ask the same question.
A False Concept of God
Now if you look into the Book of Job, especially in some of the more preliminary chapters, you will find that Job and his friends pretty much shared the same notion and concept of God that many of us have – which is really the concept of one who is under the law. They believed that if you obeyed and believed God, it would result in blessing and reward -- every time. And when I say that they believed that, “every time,” I am saying that there was no room in their thinking that if you believed God that bad things could truly happen to you.
They held that concept of God. We might even say that that WAS their God. How many understand that what we believe about God constitutes in our mind what we believe God is? What we believe about God, even doctrinally, goes back to the, “kind of God,” we think He is. If we think, for example, that to eat meat on Friday is a mortal sin -- the way the Catholics used to preach -- and if we don’t get to confession before we die, that we will go straight to hell on the basis of eating meat on Friday -- we have just described the KIND OF GOD that we believe sits in heaven -- and the KIND OF GOD we worship and serve -- and must walk with. How many see that that’s reflective of error; of deception? A doctrine like a sin of eating meat on Friday is harmless enough -- or so we might think. But it is NOT harmless when we begin to realize what kind of God it is talking about – because, “where there is smoke, there is fire.” If we believe that nonsense, chances are that that same spirit of error dominates so much else. Because again, it’s not about the doctrine we believe -- it really goes back to the God we believe. A god who is demanding that you abstain from meat on Friday, under penalty of eternal hell, doesn’t exist. That’s a false god. The god of the Word of Faith heresy doesn’t exist. The god of Calvinism doesn’t exist. And I could go on and on and on. The god of Roman Catholicism doesn’t exist. God Almighty is the one TRUE God, and is Truth in a Person. Jesus said that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in Truth. So we need to find the Truth in Jesus Christ, because if we don’t, we are going to be walking in error because the god that we are walking with will be a false god to a certain degree.
Now, back here in Job, these people believed that if you obeyed and believed in God, it would result in blessing, protection, prosperity -- and that constituted for them a, “reward,” for obedience and faith. And Job and his friends -- and certainly I believe that this applies to Christians today – tend to think of the rewards for obedience -- and I suppose that on the other hand, the supposed curses for disobedience – tend to think of them only in a physical, material sense. I don’t believe that if you read the Book of Job that you see a whole lot of (spiritual) insight in Job’s friends -- you see a little from Job -- to the effect that there’s more involved in a man’s relationship with God than just the physical, material life – that there is the spiritual. Unfortunately, they didn’t know about that -- and unfortunately today this is how Christians’ view their relationship with God: If you obey and believe God, there are physical and material blessings. If you don’t, there are physical or material punishments or curses.
There were (according to Job and his friends) other parts of this so-called, “reward,” that were more on the negative side. Yes, they believed that if you believed and obeyed God, you would get a GAIN or a blessing -- but they also believed, in kind of a negative way, that you would AVOID punishment and curses. There are always those two sides that are attached, are there not?
Christians today believe this. They believe that if you believe and obey God, God will prosper you, unconditionally protect you, and will bless you. Many believe that through their obedience that they “maintain His favor” -- we can avoid bad things, curses, and various things that could come upon us. Or people believe that through obedience you can avoid punishments and curses directly from God – although probably most would say that through faith and obedience in God, you can avoid the influence and the attacks of Satan.
Now, there are some Christians who take it even further. They will say that if you believe and obey God, if you serve Him at church, if you serve Him in ministry, that you will earn for yourself a greater ETERNAL reward – received once you get to heaven. But if you believe that, it is the exactly the same as believing that you're rewarded here. It’s the same principle; it’s the same error exactly. And then of course, on the other side, many Christians believe that if you don’t obey God, or if you have a lapse of faith, that this constitutes such a terrible sin that God is going to curse you. All that I can say is THANK GOD that He is not like that. If every time you sin, or you lapse into unbelief, what if God jumped on you and brought curses? What would be left of you and me by the time everything was said and done?
