“Emmanuel’s Wages” – Matthew 20:1-16

April 3rd, 2016

Matthew 20:1-16

“Emmanuel’s Wages”

Auxiliary Text: 1 Samuel 30:21-25; & Luke 17:7-10.

Call to Worship from: Psalm 62


Service Orientation: Trust in the God of grace. You do not want what you deserve.  A proper view of God’s grace will compel to do all you can out of love of God and others.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’  — Luke 17:10


Background Information:

  • Jesus closes in verse 30 by saying, “But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” This truth serves not only to conclude verses 13-30–where children are received by Jesus, while a respected and wealthy man was turned away–but it also sets the stage for chapter 20.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 269)
  • This parable, recorded only by Matthew, interrupts the Marcan sequence which Matthew has been following since the beginning of ch. 19 and which will continue after the parable until the end of ch. 20. It thus stands as a comment on the discussion of rewards for discipleship in 19:27-29 and on the saying about the last and the first which concluded that discussion and which is repeated after the parable in v. 16.  It is therefore about the reversal of human expectations in the kingdom of heaven–which, in various ways, has been the dominating theme of the whole of ch. 19.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 747-8)
  • (v. 1) The opening “for” confirms that this parable refers to the issue of rewards and of first and last which has taken up vv. 27-30. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 749)
  • (vss. 1-7) Apart from the method of payment, the parable describes the kind of things that frequently happened at certain times in Palestine. The grape harvest ripened towards the end of September, and then close on its heels the rains came.  If the harvest was not gathered in before the rains broke, then it was ruined; and so to get the harvest in was a frantic race against time.  Any worker was welcome, even if he could give only an hour to the work.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 259)
  • (v. 1) These men were hired laborers; they were the lowest class of workers, and life for them was always desperately precarious. Slaves and servants were regarded as being at least to some extent attached to the family for whom they worked; they were within the group; their fortunes would vary with the fortunes of the family, but they would never be in any imminent danger of starvation in normal times.  It was very different with the hired day laborers.  They were not attached to any group; they were entirely at the mercy of chance employment; they were always living on the semi-starvation line.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 259-60)
  • (v. 1) The workday went from sunup to sundown, so this “early morning” hour was about six o’clock. These laborers agreed to work for the usual daily wage (usually a denarius).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 387)
  • (v. 3) The men who were standing in the market place were not street-corner idlers, lazing away their time. The market place was the equivalent of the job centre or employment agency.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 259)
  • (v. 6) The extraordinary behavior of this landowner in adding extra workers after he has already recruited all he needs in the early morning therefore probably indicates not that he could not calculate his labor needs in advance but that he was acting compassionately to alleviate the hardship of the unemployed. (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 749)
  • (v. 6) An unemployed laborer could stay there waiting for an opportunity to work.  If there was a lot of work to do, they might work right up until sunset, but never beyond, for there would be no light in the fields.  So each successive group of laborers worked for less time than the group hired previously.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 388)
  • (vss. 6-7) If people didn’t work, they would likely go hungry. So the landowner hired these people as well.  They were willing to work, even for that last hour which they thought would not earn them much  money at all.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 388-9)
  • (v. 8) At evening (referring to sunset), the workers were called to collect the day’s wages, which was required by Jewish law so that the poor would not go hungry (see Lv 19:13; Dt 24:14-15). The landowner purposely asked that the last ones hired get paid first.  This is not a normal reaction; it would have surprised the workers and it surely surprised Jesus’ listeners.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 388-9)
  • (v. 8) Because they were unskilled, desperate for work, and therefore vulnerable, they were often underpaid and otherwise disadvantaged. Because of His great compassion for the poor and downtrodden, God commanded His people, “You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him.  The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning” (Lv 19:13).  In other words, they were to pay hired workers decent wages and pay them at the end of every day, because that was often all a man would have with which to feed his family the following day.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 210)
  • (v. 11) The principle appears to be of payment according to need rather than desert.  The complaint of the whole-day workers expresses a more conventional understanding of “reward.”  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 750)


The questions to be answered are . . . Why is the Landowner being accused of being unfair in this parable?  What is Jesus trying to teach us through His telling of this parable?


Answers:  We need to trust in the God of grace and not in our merit.   We don’t ever want what we deserve.   Both salvation and rewards are by God’s grace.   Our lives should be a living response and example of living by grace.


We tend to recoil at a story that’s all about people not getting what they deserve.  It’s not fair; and that’s the point.  God’s grace in salvation is, by definition, not fair.  D. A. Carson has put it rather candidly:  “Do you really want nothing but totally effective, instantaneous justice?  Then go to hell” (Caron, How Long, O Lord, 161).  Gratefully, God surprises us with His mercy.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 269)


All God gives is of grace.  We cannot earn what God gives us; we cannot deserve it; what God gives us is given out of the goodness of his heart; what God gives is not pay, but a gift; not a reward, but a grace.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 263)


The subject of the parable of the landowner is not personal rewards that will determine the nature and scope of our ruling and serving in eternity but rather the common blessedness of eternity that will belong to all believers.

Here the Lord is not teaching about the differences of rewards but the equality of salvation.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 214)


The Word for the Day is . . . Grace


If it can be lost – it is not grace

If it has to be earned – it is not grace


Justice— When you get what you deserve.

Mercy— When you don’t get what you deserve.

