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Parable:  What can we learn from the laborers in the vineyard? 

Gary Googe Feb 07

As we all should know, the context of a passage is always important if we’re to gain a right understanding about what is said.  This parable is given in Matthew 20, but in this case we need to first back up to the last verse in the preceding chapter. 

Matthew 19:30 

30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. [Emphasis added]

The parable later ends with a reversal of the order of these same words. 

Matthew 20:16 

16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. [Emphasis added] 

Therefore, this parable was told to illustrate the truth stated at the end of the previous chapter.  Here He is speaking of the rewards that will be provided for faithful believers of that timeframe.  In this case, He’s specifically speaking on this subject as it relates to the apostles. 

Matthew 20:1-16 

1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. 

This is a reference to our Lord’s work in building that which He spoke of as the Kingdom OF heaven, but one that will be here ON Earth.  It will be in answer to the prayer for God’s will to be done ON Earth as it is in Heaven [Matthew 6:10]. 

2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny [DENARION = a day’s wages at that time] a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 

3 And he went out about the third hour [9 AM our time], and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 

4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. 

5 Again he went out about the sixth [noon] and ninth hour [3 PM] and did likewise. 

6 And about the eleventh hour [5 PM] he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? 

7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. 

8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. 

9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. 

10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. 

11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 

12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. 

13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 

14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 

15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? 

16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. [Emphasis added] 

Modern day labor unions would have taken this man to court, claiming unfair labor practices, even though they received exactly what they had initially bargained for and agreed upon as a fair wage.  Isn’t it interesting to see how to them what they thought was completely fair that morning was no longer fair later that afternoon.  The householder was merely being generous with those who had worked less than the others, having started working later in the day.  What a perverted sense of justice the day-laborers had!  But such is the way with legalistic people who refuse to understand and appreciate the principle of grace.  If we always got what we deserved from God, I’m afraid we’d all be in big trouble. 

There are numerous principles of truth to be gained from this parable.  One extremely important one is the fact that the laborers were sitting idle, and the householder took the initiative to go to them and offer them a job.  This serves as a picture of God taking the initiative to seek man out to offer him a way of salvation.  Scripture clearly lets us know that man on his own doesn’t seek God. 

Romans 3:10-11 

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. [Emphasis added] 

But, again, it is God who seeks us out.  He does this for everyone, not just some.  What a marvelous expression of love and grace that is! 

Luke 19:10 

10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. [Emphasis added] 

Not even one person would have ever been saved had He not done the seeking. 

This parable was told by our Lord after the apostle Peter asked Him a simple question.  Therefore, if we’re to understand and learn from the parable, we need to also look at his question. 

Matthew 19:27-30 

27 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? 

28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration [a reference to the coming restoration of the Earth] when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 

This will be the role of honor the apostles will hold in the coming Kingdom Christ will establish on the Earth.  Whatever temporal loses they’ve suffered will be fully restored and multiplied many times over and given to them. 

29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. 

30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first. [Emphasis added] 

Some have interpreted this to mean that everyone will get the same in rewards of God, but such cannot be the case because there are many passages in a variety of places in the Bible that tell us believers will be rewarded in accordance with their works of service to God.   

Matthew 16:27 

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. [Emphasis added] 

We’re not saved by our works, but all God’s people will be rewarded in accordance with their works. 

Ephesians 2:8-10 

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 

9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.  

Then in the next verse of this passage we are told that we are saved unto good works.  That’s telling us that such is to be a part of our lives as God’s people.  We are to take the initiative to serve the One who saved us. 

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. [Emphasis added] 

Rewards for faithfulness as a believer are an entirely different matter from the manner in which we are saved.  Our rewards will be in accordance with that which is deserved.  For us as members of the Body of Christ, these rewards will be given to us at what is called The Judgment Seat of Christ.  There’s an article on this website I’ve written about that.  It is entitled Rewards:  For what will Jesus Christ wish to reward you? 

2 Corinthians 5:10 

10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. [Emphasis added] 

In our Matthew passage He’s telling them that the most prestigious positions in the coming Kingdom on Earth will be held by ones who didn’t get to enjoy such positions of honor and privilege before then.  All this serves to assure us that it is our work and labors of love that will be honored with rewards in eternity.  That was true for them then in Christ’s new earthly Kingdom as it will be for us in Heaven. 

Hebrews 6:10 

10 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister [DIAKONEO = serve]. [Emphasis added] 

The ministering spoken of here is that of service.  We are to always see ourselves as His servants.  As the apostles’ work then centered around serving up the message of the Kingdom and that of the circumcision, ours is directed toward the Gentiles [the uncircumcision] with the message of grace about our Lord’s death, burial, and resurrection providing the means for our salvation.  At the time these words were spoken, the apostles still knew nothing about the cross-work of Christ.  He warned them about that which was about to happen, but they didn’t understand at all what He was talking about.   

John 3:14 

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: [Emphasis added] 

Then later He told them in clearer terms, but even then, they did not understand. 

Luke 18:31-34 

31 Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. 

32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: 

33 And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. 

34 And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. [Emphasis added] 

We even read of Peter trying to correct Him on this matter.  Here’s the record of that. 

Matthew 16:21-22 

21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 

22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. [Emphasis added] 

These people, even His closest associates, had no idea His execution on a cross was coming.  Then when it happened, they had no idea of its meaning.  They would later learn of that through the revelation that was given to the apostle Paul. 

Probably the main lesson of the laborers in the vineyard has to do with the great value of humilityGod will honor those who truly serve Him, instead of those who only work to serve themselves to reach their own temporal objectives.  At the heart of this is the activity of representing Christ and His teaching.  We’re to do that today as His ambassadors; we are here to serve as His personal representatives.  The apostle Paul sums it up in a passage we refer to often on this website. 

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 

17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 

18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 

19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 

It is this message concerning His reconciliatory work that we’re to be faithfully serving up to others.  Unfortunately, most churchgoers don’t even know what it is, let alone share it. 

20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. [Emphasis added] 

As it was in Paul’s day, there’s always opposition to this message and the activity involved in getting it out to people. 

Ephesians 6:18-20 

18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; 

Then we see the bottom line to it all in this next verse.  People can hide in a closet and pray, but it’s the activity of publicly proclaiming His message that is their commission.  It is that which so many people won’t do.  We have entirely too many of what I often call “secret service” Christians.  They are religious people who usually don’t even know the gospel message of Christ, let alone look for opportunities to proclaim it.  But notice the example Paul gives us.  Here in this passage [V.18] he asks for prayers that he might have the courage to do this faithfully. 

19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 

20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. [Emphasis added] 

Are you one who faithfully proclaims this message? Are you one who looks for opportunities to present it.  We need not worry about the reward of God we may gain for our faithfulness to proclaim it.  We can simply rest assured that He is perfectly just and gracious in all that He does.  But at the heart of this parable of the householder is the idea that there will be many who will be surprised at who is most rewardedThe ones people think will be first will be last and those people think will be last will be first.  Where will you be in all this? Isn’t it important that we all give this matter some serious thought? 

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