But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. Acts 20:24
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 for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 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.” When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.” When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 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.”
But he answered and said to one of them, “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?” So the last shall be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:1-16
Today’s thoughts from today’s verses:
At the beginning of the week we said the following: “spiritually, we are all called to a career of serving the kingdom. Serving the kingdom is our primary vocation, just as our primary identity is who we are in Christ. It is important to keep in mind that it usually does not necessitate a change in career and calling on the human level to make serving the kingdom your primary vocation. As a matter of fact, God is particularly interested in showing his people how to make an impact for the kingdom right where they are in the middle of all they are already doing. Remember, our spiritual vocation is all about letting the new person we are becoming and the new life that is unfolding have an impact on the people and world around us (right where we are).”
In a previous Devotional Acts 20:24 above was used. We are going to borrow what was said then about this verse and couple it with our Matthew 20 story. The Apostle Paul refers to the “course” of his life. We all have a “course” of life and where that “course” is taking us makes all the difference. When we became a Christian, we became a disciple of Christ. Disciples follow their master. Our Master is Jesus Christ and the “course” of our lives should be all about following him. Paul speaks about finishing his “course” and we can tell from what is included in the verse that he intends to “finish” well as a follower of Christ.
Paul gives us several things that will help us “finish” well. Paul says that he received a ministry from the Lord Jesus. This is how it is with all disciples. Jesus gives a ministry to every one of his followers that shapes the “course” of their lives. That ministry is to testify of the gospel of the grace of God. Someone who testifies is someone who has firsthand experience with that which they are testifying. We testify about our firsthand experience with Christ through the gospel of grace which he has bestowed upon us. We do this with all that we are, all that we do, and all that we say. We call this our testimony and when we talk to others about our testimony we are testifying.
Paul starts Acts 20:24 with a statement about himself that needs to be true of us if we are going to finish the “course” of our lives well as ones who truly give themselves to the ministry of testifying of the gospel of the grace of God. He says, “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself.” Paul does not consider anything more “dear,” not even his life, than finishing the course and ministry given to him by Christ. To what do we hold “dear” that interferes with our finishing well? The laborers in our Matthew 27 story who worked a full day and were the last to receive their wage are good examples of ones held “dear” themselves and their human efforts. They were wrapped up in themselves and not the gracious landowner. They were not focused on the fact that the landowner was the source of their good fortune of having gained a day’s work for a day’s wage. It is the gracious landowner and not themselves and their human efforts that account for their good fortune. We are so like these men and it is so difficult for us to get it. What they did, what they earned, and what they deserved was so prominent that they missed “grace” in the landowner’s extensions to them.
Let’s look at this way: somewhere buried in my soul is the notion that I deserved (to some degree however small) to be included in God’s kingdom (vineyard) while some others don’t. Somehow, we escaped this deception enough to receive the forgiveness of sins through Christ but not enough to rid us of self-righteousness and to make us lovers of all people. To rid ourselves of this inconsistency we need to meditate long and hard on what it means to need a Savior at the beginning and along the way. We need to live life as ones who always need a Savior (my salvation was totally undeserved and unearned and it is Christ and Christ alone who can produce
righteousness in me). This and this alone is our testimony. Slipping into a self-righteous Christian lifestyle somewhere along the way happens readily and when it does our hearts become hardened and our testimony becomes all about us.
Perhaps if we allow the truth of Titus 3:4-7 (which follows) to sink deep into or hearts and souls we will escape this dilemma, we will participate fully in God’s mission of grace, and we will finish our “course” well. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Today’s prayer response from today’s thoughts:
Lord, help me to grasp how strong and deep your abhorrence is for the “self-righteous religious path” to which I am so prone. I confess that far too often I find joy from feeling alright about myself because I think I have accomplished so-called righteous living. Deliver me from self-righteousness. Show me how to absolutely depend on your indwelling presence and fill me up with your love and compassion. I am not the Apostle Paul and you have not called me to bring the gospel to the whole world. I do see, though, that you have called me to bring the gospel to my world as an agent of grace. Thank you for saving me, thank you for living in me, thank you for changing me, and thank you for overseeing my life. Thank you that I really do have a testimony that is based on grace and grace alone. Show me how and when to testify to others. Help me share the testimony of my relationship with you. I really do want to finish well. Amen!