Grace— When you get what you don’t deserve


What is Jesus teaching through this parable?:

I-  The Kingdom of God is entered by conditional grace.  And those who enter are rewarded by grace; not by merit, seniority, favoritism, race, sex, superiority, talent, inferiority, intellect, or works.  (Mt 20:1-12; see also: Mt 5:12; 6:4; 10:42; 16:27; Lk 17:7-10; Acts 10:34; Rom 2:11; 4:16; 1 Cor 3:8-15; Eph 2:8-9; 6:9; 2 Tm 1:9)


Jesus points out that God deals with us on the basis of his grace and love instead of on the basis of what we think is fair and just.  If we complain about his generosity to others, we despise his grace.  If we insist that God reward us on the basis of merit, we deprive ourselves of the abundant blessings of his grace.  The consequences are both temporal and eternal.  (G. J. Albrecht and M. J. Albrecht, The People’s Bible: Matthew, 284)


Once again, we see this underlying truth emerge:  God doesn’t owe us salvation for something we have done; He gives us salvation despite everything we have done.  Salvation is a free gift of divine mercy totally devoid of human merit.  God owes us nothing, yet He gives us everything in Christ.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 269-70)


The error of justification by works is in trusting to the discipline of your own soul to save your soul; but the opposite to trusting to your works is not to do nothing, it is to do everything but not to put your trust in any of it.  It is not the works that are wrong, it is the faith in your works, trusting in your works.  But what a subtle danger this is.  It seems to me that one of the chief dangers in Protestantism today, and especially in evangelical circles is that, in our fear of the error of justification by works, we have been saying that works do not matter at all.  We argue that faith alone counts, and because I am a man of faith it does not matter what I do and my life can be thoroughly lacking in discipline.  Out upon the suggestion!  The opposite to a false trust in works is not indolence, lack of discipline and doing nothing, it is to be diligent and more diligent, to be zealous, and to add to your faith. ( D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones; Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure,  211)


But conditional grace is not earned grace.  It is not merited.  “Earned grace” is an oxymoron.  Grace cannot be earned.  The very meaning of grace is that the one receiving the grace does not deserve it–has not earned it.  If a philanthropist pays $80,000 for your college education on the condition that you graduate from high school, you have not earned the gift, but you have met a condition.  It is possible to meet a condition for receiving grace and yet not earn the grace.  Conditional grace does not mean earned grace.  How can this be?  (John Piper, Future Grace, 78-9)


Currently we are not only saved by grace; we are paralyzed by it.  There is deep confusion.  We find it hard to see that grace is not opposed to effort, but is opposed to earning.  Earning and effort are not the same thing.  Earning is an attitude, and grace is definitely opposed to that.  But it is not opposed to effort.  When you see a person who has been caught on fire by grace, you are apt to see some of the most astonishing efforts you can imagine (1 Cor 15:10).  (Dallas Willard; The Great Omission, 166)


God does not look on the amount of our service.  As long as it is all we have to give, all service ranks the same with God.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 263)


He asked why they were idle when there was so much work to be done.  They expressed a willingness to work if they were given the opportunity, and they did work when the call came.  All who were sent, went.  Note that they were standing in the marketplace, the place where opportunity could find them.  They were not off pursuing pleasure or wasting time lazing around at home.

All this is true to spiritual life.  There is inequality of opportunity for service.  Some people are not saved when they are young.  Some are not called to work in the vineyard immediately after conversion.  Some are not called to preach to thousands or pastor great churches.  Some do not see revival follow their ministry.  Among the Lord’s servants there is inequality in length of service and talent.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 389)


At the very least it is a story intended to teach about the grace of God in salvation.  Peter wanted to know what he and the others would get for their discipleship, which they considered a major contribution on their part.  But when Jesus answered as he did, he was teaching that although the disciples would receive rewards for their service, anything they received from God–whether rewards for service or eternal life itself–was a gift flowing from the grace of God only.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 417-8)


Grace always flows downhill.  —Steve Childers


Christianity knows nothing of such a conception of superiority.  It may well be that we who have been Christian for so long have much to learn from those younger churches who are late-comers to the fellowship of the faith.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 261)


There can be no doubt that this doctrine sounds strange to the ignorant and inexperienced Christian.  It confounds the pride of human humbling doctrine, and gives rise to many a grumble; but it is impossible to reject it, unless we reject the whole Bible.  True faith in Christ, even if it is only a day old, justifies a person before God as completely as the faith of someone who has followed Christ for fifty years.  The righteousness in which Timothy will stand at the day of judgment is the same as that of the penitent thief.  Both will be saved by grace alone; both will owe all to Christ.  We may not like this, but it is the doctrine of this parable, and not of this parable only, but of the whole NT.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 179)


Grace ceases to be if God is compelled to bestow it in the presence of human merit… Grace ceases to be grace if God is Compelled to withdraw in it in the presence of Human demerit… [Grace] is treating a person without the slightest reference to desert whatsoever, but solely according to the infinite goodness and sovereign purpose of God.  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)


Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God; To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life.  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)


He states plainly that the theme of the parable is the kingdom of heaven, the subject He had been dealing with since the rich young ruler approached Him.  That man wanted to know how to receive eternal life (19:16), which every Jew knew was equivalent to the hope of salvation and heavenly citizenship.  Following up on that incident, Jesus warned His disciples about the great barrier that riches can be to entering the kingdom, and then declared the impossibility of entering by man’s own resources and efforts and the possibility of entering only by God’s gracious power (vv. 23-29).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 209)


