On one particular day in the life of Jesus, "when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples... Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not."
Being puzzled by this statement, Peter asked Jesus if He was referring to just His select group of followers or was he referring to everyone. The Lord answered by saying that whosoever is a faithful and wise steward, his lord will make him a ruler over his household. He then illustrated His point by using a hypothetical situation between an earthly servant and his master. The clear implication is that Jesus was referring to all those who count themselves as servants of God. And after clarifying what constitutes a wise and faithful servant, He then added, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:1,40-43,48).
Today, very few people work as "servants" of a "master" in the sense that Jesus meant so perhaps it might help us better understanding the message Jesus was trying to convey to His disciples if we use modern-day examples.
A major league baseball player makes considerably more money than his minor league counterpart, even though they are both performing the same job. Even among those who play in the major leagues, there are some who receive much higher salaries than others. In the world of filmmaking, some actors can demand and receive millions of dollars for performing in just one movie, while other actors who play in the same film are given far less money.
The reason for this is because people are paid according to the way they perform their job and not just because they did their duty. The reason a major league baseball player makes more money than one in the minor leagues is because he is more skillful at his profession. The same holds true of those who act in movies. And the same can be said for anyone who must earn their money. Whether it's doctors, lawyers, salesmen, painters, carpet layers, or factory workers, people get paid according to their skills. The more capable they are at performing their duties, the more money they make.
The reason for why employers are willing to pay more money to some people and not to others is because of some people are more valuable to them than others. For example, the game of baseball performed on a neighborhood diamond is played just for fun, but a game of baseball played by the major league teams is for the purpose of making money. The better the team is at playing the game, the more money the team owners make. Thus, the better a person is at playing ball, the more valuable they are to the team's owner.
The same is true of actors. The more an actor can draw people to see their movies, the more money the filmmakers make. Thus, the better a person is at acting, the more valuable they are to the producers of the movie. And the same principle is true in all other businesses. The reason why one doctor makes more money than another is because of their medical skills. The more accomplished a doctor is at treating the sick, the more valuable they are to their patients. And this same principle applies to any other profession or work where people earn their money through their performance.
However, when someone loses their skills they also lose their ability to maintain their current salary. And the way people lose their value is by not performing their duties to the expectations of those who pay them such as when an actor no longer draws large crowds of people to the theater, producers are no longer willing to pay them large sums of money. Thus, our earning power is directly linked to the value which others place on us.
There are some who question the fairness of doing things this way but it would be unfair to reward people equally for performing unequal work. Furthermore, if the level of our abilities didn't matter and everyone received the same wages regardless of how they performed their duties, there would be no incentive for people to develop and expand their skills. Therefore, rewarding people according to their abilities is not only fair, but wise.
However, there is also another facet of earning money that is interwoven into the concept of value and that is the pressure to remain valuable. And the more valuable a person is, the greater the pressure they're under to maintain their value. As an example, while a major league baseball player may get a large salary, he is also under pressure to constantly perform well. When his skills begin to diminish to a point that he is no longer able to play well, the team owner will get rid of him. And this same principle applies in other fields of endeavor as well.
In all businesses at the lower end of the pay scale are the workers who receive an hourly wage for doing certain, routine tasks. In order for them to keep their job, they are under pressure to perform their duties according to company standards. This pressure may simply include such basic things as getting to work on time and properly accomplishing their appointed job but when they demonstrate they have the skills to accomplish more than what they've been assigned, they not only become more valuable to the company but, in many cases, are rewarded by being given more responsibilities, which often comes with a higher salary. And with each step of advancement a person takes their salary and responsibility increases. Therefore, people are not only paid for their skills but also for the responsibility they carry.
Our Father in heaven uses this same principle in dealing with us, His children. Jesus told His disciples, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Although the Lord is not interested in making money, He nevertheless is in business and is looking to hire workers. But the business He's in is saving the souls of His children and to do this He needs laborers. He has stated, "For behold, the field is white already to harvest; and it is the eleventh hour, and the last time that I shall call laborers into my vineyard" (D&C 33:3).
