by Steven Chan
24 May 2009
In Mat 21:28-31, the Bible relates to us a story told by our Lord Jesus to the chief priests and elders of the people: “But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
By this story, the Lord was reminding the religious leaders of His day, that the publicans and harlots who initially rejected the instruction of the Lord but later changed their minds and submitted themselves to the obedience of doing the will of God, would go into the kingdom of God ahead of them because the latter failed to actually carry out the will of God in spite of their outward profession to do so. Thus, the Lord emphasized that it is the doer of the will of God who will be justified and not those who merely professed their obedience.
The Bible records that story for all of us today. It reminds us that it is not what we say but we actually do that matters. “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom 2:13). We are further warned in James 1:22:”But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” We need to be wary that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are actually doing the will of God when in fact, we have not done His will – we have merely said, “I go, sir”: and went not. Are we guilty of such an offence with regards to doing the will of God in the local congregation?
It is not unusual for us to accept the position of being a leader in certain areas of work in the church but fail to properly carry out the work for whatever reason. One will note that no reason was provided as to why the first son failed to go into the vineyard to work although he had said that he would. Could it be because the Lord does not consider the excuse for failing to do His will as worthy of any merit? In other words, it does not really matter why he failed to do His will. It could be due to his being very busy in other more pressing matters. But we will do well to remember that no excuse is really acceptable to God as taught in Luke 14:18-20, 24 about the wedding guests who declined to accept the dinner invitation: “And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come… For I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.”
Perhaps the first son merely delayed in going to work in the field because he had to finish other pressing matters first. We will do well to remember what the Lord said in Luke 9:59-62: “And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” The work is urgent! We cannot afford to delay or procrastinate. Some of us still think that we will have time after our retirement to do the will of God. The reality is that preaching the gospel is not only those for are retired from their secular employment. It is not only for those who have nothing to do. It is perhaps instructive to note that when Jesus called the twelve disciples, they were neither unemployed nor lining up on the dole queue. They were busy about their daily activities and profession – whether as fishermen or tax collector. Yet when they were asked to go into the Master’s vineyard, they left everything and followed Him (Matt. 4:20-22; 9:9)
In Luke 12:48, the Bible says: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” God does not only require us to do His will but to do it in such a way that there will be abundance. “Much is required” from whom much has been committed. God has committed His gospel to us and He expects us to bear much fruit (Mark 4:8; John 15:8).
The apostle Paul realized the enormity of the trust placed upon him by the Lord for he said in 1 Cor 9:16, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” Perhaps the fact that Paul was able to accomplish much in his ministry could be due to his taking ownership of the work of preaching that had been entrusted upon him. Thus he felt the personal burden of needing to fulfill his work.
Do we exhibit the same level of commitment or ownership of the work that God has given to each one of us? In Eph 4:16, the Bible tells us that inasmuch as each of us have Christ as our head then “the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Each member needs to work, and to work properly in sync with other members of the body (not disjointedly or independently of each other). When that happens, the body of Christ will grow spiritually unto maturity and in love – that is God’s way for growth of the church.
Do we work with each other? Or, do we not bother to work together with each other – each operating independently of the other? Brethren, such ought not to be so. We need to redouble our effort to work together and not apart from each other. We need to be more connected with each other so that as the Bible says, we are truly “members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). We can then “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). “Members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together”. (I Cor 12:25,26). And we should cease being critical of the service provided by others, harbouring thoughts in our hearts that we can do better than them when we do not even lift one finger to help – just like the Pharisees (Matt 23:4). Why do we stand in judgement on other brethren? Take heed of the warning in James 4:11,12: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” Instead let us determine to do our best to help one another in the common cause of serving the Lord.
Brethren, think of how much we can do together – if we will only work together with each other. There is considerable strength in brethren being united in our work. In Ecc. 4:12 the Bible says: “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Paul expressed the same sentiment when he wrote in Phil. 1:27: “whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel”. Does that describe our working relationship with one another – that we are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel? Are we “side by side” or out of sight?
Brethren, we need to take ownership of the work in the church. That means ensuring we do undertake to do some work in the church and that everything that we have undertaken to do is done to the best of our ability – with all of our best to the Master and not in a lackadaisical or half-hearted manner. The Word of God reminds us not to do our work as “by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
It is sad and tragic whenever one sees the church suffering neglect – both physically and spiritually: When the meeting place is left in near derelict condition through lack of care in the use of the facilities therein – as when toilets are not flushed after use. When cars are parked in a manner that is not considerate of the needs of others – blocking others from being able to park in otherwise available parking areas – just because we want to ensure that we have a quick and clear path out of the church immediately when the service is over. When air-conditioning controllers go missing from the classrooms (one sister has resorted to bringing her own air-conditioning controller with her every Sunday so that she can switch on the air-conditioner in her classroom). When books are borrowed from the library and remain missing indefinitely. When hymn books are left indiscriminately on the floor in the auditorium (there is much encouragement to see Wan Zen, the son of Bro Lawrence and some others collecting them each week). When plants in the church vicinity cry out for water in the hot burning sun during the weekdays – and there is no relief for them (although I have noticed that some of our wonderful sisters have spent much time, effort and care for the plants and they are much appreciated). When containers of coffee and Milo are not put back in their proper places after use in the kitchen area. When cups are left unwashed in the kitchen.
Our attitude towards such physical matters often mirrors our attitude towards spiritual work as well. Hence, when the call is made for brethren to support the activities of the church such as special Gospel meetings or seminars, etc…, only the faithful few will turn up to support – never mind the fact that the speaker sacrificed much to travel all the way to assist us in the work of the gospel – and invited guests managed to get to church earlier than many of us. Oh yes, we know that the amount of time required to cross the Klang river today to come to church services is almost a test of faith – but do we pass the test? When the call is made to support the various activities of the church such as the family camp or whatever other church programmes – do we support them so that our fellowship with brethren may be strengthened or do we think only of our own needs? The Bible says that we “ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves”. (Rom 15:1). “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” (Phil 2:4).
Brethren, how do we answer the call to service? Do we say, “I go, sir” but are missing from action? If we have previously replied, “I will not”, it is time that we consider resolving to change our mind and move forward to do the will of God. And if we have put our hand to the plow, then we must not look back (Luke 9:62) but press on towards the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God (Phil 3:13,14). Let’s help each other run the race with perseverance (Heb 12:1,2). “So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling.” (Rom 14:12,13).