God’s sovereign principle for salvation is that every person who comes in faith to His Son, Jesus Christ, receives the same gracious salvation prepared by the Father and given by the Son.  There are no exceptions or variations.  Whether a person comes to God as a small child and lives a long life of faithful, obedient service, or whether he comes to Him on his deathbed, all come into the kingdom on the same basis and receive the same glorious, eternal blessings.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 213)


All believers will receive “the crown of life” (Jam 1:12; Rv 2:10), “the crown of righteousness” (2 Tm 4:8), and the “crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:4).  The Greek genitives of apposition behind each of those three phrases refer to the future blessing of all believers–eternal life, eternal righteousness, and eternal glory!

From a human perspective, that seems inequitable; but from the divine perspective, it is totally just.  Because no person is worthy of salvation, eternal life is a gracious gift for which only Jesus Christ could have paid the cost.  Differences among human beings are infinitely smaller than the difference between even the most righteous human being and God.  Before receiving Christ as Lord and Savior all men are equally lost, and after they receive Him they are equally saved.  Relative merit is irrelevant, because all that even the greatest human righteousness can merit is damnation.  “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment,” Isaiah declared (Isa 64:6).  By God’s perfect standard of righteousness, no person comes to Christ with more or less merit, and no one is received by Him with more or less grace.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 214)


It is in one sense a warning to the disciples.  It is as if Jesus said to them:  “You have received the great privilege of coming into the Christian Church and fellowship very early, right at the beginning.  In later days, others will come in.  You must not claim a special honor and a special place because you were Christians before they were.  All men and women, no matter when they come, are equally precious to God.”

There are people who think that, because they have been members of a church for a long time, the Church practically belongs to them and they can dictate its policy.  Such people resent what seems to them the intrusion of new blood or the rise of a new generation with different plans and different ways.  In the Christian Church, seniority does not necessarily mean honor.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 260-1)


Every other religion in the world can be condensed into “I”.  “I” have to do it.  I have to earn my own salvation and relationship with God.  Whereas Christianity crosses out the “I” with and by the cross.  It is all up to Jesus.  — D. James Kennedy.


Robert Browning said in “Pippa Passes”:  “All service ranks the same with God.”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 263)


I cannot help but notice that it is one of a certain class of parables that deal in part with the problems the Jews had when Gentiles began to believe the gospel and embrace Christianity.  The problem is reflected in the person of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Lk 16:11-32).  It is seen in the parable about the banquet to which many were invited but refused to come (Mt 22:1-14) and in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14).  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 418)


Whenever Jesus teaches on grace, as exemplified even here, he teaches lordship salvation.  You see, his view stands between two erroneous extremes.  He does not advocate that God’s grace takes idle people, keeps them idle, and still rewards them with eternal life.  And he does not advocate salvation by good works, which is very pharisaical (or Talmudic), or hard work alone, which is very American.  Rather, he advocates that no one earns salvation or is owed salvation based on good works or hard work or much work, but those who are chosen by grace are given work to do, do that work, and are rewarded for it.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 564)


My pastor, Pete Alwinson, has the best definition of grace:  “Grace,” he says, “is doing good for someone when there is no compelling reason to do so and every reason not to.” That’s it. That is what God has done and continues to do for me. (Steve Brown; What Was I Thinking?, 208)


Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God’s grace and God’s grace alone for our salvation.  It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace.  Grace is for other people—for beggars.  We don’t want to live by a heavenly welfare system.  We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sin.   We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there.  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace, 59)


II-  In God’s economy (as opposed to America’s) those who have resources have a right to generously and graciously bestow those resources as they wish.  (Mt 20:13-15; see also: Lk 23:40-43; Rom 9:10-21)


The reader instinctively sympathizes with the aggrieved workers in vv. 11-12; it doesn’t seem fair.  The retort of the landowner is of course technically correct:  no one has been cheated; the agreement has been scrupulously observed.  Why then do we still feel that there is something wrong?  Because we cannot detach ourselves from the ruling convention that rewards should be commensurate to the services rendered.  When one man is “rewarded” far in excess of what has been earned while another receives only the bare sum agreed, we detect unfair discrimination.  Any union leader worth their salt would protest at such employment practices.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 748)


The kingdom of heaven does not operate on the basis of commercial convention.  God rules by grace, not by desert.  The “rewards” which this gospel has so persistently spoken of (see on 5:3-10, 11-12; 6:1-6, 16-18, 19-21; 10:41-42; 19:27-29) are not earned, nor are they proportionate to human effort.  The God who lavishly clothes the flowers and feeds the birds (6:26-29) delights to give his servants far more than they could ever deserve from him.  It is that principle, rather than the disappointment of the whole-day laborers, which is the main focus of the parable, but their very natural disappointment and sense of unfairness helps readers to re-examine how far their reactions are still governed by human ideals of deserving rather than by the uncalculating generosity of the kingdom of heaven.  In the kingdom in which the first are last and the last first there is no room for envious comparisons.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 748)


He is not interested in time, He is interested in relationship. (Parable of the workers in the vineyard, Matthew 20)

