The Eleventh Hour


In Mt. 20:1-16 the Lord told the parable of the workers in the vineyard.  The essence of the parable is that the landowner went out at various times of the day and hired men to work in his vineyard.  He did so right up to the eleventh hour of the work day.  This was unusual because workers were typically hired early in the morning and not thereafter.  At the end of the work day all the workers were paid the same amount, including those who had been hired at the eleventh hour.

This parable illustrates the graciousness of God in two ways.  First, He will continue to call us to come into His vineyard right up until the very end.  In other words, the opportunity for salvation is open to everyone until the “work day” of life is done.  Second, those who are saved at the very last will receive the same reward as those who have spent a lifetime in the kingdom.  All of the saved will be in heaven, no matter at what point of life they obeyed the gospel.

When we ponder this aspect of God’s character, we see that He is giving us every possible opportunity to be saved.  Like the workers who were hired early in the morning, God wants us to go to work in His vineyard at the earliest possible time.  However, like the landowner in the parable, God keeps coming back to offer us the opportunity to enter His vineyard.  Day after day, year after year, God calls us to obey the gospel and to come work in His vineyard, which is the kingdom of Christ, the church that the Lord purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

Like the workers in the parable, who needed work in order to survive, we need the salvation that only our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can provide.  Like the workers in the parable, we must answer the call in order to enter His vineyard.  A worker who refused an offer of work could not expect to be paid at the end of the day.  One who refuses to answer the call of the gospel cannot expect to enter heaven at the end of time.  Therefore, it is essential that we obey the gospel just as soon as we hear its call.

This is where we learn the most important lesson from this parable.  The men who were not present to be hired at the beginning of the day had no guarantee that they would be hired later in the day.  When the landowner hired men at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour, this was an unexpected and unwarranted blessing to them.  In the same way, when God calls us by His gospel at various stages of our lives, it is the very epitome of what grace is.  It is an unwarranted opportunity that we have done nothing to merit.  For this reason we must not ignore it.

Someone once said, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be grasped in the lifetime of the opportunity.”  The point of this statement is that even the best of opportunities will one day be gone and once they are gone they cannot be recovered.  The Lord illustrated this truth in the context of salvation by declaring that no one knows the day or hour at which He will return for judgment (Mt. 24:36).  To this James added that human life is a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (Jas. 4:14).

Even though the Lord will accept us even at the eleventh hour of our lives, we have no idea when that hour may be.  Therefore, we must obey the gospel at our very first opportunity, lest our eleventh hour come and go while we remain disobedient.

The God Who Forgives

When Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites after their sin with the golden calf, he begged God to show him His glory.  God promised that he would pass before Moses, shielding him with His hand until He had passed by.  Then God would remove His hand and Moses could see God’s back (Ex. 33:17-23).  God kept this promise when He called Moses back up to the mountain top to give him the second set of stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  As God passed by Moses on that occasion He declared who He was in words that are comforting and encouraging, but which also sound a warning to mankind.

In Ex. 34:6, 7 the scripture says, “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.'”  Many people think of God in the Old Testament only in terms of His great wrath that He from time to time poured out on the nations.  This does Him a great injustice, especially in light of His own testimony about Himself in the verses above.

When Moses asked God to reveal Himself, God began with the fact of His compassion and mercy.  The God of the Old Testament is the God who “forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.”  He is the God who shows His lovingkindness (or steadfast love) to thousands.  How interesting it is that the so-called God of wrath revealed Himself first as the God who forgives.  While He is the God who will not allow the guilty to go unpunished, He is first of all a forgiving God.

There is an important reason why our God is the God who forgives.  It is because He wants all of us to live with Him in heaven for eternity.  In 1 Tim. 2:4 Paul tells us that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  At the heart of salvation and the knowledge of the truth is the fact that God provided the means for all mankind to be forgiven of their sins through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.  In Eph. 1:7 Paul said, “In Him (that is, Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”  This forgiveness is what Paul calls the “eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” in Eph. 3:11.

We receive this blessing when we are baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, as Peter commanded the Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2:38), and as the Lord Himself required in Mk. 16:16, when He said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.”  This forgiveness continues after baptism if we walk in the light and confess our sins (1 Jn. 1:7-10).  The God who forgives will always forgive, so long as we seek His forgiveness according to His revealed word.

