Shouldn t God give preferential treatment to those who began the work with Him?

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1 Introduction The parable proceeds from the statements in chapter 19 of the rich young ruler and Peter s question. The rich young ruler asked Jesus what good things must I do to have eternal life? (19:16). Peter said See we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have? Matthew 20 is a continuation and explanation of these encounters. Jesus promised rewards in this life and the life to come. The parable is a punctuation of the paradox previously given; But many who are first will be last, and the last first (19:30; 20:16). In this parable Jesus addresses the motives of our hearts towards service. Peter asked the question; What s in it for me? Once again the King gives instructions and warnings to His disciples. Peter s question suggests the expectation that perhaps we should get more. Shouldn t God give preferential treatment to those who began the work with Him? A parable is an earthly story that represents a heavenly or spiritual truth. In our studies in previous parables we learned one of the peculiar properties of a parable is the ability to both reveal and conceal truth. Jesus has spoken about the dangers of wealth. Now Jesus warns about selfish motives for service! Those who are first in their own eyes or in the eyes of others may be last on the day of judgment. Who are the players in our parable? We have a principled landowner with a vineyard. We have people hired throughout the day to work that vineyard in a time sensitive harvest. What is the meaning of the parable? In order to answer that question we must first determine what the parable is not teaching. The parable is not about earning salvation or simply rewards for service. No one in heaven will complain about being saved. No one works or labors for salvation. That flies in the face of all the passages that teach we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves. It is the gift of God. The meaning cannot be all people are given the exact same reward in heaven. We learn in the Bible that rewards are given by Jesus to people on the basis of faithfulness, obedience and service. I Corinthians 3:8: Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. The central meaning and application must deal with the attitude of the heart of service to the master in the Kingdom. 1

2 The parable then is about our attitudes towards service. But clearly there are other elements as well. The landowner is just. The workers agree to work one group for a specific wage and another group for whatsoever seems right (vv.4;7). A Warning About Wages (vv.1-7) Matthew 20:1 16 (NKJV)1 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. The Lord uses an everyday picture to communicate truth. Israel was full of vineyards. The harvest season was usually from April to November but grapes ripen in June. In the ancient world work began at sunrise and ended at sunset. 2Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. In the parable the landowner and the laborers agree on the terms; a denarius for the day s work. The workers played a role in the negotiations; they talk both parties agree to the terms. It gives us a tiny glimpse of mutual respect incorporating mutual interests needs and expectations. But the parable s main points are not about labor law or management philosophy. Jesus relates a common practice of the day. A landowner goes out and hires a crew for a day. The landowner is committed to getting the crop in before the rains destroy the crop. The landowner knows this is a time sensitive task. He goes to the day labor pool early in the morning (about 6:00 AM). He strikes a contract with the first wave of workers. I will pay you denarius. This was a small silver coin about the size of a modern dime. It was a day s wage in Caesar s army. Not great money not bad a fair wage. In the time of Jesus it was considered a great sin to withhold wages. People literally lived had to mouth (like so many today). Most people had little or no savings. Deuteronomy 24:15 says; Each day you shall give him his wages, and do not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you. 3And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4and said to them, You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you. So they went. 5Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 2

3 Once again the owner is dealing with a time sensitive project. He hires another crew at 9:00 AM.; another at noon and another at 3:00 PM. The harvest was great but the laborers few! Towards the end of the day he still needed people so he hired a crew at 5:00 in the afternoon (about the 11th hour!). You have to wonder how much courage it takes to accept employment when most people are leaving work! I want you to note there are two kinds of workers; those working under contract (I will pay you a denarius) and another group with no contract they are working for whatever is right I will give you (so they went v.4). The people working with no contract trusted the owners word character and integrity. This explains in part why the owner paid the last workers first and the first workers last. You remember the words of Jesus? The first shall be last and the last first. I think he wanted to show the guys he hired at 6:00 AM just how generous he could be for those who were not working under contract or working on the clock! 6And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, Why have you been standing here idle all day? Dear Christian! How much your life is spent idle? What have you done with your life? What time is it in your life? Morning? Noon? Sunset? 7They said to him, Because no one hired us. He said to them, You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive. A Warning About Wanting More And Watching Other Workers (vv.8-10) 8 So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first. 9And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. In the parable the last are literally first. The ones who were hired last received the same payment. When the men hired at 6:00 AM saw the workers receiving a full day s wage who went to work at 5:00 PM there expectations soared! 10But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. If the men who worked one hour received one denarius working twelve hours means we should get twelve denarii! Gold mine! But they likewise received each one denarius. Each man received the same wage! 3