That brings me to the last principle.  Nothing matters in the Kingdom of God but the grace of God.  That is the whole point of the parable.  God has a different way of looking at things.  He does not see as men do; He does not compute as they do; it is all grace from beginning to end.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, 89)


Obviously, the landowner could pay whatever he chose as long as he cheated no one–it was his own money.  So what was the real problem?  The early workers were envious that the landowner had been generous with everyone else.  In this parable, Jesus pointed out that salvation is not earned, but given freely only because of God’s great generosity, which goes far beyond our human ideas of what is fair.  The message of the parable is that God’s loving mercy accepts the lowest member of society on an equal footing with the elite.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 390-1)


The owner hired them not for what he could get out of them in just a few hours, but because they needed the work, and he paid them the full denarius for the same reason.  The owner was not thinking of his profit.  He was thinking of people, and he was using his ample means to help them.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 420)


Jesus’s story makes no economic sense, and that was his intent.  He was giving us a parable about grace, which cannot be calculated like a day’s wages.  Grace is not about finishing last or first; it is about not counting.  We receive grace as a gift from God, not as something we toil to earn, a point that Jesus made clearly through the employer’s response.  (Philip Yancey; What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 61)


In strict justice, the fewer hours a man worked, the less pay he should have received.  But the master knew perfectly well that one denarius a day was no great wage; he knew that if a workman went home with less, there would be a worried wife and hungry children; and therefore he went beyond justice and gave them more than was their due.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 262)


Little seems more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals!  (Blomberg, Matthew, 303)


Believing tax collectors, prostitutes, criminals, and social outcasts will have the same heavenly residence as Paul, Augustine, Luther, and Wesley.  There are no servant quarters or lower-class neighborhoods in heaven.  Everyone will have a room in the Father’s house specially prepared for him by the Son (Jn 14:2).  Every believer is a part of the church, which is the bride of Christ (Rv 21:2, 9), every believer is blessed “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3).  It is not that every believer receives an equal part but that every believer receives equally the whole of God’s grace and blessing.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 215-6)


It is clear that he is interested not only in his vineyard but also in the unemployed.  He hires them when they, and everyone else, must have thought that for such men as these all hope of working in the vineyard on that day was baseless.  There is no bargaining.  Gladly the men accept the invitation to enter the vineyard.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 737)


The owner let them know firmly but courteously that they were out of line.  He was doing them no wrong, because they had a clear agreement early in the morning at the market place (v. 2) that they would be paid a denarius apiece, a fair wage.  “You worked the twelve hours you agreed to work,” he said, “and I paid you the denarius I agreed to pay you.  We both lived up to our sides of the bargain, and therefore you have no legitimate complaint.  Take what is yours and go your way.  It should not be your concern, if I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.” (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 212)


The landowner promised to pay this second group of laborers whatever is right–which they probably considered would be the appropriate fraction of the denarius that matched the amount of time they worked.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 388)


Jesus is not laying down principles for resolving union-management disputes.  On the contrary, “the principle in the world is that he who works the longest receives the most pay.  That is just.  But in the kingdom of God the principles of merit and ability may be set aside so that grace can prevail” (Kistemaker, 77f.).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 428)


III-  This parable ruthlessly exposes the extent of greed, jealousy, envy and perversion present in our lives because we arrogantly and delusionally complain thinking God owes us.   God owes no one anything but hell.  (Mt 20:13-15; see also: Ps 5:9; 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 140:3; Isa 53:6; 64:6; Jer 17:9; Mt 6:22-23; 15:19; Mk 7:21-22; Jn 3:16-21; 5:24; Rom 3:9-26; Phil 2:14; 1 Pt 4:9)


“Grace has meaning only when we are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation & liable to eternal wrath.” (Samuel Storms; The Grandeur of God, 124)


If there is any sentiment that has no place in the Christian heart, it is the sentiment that God owes us something.  He owes us nothing.  The only title we have is to our sin, unless in His mercy He bestows the title of the kingdom of God freely upon us.  That is what He has done for everyone who has believed.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 587)


Debt implies obligation, that God owes us something.  It was what Peter meant when he asked, “What then will there be for us?”  Actually, God owes us nothing, and whatever we receive from him we receive only because he is gracious.  To make sure the disciples understood this concept, Jesus told the parable of the workers in the vineyard.  This parable occurs only in Matthew, where it serves to illustrate the principle of Mt 19:30 (“many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”).  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 416)


The prouder a man is, the more he thinks he deserves; and the more he thinks he deserves, the less he really does. —Henry Ward Beecher

The defect of equality is that we only desire it with our superiors.  — Henry Becque


These are different ways of analyzing the same problem, a problem that was evident in Jewish reactions to Gentile blessings.  But it is not a uniquely Jewish problem.  It is a problem for any who think that because they have served God faithfully for however many years they deserve something from him.  We do not.  I say it again:  We never deserve God’s favors.  It we think we do, we are in danger of losing them entirely.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 419)


The central issue was the self-centeredness of the laborer.  He was only thinking about himself, not about the generosity and intervention of the landowner or the fortune of the other laborers.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 665)


The expression “are you envious” (20:14) can be rendered literally, “Is your eye evil,” indicating that the laborer could not be thankful because he was blinded by his self-centered envy.  The “evil eye” in the ancient world was one that enviously coveted what belonged to another.  It was a greedy or avaricious eye (see also 6:23).  If a disciple’s eyes are fixed on earthly, material treasure as his or her value, personal significance, and earthly security, then the darkness of that evil value is the state of that person’s heart.  When we focus on something evil, the eye becomes the conduit by which the evil fills the inner person.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 665)


