The Parable Of The Workers In The Vineyard


In ‘The parable of the wicked tenants’, we see how God left them in charge of His vineyard and gave them everything they needed to do the work required within it, Mark 12:1-2.

In this parable, we’re going to see that everyone He calls upon is entitled to work in His vineyard. No matter where they’re from or when they decided to listen to His call.

We’re going to learn that it’s not always a case of “first come, first served”. In a world where everyone wants service now, there’s a real lack of humility.

People don’t save up for anything anymore, if they see something they like, they just go ahead and buy it, no matter how much debt they get into. You can’t even pay your shopping bill sometimes because people are too busy trying to be first in the queue.

The attitude of the world is one of expectations, isn’t it? People expect to be served first in a restaurant, even though there’s already a queue. People expect to be treated better than others, especially if they’re in a position of importance.

The queen would expect to be served first where ever she went. If war broke out in Britain, the common people would be last to be provided with a place of safety.

But the point I’m trying to make is this, humility isn’t just something that Christians practice, humility is the lifestyle of a Christian. Before we begin to find out what Jesus was trying to say in this parable, we first need to understand the background to it.

In Matthew 19:16-25 we find a rich young man who came to Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him, “Obey the commandments.” But the young man asks, “Which ones?” And so Jesus said to him, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.'”

And the young man said, “I have kept them all”, and then he asked Jesus, “What do I lack” and so Jesus tells him. He says, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

But this was too much to ask of him, so the young man went away sad because he was rich. And then Jesus talks to His disciples about how hard it is for rich people to inherit eternal life.

And then He goes on to talk about how people can be saved, Matthew 19:26-30. And it’s then that Jesus goes on to tell the parable of “The workers in the vineyard” in Matthew 20:1-16.

It doesn’t matter what work you do in the kingdom, what matters is the way you work. The issue in this parable isn’t how long the people worked in the Lord’s vineyard. The issue in this parable is the spirit in which the work was done.

Notice that there are two types of workers in God’s vineyard.

1. Those who came to an agreement with the master.

“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.” Matthew 20:1-2

Basically, they said they would work for Him if they were given the right amount of money. So these first labourers were given a contract, a denarius for a day’s work.

2. We have those who came to work for Him later.

“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.’” Matthew 20:3-7

The difference between these guys and those who had an agreement is that they were thankful and glad just for the chance to work. And their pay wasn’t an issue because Jesus said, “He would pay them what was right.”

It’s sad when people think they will only work for God if they get paid enough for it. Now there are some who get financial support to come and work with a congregation.

But that doesn’t mean that they have to do all the work, just because they get paid for it. That’s not the point of this parable because they didn’t get their pay until their work was finished.

And remember that Jesus isn’t talking about actually receiving a denarius when we get to heaven. He’s revealing a spiritual and moral truth to His disciples. He’s saying that your reward will be the same as mine and that reward is eternal life.

A Christian doesn’t work in God’s kingdom for the money, a Christian works in God’s kingdom for the joy, Proverbs 10:27-28.

It’s a joy to serve and work for the Lord, we all work for Him because of the joy we get out of serving our Lord in His kingdom, 1 Peter 1:8-9.

When it comes to inheriting eternal life, nobody is going to get ripped off, whether they’ve been a Christian for one day or 50 years.

We all know that Jesus’ disciples were the first Christians in His church and in Acts 2:41 we find that others were added and became a part of His church.

And in Acts 5:14 we find that even more people were added and became a part of His church. But Jesus’ disciples had to learn a hard lesson, ‘first come doesn’t mean first served’!

And so Jesus explains what He meant when He said to His disciples about their position of honour in Matthew 19:26-30. But the point that Jesus is telling them, is that the disciples couldn’t claim any special place of honour just because they were Christians before anyone else. He says in Matthew 20:16 “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”

And there’s a big lesson for the church today here too, isn’t there? Too many people just because they have been members of the Lord’s church for many years, think that the church partially belongs to them. They think they can dictate and control what goes on within the church.