4 The first set of workers became over-confident. They started off confident and became disappointed. We can have confidence in the Lord but we must not be overconfident expecting more than we deserve or less than we deserve. And this provides us with one of the most important points of the parable: What is your motive? What is your attitude towards service to the Lord? Do you serve God for reward? Do you serve the Lord because you love the Lord or are you looking for some promised reward? 11And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12saying, These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day. The men hired early are upset because the guys hired later got paid the exact same wage! They are accusing the landowner of being unfair. The specific accusation is unfair compensation. The accusation becomes in fact a revelation of the worker s character. Can you imagine? What is the most amount of money you ever made in an hour? Bill Gates estimated worth is in excess of 72 Billion dollars. Someone calculated that if that fortune generates about 6% return on investments he makes about $ cents per second. This means he makes $ dollars minute on the hour. He makes more money than the time it takes to pick up the bill. Can you imagine? Bill Gates made more money taking a shower, getting dressed, eating breakfast and leaving for work than you made all week. The men really had nothing to complain about. They received exactly what they agreed to early in the morning! Peter must have thought What? How does this apply to me? Remember Peter wanted to know what s in it for me? Perhaps the disciples thought the same thing! What will I get? Am I a contract laborer? Do I want a contract? Do I want to agree to a day s wage for a day s work? Peter what bargain have you made with God? Do you think the Lord is generous or stingy? What bargain have you made? What did you agree to do for the Lord? Some so called Christians think they can write their own ticket with God claim this or that! You can trust God s character God s love. Paul wrote;...that Christ may dwell in your hearts though faith...that you may be rooted and grounded in love...that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 4

5 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen (Ephesians 3:17-21). Do you think the Lord wants to cheat you? You don t know how many times I ve heard people say God let me down. God cheated me. I am angry with God. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what s right? (Gen. 18:25). In Romans 5 we see Paul use the phrase repeatedly God gives much more (vv.9-10; 15, 17, 20). Warren Wiersbe: We must watch our motives for Christian service. The right work done with the wrong motive dishonors God and robs us of the blessing (Wiersbe s Expository Outlines of The New Testament; p.73). The Christian s reward is Christ. The worker s hired early took their eyes off the job at hand and turned their eyes on their fellow servants and became bitter! Peter watched the rich young ruler walk away! One was rich. The other poor. One accepted Jesus. One walked away. Peter might have thought I am still poor. He is still rich. What will I get for following Jesus? Peter you will get exactly what you deserve you will be compensated appropriately. You will receive exactly what Jesus said you would receive. The disciples were guilty of watching others. They once saw a man cast out demons in Jesus name and rebuked him. Jesus then rebuked them. Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us (Luke 9:50). Ironically a few verses earlier in Luke s account the disciples tried and failed to cast out a demon! When we take our eyes off Jesus and look at what God is doing in the lives of our brothers and sisters we can sometimes come to false conclusions about things. Wanting more and watching others will sometimes reveal our less than pure motives! People who spend their whole lives watching others often have no life of their own! Christian take your eyes off others and now look to Jesus. Warren Wiersbe tells the story of waiting at a traffic signal in Chicago. There were two traffic signals so close together there was a double set of street lights. The second set of lights, some 15 feet from the first set of lights, controlled the flow of traffic for safe merging. Wiersbe writes; the first time I drove the intersection, I almost jumped the gun, because I was watching the wrong set of lights! Then I saw the sign; Obey Your Own Signal. Whenever I am tempted to watch other workers and get critical, I remember that sign. We must keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, seek only to please Him, 5

6 and let Him do what he wills with and for other workers (Windows on the Parables pp ). A Warning About God s Will And God s Wishes (vv.13-16) 13But he answered one of them and said, Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. The people who bargained with God got exactly what they bargained for. The first bargained for one silver denarius and received a denarius. The others counted on the landowners character kindness generosity in a word grace. Grace is superior to justice. 15Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? The question exposes the selfish interest we sometimes experience when we think that God is dealing with others in a most generous way! The God of the Bible is sovereign. He gives and takes. He allows and does not allow. He does what He pleases and what He does pleases. BUT NOT ALWAYS. It does not please those who feel unjustly treated. Do you ever feel jealous because God seems to allow others to have way more than you? Do you think God is unfair? In the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus is King and does not make choices based on human wisdom, human understanding, human measures of justice. The Lord gave to each according to that man s need not according to that man s greed. Not a single person received less than they deserved. It might be argued that many received much more than they deserved. James S. Stewart (b.1896) tells us the lesson is the person who thinks to bargain about final reward will always be wrong, and God s loving-kindness will always have the last unchallengeable word. William MacDonald adds; The more we study the parable in this light, the more we realize that it is not only fair but eminently beautiful (see William MacDonald; Believer s Bible Commentary; p.1279). 16So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen. What is Jesus saying? There are surprises involved with motives with riches with rewards. Some who think they are first will be last. Some who think they are last will be first. Some motivated by selfish 6

7 ambition will find themselves in an ash heap of wood hay and stubble. Some motivated by selfless love and sacrifice will find themselves with a mountain of gold and silver and precious gems. Conclusion Have you been called by Christ to work for Him? Do you serve the Lord Jesus out of love and loyalty or in anticipation of reward? It is not sinful to earn rewards and God in His grace distributes rewards to His faithful servants! The Bible speaks of five crowns for the believer: A crown imperishable 1 Corinthians 9:25 A crown of rejoicing Philippians 4:1; 1Thess. 2:19 A crown of righteousness 2 Timothy 4:8 A crown of glory 1Peter 5:4 A crown of life James 1:12; Rev. 2:10; 3:11 Are you worried about your wages? Are you watching others to see what God gives them? Deeds of merit as we thought them, He will show us were but sin; Little acts we had forgotten, He will show us were for Him. 7

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