As he had just reminded the group, he completely lived up to their mutual agreement, and that should have been their only concern.  But jealousy and envy are not based on reason but on selfishness.  The charge of unfairness was not grounded in a love for justice but in the selfish assumption that the extra pay they wanted was pay they deserved.  In reality, of course, what the latter-day workers were paid had absolutely no bearing on what the all-day workers were paid.  They had, as it were, entirely separate contracts with the owner.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 212-3)


Instead of rejoicing at the good fortune of their co-workers, they envied them and were bitter.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 213)


Humility and a genuine sense of unworthiness is the only right attitude in which a person may come to the Lord.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 217)


One point, however, is clear:  These men who consent to go into the vineyard and to do the work that is required of them are definitely working for wages, not also for the joy of working at such a good place for such a noble owner and for such a worthy purpose.  The one and only thing mentioned with reference to these laborers in verse 2 is that the estate-owner “came to an agreement” (cf. 18:19), made a wage contract, with them!  So, imbued with this mercenary spirit, these men go off to work in the vineyard.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 736)


In the parable, those who came later in the day had no possible way of meeting the normal requirements to make a denarius.  However, the owner of the vineyard gave them the denarius anyway.  The first group received justice.  Every group thereafter received mercy and grace.  But those who received justice complained that they were victims of injustice and that the owner was not fair.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 586)


In the parable, a large group of the workers received grace.  One group received justice.  However, no one received injustice.  But the workers who labored all day thought they received injustice.  They thought the owner owed them something.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 587)


The first and possibly most fundamental characteristic of divine grace is that it presupposes sin and guilt.  Grace has meaning only when men are seen as fallen, unworthy of salvation, and liable to eternal wrath…

Grace does not contemplate sinners merely as undeserving but as ill-deserving… It is simply that we do not deserve grace; we do deserve hell!  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 32)

When I consider how the goodness of God is abused by the greatest part of mankind, I cannot but be of his mind that said, The greatest miracle in the world is God’s patience and bounty to an ungrateful world. (Arthur W. Pink; The Attributes of God, 86)

Envy is the art of counting another’s blessings instead of one’s own!  —Ruth M. Walsh


When men doubt the justice and fairness of God, it is always because of their own perverted views of justice and of Him.  God Himself is the standard for righteousness, and it is as impossible for Him to be unjust as to lie.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 208)


The problem was not injustice on the part of the landowner and foreman but jealousy on the part of the workers.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 212)


Don’t grumble because you don’t have what you want; be thankful you don’t get what you deserve.


Clearly, Christ rejects the widely accepted notion:  “first come, first served.”  Why?  Here are three possible reasons:

  1. God isn’t impressed by our achievements. The workers did not more than they were asked to do.  The landowner gave them work they did not merit and fulfilled his promise.  Those who worked all day were not cheated.  Those who worked an hour had no reason to brag.  The idea that God “owes” us something is wrong.  Instead of complaining, we should be grateful that God seldom gives us what we deserve.
  2. God rejects our comparisons. To understand our sinfulness, we should examine our tendency toward discontent and ungratefulness.  Like children, we demand equal treatment when we think that we have received less than others.  Yet we are rarely concerned for others when we’re ahead of them.  Like the landowner, however, God holds us to our agreement.  God keeps his promises.  Comparing ourselves to others will not help our defense when we stand before God.
  3. God’s rewards are his domain. The landowner held the right to be generous to whomever he desired.  If we are not astonished at God’s grace toward us, we will miss it completely.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 391)


The point is:  don’t be like the exodus generation–saved from slavery, saved from the rule of Pharaoh, saved from the Red Sea, only to die without inheriting the promise.  They died because they never got past their grumbling.  They were never grateful for grace.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 559)


If you look at all the references to grumbling in the Bible, you will realize that to God grumbling is as deadly a sin as adultery or murder.  The grumblers’ camp is not a good camp in which to be.  That’s why Paul tells Christians not to grumble (Phil 2:14), Peter tells Christians not to grumble (1 Pt 4:9), James tells Christians not to grumble (Jam 5:9), and our Lord Jesus, here in this parable in his own way, teaches that same truth.  Don’t grumble against God.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 559)


There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.  —Montaigne  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace, 59)


The true way to Christianity is this, that a man first acknowledges himself by the law to be a sinner, and that it is impossible for him to do any good work.  For the law says:  You are an evil tree, and therefore all that you think, speak, or do, is against God.  You cannot therefore deserve grace by your works:  which if you go about to do, you double your offense; for since you are an evil tree, you cannot but bring forth evil fruits, that is to say, sins.  “For whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom 14:23).  So he who would merit grace by works going before faith, goes about to please God with sins, which is nothing else but to heap sin upon sin, to mock God, and to provoke His wrath.   When a man is thus taught and instructed by the law, then is he terrified and humbled, then he sees indeed the greatness of his sin, and cannot find in himself one spark of love of God; therefore he justifies God in His Word, and confesses that he is guilty of death and eternal damnation.  The first part then of Christianity is the preaching of repentance and the knowledge of ourselves.”  (Martin Luther; Galatians, 92)


