The landowner in Jesus’ parable went into the marketplace hour after hour; finding men there at the proverbial “eleventh hour,” he asked them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day long?” Turns out, it was a lack of opportunity rather than a lack of interest; when offered an chance to work, they were glad to take it (Matthew 20:6-7).
I fear some of us do not have an excuse quite so good.
Granted, the kingdom of Jesus Christ is filled with one– and two-talent individuals. Not everyone will set the world on fire for the Lord; we understand that. But everyone should be set on fire themselves. And that fire must become visible in some way.
Excuses abound. Let’s examine a few.
I’m idle because I’m housebound. But Paul was locked in prison numerous times. He penned Philippians while chained to Roman soldiers, and taught those same soldiers while he was doing it (Philippians 1:12-14). God’s word was not chained along with him (2 Timothy 2:9) — because he was determined for it not to be so. Particularly in the internet age, we can be just as effective in spreading the gospel from our couch or sickbed as from a pulpit. In fact, as was the case with Paul, words extended in extraordinary circumstances may be even more effective.
I’m idle because I’m sick. Temporary incapacitation happens; we all know that. But for spiritual ones such as Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-28), this is the exception instead of the rule. Even in illness, his spiritual priorities were obvious; when his capacity for work increased, so did his activity. In truth, people who make excuses in sickness tend to be the same ones who make excuses in health.
I’m idle because I’m young. Granted, inexperience is a limiting factor. But it does not ground us entirely. The tendency may be to “look down” on young Christians, but Paul says it need not be so; godly conduct can be an example at any age (1 Timothy 4:12).
I’m idle because I’m old. Isaiah’s commitment to the work did not wane or expire with age; Jewish tradition holds he was one of the faithful ones “sawn in two” for his faith (Hebrews 11:37). Our greatest work in the kingdom is often in the final chapter we write. If we have the ability to go out on a high note — especially if it does not include actual martyrdom — why would we not take advantage of that?
I’m idle because I’m a woman. Phoebe was a woman (Romans 16:1-2). Priscilla was a woman (Acts 18:24-26). Close to half the hard-working saints Paul lists in Romans 16:3-15 were women. Some of our brethren would have us believe that violating Biblical principles of male leadership in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-36; 1 Timothy 2:12, etc.) is the only way to put women to work. They do not get off so easily.
I’m idle because I’m inexperienced. No one expects full-grown gospel preachers to come up out of the baptistery. But the New Testament gives one example after another of those who immediately began working in the kingdom upon finding the gospel. Timothy joined Paul mere months after his conversion (Acts 16:1-3) — and likely as a teenager. There is no better time to tell the world about your conversion experience than when you are fresh out of the water.
I’m idle because I’m waiting. A better opportunity to work is always on the horizon for some. But Jesus is consistent in emphasizing the willingness to work rather than the economy of effort that might be achieved by looking for “the right moment.” The harvest is white already (John 4:35). The time to work is limited (John 9:4) The words Paul quote in Ephesians 5:14 may be appropriate — “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
I’m idle because I’m busy. That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? Someone is too busy doing other things to tend to the things that, supposedly, he or she is seeking first (Matthew 6:33). Is that not the clearest indictment possible? Forget Jesus rejecting second place, as He did with the would-be followers in Luke 9:57-62. We have “followers” who ask Jesus to wait behind career, and family, and recreation, and relaxation, and physical indulgence — none of which they have any trouble at all fitting into their “busy” schedule.
Paul writes in Romans 13:11, “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” We want to be found watching and working when the Lord comes. It is nonsense to think we can acquire good habits “just in time” when we have spent a lifetime deliberately acquiring bad habits.
The dead wood does not, in fact, hold up the tree. Not in botany, and not in the church. The dead wood burns. Just like severed, unfruitful branches (John 15:6). Just like chaff (Matthew 3:12). You might think about that.