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Matthew 20:16 says, “So the last shall be first, and the first last, for many be called, but few chosen.” In order to understand this verse we need to consider the parable the Lord Jesus had just told. Verses 1-7 say, “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 denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 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 unto them, ‘You go into the vineyard too’” (NASB).  In the verses that follow we see the laborers were paid for their work and they each received the same pay. This caused those who were hired first to murmur against the landowner. In verse 12 they said, “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’m sure most of us would sympathize with them, for on the surface it doesn’t seem fair. The landowner responded by saying, in verses 13-15, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man 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?”

The lesson here is actually quite simple. The landowner represents our Lord Jesus and the hired men are believers who serve Him. When we get to glory and stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ to have our service evaluated and rewarded, the Lord will reward us according to His perfect knowledge of our service AND according to His sovereign grace. There may be some believers who were saved very late in life, like the penitent thief in Luke 23:39-43.The Lord will take into account their faithful witness in the short time they had to serve Him and in grace He may bless them with rewards equal to those who had served Him for many years. He is the Lord and He has every right to act as He wishes!

This lesson should also teach us to guard against comparing ourselves with others. The apostle Paul warned believers of this in 2 Corinthians 10:12, “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” He had told the Corinthians earlier in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but He that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, Who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart: and then shall every man have praise of God.” We are so prone to judging others and their service, but we aren’t even capable of judging our own service.  The Lord alone knows the heart of each man, and His judgment of our service will take into account the motives which led us to serve Him. We may be very surprised in that day when rewards are given out, but we can be sure that His judgment will be perfect.  At that time we will all realize, as never before, that His grace alone moved our hearts to service and because of this there will be no pride of our service or jealousy if others are rewarded more than we think they deserve.  (146.1)  (DO)