No, all of this that I am describing is the very definition of what it means to walk, not by faith, but under the law. If you try to walk under the law -- you are trying to keep do’s and don’ts and principles -- even if they are not merely outward. Some people are under the law in the sense of trying to maintain a good attitude INSIDE -- and that’s their law: If I have a good attitude, instead of a bad one, I’ve met the standard, and that’s my law. We try to do that. We try to keep these laws and principles both inwardly and outwardly. Some believe that if we keep these, there is a reward -- or in lieu of keeping them -- a consequence. That’s exactly what it means to be UNDER THE LAW. How many know that a system of law -- by definition -- has rewards for keeping it, and consequences for breaking it, attached? That’s what law IS. And despite the volume of information and Truth given in scripture to steer us away from that kind of error, there are Christians everywhere who continue to walk under the law and try to keep this system and routine with God.
Now, am I saying that there are no consequences for our choices and actions? No, not at all. There ARE. But I am stating outright, that whatever we do, good or bad, doesn’t change GOD’S attitude toward us. It doesn’t change HIS love, HIS grace, or HIS desire to redeem. It doesn’t cause us to pop in and out of salvation, or grace, and it certainly doesn’t earn us anything from God.
Rewarded According to Works?
Now someone is going to protest and say, “Well, the Bible teaches that we are going to be rewarded according to our works,” does it not? Well, I know those verses, but they have to be interpreted in the light of the whole context of scripture. Let’s talk about this for a second. Let’s talk about what it would mean, if in fact, you and I were rewarded according to our works -- literally and truly, black on white -- the way that this is commonly interpreted. In other words, what would happen if every time you did a good work, your reward went UP, and every time you did a bad work, your reward was REDUCED -- which WOULD be the case if we are to be, “rewarded according to works” -- right?
First of all, let’s talk about what WORKS are. We usually limit works to OUTWARD acts -- and those are works. But how many understand that if we are talking about works, we also have to include in that INWARD thoughts, motives, and intent, and attitudes? In fact, if we are talking about works, we also have to include unbelief and faith. We might even say, that if we are going to talk about the works of a person, we have to talk about the, “workings,” of a person -- which includes everything they do in every way, everything they ARE. Now, here’s the question: If every time you produce a good work, your reward goes UP, and every time you produce an imperfect one, your reward is DECREASED, how much of a reward do you think you are going to get?
Now, there is even a bigger problem here: How good is good enough? How good does a work have to be -- to be good enough? We see that we have a problem here. Furthermore, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that whatever is not of faith is sin. My point is this: The greatest legalists in the world, like the Galatian church, were guilty of this -- they did all kinds of outward good works but they didn’t do them because they believed and rested in Christ. They did them because they DID NOT believe. Their works were a substitute for Christ and faith in Him. Even if the works were, “good,” is God going to reward that? When you begin to examine these things, you have to come to the conclusion that if you and I were rewarded for our works-- as is commonly interpreted -- we would not only have zero for a reward, but we would be in a horrible deficit position.
It is amazing how many Christian people, who gladly and easily accept that we are saved by grace through faith -- once they are saved -- put the entire Christian life under a system of LAW. The Truth of the matter is, if I believe I am saved by grace -- if I think that from that point on the Christian life is a matter of earning a greater reward by works – then I am under the law just as much as if I thought I could earn salvation. I really am. It’s going to produce the same kind of Christian life -- that of always trying to be good enough; that of always trying to do enough good works. There is even this mentality among Christians, that yes, we cannot earn an eternal reward -- but through our works we can build character -- and THAT will win us a reward. Same thing exactly: IT IS LAW. But Jesus said, “This is the work of God that you BELIEVE.”
