Session #122 What’s in It for Me?
Scripture Matthew 19:27-20:16
Summary If the rich young man left sad and empty, what can those who follow Jesus expect? That was Peter’s burning question, “What’s in it for me?” (And ours too.) Can we ask about rewards? Should we even be motivated by rewards? Jesus provides the answer. And then proceeds to explain – through the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard – how kingdom rewards are given and what is the right perspective to have. Surprise! Surprise!
Our passage is a rather long one, from Matthew 19:27 all the way to Matthew 20:16. Although it crosses from one chapter to the next, it is one continuous unit, making the same point. We know this because both of these sections end with the same proverb about the first being last, and the last first.
We will address it in two parts:
Part I: Matthew 19:27-30 which concludes Jesus’ teaching to His disciples after the encounter with the rich young ruler.
Part II: Matthew 20:1-16 the parable that illustrates and explains the teaching.
Before we get into the details, it is important for us to review our previous teaching (Matthew 19:16-26) about the rich, young man who approaches Jesus full of enthusiasm and confidence, but leaves sad and empty.
The terms ‘inheriting eternal life’, ‘entering the kingdom of God’, ‘salvation’ and ‘following Jesus’ all refer to the same thing. We are saved by grace through faith. Faith in Jesus means to Follow Jesus. Faith is not merely agreeing that Jesus is Saviour and King, but also being awakened, aligned and assigned for Jesus and the purposes of His kingdom. Beware of PRIDE. It is a warning that possessions, positions and priorities can result in pride that keeps one from believing, knowing following and obeying Jesus wholeheartedly and unreservedly; from entering the kingdom. What is impossible with pride, God makes it possible through humility. The kingdom of God belongs to the humble, those who trust like little children, relying wholly on Him as they submit and obey without question. The rich young man met the King; but missed the kingdom of God. He was unwilling to give up the things of the present age so he missed out on the eternal rewards of the kingdom. Holding on to his everything; he ended up with nothing.
At this point, the disciples all have a burning question in their hearts. Who else but Peter will be the one to ask it.
Part I: Matthew 19:27-30
Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” Matthew 19:27
A paraphrase of Peter’s question is: When we give up things to follow you, Jesus, what’s in it for us? Trust Peter to clarify the details: What’s in it for me? What’s in it for us?
Salvation, having eternal life, inheriting the kingdom all sound really good. But what does it really mean in practical terms? Finally, what do we get for following You, Lord? Thank God for Peter’s boldness to ask Jesus directly. Let’s see what is Jesus’ answer.
So Jesus said to them, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother [or wife] or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. Matthew 19:28-29
Jesus does not rebuke Peter for asking about what’s in it for him. Jesus has no issues talking about rewards. He openly states it because He knows that those who are serious about following Him may lose everything, including their lives. In exchange, they need to know that they will receive in return.
As such, Jesus graciously replies without hesitation but He proceeds to teach Peter and the disciples what the right kingdom posture and perspective of rewards should be.
“BUT many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Matthew 19:30
Although this can apply to the surprising turn of events where many find themselves not in the kingdom of God (like the rich young man), it is more accurately applied to those who are disciples, believers and followers of Jesus. It does not refer to salvation per se but what one receives for his service to the Lord. Jesus was highlighting that the giving of rewards in the kingdom of God will be very different from what we are used to in the world, hence the word “but”; followed by “For the kingdom of heaven is like”
Part II: Matthew 20:1-16 – Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
There are many different interpretations and speculations. Again, the context will help us determine what may be Jesus’ main point. Peter’s question, “What will we get?” “What’s in it for us? for me?” is addressed. It clarifies Jesus’ answer about the first being last, and last being first.
Overview of Parable (Chart)
Parables are simple stories with familiar characters and items, very typical situations – easily relatable and understood.
Landowner needs workers for his vineyard (harvest time). This is typical.
6am Recruits workers at agreed rate of one denarius (minimum daily wage)
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. Matthew 20:1-2
Goes out to recruit workers throughout the 12-hr day . This is not typical. It shows that details are provided to communicate a certain spiritual truth.
Recruits workers at 9am (3rd hr) will pay what is right
Does the same at 12nn (6th hr) and also at 3pm (9th hr)
And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. Matthew 20: 3-5
At 5pm (11th hr), he hires the workers which no one hired.
