Introduction: “Selfless service.” Does this idea make you shudder or
does it give you a feeling of satisfaction or freedom? If the goal of
life is simply to serve others, then (to continue a theme from last
week) the guy who drives the $700 mini-van may be better than the guy
who drives the new BMW 7 series, right? Hold on just a minute! If
the goal is to serve others, should we even ask “Who is better?” How
do we fit ambition and hard work into this picture? Who should we
help? Only the worthy? Let’s jump into the Bible and find out!

  1. The Farmer and the King

    1. Read Matthew 20:1-5a. What did the farmer offer to pay the
      people who started working late – at the third hour?
      (Whatever was right.)

      1. Would it be right to pay them the same as those who
        had already been working for three hours?

    2. Read Matthew 20:5b-7. If you were the farmer, what would
      you pay these people who started 6, 9 and 11 hours late?

    3. Read Matthew 20:8-12. Do you agree with the complaint
      raised by those who came to work early and worked all day?
      They had worked 12 hours, versus 1 hour (for those last

    4. Read Matthew 20:13-15. Is the farmer right? (Yes, since
      the early people agreed to their wages.)

      1. The Bible story ends after only one day. Let’s
        continue the story to day two. The next morning the
        farmer comes to town bright and early to find
        workers. Will he find any? (No.)

        1. Why not? (They will all be waiting to go to work
          (v.9) “about the eleventh hour.”)

        2. Is there any doubt in your mind about what would
          happen if this farmer’s pay practices became

        3. What, then, is Jesus’ point? How does this get
          applied to real life? What does this say about
          ambition and hard work?

    5. Let’s look at another story in Matthew 20. Read Matthew
      20:20-21. Is this what your mother wants for you?

      1. Is this what you want for yourself? (Of course. You
        want to be rich and important.)

    6. Read Matthew 20:22. What did Jesus mean when He spoke of
      “drinking the cup?” (He was speaking of His upcoming
      torture and death. See Matthew 26:39 and the context of
      Jesus’ answer here: Matthew 20:17-19)

      1. Who is answering here: Mom or the sons? (The sons.)

        1. Was this just “Mom’s idea” and the two sons are
          a little embarrassed about it? (No. This shows
          they were all in on it.)

    7. Let’s skip down and read Matthew 20:24. Why are the rest
      of the disciples “indignant?” (Two reasons. They want to
      be the most important people in the coming kingdom of
      Jesus. Second, they are upset they did not think to get
      their mothers to suggest this to Jesus.)

    8. Read Matthew 20:23. We just got through discussing the
      story of the farmer. This seems to be the wrong answer
      based on the farmer story. What should have been the
      answer if you are just going by the farmer story? (The
      farmer story teaches us that no one gets ranked higher
      than anyone else. All get the same pay and honor-only the
      amount of work varies.)

      1. So, how do you explain Jesus’ answer here? Why will
        people get “ranked” by the Father? (These are both
        “kingdom” stories, but they are about much different
        things. The “farmer story” alerts us in the very
        first verse ( Matthew 20:1) that we are not learning a
        lesson in economics from Jesus. This is about
        salvation – how we enter the kingdom of heaven. The
        point is that we cannot earn our way into heaven by
        the amount of our work. We only “earn” our way by
        answering the call of God. That is why I was leading
        you down the “garden path” when I suggested a “day
        two.” On the other hand, in the “mom and sons” story,
        mom and sons are thinking about real, live, promotion
        to positions of authority.)

    9. Read Matthew 20:25-28. When Jesus answered mom and the
      sons, He was speaking of heaven and they were thinking of
      positions in an earthly kingdom. Jesus knew this, and now
      He switches to speaking about earthly rulers. What is
      wrong with the way the “rulers of the Gentiles” operate?

      1. Read Romans 13:1-2. Is there something wrong with the
        “Gentile plan?” (No. Paul tells us that God
        instituted governmental systems of authority here on

      2. Then how do you explain Jesus’ “servant leader”
        command? (Jesus teaches us to follow His example. To
        save us, He gave up His life for us. He temporarily
        gave up his own interests for eternal interests.
        Jesus is not saying that an authority system is wrong
        or that such a system will not exist in heaven. He is
        simply saying that this earth is not our goal.
        Instead, the goal is heaven and to promote that goal
        we need to be working on serving others and not just
        serving ourselves.)