We who have nothing of our own have been called to the kingdom of heaven and endowed with the privilege of being Jesus’ disciples, with the promise of just recompense.  When we properly respect that privilege, with a clear recognition of the dire alternative of not being called to the kingdom, a deep well of gratitude is produced in our heart.  All that we are, everything that we have, all that we ever hope to accomplish is a pure gift–and the only appropriate response is gratitude.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 672-3)


IV-  Don’t be deceived by appearances.  The eternal Kingdom of Heaven will be the great reversal of the present temporal illusion and must be embraced by faith to enter.  (Mt 20:16; see also: Mt 18:4; 19:30; 23:12; Mk 6:19-34; 10:31; Rom 8:18-25; 2 Cor 4:13-18; 5:7-10; 1 Tm 6:6-19; Heb 11:9-10, 13-16, 26, 35b-40)


The servants are clearly divided into two classes.  The first came to an agreement with the master; they had a contract; they said:  “We work, if you give us so much pay.”  As their conduct showed, all they were concerned with was to get as much as possible out of their work.  But in the case of those who were engaged later, there is no word of contract; all they wanted was the chance to work, and they willingly left the reward to the master.

We are not Christians if our first concern is pay.  Peter asked:  “What do we get out of it?”  Christians work for the joy of serving God and others.  That is why the first will be last and the last will be first.  Many in this world, who have earned great rewards, will have a very low place in the kingdom because rewards were their sole thought.  Many who, as the world counts it, are poor, will be great in the kingdom because they never thought in terms of reward but worked for the thrill of working and for the joy of serving.  It is the paradox of the Christian life that those who aim at reward lose it, and those who forget reward find it.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 263-4)


In the setting of the “rich young ruler” story discussed earlier, Peter pointed out to Jesus that he and the other disciples had, unlike that wealthy young man, left everything to follow him.  “What will we get for this?” he wanted to know.

Jesus replied that they would be rewarded in this life many times over for all their sacrifices and given eternal life in the world to come.  “But,” he added, “many who are first shall be last, and the last shall be first” (Mk 10:31).  He knew that much of what Peter and the others thought to be important was not really so, and that what they thought to be of no importance was often of great significance before God.  Their thinking would have to be rearranged before they could understand their “reward” for leaving all to follow him.  So he adds his “reversal” formula to help them keep thinking.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 121-22)


Jesus demonstrates how serving him and the kingdom of heaven for the purpose of receiving rewards and gaining personal prominence is the least noble of motivations for a disciple.  The paradoxical statement about the first and the last (19:30; 20:16) declares that those who serve in order to receive a reward will be last, and those who serve only in order to respond in obedience to Jesus’ summons will be first (cf. 20:1-16).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 664)


Everything in God’s kingdom is based on grace, which is why “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 418)


God is compassionate to those who have no resources and acknowledge their hopelessness.  He reaches out to those in need who know they are in need.  When the men in the last group told the landowner they were standing idle because no one would hire them, he hired them.  And when anyone comes to God knowing he has no other prospect for life but Him, the Lord will always lovingly and mercifully accept that person for His own.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 216)


It should be noted that the men first engaged bargained with the employer for a specified wage.  Those engaged later did no bargaining, but left it to the employer to treat them fairly.  The former would have fared better had they left the remuneration to the generosity of the owner.  In effect, Jesus was saying to Peter, “Watch lest your bargaining for reward in heaven puts you down among the lowest.  Those who made no bargain fared best.”  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 106)


Peter flaunts the sacrifice that he and the other disciples have made to follow Jesus and boldly asks, “What then will there be for us?” (19:27).  His question reveals a wrong motive.  He is driven by serving Jesus and the kingdom of heaven for the primary purpose of receiving rewards and gaining personal prominence.  Jesus acknowledges Peter’s sacrifice and does say that he will be rewarded, but this is the least noble of motivations for a disciple.  The paradoxical statement about the first and the last (19:30; cf. 20:16) declares that those who serve with the primary motivation of receiving rewards will be last, and those who serve only in order to respond in obedience to Jesus’ summons will be first (cf. 20:1-16).  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 659)


“The antithesis of worldly behavior, and the cure for conformity to the world, is set forth particularly in the “upside-down kingdom “ of the Sermon on the Mount.  The lifestyle of the kingdom is not proud but poor in spirit, not self-confident but meek and sensitive to conviction of sin, not self-righteous but repentant, not praise-seeking but God-obeying even to the point of suffering persecution, not vengeful but forgiving, not ostentatious or laborious in piety but secretive and simple, not anxious or acquisitive but content in serving God, not judgmental but merciful.  If these patterns can be nurtured in the church, they will affect the moral structure of the rest of humanity.”   (Richard Lovelace; Renewal as a Way of Life, 97)


It seems preferable, therefore, to take the proverb as a way of setting forth God’s grace over against all notions that the rich, powerful, great, and prominent will continue so in the kingdom.  Those who approach God in childlike trust (vv. 13-15) will be received and advanced in the kingdom beyond those who, from the world’s perspective, enjoy prominence now.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 426)


The workers grumbled, and we can identify with them.  They have a strong point.  It’s a commonplace principle:  more work, more pay; less work, less pay.  It nears the status of a right that a worker may fairly claim–the right to a wage commensurate with the market value of one’s work.  Jesus’ point, however, is that in God’s kingdom, grace supersedes rights.

