Paul often steps through many questions in his letters. These are either questions he has heard or he does well to anticipate the questions himself. In chapter three he, a Jew, is asking about the status of the Jewish people. Do some say that the Jews have no advantage now because of what Jesus has done (3:1)? Are the Jews any better off (3:9)?
Paul says there was an advantage to being entrusted with the “oracles” of God, but does that mean the Jews are now better off? Is there any different status or level for the Jewish believer as opposed to the Gentile believer? To that he says no. Receiving the promises of God did not mean that those promises were not for the world, as well. And this was not a race in which one runner was given a head start. Paul is de-emphasizing our activity completely in order to focus on the faithfulness of God.
This is one of the parts of the good news that can be uncomfortable at times. When grace means that “I am saved apart from what I do” it is easy to accept. But if grace also means “they are saved having done less than me” that can feel different.
Jesus tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven in which a master of a vineyard hires workers at different times throughout the day. At the end of the day the foreman calls the workers in to be paid:
And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:9–16 ESV)
Our attention ought to be less on the others working alongside us in the kingdom of God, and more fixed on Jesus. If we let ourselves be caught up in comparison, we aren’t looking to him. And he is our true reward.
We should be thankful that God is gracious, and we should pray that more would receive his grace. When God gives generously, it doesn’t take away from what he has done for us.