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People who participate in team sports have a definite advantage in life over those who don’t. For they must learn a life-skill in the process of playing. Put simply, they learn to be team players. They acquire the skill of working with others toward a common goal, of striving for the success of the team rather than the individual, and of sharing the glory when victory is won.

And, in teamwork, each player is willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the whole team. For instance, a baseball player may hit a “sacrifice fly ball” to advance a runner to the next base or to home plate. His batting average will suffer, but he does it for the sake of the team.

Another example of how teamwork develops the right attitude comes in the use of pinch hitters, relief pitchers, and substitute players. What team player grumbles when, at a critical moment in the game, a bench player comes onto the field with fresh vigor and strength – and then has an equal share in the glory of victory? No one complains when a relief pitcher, who may only pitch for a few innings, or even just one, takes equal credit for the win. No one ever says, “Hey, they only played in the final minutes of the game. They shouldn’t get the same credit as those who’ve played through the entire game.”

I suspect the feelings are the same when a reserve force suddenly appears on the battlefield to turn defeat into victory. In that desperate moment, the beleaguered and embattled soldiers rejoice to see the fresh troops arrive. And after triumph has been secured, they couldn’t care less that the reserve soldiers get equal credit for victory. They’re just grateful that they saved the day.

Think about this the next time you read Jesus’ parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 19:30 – 20:16). Jesus begins and ends this parable with the words, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.”  In the context of the parable, the phrase basically means, everyone’s reward will be the same. They will receive a team player’s reward.

In this parable, harvest time has come. So, a landowner goes to the market place at 6AM to hire laborers to work in his vineyard. They agree to work for a standard day’s wage – a denarius.

But time is critical for this work. The grapes must be harvested immediately. So, concerned that his labor force is inadequate for the job, the landowner returns to the marketplace at 9AM and hires a second group and sends them to his vineyard.

Yet still the work is not progressing at an adequate pace. So, he pleads with the laborers to work harder. Then he returns to the marketplace at noon and finds more unemployed workers. So, he hires them also and sends them to his vineyard. He repeats this again at 3PM.

However, as the day draws to its close, the landowner is alarmed that the job will not be finished and some of the crop will be lost. So, in a last-ditch effort, he returns to the marketplace at 5PM and hires a relief group of workers. He tells them, “Gut it out, for we are in a desperate race to complete the harvest.”  So, in the final hour, the last relief workers come to the rescue and help finish the job at a time when the workers hired earliest are exhausted.

But do the workers rejoice in the mutual victory? Do they celebrate the success of completing the mission? Not one bit. For, when the one-hour-relief workers receive equal pay as those who were hired earliest, the all-day workers are furious. “You’ve made them equal to us, who’ve borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.”  There’s no sense of teamwork in their hearts, only a desire for individual achievement, recognition, and reward.

I have a confession to make at this time. During the greater part of my ministry for the Lord, I had the attitude of these “early bird workers.” I was no team player. I viewed other ministers as competitors. So, if they were more successful than I was, I felt threatened and angry. I never revealed my ugly displeasure but maintained the appearance of a mature servant of God.

I should have rejoiced in their successes, for it meant success for the Kingdom of God and the furtherance of the Gospel. I should have had an attitude like Paul in prison. While he watched helplessly from the sidelines at the successes of inferior ministers of the Gospel, he was not envious, threatened, or angry. No, he rejoiced. He was glad to see the lost being saved and the church being built (Philippians 1:12-18). This was a mission to which Paul was totally committed.

When it comes to the work of the Lord, we should all strive to be team players. If we are not able to perform a desired task, then we should readily support those who can. When other members are honored, we should rejoice with them and be glad that God is raising up laborers for His great Gospel harvest. Perhaps the essence of teamwork is love, as Paul explains.

“Love … does not envy, does not boast, and is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, nor does it keep a record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6).

Let’s be team players in the fight for righteousness, truth, and the Gospel. Let’s rejoice in God’s success on earth through whomever He uses to accomplish His will.


PRAYER:  Dear Father in heaven, to You I bare my soul. You see the childish anger, jealousy, and envy that is there. Please forgive these sins and remove from my heart every impure motive and desire. Replace them with Your love and grant that I will share Your zeal for righteousness and for the salvation of the lost. Make me a consummate team player in my labors for Your Kingdom. Through Jesus Christ I ask this, Amen.

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