So what I am saying is this: God wants us to toss in the trash can this entire system of legalism in which we are entangled. God wants us to lose, not simply our bad works, but also the wrong motivation for doing good works -- of trying to earn something from God. In a nutshell, what God wants us to do is to toss the whole issue of works aside, and to lose OURSELVES to Him; lose our lives to Him. Nothing else will bring us into true freedom. Nothing else! And He wants us to put our entire faith in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Of course, the way He must ultimately set us free is by exposing us as those who do not have a prayer of keeping the law; by exposing us as those who are empty and barren, and do not have anything in us at all by nature. If God does that to you and me, I can tell you from experience that you’re not going to try to keep the law to please God anymore. You won’t even have that in your vocabulary, because now you’ve seen the Truth. You’ve seen the Truth, and it will set you free -- and then you’ll see that you can go on to believe and obey God FREELY.
Now, what do I mean by, “freely?” How many understand that when Jesus said -- and I believe this is in Matt. 10 -- “Freely you have received from God, so freely give.” -- how many understand that that word, ”freely,” means NO STRINGS ATTACHED? No rewards and punishments -- as a motivation of giving to others that which you have freely received from God for yourself? No strings attached. How many understand that this is freedom? How many understand that this is love, and that it is grace? That’s where God wants to bring us. Well, we will talk some more about this as we go along.
The Greater Purpose of God
Job and his friends had this, “under the law,” mentality. I want to read a few verses which would indicate that. For example, in Job 4:7, Eliaphaz makes this statement, expressing that belief: “Remember I pray you Job, whoever perished being innocent?“
One of the dynamics of the Book of Job was that Job was a good and upright man -- who obeyed God -- and believed as much as he knew. God said so -- as we saw in the last couple of messages. But, nevertheless, despite his faith and obedience, God opened the hedge, and all of these horrible things came upon Job. But it was unto the greater purpose that we have been seeing: That Job’s eyes would be open to see God Himself.
That’s been the thought of the last two messages. God had a greater purpose than Job’s temporary comfort; than Job’s temporary blessings, and so forth. He had an ETERNAL purpose -- but Job did not know this yet.
So Job was sailing along, believing and obeying God, and all of this stuff happened -- and it plunged him into unspeakable suffering. Now, that clashed absolutely with Job’s idea of God -- as I’ve noted -- and it clashed with the idea of God that his friends had. “Whoever perished being innocent?”, is the question here -- and the implication of this question is, “Job you think you have believed and obeyed God. But now you are in calamity. But whoever perished being innocent? Job, do the math. Bad stuff is happening to you, Job. Bad stuff doesn’t happen to those who obey and believe God. Therefore Job, whether you want to admit it or not, you must have sinned because God is just.”
How many see again, that this is what you think when you are, “under the law?” You think that every time something bad happens to you, it must have happened because you sinned -- and now God is punishing you. Or if we don’t believe that we have sinned, maybe we believe somehow or other that we could have made a mistake; somehow we got out of God’s will -- and now God is allowing a curse to come upon us. Now we are paying the penalty for inadvertently and unwillingly getting out of God’s will, and the worst part of it is that we don’t know where we did -- and we certainly don’t know the way back. You just get afraid in that way when things happen to you -- and you begin to reason and think -- as the wheels get turning, because you do not understand.
Now it is certainly possible that Christians can sin and it brings upon them trial and consequences. It’s also possible that we can make mistakes, and have missteps. Absolutely! But as I shared last week, once we confess the sin that God has convicted us of, or the unbelief which led to the misstep, then what? Well, then the solution is always the SAME whether we have sinned or not. New beginnings are always possible in Jesus Christ.
Now in Job’s case, the testimony is that he had NOT sinned or gotten out of the will of God. God said that. But in spite of this, because of God’s purpose, great trial came upon him.
Job believed in that sort of belief system that says that if you believe and obey God, He will bless you, and if you sin, He will curse you -- this is the problem – Job’s problem was that he thought he was believing and obeying God – and the calamities nevertheless came upon him. And despite all of his crying out to God, he can’t see any place where he had sinned. We see arguments continually throughout the Book of Job where Job cries out to God and says to Him, “Lord, if you would just tell me where I have sinned, I would gladly confess it. If you would just show me where I have erred, such that all of this has justly come upon me, I would gladly, Lord, get on my knees and repent.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve done that. You find yourself in a horrible trial and you don’t know any reason for it. Maybe you even got into the trial by obeying God. Does that ever happen to a saint? You better believe it. Read the Book of Acts. Read the gospels. Saints all the time found themselves in horrible and impossible calamities which exacted suffering in them, not because they sinned -- but because they obeyed. We have gone over the fact that God will chastise you and me in order to reveal Christ in us -- even if we are wholly in the will of God -- because He loves us.
