MATTHEW 20:1ff—Are rewards the same for all, or do they differ in degree?
PROBLEM: Jesus told a parable of His kingdom in which each servant got the same pay even though each had worked a different number of hours. Yet in other places, the Bible speaks of different degrees of reward for working in God’s kingdom (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11–15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12).
SOLUTION: There are different degrees of reward in heaven, depending on our faithfulness to Christ on earth. Jesus said, “I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work” (Rev. 22:12). Paul said each believer’s work will be tried by fire and “if anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward” (1 Cor. 3:14). In 2 Corinthians 5, he says we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ “that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (v. 10, emphasis added).
The point of the parable in Matthew 20 is not that all rewards will be the same, but that all rewards are by grace. It is to show that God rewards on the basis of opportunity, not simply on accomplishment. Not all the servants had the opportunity to work for the master the same amount of time, but all, nevertheless, were given the same pay. God looks at our disposition as well as our actions and judges accordingly.
Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : A popular handbook on Bible difficulties (351). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.