And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing [idle], and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, [and whatever is right you will receive.]’ Matthew 20:6-7
6pm Payment time: Everyone gets the same pay of one denarius, regardless of when they were recruited.
“So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. Matthew 20:8-10
Obviously, those who worked the full day complain: NOT FAIR!
And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ Matthew 20:11-12
Would you complain too? The response is not unexpected at all. We totally understand why the 12-hr workers responded in this manner. The daily rate may have been the same but the hourly rates are not!
Table of Hours Worked & Rates
Hour Rate Den/Hr
Hourly Rate $/Hr
1 denarius (S$60)
9am (3rd hour)
12nn (6th hour)
3pm (9th hour)
5pm (11th hour)
Daily Wage for easy calculation: S$60
Landowner explains that he has done nothing wrong. To the first group, he paid according to what was agreed. For the rest, he gave according to his own wish.
But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. 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 my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ Matthew 20:13-15
The characters and details of this parable may be relatable and easily understood. However, depending on which group of workers you identify with, the principle may not be quite as easy to accept.
What Exactly is Jesus Saying?
What is He revealing about the kingdom of God? To understand this, let’s consider two broad points in this parable: One, the RELATIONSHIP between the landowner and the workers and two, the way REMUNERATION and REWARDS are given.
1. RELATIONSHIP: Landowner & Workers (God & Us)
Obviously, the landowner refers to God. God is just and always does what is right. God is good, gracious and generous! This is a very important starting point. If this is not settled in our hearts, the rest of the points mean nothing. The workers refer to believers, followers, disciples of Jesus Christ. They are ready and prepared to work, and waiting for the opportunity and timing. In Matthew 20:7 “doing nothing” is argos, which more literally means without work. These men are not deliberately avoiding labour. Workers work; and are expected to do what is right and required. Workers do their best. Workers fulfil their tasks. A word of caution here is that workers and servants who do not work are dealt with rather severely in other passages and parables.
Based on Trust. Not Terms
In the world, it’s about terms. In the kingdom, it’s about trust. The later shifts all went to work on the word of the landowner “whatever is right I will give you”. They all trusted him, without question. Do we trust God to give and provide what is right? Or do we state, negotiate or demand our terms with Him? Those who negotiate and agree on a price will get just that. These will do just enough to get what is agreed on. But those who trust will do as much as is required of them, to the best of their ability, leaving the remuneration and reward to the Lord.
Why do so many struggle with financial provision? We see God provide only through monthly salaries (terms). Why be limited by salary? Why not let the Lord give whatever He wants to give and deems fit and right? Just trust Him because He is good, gracious and generous!
What’s in it for me? Just do what is right and expected. Trust God to give what is right and unexpected.
2. REMUNERATION & REWARDS
With trust as the basis of our relationship with God, let’s consider how He remunerates and rewards. This parable clearly demonstrates that God gives according to
a. Covenantal Grace. Not Contractual Law.
How would I fare at Kingdom Performance Appraisal? God’s KPIs? If remuneration and rewards were based solely on my performance, on terms of contract, how would we fare? We often think that God dealt with Israel strictly by the law; when throughout Scriptures, I see that He extended and displayed lots and lots of mercy and grace. It was the leaders who made it legalistic and difficult for the people. Sadly we tend to be like that too! Isn’t it odd? We don’t want God to evaluate us by the law (terms) but we want Him to pay and reward us according to the law (terms). Don’t we realise that if we base our renumeration and rewards according to the terms of the law, we will totally miss the mark and not even be rewarded!? Worse, we judge others by the same terms and get really upset if and when they receive more than what we think they deserve; or not. Even worse, we think we should receive even more than they. They don’t deserve it. But we sure do!
First group was paid according to terms. Other groups were paid by grace. Do you prefer to be paid and rewarded by contractual law or by covenantal grace?
b. Same Same But Different
Does everyone get the Same Rewards? Is it Equal For All? The point of the parable is not that everyone gets equal rewards regardless of what one does; but that God’s grace is similarly extended to everyone. Clearly, we are rewarded according to our works.