And so Job believed that obedience resulted in blessings, and disobedience in curses. But he did obey -- and he got curses anyway. And he cried out to God, “Tell me why. Tell me what I did and I will repent.” But God was silent. Like I said, there was an eternal purpose of which Job was not yet aware -- and, of course, there always IS an eternal purpose, isn’t there? And most of the time, even though we might know some Bible verses that tell us there is an eternal purpose, much of the time we still can’t see it. So we ask God, “WHY?” We ask God to tell us what to DO. We ask God to explain. But God would like to say to us, “I can’t -- because you don’t need INFORMATION -- which would do you no good. What you need is a REVELATION of MYSELF.” That’s what is in our future if we will stand fast and endure by faith. We will come into an inward REVELATION of Jesus Christ.
Now in chapter ten, Job has this lamentation in verse 14. He said, “If I sin, then God marks me and God won’t acquit me from my iniquity if I be wicked. Woe unto me. And if I be righteous yet will I not lift up my head? So Job is saying, “I want to do the right thing. I want to confess; I want to see the Truth”. And then at the end of verse 15, he says, “But I am full of confusion. Therefore God, you see my affliction.” And so, Job did not understand.
Now, that’s a background for this question for today, “Why believe and obey God?” It certainly didn’t seem to pay Job to believe and obey God. You can find a ton of other stories in the Bible that would lead to the same conclusion. It’s not only a fundamental question of this Book of Job, but it’s a fundamental question that I believe all of us need to face, and need to find the Truth about.
The Correction of a Question
To continue to pursue this topic today, I want to leave the Book of Job and go to the Gospel of Matthew, where I want to look at one of the parables of Jesus -- which was spoken to His disciples as a direct answer to this question: Why should we believe and obey God? The answer is found in Matthew, chapters 19 & 20.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time reading what happened as a build up to this exchange that Jesus had with His disciples -- because it would take too long. Let me just say, in a nutshell, that the disciples had an idea of the Kingdom of God which was earthly and material -- which did state that Jesus was the Messiah, but would set up a kingdom in Jerusalem, where He would reign and rule from the temple. They believed that they would be in on the ground floor of that.
How many understand that this is why they were (at that point) following Him? They expected that as a reward.
Earlier, in chapter 19, Jesus had an exchange with the rich young ruler, and out of that came the statement, “It is with great difficulty that a rich man enter into this kingdom.” (Matt. 19:24) Again -- they had the wrong idea of the kingdom, and this statement threw them for a loop. They were expecting to be rich; they were expecting to be greatly rewarded. But now Jesus was saying some things that ran counter to that, and it upset them.
That, very briefly, brings us to the question and the reason for Peter’s asking the question. Peter asks Jesus, “Behold we have forsaken everything, Jesus, and followed You. What are we going to have?” (Matt. 19:27) How many see that there it is? There is the question! Peter is saying, “Lord, we are believing and obeying you; we have lost and forsaken everything....” And guess what, they HAD. And so Peter is asking, “What are we going to get out of this?”
This is the question that we ask. And as noted, it is a question which is based in ignorance, and error, and even possibly based, God forbid, in unbelief -- and an evil motive.
Jesus is going to answer this question. He is going to answer starting in chapter 20, with a parable. But He really doesn’t answer the question. What He does is CORRECT the question. The parable itself is a CORRECTION of the question that is based in error and unbelief. Again -- if we know the Truth, and we are walking with Jesus Christ, we are NOT going to ask, “What are we going to get out of following you, Jesus?” It’s not going to be our motive. And so the parable which we are going to read, commonly know as, “The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard,” is a parable given to CORRECT a wrong motive for following Jesus Christ.