    10. Previously, we skipped over the “punch-line” on the farmer
      story. Read Matthew 20:16. How does this line fit into
      what we have just discussed? (Those who put others first
      here on earth, will have a suitable ranking in heaven.
      Self-sacrifice here means a position of authority in

    11. If I told you to pursue your own self-interests, be
      ambitious, what would you do in light of what we just
      learned? (The texts seem to teach us that if we serve
      others here on earth (we are “last”), then we will be
      “first” in heaven.)

      1. Three questions before we move on:

        1. First, isn’t our conclusion at odds with the
          basic line of the farmer story? If we conclude
          that the extent of our service here affects our
          “pay” (position) in heaven, isn’t that
          conclusion completely contrary to the point of
          the story?

        2. Second, how is verse 16 a proper conclusion to
          the farmer story? Since the farmer pays whatever
          he wants to all but the earliest workers,
          wouldn’t verse 16 more appropriately say, “So,
          unless you have a contract, the generous farmer
          pays whatever he feels like paying.” Do you
          think verse 16 would more appropriately be
          placed after verse 28?

        3. Do you think Jesus’ focus on serving others has
          anything to do with the origin of sin being
          Satan’s ambition to exalt himself? (See Isaiah

  2. Sharing Your Stuff

    1. Let’s explore next what obligation, if any, we have to
      serve others with our stuff. Read Luke 3:7-9. What point
      were the “vipers” missing? (John is talking with them
      about deeds. He asks them to “produce fruit in keeping
      with repentance.” Their actions did not show they had a
      right relationship with God.)

    2. Read Luke 3:10-11. What does John suggest is the right
      thing to do? Does this suggestion surprise you?

    3. Read Luke 3:12-14. Does the instruction to the tax
      collectors and the soldiers surprise you? (No. This seems
      to be basic honesty. Don’t collect more than what is due
      and do not lie or cheat.)

    4. Let’s go back to verse 11. The two tunic guy has not lied
      or cheated to get his tunics. He earned them by hard work
      while the “no-tunic” guy could be your basic lazy bum. Is
      John’s direction appropriate?

      1. If you say, “yes,” why?

    5. Read Luke 6:30. What does Jesus say about giving not just
      to those who ask, but to the lazy, thieving bum who steals
      your coat?

    6. Would you say that Jesus and John the Baptist share the
      same point of view on giving away your stuff?

    7. Let’s read what Paul says about this. Read 1 Timothy 5:5-7, 9-13. How would you summarize Paul’s advice for helping
      poor Christian widows? (Paul limits help to those who
      merit it.)

      1. Assume that Jesus, John the Baptist and Paul are on
        the same church charity committee. Would they share
        the same opinion? Would they agree?

    8. Read Leviticus 23:22. What do you see as the important
      points of the Old Testament system of caring for the poor?

      1. Does this system sound more like Paul than like Jesus
        and John? (I see the Old Testament system of caring
        for the poor to be consistent with Paul’s view. An
        important feature of gleaning was that the poor were
        actively involved in helping themselves. Although
        they did not pay for the food, they did do some work
        for it. The lazy and worthless were not given a
        handout. (See also, Romans 15:26 and Deuteronomy

    9. Paul and the Old Testament gleaning system require merit
      and work from the poor as a condition of help. This seems
      at odds with John and Jesus who say help those who are in
      need, and even let them steal from you. Can you reconcile
      these apparently different views? (I start out with the
      view that all of the Bible is God’s word and it is all
      correct. Our goal, then, is to reconcile these inspired
      words. American judges reconcile apparently conflicting
      laws with the rule that the more specific law controls
      over the general. Both Paul’s instructions about helping
      widows and the Old Testament’s instructions on helping the
      poor are very specific. Thus, when John says share your
      clothes and your food, and Jesus says help those who ask,
      these general instructions to help the poor may be
      properly understood in the light of the more specific
      instructions to intelligently help those in need.
      “Selfless service” means to help others, but to make wise
      judgments on who we help and when we help them.)

    10. Friend, how is your heart? Do you work just to make
      yourself better? Or, do you help others – even those who
      cannot repay you? Will you ask God to give you an
      unselfish, intelligent, spirit?

  3. Next Week: Living the Life of Faith.