If God is seeking laborers then He must intend on paying them. The Scriptures tell us, "For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey" (Alma 3:27). If we choose to obey the whisperings of Satan, then we are in his employ and will receive our payment from him. We're told that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) "for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge" (Mosiah 2:33). "And whosoever doeth this must receive his wages of him [the devil]; therefore, for his wages he receiveth death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness, being dead unto all good works" (Alma 5:41).
But if we are in the service of the Lord, the scriptures tell us, "therefore, whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God" (D&C 14:3). "And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together" (John 4:36).
If this is true, then it must equally be true that some will be paid more for their services than others. And what will determine the laborer's wages is the value they have to their employer.
To some, this may seem too secular an idea to be part of the Christian faith. Yet , since the Lord is seeking laborers to help in His work then it stands to reason that the more valuable we are to Him in saving souls the greater our reward will be in heaven. And, in fact, the scriptures tell us, "But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come" (D&C 59:23). "Therefore, prepare ye the way of the Lord, for the time is at hand that all men shall reap a reward of their works, according to that which they have been" (Alma 9:27). "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matthew 16:27).
As Latter-day Saints we believe that in the highest kingdom of heaven, there are three levels or degrees and it was Jesus who declared, "In my father's house there are many mansions" (John 14:2). The implication is clear that there is not just one kind of reward in heaven but many. Therefore, it's just as obvious that some people will be given a greater reward (wages) than others. And the underlying reason for this is because some people are more valuable in their service to God than others, hence, they deserve more.
If that is so, then it becomes important for us to understand what we mean by "valuable".
The position of a Prophet and the role of a Sunday School teacher are equally important to the Lord, because they are both necessary to the proper functioning of the Church. But to be a Prophet and to be a Sunday school teacher takes very different levels of skill. Almost anyone can be a teacher, but not everyone can be the leader of a multi-nation church organization. Thus, the Prophet is more valuable than a teacher, even though a teacher is still essential to the growth of the church.
If we think of a business, we can say that every employee is important. Just because they can't perform the duties of managing the entire organization doesn't mean they're not needed or appreciated. Without them, there would be no company. Yet without the administrative skills of the CEO to give guidance and direction, the company would flounder and possibly go out of business, despite all the hard work of the employees. Thus, a CEO is much more valuable to the growth and strength of a company than is any individual worker.
The Church is no different. Every member is important in the sense that they are needed to perform whatever duties are assigned to them. However, since not everyone has the same degree of skills, it's also obvious that some people must be more valuable to God than others in the salvation of souls.
Some will say that since we are all God's children and He loves each of us equally, this means He will reward all of us equally but that would be unfair because some people perform a better service than others. It is not fair for someone who willingly gives seventy or eighty hours a week as a General Authority serving the Lord to receive the same wages as someone who serves two hours a week preparing and teaching a Sunday School class.
But there are some who will argue that not everyone gets the opportunity to serve as a General Authority so it's unfair that they get a lesser reward since it wasn't their fault they weren't called to serve in more exalted ways. However, we're not only unequal in abilities but also in our spirituality.
The Lord showed Abraham, "the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers" (Abraham 3:22). By choosing to make "the noble and great ones" His rulers, God was not being unfair. Instead, He was being wise because along with such assignments, also comes great responsibility, as well as greater pressure to succeed in their duties. If they do well then it is only fair that they received a greater reward for their labors than those who were not as faithful or who didn't do as great a work.
The greatest Person of all was Jesus, and because He of that it could ultimately be said of Him, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." Indeed, more was committed to and asked of Jesus than of anyone else.
In the beginning, He was placed in charge of organizing and forming the earth. That, in itself, was no small responsibility. Then He was given authority to watch over and instruct mankind. As the God of this earth the salvation of every living soul depended on Him properly and wisely carrying out His duties. He didn't have the luxury of having even one bad day. He could not afford to make one mistake. He was expected and required to be perfect at all times. Not just anyone could have fulfilled that assignment.