This (parable) brings us front and center and shows us the Truth needed to correct Job and his friends -- but it also shows US the possible evil of having this kind of a motivation of serving God for any kind of a reward -- whether it be temporal or for the eternal ages.
Losing to Find
Now, starting in verse 28, which we need to talk about briefly before we get into the parable, Jesus actually tells them that there IS going to be a, “reward,” for following Him. I don’t want to take the time to read all of that -- but can we see that what is happening is that Jesus is telling them that, yes, there IS going to be a reward, but He is warning them, “Don’t you dare serve Me FOR that reward?” In a nutshell -- and we are going to see this in the parable -- He is going to teach them that, yes, there IS a reward, but you are to LOSE all thought of that. Get it out of your motivation -- and serve God unconditionally and freely in love -- and leave that reward to God. Leave it to Him to decide.
This does bring us to a principle that we can see here in these passages. And that principle is this: We remember that Jesus said that whoever would lose his life for His sake would find it. This parable is going to teach us exactly the same principle as it applies to a REWARD -- it really applies to EVERYTHING in the Christian life. We could just as easily say, “Whosoever would lose all thought of serving Me for a reward will, in fact, find his true reward in Jesus Christ.”
How many see that this is absolutely the Truth? How many realize that whatever you think a, “reward,” is, you can’t get away from the fact that this reward is found IN JESUS CHRIST? All is found in the life of Christ -- and nothing is found outside of the life of Christ that God has for us. It is ALL in there -- and it is all freely given IN HIM. Therefore, in order to come into the fullness of any reward, you need to come into the fullness of Christ. In order to come into the fullness of Christ, you have to LOSE your life. Included in this is the necessity of coming to the place of losing any thought or motivation of gaining a reward. And it really brings us back to the fact that because God has given us FREELY all things in Christ – that we are able to both freely receive all things -- with no strings attached -- and give it out to others. It’s free; it’s all of grace.
The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard
So, Jesus is going to tell this parable starting in Matthew 20, verse 1. And as I noted, the parable is intended to correct a question which is based in unbelief and ignorance. This parable is Jesus’ answer to the question, “What are we going to get out of it, Jesus, for obeying and believing You? Are we going to get a big reward? What therefore, shall WE HAVE for following You?”
Now Jesus begins this correction with this parable. He says, “For the Kingdom of Heaven…..” Now, note something here: He is NOT talking about the Millennium -- He IS talking about the heavenly realm into which we enter -- if Christ is in us. You and I begin to enter the kingdom of God right now when Jesus enters us -- and joins you and I to Himself in spirit. That is the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is the King who dwells within us. And didn’t Jesus say that the Kingdom of God is within you? So this is what many of the parables are talking about when it says, “For then the Kingdom of Heaven shall be likened unto”
So let’s read Matthew 20:1-16: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a penny for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.”
Now let’s begin to organize this parable a little bit. It will help us to understand. Note that these laborers, mentioned in verses 1 & 2, were the ones who were called immediately. They did not have to wait to be called. They were called into the vineyard immediately, and thus, as we will see, had to work the entire day -- which was longer than anyone else. These are the facts about this first group – and as it states in verse 2 -- they went and worked for an AGREED UPON amount -- here called a penny.
And so there was an AGREEMENT. These laborers were essentially saying, “Yes, Lord, I’ll go into the vineyard,” and the vineyard is, of course, the Christian life, in which we are to bear fruit. How many see that? That can be worked out in many ways, whether it be a Christian’s daily walk, or in a ministry, through a trial, or whatever it is. But the goal in the vineyard is to BEAR FRUIT. These FIRST laborers were given the opportunity to go in and work for twelve hours. They were given the opportunity to have the longest time in which they could bear fruit. BUT they entered in for a WAGE. It is very clear about that. They didn’t enter in for any other reason -- but only for the PAY they wanted.