This is why we are commanded to be forgiving to one another.  The Lord made this point very strongly.  In Lk. 17:3, 4 He said, “Be on your guard!  If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  He also warned that if we do not forgive others, our sins will not be forgiven (Mt. 6:14, 15).  Therefore, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).

Sanctity of Human Life


Precious Feet Picture

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States issued their ruling in the Roe v. Wade case challenging anti-abortion laws in the state of Texas.  In a 7-2 decision the Court ruled that abortion on demand was a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.  Since that time, more than 56 million unborn babies have been killed in the United States.  There is perhaps no other single issue that has so deeply divided our nation, or evoked such strong passions among advocates on both sides of the argument.

The irony in this debate is that many of those who advocate abortion on demand without restrictions are also the most outspoken advocates of the protection of so-called endangered animals.  Many of them are also among the most vigorous opponents of capital punishment.  Thus, they propose and endorse hundreds of regulations and laws to protect unborn animals, but unborn humans may be literally torn limb from limb in the womb on the whim of the mother.  They demonstrate and protest against the execution of convicted criminals, but support and fund the wholesale slaughter of innocent babies.

We could not have arrived at this sad circumstance if we had remained obedient to the directions of God’s word.  Even a cursory reading of the scriptures reveals that human life is sacred to God and should therefore be treated as such.  In Gen. 1:26, 27 the scripture tells us that God created mankind in His image.  This means that human beings are different from the animals.  God endued humans with a spirit that will live forever.  This means that we are more important in God’s sight than the animals.

When Noah emerged from the Ark after the flood, God emphasized the sanctity of human life by decreeing the principle of capital punishment.  In Gen. 9:6 God said, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”  God underscored this principle in the Ten Commandments by declaring, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13).  In addition to this, God made provision in the Law of Moses for harm done to an unborn child.  In Ex. 21:22-25 God commanded that a man who caused harm or death to an unborn child should be punished, “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

To these commandments the wise man Solomon added this declaration:  “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Prov. 6:16-19).  Murderers obviously fall under “hands that shed innocent blood,” and how much more so those who murder unborn babies?  Theirs is the most innocent blood of all.

Sometimes abortion advocates try to justify this action by suggesting that an unborn child is not actually human until it draws its first breath outside the womb.  This is one reason why they refer to the unborn child as a “fetus.”  In Jer. 1:5, however, God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.”  God knew Jeremiah the person, even before he was born.  Jeremiah’s life was sacred, even in the womb, and so is every unborn child’s life today.  May God help us to recognize that human life is sacred, and treat it as such at every stage of life, from the womb to the tomb.

(The photo above is of an unborn child’s feet at ten weeks after conception.  Note that they are definitely human feet, complete with toes.  These “precious feet” are the symbol of the national Right to Life movement.)

Sound Doctrine


One of the catch phrases that we often hear today is that doctrine divides, but love unites.  This idea is most often used as the justification for minimizing the differences that exist between various religious bodies.  The premise is that we should not be concerned about our doctrinal differences, but should instead emphasize our shared beliefs.  In this way it is asserted that we can enjoy fellowship and harmony with one another, and thus fulfill the Lord’s desire that all believers should be “one”.  The result of this kind of attitude is that “doctrine” becomes something bad.

While this attitude fits well in the politically correct world in which we now live, it is so obviously contrary to what the scriptures teach that one wonders how it survives.  The letters of Paul to Timothy and to Titus are generally referred to as the Pastoral Epistles.  This means that they are intended to guide the church in its beliefs and practices.  Yet, the one thing they emphasize more than anything else is the need to preach doctrine.  In particular, Paul spoke to Timothy and Titus about what he called “sound” doctrine.

This term appears some ten times in these three small letters.  In Tit. 1:9 Paul told Titus that overseers must be able to exhort in sound doctrine, and to refute those who contradict.  In 1 Tim. 4:6 Paul reminded Timothy that he was constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine that he had been following.  In 2 Tim. 4:3, 4 Paul warned Timothy that the time would come when people would not endure sound doctrine, but would turn away from the truth.  According to the apostle Paul, doctrine is neither bad nor unimportant.  It is absolutely necessary in order to be right with God.