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Matthew 16:27
Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labour. 1 Corinthians 3:8
And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. Revelation 22:12
By grace does not mean that we don’t work, or do half-hearted work or shoddy work, presuming upon grace, receiving His grace in vain. Workers must do what is right and expected, remember? It’s really odd (and potentially dangerous) that most can read about Jesus’ teachings about servants and workers and still convince themselves that they don’t need to serve or work (just believe and have eternal life). Again, wicked and lazy servants will be dealt with.
What the rewards are finally, we don’t have to worry. As servants, we are merely to do our very best and leave God to provide and reward accordingly, by His grace. Get ready to be surprised by His goodness, generosity and grace!
What’s in it for me? Just do what is right and expected. Trust God to give what is right and unexpected.
Are the rewards and remuneration only to be received in the regeneration? What about now? What’s in it for me NOW? I can’t live on nothing, can it? Workers all received one denarius = daily wage = to meet daily needs. Give us this day our daily bread. Remember the provision of manna in the wilderness. All needs are provided, regardless size of household. We are expected to work, and God provides through that. It is the “go out and gather manna” principle, not sit around and wait for provision to come in. God opens opportunity. We do what is necessary. God provides either directly or through others in the kingdom community.
All may work. But some have more; others less. Those who have more may be rich or richer. Don’t be proud. It is by grace. Learn to extend grace to others, to the poor and needy. Share and give, not because they deserve it, but because it is a demonstration of the grace of God.
Having pride – thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought. Being competitive: I am better! Being calculative: I did more! Complaints: I deserve more! Being covetous: I want more!
Having an evil eye – see Deuteronomy 15:9, refusing to give servant anything. In 1 Samuel 18:9, Saul eyed David with jealousy. Being envious – I want what others have. Being jealous – I believe what they have rightly belongs to me. Despising others, looking down on others. We find it hard to see (and accept) that everything is by God’s grace because He is good and wants to give to all! Our King wants us to be like Him: good, gracious, generous. This is only possible if we recognise and acknowledge God’s grace. This produces humility; and protects from pride.
3. Reversal: FIRST & LAST
So (in the same way) the last will be first, and the first last. Matthew 20:16
This verse ties back to Jesus’ answer to Peter. In Matthew 19:30, it begins with BUT – signalling a contrast to what may be commonly expected. Here, it concludes with SO – in the same way, drawing from the parable, emphasizing that outcomes may be very unexpected. What does it not say? It does NOT say that rich disciples will become poor and the poor will become rich in the kingdom of God. It does NOT say that those who work one hour can do as much as those who work all day. It does NOT say that all men are equal or all kingdom work is equal. It does NOT even say about Gentiles who are last; and Jews who are first (the context doesn’t support this; see Luke 13:30).
It’s about Relationship and Rewards. It is about workers who trust the master, and that remuneration (rewards) is by grace. The deeper the trust, the greater the willingness to sacrifice for the sake of the work of the kingdom. This may result in having less and less in the world, being last. But in God’s kingdom, by His grace, everything can be reversed. The last can become first! In the kingdom, it doesn’t matter who is first or who is last. There are lots of rewards we can look forward to; but we don’t have to be overly concerned what we will get or what others will get. Everything is by God’s grace. Every reward will be just and right.
What’s in it for me? Just do what is right and expected. Trust God to give what is right and unexpected
Better not to ask anymore. Just follow Jesus. Be obedient. Leave the rest to Him to give and reward.
The details of this parable may be relatable and easily understood. However, the principle may not be quite as easy to accept, especially if I remain the focus, the centre of attention; if my concern is always “What’s in it for me?”
Again, our King is not against renumeration and rewards. He is more than happy to motivate us because He knows that following Him is not easy, requires sacrifice; even loss. However, the Lord wants us to know and be fully convinced that He is good, gracious and generous. If we get our relationship right with Him, we never have to worry about the terms of the contract. We can trust Him fully, and He will take care of the renumeration and rewards. Entirely by His grace. Beyond our expectations.
The world will never hire, pay or reward the way our King does. That’s because the ways of the world are never the ways of the upside-down kingdom. For sure, in the regeneration, there will be many reversals and surprises. What we give up for Jesus today to follow and serve Him, we will receive in full and more. By His grace. Beyond our expectations.
It’s not wrong to ask “What’s in it for me?” But it’s way better to Just do what is right and expected
And trust God to give what is right and unexpected. And what a gracious and glorious surprise it will be!