So here we have a group, that right from the beginning, sort of has the attitude Peter had. “Lord, I will go into your vineyard and help you bear fruit, but what am I going to get out of this?” The landowner said, “A penny.” And they agreed to it and went in.
How many understand that this is not a good motivation? It is, however, a motivation that probably most of us have in the beginning. But thankfully, how many also understand that when you are in the vineyard, motivations can change -- if you see the truth?
Well, let’s go on here: “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and WHATEVER IS RIGHT I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and WHATEVER IS RIGHT -- that shall you receive.’”
Now back to our organization. The FIRST group worked all twelve hours and had the greatest opportunity to bear fruit -- but entered in for a AGREED wage. How many see that all the other groups had less opportunity to bear fruit? But they did not have the suffering or the heat of the day for as long a time. How many know the two go together? Suffering produces fruit – this is what we have been seeing for the last couple of weeks. All that being said, the second groups did not enter into the vineyard for what they would get out of it. They entered in for whatever the householder thought was right.
We see right there what our motivation ought to be. I mentioned earlier that whoever would LOSE his reward for the sake of Jesus would FIND it. What this indicates is that regardless of rewards, we need to serve God with all of our heart. God would have us surrender and lose all of ourselves to Him, give our all to Him in whatever way His purpose calls upon us to do. We lose our lives to Jesus Christ and if that results in a certain amount of suffering, if it results in being alone, or whatever it comes to, even great suffering -- we are to give our entire selves unconditionally to Jesus Christ -- without any thought of reward attached, and leave the reward to Him. If we do that, then we are faithful. God is able to give His possessions to one who has given his all to Him free of charge. But He is not able to give His possessions to one who is in it for only what they can get OUT of it.
We are talking here about freedom, Truth and faithfulness. The first group here did not display that faithfulness because they were in it for what they could get out of it. But the second groups, called at all those other times, entered in solely by grace, leaving the reward to the householder -- and gave their all.
Now all of this comes to the fore and is brought to the surface at the end of the parable. It says, in verse 8: “So when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard said unto his steward, ‘Call the laborers, and give them their wage, beginning from the LAST unto the FIRST.’” In other words, those who were called LAST in the day would be FIRST to get paid -- even though they had only worked one hour. “And when they (THE LAST) came – they that were hired about the eleventh hour -- they received every man a penny.” You will notice that the LAST received exactly the same wage promised to the FIRST -- those who worked the whole day. Now, verse 10: “But when the FIRST came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.”
Now, back again to our organizing of this parable. We have the FIRST group -- which worked the entire day -- with a tremendous opportunity to bear much fruit. But they had come in for what they could get out of it in the way of a wage. AND -- they got it. But we have these other LAST groups which worked less -- had less opportunity to bear fruit – but had agreed to let the householder decide -- and yet they also got exactly the same wage: A penny.
The Lord Himself is Our “Reward”
How many see -- and this is important -- because again, Jesus is correcting the question, “Lord, we’ve forsaken all. What are we going to get out of this because we have?” – how many see that what Jesus is saying is that it doesn’t matter what you do for God. It doesn’t matter how much you do, how long you work, or what fruit you had a chance to bear. He is saying in this parable that what He has to give at the end of the age – really, what He has to give NOW – IS EXACTLY THE SAME FOR ALL. This parable is correcting the question about what we get out of this -- and that is what He is saying – He is saying that He is giving the SAME TO ALL.
Now, if it were true -- that our serving and our following of Jesus earns us -- and this is the operative phrase, “EARNS US,” a greater reward – if that were true, could Jesus possibly have told this parable the way He did -- wherein He shows that no matter how much work you do in the vineyard that you all get the SAME thing?
Every one of the groups got the SAME thing. Clearly, regardless of why you enter in to that vineyard, and regardless of when you do, or how much you do in the vineyard -- regardless of how much suffering, regardless of how much work, regardless of how faithful, regardless of any of that -- what Jesus Christ has to give is exactly the same for everyone. And what does He give? Well, ultimately and in the final analysis, what Jesus has to give all of us is all of HIMSELF. Anything that comes out of that in the way of reigning and ruling with Christ, and all of that, as we saw Jesus promise the disciples there at the end of chapter 19, is simply an extension. But in the final analysis JESUS CHRIST IS OUR REWARD. He is giving HIMSELF to us. And it is exactly the same for everyone.