The Greek word that is translated “sound” in these passages may also be translated “healthy”.  When we consider Paul’s comments on this subject from this perspective, we begin to see why it is so important.  We are spiritually fed and nourished by the words of scripture.  These teachings or doctrines are designed to make us spiritually healthy.  When we preach the whole purpose of God as Paul did in Ephesus (Acts 20:27), we are providing well-balanced spiritual food.  This “healthy” food is intended to make us spiritually strong enough to live righteously in the world.

We may compare the preaching of sound doctrine to a mother who prepares healthy food for her family.  That food will include some things that don’t taste as good as donuts or cotton candy, but which are more beneficial for our bodies than sweets.  It isn’t that she doesn’t want her family to ever enjoy the sweets, but rather that she knows they cannot survive on these things.  A mother who only served junk food to her family would be considered negligent, but how many preachers are doing this very thing each Sunday?  They are feeding their churches spiritual cotton candy instead of the healthy doctrine of scripture.

Does doctrine divide?  Yes, it does, but this is exactly what it is supposed to do.  It divides those who love the Lord and keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15) from those who do not love Him.  It divides the sheep from the goats, as the Lord Himself will do at judgment (Mt. 25:31-46).  At the same time, however, sound doctrine makes us spiritually healthy and prepares us to live with God in heaven for eternity.

Paul made it clear that a faithful preacher must teach sound doctrine.  If we truly love the Lord, and if we love one another, we will not substitute spiritual cotton candy for the healthy spiritual food of scripture.

On The Right Foot



We often speak of “getting off on the right foot.”  This is a way of expressing the desire to begin some new endeavor in the best possible manner.  Whether it is the first day of a new school year, the first day on a new job, the decision to marry the love of one’s life, or some other serious commitment, we recognize that it is important to begin well.  This is why we make preparations for these commitments.  We want to make the best start possible so we will have the best opportunity for success in them.

While it is not impossible to reach a successful conclusion after a poor beginning, it is typically very difficult to overcome a stumbling start.  We see this all the time in sporting events.  A horse that stumbles coming out of the starting gate is not likely to win the race, no matter how fast or strong he may be.  A football team that falls behind by a large margin in the first quarter is not likely to win the game, no matter how well they may play the final three quarters.  Sometimes a bad start can be overcome, but not very often.

The principle of getting off to a good start applies in all areas of life, but is especially important in terms of our spiritual walk.  The scriptures encourage us to begin our walk with the Lord early in life, because of the danger of straying so far away that we are unable to come to obedience later in life.  This was the counsel of the wise man in Eccl. 12:1, where he said, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no delight in them.'”  It is not impossible to overcome a lifetime spent away from the Lord, but it is not often that such a person turns to God.

Becoming a disciple of Christ early in life is one way in which we “get off on the right foot” in spiritual matters.  Whenever one obeys the gospel, however, it is just the first step in a journey that will last to the end of that person’s life.  When we understand discipleship in this manner, we see that every day we must “get off on the right foot.”  This is because each day takes us either closer to the goal of heaven, or farther away from it.  For this reason, we must “get off on the right foot” every day, and the beginning of a new year is a good time to begin this habit.

To “get off on the right foot” each day this year, there are at least three tangible actions that we may take in order to do so.  First, we must commit ourselves to the daily study of God’s word.  In Psa. 119:105 the psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  If we want to stay on the path that leads to eternal life, we must continue in God’s word.  In Jn. 8:31, 32 Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

Second, we must commit ourselves to regular times of prayer with our Father in heaven.  In Phil. 4:6 Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  If we seek God in prayer every day, we will do much better each day.

Third, we must commit ourselves to faithfully assemble with the saints to worship God each Lord’s Day.  Regular participation in worship helps us to keep our focus on the path ahead and the goal of eternal life.  It draws us closer to God, and consequently helps us to keep from straying from the Lord.  David said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.'” (Psa. 122:1).  This should be our attitude as well.

As we begin this new year, let’s all get off on the right foot by putting spiritual things first in our daily lives.  If we do so, this will be our best year ever, and we’ll be well on the way to a great conclusion in heaven!