Q: “What did Jesus mean when he said that many are called, but few are chosen? How does a person know if they are chosen?”
A: We see this statement being made in two places; one reference is about work and service in the kingdom of God in Matthew 20:1-16. Notice it has to do with the vineyard or harvest field. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 9:37, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few.” And in John 4:34, He stated that His meat was to do the will of the Father, to finish His work, and then He went on to say, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh the harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest, And he that repeath received wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that saying true, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men labored, and ye are entered into their labours” (John 4:35-38). As believers we all stand equal when it comes to salvation, our call to follow Jesus into a life of service in the harvest field of the world, and our commission to preach the Gospel is the same as well. However, we were not all brought into His kingdom at the same time; therefore, we do not receive the call at the same time to follow Him into a life of service. Clearly, we are called into the harvest field at different times to be co-laborers, not only with each other, but with God (1 Corinthians 3:7-10). It is all God’s work, and at the end of our walk of faith and our service is the glorious reality of the gift of salvation, which is the fruit that such labor should produce in others.
There are a couple of things we must note in the parable in Matthew 20:1-16) that whatever wage the Lord gives us at the end of the work day will prove to be fair. He is not an unjust master, nor does He go back on His word as to how and what He will reward His workers with in the end. However, many people judge the matters of God’s handling of the work in the harvest field on the basis of the world and their own take on what they think they deserve. Remember the fruit of the harvest belongs to the owner.
The second thing we must note is that the call to work was a privilege. The men were idle and being unproductive. The invitation to come and work for a wage would be a privilege indeed and at the end of the work day, both the worker’s motive and attitude were exposed. Even though each worker agreed to work for a certain wage, those who came first felt they deserved more at the end of the day. However, they were reminded that they agreed to work for that wage without any stipulation. God gives believers an opportunity to serve Him and when He calls us we must make sure our motive is right. The reason we heed His call is not because we expect wages, but because we love Him and He is worthy of all service.
Many of these parables had to do with Israel. This parable in Matthew 20 is no exception. We are reminded that the first ones called into service (Jews) would be the last to come in from the harvest field and the last that were called (the Church) will be the first to receive what was promised to those who accept the invitation to work in the harvest field no matter the hour.
In the second parable that contains, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” it had to do with the parable of the marriage of the king’s son in Matthew 22:2-14. Many are called to attend the dinner of the marriage supper of the king’s son. However, there were those who made light of it and went their way, and some even treated the servants of the king badly. This is when the king sent out his servants to the highways and byways to bid others to come. We know the first to be called to be part of the marriage supper of the Lamb that is found in Revelation 19:5-9 was the Jewish nation, but because of the nation’s refusal to accept the call to receive their Messiah, God’s servants were sent into the highways to bid others to come in. The “others” in this case represent the Gentiles (Church).
Sadly, there was one individual who tried to get into the marriage without the right garments. Jesus stated that many will try to come into the promise of eternal life by other ways than the one true door provided by heaven (John 10:1). He called such individuals thieves because the wedding garments have already been prepared by His redemption, but we must believe His work on the cross in order to be clothed with His righteousness. Note what happens to this individual in Matthew 22:13, “Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This brings us down to the practical aspect to what it means to be “called.” All believers are called to follow Jesus, but when it comes down to those who are chosen, it will be based on relationship. Jesus made that quite clear in John 15:15-16, “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”
Servants of God have a calling, but those who are friends with the Lord are chosen. Jesus called all Christians to follow Him, but He will not choose all to be His friend. Many Christians seem content to be a half-hearted servant in God’s kingdom. They choose when and how they are going to serve the Lord. They often linger as close to the world as they can while trying to stay in the outer court of religion, but such individuals will not be chosen to be a close, trusted friend of Jesus with whom He will share matters about His kingdom.
The choice is clear, as believers we must choose to either be content with being a servant to the Lord or choose a very personal relationship with God—that of being considered and called a personal friend of the Lord Jesus Christ.