Now, people are not going to like this. I am going to explain further -- in fact we will get right into that. Notice the reactions to what the landowner here has done. Everybody got the SAME. But the FIRST -- who had agreed for the penny that they were paid -- didn’t like it -- because all got the same as they did -- for LESS work. It says in verse 11: “When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These LAST men have worked only one hour, and you have made them EQUAL to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’”
I would dare suggest that this attitude, which is being displayed in verse 12, should cause us to do some examination of ourselves -- because I think a lot of us have that attitude. I really do. Job had it to begin with -- to a certain degree. He would have said, “Lord, I’ve believed and obeyed You. I’ve borne the heat of the day. But now look at what has happened to me.” Well, perhaps we would say that too.
Now, in verses 13-15, Jesus gives us the answer. “But he answered and said to them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a penny? Take what is yours and go. But I wish to give to these LAST the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’”
Now, organization again: All of these groups worked various amounts of time and did various amounts of work. The FIRST group worked for what wage they could get out of it. The others allowed the householder to decide the wage. But the actual wage was exactly the same for all -- no matter why they entered into the vineyard, and no matter how much work they did. The wage was the SAME -- and yet notice what was DIFFERENT -- at the end of the day what was DIFFERENT despite the fact that the wage was the SAME? What was different was the value that the workers put upon the wage.
Everyone was given a penny. But how many see that the first group did not value it. In fact, they actually despised it. They are pictured as accusing God of being unfair.
I said earlier that what God has for us is all of Jesus Christ. How many see that if I follow Jesus for what I think I am going to get out of it, that I better be careful, because in the end, I may even end up resenting what I will get out of it -- and I may even end up resenting Christ, Himself -- so that I am not even able to enjoy Him and fellowship with Him.
That’s what’s pictured here and I think we need to take it seriously. The rest of the people who had entered in by grace DID value it and gladly received it. They gladly received it because they appreciated the fact that it was by grace. The first group did not.
Now, this gets back again to motivations for following and serving Jesus Christ. Are we willing to tell God to do whatever it takes in our lives to get His will -- and surrender ourselves unconditionally to the Lord -- and surrender any thought whatsoever of a reward -- and lose all of that into the hands of Jesus? How many understand that when everything is said and done, when we come to the place where we absolutely KNOW that everything we have is received by grace, and we absolutely KNOW that we are barren and empty without Jesus -- and are willing to do this -- then whatever God determines to give us in return, we are going to value and receive it solely by his grace? But if we are in this for what we can get out of it, that same unbelief which is our motivation for following Jesus is going to be there in the end, and we’re not even going to value what we receive.
Somebody once said -- and I think this is the absolute Truth -- that ultimately the reward of the saints is the Person of Jesus Christ. It really is. How that is worked out in reigning and ruling with Him throughout the eternal ages, and all that sort of thing, is simply an extension. But ultimately, Jesus Christ is our inheritance. Jesus Christ is our reward. How many times in the Bible it says this -- and most of the time this is in the Old Testament -- but this principle applies. It says, “The Lord is your reward.” Well, if God is giving the same thing to all, how many see that He is giving Jesus to all. God is giving Jesus Christ to everyone who will come to Him. He’s not giving you a little bit of Jesus, and me a little bit more, and John Doe more than that, and shortchanging Susie, over there. No, if you come to Jesus Christ, and He has joined you to Himself, and He dwells in you, you have in you ALL of Christ. There is nothing left that God has to give. He’s given you ALL of Jesus and all that is IN HIM. But even in this age, our attitude of refusal to surrender, or of our willingness to surrender, relate directly to the degree in which we value and experience the Jesus who is equally in all. It’s not something we earn. It’s something THAT IS. It is the nature of things. The more you give yourself to God, the more of God you can experience. That’s one way to look at it. The more you come under the cross, the more of the experience of the release of Jesus there will be.
