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The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

    For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in the 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. -- Matthew 20:1-16

As a child, I learned that this parable referred to the various periods of a person's life, when people are converted and enter into the service of God. Those who come to Christ at the eleventh hour, or even in a deathbed repentance, are to receive the same reward as those who have given their lives to Christian service.

I suppose that fits, and I don't know that this wasn't one of the things that Jesus had in mind, but I believe that it was intended to show that God has the right to distribute rewards however he sees fit, even to those who were introduced late into his vineyard.

In context with the latter portion of Chapter 19, I think that he was referring to the manner in which he may reward the Gentiles, who were the last called, or to the nations who shall be last converted to the faith, as he did to those who were converted by the apostles and the earliest preachers of the gospel. All of the faithful will be given their just rewards, even those who have labored but one our in his service.

The condition in which sinners live

  • Idle
    • Idle, although capable of working
    • Idle, although accountable to God
    • Idle, even with death and judgment before them

The duties of a Christian life

  • Solemn consideration
    • Review of past life
    • Consideration of current condition
  • Sincere repentance
    • Conviction of sin
    • Turning to the Lord
    • Full purpose of heart
  • Faith in Jesus
    • John 6:29

The Church of God is to be a place of labor and activity

  • Christ's disciples are to be working disciples
  • Introduced to the gospel, not only to enjoy its fruits, but to work therein
  • True Christianity is practical, a devotion of heart and life

God will deal with his servants as he wishes, and will reward them when the time of work is over

  • God has a right to all we are, and to all we can do, but there are rewards for service to God
    • The chief rewards of godliness are reserved until after death.
      • Matthew 10:22
  • The rewards will be great
    • Not merely equitable
  • The rewards will not always be proportionate
    • Those hired at the eleventh hour will receive every penny
    • The last converts, as well as the first, will be crowned with glory
    • None will receive less than expected, but many will receive more
  • The rewards will be eternal

Application of the parable

  • The sovereignty of God demonstrated in this parable is one that inflicts no wrong on anyone
    • Merciful to all, and especially merciful to some
  • We should extend the same merciful spirit to others
  • Human conclusions will often be reversed in that last day
    • The last shall be first, and the first last

Related reading

Overview of Bible Study