Matthew 20:1-16 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. 2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour, 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 and ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 And about the eleventh hour 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.
The householder is God; the laborers are believers. Verses 1-7 are about the workers. It’s harvest time, time to gather the fruit from the field. This is essential to harvest. Most everyone has had a garden at one time or another. We know that when the items are ready, they have to be gathered. Otherwise they will rot in the ground. For long times only a few laborers are needed, but when the harvest is ready many are needed. The householder would go to the town square where unemployed would wait to be hired. They worked 12 hours a day, 6 to 6 and did this 6 days a week. There is some significance in verse 2: they contracted their wage with the householder. No time and a half pay. They agreed on a wage at the end of the day of one penny. He saw he needed more workers, so at 9 a.m. he hired more. At 12 he hired more. Again at 3 and 5 he hired more. At the end of the workday they came in reverse order to be paid. The 5 p.m. group came and got a penny for their hour of work. The 3 p.m came and on down the line, and each got a penny for their day’s work. Imagine the surprise of those hired at 6 a.m. to see all the others get paid the same as they were getting. They complained saying that wasn’t fair. They had sweated all day in the sun and got paid the same as the others. It seems unfair to us as well. We also think that getting the same pay for one hour as for 12 doesn’t seem fair. One principle here is whatever you agree to do, do your best. Don’t worry about others. The householder reminded them of the contract. He honored it. He told them he could do what he wanted with his money in regard to paying the others. Was he fair? Yes, he was. He contracted with them and kept his obligation. The other had no contract. They counted on him to do the right thing. Let’s notice some things about this.
(1) Neither the length of service or the type of service matters. This is not about rewards; it’s about salvation. I’ll get into the strong teaching on grace in a few minutes. Whether a person is saved 1 year or 100 years won’t change the reward here. Faithfulness is the determining factor. How faithful have you been to what God has called you to do? It’s not about what I do because God gives the increase. If anything is accomplished for God, it will be through his grace, but he always is the one who gives the increase. We do what we do because it’s what God wants us to. There is no more reward for a song leader, usher, teacher, or deacon over the other. Each will be rewarded on faithfulness. How faithful have you been? Remember heaven is not about seniority.
(2) No person should be idle if there is work to be done. Today we have a lot of people living off the system. If you don’t work, you don’t eat. Verse 6 asks why the people were idle. No one had hired them. There is a lot to do. Why are you idle? In First Samuel 17 we find the story of David and Goliath. David was where he was supposed to be in the field tending sheep. His older brothers were off to war. His father sent a care package to the others by David. I’m sure young David was excited to go, excited he might see some action. He was to bring back word to his father on how the brothers were doing. Yet when he got there Israel was acting defeated fleeing from the daily challenge issued by Goliath to come fight him. They were afraid. David wanted to know who this was defying their God. His brothers wanted him gone asking why he was there anyway. He wanted to know why they weren’t doing anything asking “is there not a cause?” There is a cause today. Stand and take up the cause.
(3) Never negotiate or bargain with God. We have nothing to bargain with, nothing to offer. Make no promise you will not keep. God always keeps his. You may break yours but not God. The workers trusted the householder to do right. God always does right. Just trust him. He never does us wrong. Has someone ever done a job for you and when you asked how much you owe them they say “just whatever you think is fine.” Is that what we should say to God? Work for him and he’ll pay more than we deserve.
(4) This is a picture of grace. What is grace? It is the unmerited favor of God. It’s not deserved. It can’t be earned. It can’t be bought. He gives it freely. David showed grace to his best friend Jonathan’s son. After Saul and Jonathan were killed David asked if there was anyone left in Saul’s family. He wanted to honor him. He was told Jonathan had a lame son hiding out in Lodebar. David sent for him. Imagine how afraid the boy was to be summoned by King David. But David restored Saul’s land to him, placed his own servants to care for it and the boy was fed at the king’s table the rest of his life. He did nothing to deserve this but received everything. He went from one day fleeing for his life to having everything. Did the workers hired at 5 p.m. deserve the penny for an hour’s work? No. Did the ones hired at 6 a.m. deserve it? Yes. But they all got the same. None of us deserves anything, but by the grace of God we’ll receive heaven.
(5) It’s never too late to accept God’s grace. The workers were called at various times. I see real life in this. Some people are saved as a child; some in mid-life; some nearing the end of life. The only thing that matters is that you get saved. I don’t know your condition, but be careful about putting salvation off. The Bible says not to boast about tomorrow. This breath is mine; the next one is held by God. Get saved today; tomorrow might be too late. It’s not too late to respond to the call of God. Can a person be saved on his deathbed? He can. I take you to the cross where one of thieves acknowledged he was there receiving his just reward. He asked Jesus to remember him in paradise. Jesus said he would be with him that day in paradise. He had nothing to offer. He was about to die. It’s not about works; it’s about the blood.
The final phrase is for many be called, but few chosen. Many have sat and heard the call of God yet remain lost. We had a man over at Macedonia come to church several times. I could tell he was under condition. I knew he’d either get saved or quit coming. He quit and to my knowledge has still not been saved. If God is dealing with you, respond before it’s too late. Tarrying will get you in trouble. Felix told Paul to go away and he’d call for him in a more convenient season. Agrippa told Paul that he had almost persuaded him to be a Christian. We have no record that either of them accepted Christ. The door is still open. Jesus is still saving. The blood still atones. Call on his name and be saved. He will get in a hurry to come do it. Why? He allowed his son to die for you. Get in today while the door is open. In Noah’s day the people could have gotten on the ark; they didn’t. One day God shut the door and it was too late to get in. Call on God before it’s too late.