Grace rewards generously, according to the goodwill of the giver.  Rights claim what’s fair.  Grace mixes workers together, young and old, bright and slow, veteran and novice, breaking down social distinctions.  Rights tend to keep people in their “rightful” slot.  Grace means the kingdom includes many joyful surprises.

If God’s rewards were based on rights, we’d all worry about collecting “Brownie points”–the focus would be on me and my work.  Because God rewards on the basis of grace, we can keep our focus on Jesus and faithful service to him.  Be confident of God’s good and generous judgment.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 389)


Hagner, 2:571, suggests, however, that in the case of the final group the statement that “no one has hired us” is included to indicate that these were the least desirable workers, passed over by other employers; they are thus the “last” in more than a purely temporal sense, which makes it the more surprising when they are eventually rewarded as well as any.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 750)


In Tournier’s words: . . . believers who are most desperate about themselves are the ones who express most forcefully their confidence in grace.  There is a St. Paul. . . and a St. Francis of Assisi, who affirmed that he was the greatest sinner of all men; and a Calvin, who asserted that man was incapable of doing good and of knowing God by his own power. . .

“It is the saints who have a sense of sin.” as Father Danielou says; “the sense of sin is the measure of a soul’s awareness of God.”  (Philip Yancey; What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 183)


Believers who are the most desperate about themselves are the ones who express most forcefully their confidence in grace…Those who are the most pessimistic about man are the most optimistic about God; those who are the most severe with themselves are the ones who have the most serene confidence in divine forgiveness…By degrees the awareness of our guilt and of God’s love increase side by side. (Kent and Barbara Hughes; Common Sense Parenting, 113)


Christ was master of the paradox.  His teaching is salted with shining contrasts like:  Last is first.  Giving is receiving.  Dying is living.  Losing is finding.  Least is greatest.  Poor is rich.  Weakness is strength.  Serving is ruling.  (R. Kent Hughes; Are Evangelicals Born Again, 44)



Worship Point:  Worship the God who wants to graciously do far more for you than you deserve or could ever dream, hope or imagine (Jn 10:10; Eph 3:20-21).  Jesus became last and thus first and asks us to enjoy the same.  (Rom 8:18-25; 2 Cor 4:7-5:10; Heb 11; 1 Pt 1:3-9)


The early starters desired to trust in their bargain.  Their spirit was wrong from the beginning.  These laborers wanted to know up-front what they would get out of working in the vineyard and they received just what they bargained for:  legal remuneration instead of loving reward.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 390)


Many who begin early will lose their reward or not even come to faith in Christ because they approach God in a false or mercenary spirit, on the basis of their merit and not on the basis of God’s grace.  Many who enter last will be first because, although they begin late, they nevertheless recognize that their status is due to God’s grace alone and praise God for it.  But neither of those cases is true for everyone.

It is not necessary either to start early and finish last or start last and finish first.  In fact, neither is best.  The truly desirable thing is to start early and work with all the might you have, not for reward but out of genuine love for our Master, Jesus Christ, and when you have finished still to say, “I am nevertheless an unprofitable servant.”  It is such people whom God delights to honor.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 421)


God always gives what He has promised.  He also always gives more than is deserved.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 217)


He would have been entirely justified to have passed them all by, and all of them were paid more than they were worth.  In an infinitely greater way, no believer is qualified to receive God’s least favor, much less salvation, and even the best person by human standards is blessed immeasurably beyond what he could possibly deserve.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 217)


We need the poor to teach us the value of dependence, for unless we learn dependence we will never experience grace. (Philip Yancey; Finding God in Unexpected Places, 164)


The late starters dared to trust in the owner’s benevolence.  They had no contract and struck no bargains.  They did not say, “We will serve you on these terms.”  Nor did they have Peter’s spirit, for they did not say, “What will we get?”

To these laborers’ astonishment they received a full day’s wage, just as if they had been called early in the morning.  The owner rewarded them, not for the length of their service, but for their willingness, faithfulness, and trust.  Similarly the Lord measures the way we seize and employ the opportunities we have, not just the length of our service.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 390)


All the laborers who went to the vineyard recognized they were needy.  They had no hope of work except what the landowner would give them, and they received it gladly and thankfully.  They had given up dependence on their own resources and looked only to him.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 216)


The parable of the vineyard workers (Mt 20) offends our sense of fairness.  Why should everyone get equal pay for unequal work?  Back in Ontario when the apples ripened, Mom would sit all seven of us down, Dad included, with pans and paring knives until the mountain of fruit was reduced to neat rows of filled canning jars.  She never bothered keeping track of how many we did, though the younger ones undoubtedly proved more of a nuisance than a help:  cut fingers, squabbles over who got which pan, apple core fights.  But when the job was done, the reward for everyone was the same:  the largest chocolate-dipped cone money could buy.  A stickler might argue it wasn’t quite fair since the older ones actually peeled apples.  But I can’t remember anyone complaining about it.  A family understands it operates under a different set of norms than a courtroom.  In fact, when the store ran out of ice cream and my younger brother had to make do with a Pop-sicle, we felt sorry for him despite his lack of productivity (he’d eaten all the apples he’d peeled that day—both of them).  God wants all his children to enjoy the complete fullness of eternal life.  No true child of God wants it any other way.  — Robert De Moor


Gospel Application:  Never forget the Gospel is what Jesus has done for us so we can be empowered to bless others (Acts 20:35).  Religion is what we need to do for God so we can be blessed.  There is no comparison between grace and law.


