Stephen Chavez, Managing Editor Adventist Review

Summary: We were placed on this earth with an innate desire to serve. Our vocation is a gift from God! When take Jesus to work with us, it makes all the difference.

Introduction. One of the great things about Jesus’ parables is that they communicate so many truths on so many different levels. The parable of the vineyard workers (Mt 20:1-16) is a primary example.

You remember the story: A landowner goes out early in the morning to hire people to work that day in his vineyard. They settle on an amount agreeable to all, and everyone goes to work.

Later in the day, however, the landowner finds others who are not working, hires them, and sends them to work in the vineyard, promising to pay them ?whatever is right.? Two more times he finds people unemployed and promises to pay them if they will spend a few hours working for him.

Finally, with just one hour to go until quitting time, the landowner goes out and finds still more workers standing idle. Apparently, not able to leave people inactive when he has work for them to do, he hires them on the spot and promises to pay them a fair wage for one hour’s work.

Payday. When it’s time to get paid the workers line up, beginning with those who have worked the least amount of time, and ending with those who have worked all day. Everyone is shocked to see those who worked one hour being paid the same wages as those who worked the entire 12-hour shift.

You can almost hear the mental calculators whirring as the 12-hour workers figure out how much their salary would be if they were paid a full day’s wages for each hour they worked! They reason: ?We worked 12 hours; aren’t we entitled to 12 days’ wages??

But to their utter disbelief, those who worked three hours, six hours, nine hours, 12 hours, all receive the same wage—the same amount as those who worked just one hour!

Imagine the disappointment of those who have worked all day. If they were paid 12 days’ wages for one day’s work, they could take the next two weeks off! They could spend time with their families, take care of chores around the house, practice their golf swing, or take a vacation. But all they get is a day’s wage. If they want more, they have to work again tomorrow.

So they grumble: ??These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ?and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day’? (v. 12).

Then the landowner gently reminds them that it’s his money, his vineyard, and his rules. He has paid them what he promised. If he wants to pay everyone the same, that’s his prerogative.

Fringe benefits. There are a couple of things worth noting here: Although the one-hour workers received the same salary as the 12-hour workers, the 12-hour workers got to spend 12 times the amount of time with the landowner than the one-hour workers did. True, they all got paid the same, but the one-hour workers missed an opportunity to spend 12 hours with the master. No matter how much they work for the landowner in the future, they will never get those 11 hours back.

Let’s imagine the conversations of each group—the 12-hour workers, and then, the one-hour workers:

The 12-hour workers: ?I’m not working here tomorrow!?

?Yea, who does he think he is, treating us no better than those one-hour workers??

?If I’m going to work 12 times longer, I expect to be paid 12 times as much.?

?You said it, brother.?

In the meantime the one-hour workers are talking among themselves:

?Did you get as much as I did? I can’t believe he’s so generous.?

?Me neither, I can hardly wait to work for him again tomorrow.?

?Me too. In fact, I’m going to tell all my friends about this; maybe they can work for him as well.?

The days of our lives. Let’s face it: most of us have a kind of love/hate relationship with work. We spend roughly a third of our adult lives making a living. There are things about our jobs that we hate, things that we tolerate and, ideally, things we enjoy doing—things we do well.

It would be nice to be paid not to work. But honestly, don’t you find that, left to your own devices, you would rather be active than inactive? Even on vacations we rarely spend our days doing nothing. God created us to be active. So there is always something to do, even if—especially if—it is some-thing we don’t have time to do when we are working.

The thing that brings satisfaction and fulfillment to our professional lives is this: beyond working to make a living, working to support our families, working to keep from being fired, our work is a way to honor God and reflect a bit of His character to the people around us.

After all, God is a working, active God. He imagined an orderly and self-sustaining cosmos and built it from scratch. Throughout the Bible we read about His ?works,? how He provides humanity with spiritual and material blessings in creative and never-ending ways. We talk about how He will finish His work in righteousness. When we take the responsibilities He has given us seriously, we reflect the glory of the One who has equipped us to be a blessing to those we work for and with.

I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Ephesians 6:5-8: ?Servants, respectfully obey your masters but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants, doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you’re really serving God. Good work will get you good pay from the Master, regardless of whether you are slave or free? (The Message).

It’s not just a job, it’s a calling. When we meet someone in a social setting, one of the first questions we ask is, ?What do you do for a living?? Another way of saying it is, ?What is your vocation?? The word ?vocation? literally means ?calling.? What we are saying is: ?What is your calling??

We usually think of a calling as being related to some kind of ministry, such as being a pastor, doctor, teacher, nurse, or evangelist. But in fact, God calls and equips all of us so that, by the quality of our work in our vocations, He is honored and we reflect His character.

By this definition of ?calling? there is no distinction between a pastor and a piano-tuner, between a dentist and a dietitian, between a stock trader and a stock car driver, a missionary or a mechanic. If we are doing our jobs, obeying (serving) our masters (bosses, clients), we are involved in acts of loyalty and worship each and every day.

And that’s one of the points in the parable of the vineyard workers: while some obviously care more about collecting a pay check than serving the landowner, others are captivated by the landowner’s generosity and can hardly wait to work for him again. Can you imagine the one-hour workers saying, ?Tomorrow I’m going to goof off until the ?eleventh hour,’ then I’ll work for an hour and collect a full day’s pay?? That would show they didn’t understand the landowner at all.

For the glory of God. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) composed most of his music for worship settings. At the beginning of each of his musical transcriptions he wrote the initials JJ, Latin for Jesu, juve (Jesus, help me). At the end of each piece he wrote the initials SGD, Solo gloria Deo (Solely for the glory of God). Those initials, at the begin-ning and ending of each piece, indicate Bach’s dependence on God throughout the creative processes that resulted in some of the most significant and inspirational music in the history of civilization.

What would happen at the beginning of each day if we made a compact with Christ, asking Him to accompany us to work and, throughout the day, relied on His guidance to solve problems and overcome challenges related to the workplace?

And what would happen if, at the end of the day, we were able to say, ?Whatever good I’ve accomplished today, I want it to be for God’s glory??

God has given us an invaluable gift in calling us and equipping us to provide useful service to our churches and communities by our vocations. Not only do we get paid for doing what we’re good at, we also have the great benefit—in the office, in the field, in the pulpit, on the assembly line, in the classroom, in the operating room, in the laboratory—of standing, shoulder-to-shoulder, with Christ.

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October–December, 2002

The Workplace