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THE LABOURERS IN THE VINEYARD
The parable is likened to the Kingdom of Heaven and deals with wrong motives, attitudes, false expectations and those who are first in the eyes of the Lord. The disciples began to picture the wrong attitude towards service, more eager for reward than labouring for love. Those who serve God can trust His grace and faithfulness to His promises. Jesus extends encouragement to His self-sacrificing disciples. The last become first by free grace. A landowner hired workers at different times during the day, but each one was given a full days pay. Those who worked all day complained but the owner was generous. Their complaints were not of injustice but of jealousy.
Matthew 20:1-16 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. "About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' "'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' "When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' "The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' "So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
The grace of God is the predominant factor of the parable, His goodness and generosity. It also illustrates how the last can be first.
The owner of the vineyard is God, Christ is the Steward and He can call many who are willing to work diligently at various times in life. Those repenting late may overtake those who started early in service. It is not the length of discipleship but the quality.
The same reward of eternal life is given to all. Eternal life awaits both the disciple who experiences God's goodness late in life and those who were called early in their life. The wage is God's gift that is undeserved. All who enter His service must realise their labour will not be in vain.
The vineyard is God's world, His vineyard in which He calls His disciples to labour for a harvest. The Holy Spirit calls throughout God's vineyard all the nations of the earth for labourers. The benefits of the Kingdom of God are the same for each disciple who labour in His vineyard. The vineyard requires labourers and not idle loiterers. Idleness can bring eternal ruin. Many are called for service but few are chosen (SEE TEXT).
Many workers feel superior and more deserving because of their position having served God many years but in reality, no one deserves God's generous gift, just as the thief on the Cross with Jesus received eternal life. Jew and Gentile disciples both receive eternal life.
Jesus gave a warning to guard the motives of the heart, regarding all in His service in the vineyard. It does not matter how long a disciple serves, nor the time or the place, but to serve with a pure and clean heart. Acceptable service is determined by willingness not by duration.
The Steward is Christ, who rewards the labourers. The Steward paid the last hired workers first, and those paid last were hired first. When the first group of hired labourers saw the wage of the late labourers they expected a greater wage, for they had worked longer. The grumbled and complained when each received the same, because they had done the hard work and though paid for their day's work, they felt unfairly treated, because others worked less and received the same wage. The landlord was doing nothing wrong, it was His privilege to extend His same generosity to all. The first group of labourers had agreed to a set wage and the other groups trusted the integrity of the landowner.
The situation of the first group hired who expected more than what was a day's earnings at the end of the day, personifies the end of this age when the harvest is over. The wage is not the reward of believers for faithfulness which is given to believers at Christ's return, nor are they the rewards for works. Entry into the Kingdom of God is a matter of privilege and not that of merit, and Christ warns disciples about feeling superior, failing to share His grace with all, and to avoid envy towards the blessing of others.
The parable is speaking about God's generous gift available to all, eternal life.
A believer does not work for eternal life, they are saved by grace through faith and not of works. There should be no jealousy over the good gift that God gives to others. Involvement in God's service cannot be measured by time.
All disciples receive eternal life by the grace of God alone, as is any reward in The Kingdom of God.
God owes no man anything, every reward is an act of loving kindness and mercy. Those who entered in service first seem to expect more than whose who entered the Kingdom last. It is the first labourer's disappointment that attract the thought the last seemed to have received preferential reward. God, as the Landlord and Sovereign can do as He pleases, but what He does do is always just and fair.
The parallel can also be seen as the contract made with Israel who had the laws and covenants, being resentful of Gentiles working in the vineyard under the New Covenant of God's Spirit and Grace. The reward given is because of God' sovereignty, His grace and justice. His labourers are guaranteed a full and just reward. As the landlord He has the sovereign right and it is not for man to question His choice of labourers, nor the reward.
God's graciousness to others is not to be despised. God is sovereign and individuals can do nothing to earn His favour. Service is given to whoever He chooses. Some disciples are chosen for special service and others for set apart privileges, discipleship and service of believers who gather fruitfully a harvest for eternal life.
The first who become last is also seen as an illustration by some who thought they were first will be last because their service was inspired by pride, selfish ambition and to be well known, and the last who become first, the unknown but who are humble, those who serve out of love and gratitude will be highly honoured. The service rendered can be determined by attitude of discipleship.
This parable represents principles in the Kingdom of God and is an encouragement for those who start their discipleship at the eleventh hour, shall receive more than they ever hoped.
Jesus made it clear there will be rewards for all who respond to His call. All labourers do not reciee the same rewards, however they all receive eternal life. All reward is the result of God's grace and not of human merit. God does not evaluate people by how long or how hard they work but is generous in rewarding whatever the task or time. The benefits of the Kingdom of God are the same for all. The person who decides to obey God early in life does not mean he is entitled to better treatment and blessings from those who experience the new birth later in life. When God's saving grace is offered the response He requires is trust and loyalty.
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