We learn from this parable that as long as we do not neglect the opportunity given to us, the amount of time we spend in the Lord’s service is not nearly so important as the spirit in which our service is rendered.  Perhaps if the laborers in the parable had shown the same spirit as the lord, their reward would have been increased twelvefold.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 390)


In a world ruled by law, grace stands as a sign of contradiction.  We want fairness; the gospel gives us an innocent man nailed to a cross who cries out, “Father, forgive them.”  We want respectability; the gospel elevates tax collectors, prodigals, and Samaritans.  We want success; the gospel reverses the terms, moving the poor and downtrodden to the head of the line and the wealthy and famous to the rear.  Having embraced Christ in the hellhole of a Siberian prison, among cell mates who mocked his infirmities and despised his advantages, Dostevsky understood grace at it’s most contradictory.  In his novels it enters stealthily, without warning, silencing the skeptics and disarming the cynics.  They think they have life figured out until suddenly an encounter with pure grace leaves them breathless.  (Philip Yancey; Soul Survivor, 139)


Spiritual Challenge:  Endeavor to develop a Kingdom heart which is unconcerned about what you will get out of your efforts (religion) but passionately concerned about how you can make life better for others as a result of your love for God.  (Gospel – 1 Jn chps 3-5)


Self-interest, a lack of compassion for others, or a misunderstanding of the nature of grace distorts our clear vision.  We see what is good as evil, compassionate as cruel, generous as tightfisted.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 561)


So this parable is a lesson on gratitude and motivation in service.  The parable is not about salvation or gaining eternal life, because salvation is not earned by works (Eph 2:8-9; Ti 3:5-6).  Nor is the parable about rewards for service, because God will reward believers differently according to their service (2 Cor 3:8; Jn 4:36).  If the denarius stands for rewards, there is no distinction, because every worker got the same reward.  Rather, this is a profound parable about what should be the disciple’s motivation for service.  We should serve out of gratitude, for it is only through the intervention of Jesus that any disciple receives anything.  We should be concerned only to rejoice when others are called to the kingdom without serving as long or as hard as we have.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 666)


“The first things, therefore, we must say about the peacemaker is that he has an entirely new view of himself, a new view which really amounts to this.  He has seen himself and has come to see that in a sense this miserable, wretched self is not worth bothering about at all.  It is so wretched; it has no rights or privileges; it does not deserve anything.  If you have seen yourself as poor in spirit, if you have mourned because of the blackness of your heart, if you have truly seen yourself and have hungered and thirsted after righteousness, you will not stand any longer on your rights and privileges, you will not be asking, “What about me in this?”  You will have forgotten this self.” — David Martyn Lloyd-Jones


Don’t feel wronged or cheated by God if he seemingly gives more grace to others than you would.  Don’t be angry or envious if others are loved by God who are not as holy or as hard-working or as long-working as you.  Be grateful for being chosen.  Be grateful for the opportunity to work.  Be grateful for getting paid anything at the end of the day.  Don’t grumble.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 560-1)


If you want to know the blessings of God, the blessings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the blessings of the Christian gospel, the first thing you must do is admit that you have no claim at all upon them, that you do not deserve them, that actually you deserve nothing but punishment and hell.  If you are still trying to defend yourself, if you still feel that God has not been fair to you, that God is unkind to you or that God has kept something back from you, you are not a Christian; you are still in the position of rebellious Adam and Eve; you are in the position of the Pharisees. (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones; God’s Way, Not Ours: Isaiah 1, 91)



Jesus says we have to stop thinking of our service in terms of debt or obligation.  Instead, we have to serve in the spirit of a son who serves because he loves his father, rather than in the spirit of a hireling who serves only for his wages.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 419)


Quotes to Note:

Apart from God’s gracious call, life has no ultimate purpose.  Before we become servants of Christ, our lives account for little more than standing around in the marketplace.  The world passes by, and we’re going nowhere.  But God finds us idle and offers us work.  His love makes contact and gives purpose and direction.  Tell someone today about the difference God made in your life when he gave you purpose, direction, and a destination.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 388)


How different this is from the older son in the parable of Luke 15!  He was angered because his father rejoiced in the return of his younger brother.  He should have been rejoicing too, but instead he was thinking only of how his brother had wasted his inheritance (Lk 15:29-30).  The older brother would have been happy if the property had come home and the son had been lost!  As it was, the reverse was true, and he was displeased.  God is exactly the opposite.  He does not love us for what we do for him.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 420)


Jesus calls those in the kingdom of heaven “laborers” (vv. 1, 2, 8; cf. “Worker” in v. 14) on earth who “worked” (v. 12).  The one thing everyone in this parable does is work, if even for an hour.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 564)


Let us beware of supposing from this parable that it is safe for anyone to put off repentance until the end of his days.  To suppose this is a most dangerous delusion.  The longer people refuse to obey Christ’s voice, the less likely they are to be saved.  “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).  Few are ever saved on their death-beds.  One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair; but only one, that no one should presume.  A false confidence in those words, “the eleventh hour,” has ruined thousands of souls.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 180)




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