You get ALL of Jesus. He is in you completely at salvation. But then the Christian life is a matter of growing in the grace and knowledge OF HIM. It’s a matter of my decreasing that He might increase. Part of that is that I am going to more and more and more serve Him unconditionally, free of charge -- without any thought of reward. I am going to do that out of love and reverence for Him -- and that attitude is going to be real. God will then be able to say to me. “Now I can give you all the more because you have been faithful over little. I can pour out all that I have for you because there is no inner motivation which will harm you.”
If you and I are in Christianity, or serving the Lord, for what we can get out of it, whether it be God’s grace, or some spiritual blessing, or for material blessing, or to get rich, or whatever it is -- if we are in it for all these bad motives -- then God can’t trust us. He can’t trust us in the least because we are no better than a hireling -- and we don’t value HIM. We are in it for what we can get FROM Him. But if we unconditionally surrender ourselves then God will be able to pour out all that He has into us, through Christ
For Jesus’ Sake in His Body
Now, there is another thing here that isn’t totally evident by reading the parable, but it gets back to something I said briefly last week: It is that whatever fruit you and I produce in the vineyard is shared by ALL. If every Christian who is walking with Jesus Christ receives exactly the SAME -- the fullness of Christ -- how many understand that at the end of the day, if you have worked in the vineyard one hour, typically speaking, and you have produced some fruit -- but I was called for the whole day to produce a lot of fruit through suffering -- that at the end of the age we are all going to be given the SAME Christ? Now, we may not value Him equally, but Jesus still gives to us all of Himself. God still pours out all of Christ to all of His people. The fruit which is produced by all of those individuals is SHARED because it is the same fruit in Christ -- and we are all members of ONE body.
We see a contrary attitude in the parable, where people say, “Well, they shouldn’t have as much of Jesus as I have because I spent more time in the vineyard”. These are people who resent God’s blessing for others, turning the whole thing into nothing more than a competition. This can never be a part of grace and love in Jesus Christ. And that too, is what is exposed here. No, if you and I really and truly come into the knowledge of the Truth, and really begin to see and know and appreciate what God has done for us, and given to us in Jesus Christ -- solely by the grace of God -- and come into this Truth and are set free, we are going to want EVERYONE else to have it free of charge. If we have to suffer to produce that fruit; if we have to be the one to work twelve hours, and go through that suffering in this age -- then we will rejoice that God gave us the privilege -- in the same way Paul did. That is what love does.
How many understand that there’s no competition here? There is no competition; there are no ‘brownie points;’ there is not me getting more reward than you do – there is NOT that kind of mentality. Not if we know the Truth. Not if we know Jesus. It is God’s desire to give all things freely to everyone in Jesus Christ -- and for each of us to come into His fullness -- equally and totally. That’s God’s desire. This tells us right there that if we know Jesus, and see the truth, that this needs to become OUR desire.
Fullness in Jesus Christ
And so this parable, and the way Jesus told it -- and its conclusion -- very clearly states that the reward of the redeemed, if we could call it that, is fullness in Jesus Christ. It is Christ, Himself. This is the reward regardless of what we have to go through in this life as a Christian, and regardless of what we go through to produce fruit. Jesus Christ Himself is the reward -- and then all which extends from Him. But, we can, by our choices of faith and obedience, determine how much we will be able to value and revere Him. Being in this for ourselves is the very definition of what it means to refuse to lose your life. We will never find full life in Christ, despite the fact that it is all there for us -- solely by the grace of God.
This is the parable Jesus told to correct the question. And if we look at it, we are going to see that not only does God want us to love, obey, and serve Him, but He wants us to do it with no strings attached. Job had to learn this and he did so toward the end of the book. But, oh how much we need to learn this in the Body of Christ today. It would change our entire prospective and motivation for following Jesus Christ.
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