When He was born into mortality, it was necessary for Jesus to live a sinless life because that's what was required of Him to make the plan of salvation work. Yet, the plan also required Him to endure every temptation known to man. Of all the billions of people who have lived on the earth from the time of Adam no one else but the great Jehovah could have succeeded in fulfilling such a task. But that was not all that was required of Him because without the atonement no one could be saved.
During His mortal life Jesus had handled His responsibilities seemingly with ease, but then He was required to endure such suffering that it caused Himself -- God, the greatest of all -- to tremble because of the pain to the point that He bled from every pore, and suffered so much, in both body and spirit, that He wanted to shrink from the task rather than drink from that bitter cup (see D&C 19:18). But it was precisely because Jesus was the greatest of all that He was given the greatest of all responsibilities, and more was required of Him than from anyone else.
Yet His duties didn't end upon His death. There was much work needed to be done in the spirit world that only He could accomplish. After His resurrection, He was commanded by His Father to visit the Nephites and properly organize them into a church. Then He was commanded to visit other lost sheep of the house of Israel. In the latter-days He was responsible for again organizing His church and overseeing it's growth and development. And He still has a future assignment to come a second time to earth and personally rule over it for a thousand years.
No one but Jesus could have handled such an awesome assignment! Furthermore, in the face of such tremendous pressure to perform His duties well, He faithfully gave greater service than anyone else possibly could. It would not be fair for Him to receive the same reward as everyone else. And if He is entitled to a more glorious prize because of His more excellent service, then it is only logical that there should also be different degrees of reward for different levels of service.
However, with greater responsibility comes a greater risk of failure along with its accompanying lost of wages. Since God will not call someone to perform a task He knows they will fail at, not everyone is called upon to perform a glorious work. On the other hand, since there are many more people who do have great abilities than there are positions of great importance, it's obvious that God judges our value to Him by more than just the work we do.
During His ministry on earth, Jesus frequently used the example of wise and foolish servants to explain this concept. To be a wise and faithful servant requires doing more than just what is asked. It takes dedication to the Master, and a willingness to serve with an eye single to God's glory.
To have an "eye single to the glory of God" means that we have one single interest in life - glorifying God. And the best way we can do that is to help God be successful and profitable in His business. The greater success God has in saving His children, the greater His glory. And when our goal, as servants, is the same as our Master's, then we see eye to eye with Him. Thus, when His vision and ours are the same, there is a singleness of purpose.
The wages we seek is to obtain eternal life but it is given in proportion to the way we perform our job. The Lord has instructed us in these modern times, "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward" (D&C58:25). In ancient times He told his disciples, "And that servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (Luke 12:47).
Jesus further illustrated this with the parable of the talents. He began by saying, "For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods." Jesus then told how one servant was given five talents, another two talents and another one talent. When the master of the house returned, each servant was required to give an accounting of their stewardship. The first two had increased their talents and offered them to their master, who then declared, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
However, the third servant hid his talent and failed to use it wisely. The master of the house rebuked him, saying, "Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed. Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness" (Matthew 25:14-30).
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians, "But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6). As servants to Christ, our employer, it's important that we serve Him with all of our heart, mind, strength and soul, regardless of what assignments we may receive from Him.
As we improve our knowledge of the gospel, our teaching talents, our organizational competence, our speaking or communicative proficiency, and other useful skills, the more God can use us to save souls and the more valuable we are to Him. Of course, the opposite is also true. If we fail to improve our talents, the less we profit the cause of Christ, and the less value we having in helping to advance the work of our Father in heaven.
The purpose of being members of the Church of Jesus Christ in these latter-day it not merely to make it into heaven. Instead, "we are marching on to glory, we are working for our crown" (hymn #225) so that "we can wear it by and by" (hymn #250). This is the reward of those who have learned how to become a wise and faithful servant.