Verse of the Day Devotion Matthew 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
Today we will look at the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Here is this parable as found in Matthew’s gospel.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You too go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing; and he said to them, Why have you been standing here idle all day long? They said to him, Because no one hired us. He said to them, You too go into the vineyard. And when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first. And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. And when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; and they also received each one a denarius. And when they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day. But he answered and said to one of them, Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous? Thus the last shall be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:1-16.
This long parable is found only in the Book of Matthew. He tells them in response to a question asked by Peter. “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” Matthew 19:27. He begins His answer with, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life.” Matthew 19:28-29. Then He answers them, and follows it with this parable that answers it more explicitly.
As our focus verse starts, this parable speaks of a landowner who hires seasonal laborers to work in his field. Planting, maintaining, and harvesting vineyards in first-century Israel was strenuous work requiring hard physical labor in the heat of summer. Often, additional laborers were required to get all the work done. Here, more were obviously needed, so he went out to the marketplace to hire workers. He went out four times, as he saw more workers were needed than were hired. He went out at 6:00 AM, 9:00 AM, 12 Noon, and 5:00 PM. And each worker was promised a denarius for their labor, a Roman soldier’s pay for a day, which was generous indeed. The workers in the first group were more than happy to work for the generous wage. When the time came for the wages to be paid, the first group of workers saw the last group being paid a denarius and were naturally thinking they would be paid more since they had worked the longest. Their anger against the landowner spilled forth when they saw they would all be paid the same, even though they had worked longer. And even though they received exactly what they had agreed upon when they were hired. His decision to pay everyone the same, regardless of time worked, was an act of mercy, not injustice. The landowner represents God, whose mercy and grace are given to all those of His choosing. And he gave them generously what he had promised them.
Now, there are three main points in this parable. First, “But he answered and said to one of them, Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.” Matthew 20:13-14. It focusses on the first group of workers and demonstrates God’s justice with all His people. He told them he was not depriving them of anything but was paying them what was promised. And just because we think we deserve more, or others deserve less, is not up to us, but it is up to God to decide what we deserve.
The second point was regarding the last groups getting the same as the first, demonstrating God’s amazing and wonderful grace. If God treats no one unfairly, he also deals with many far more leniently than they deserve. God alone in his sovereignty freely chooses whom he will favor and in what ways. And due to who He is, it is always the right thing. And He concludes this idea with, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” Matthew 20:15. God has the right to do as He pleases. And the phrase “Or is your eye envious because I am generous?” speaks of the heart of the people. The “evil eye” was often viewed as a diabolical look that could cast a wicked spell on a person. The idea of this phrase is, ”Are you envious because I am generous?
And the third describes God’s ultimate perspective of things. “Thus, the last shall be first, and the first last.” Matthew 20:16. No matter how long or how hard a believer works during his lifetime, the reward of eternal life will be the same given to all—an eternity of bliss in heaven in the presence of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The thief on the cross whose life of service was limited to a moment of repentance and confession of faith in Christ, received the same reward of eternal life as the apostle Paul. Of course, Scripture also teaches that there are different rewards in heaven for different services, but the ultimate reward of eternal life will be achieved by all equally.
So let us not look at ourselves as special or as deserving more than others. “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3. We should not think the work we do for God makes us deserve more blessings than others. God will make that decision, and we will definitely be blessed by what He chooses to confer upon us.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.
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