Just because you’ve been a member of the Lord’s church for 40 years doesn’t give you any special privileges. Just because your father was an elder of a church for 20 years doesn’t give you any special privileges. And just because your mother was a missionary and helped poor people all her life doesn’t give you any special privileges.

In the church, authority doesn’t necessarily mean honour. I’m not saying don’t honour those who have been in the Lord’s church for many years because the Bible teaches us that we should honour those who are older in the faith.

I’m saying just because you’ve been a part of the kingdom longer than some other people, doesn’t make you more important than any other Christian. No matter where you come from or when you became a Christian, you’re of equal worth to God as any other Christian.

Remember it’s God’s vineyard, it’s God who dishes out the wages. He’s the one doing the hiring, it’s His work that’s being done. You’re the worker and He’s the owner.

But the point is that it doesn’t matter if you’ve been a Christian for one hour or 40 years, you’re of equal worth to God in His kingdom, Galatians 3:26-28.

Those who are young in the faith should learn from those who are older and more mature and whose knowledge is greater but, and this is important. It may well be that those who have been Christians for a long time have got much to learn from those who are younger in the faith too.

That was the problem the Jews had, they knew that they were God’s chosen people and they never forgot that. And it’s because of this, that they continually looked down on the Gentiles.

They hated and despised the Gentiles and hoped for nothing but their destruction. And so to a Jew if the Gentiles were going to be allowed into God’s kingdom, they must come in as inferiors and on their terms, Acts 15:1.

We also know that the apostle Peter found this difficult to deal with, Galatians 2:14. The Jews were willing to allow the Gentiles into God’s kingdom only if they were circumcised and followed their traditions.

But as someone once said, “In God’s economy, there’s no such thing as a most favoured nation clause.”

There’s no master race in Christianity, “all are one in Christ Jesus” as Paul reminded us in Galatians 3:28. Instead of looking around at each other and wondering who’s doing what in the kingdom. Maybe we should be looking out for those who are eager to work in the kingdom.

These men who were standing in the marketplace weren’t being lazy hanging around the street corners wasting their time. They didn’t have a local job centre to go to like we have today.

The marketplace was the place to go to find work. A man would go there first thing in the morning with his tools and he would wait until someone came along and hired him. And so some of them would get hired first thing in the morning but others would wait all day to get some work.

Some men worked only a few hours and some men worked all day. And when I say all day, I don’t mean a 9-5 job. I mean these guys started at 6:00 am and finished at 6:00 pm. And even though work usually finished at 6:00 pm some of these men would still be waiting until 5:00 pm hoping to get a job.

Jesus said the landowner went in the morning, then the third hour, and then the sixth hour and then the ninth hour and then finally He went again to the marketplace at the eleventh hour. This shows how desperate they were, they were still there waiting in the marketplace, desperate for work.

We go out of our way to encourage people to read the Bible so that they might become Christians. Maybe we should continue that encouragement in helping them find a job within the kingdom of God after they have become Christians.

This parable also tells us about ‘the generosity of God’.

“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.” Matthew 20:8-10

These men didn’t all do the same work, but they did receive the same pay. The way the world works when it comes to pay is this. Some people get more pay than others depending on the jobs they have. But usually, if people work in the same place and do the same job for the same length of time, they expect to get the same pay.

But these workers didn’t all work the same hours. These workers were grape pickers to a degree. And the grapes in Palestine would always be ready for harvest and be ripe around the end of September.

And it was always a race against time to get the grapes in before the rains came. And so because of this, anyone who was willing to work was welcome to work at this time, even if they could only give an hour or two’s work.

Each man was given a denarius, which was around a day’s wages for a man back then. And so because a job was hard to come by, getting a job for a day’s wages sometimes meant the difference between living and starving.

But God knew that a denarius was no great wage. He knew that if the workmen went home with less than a denarius there would be worried wives and hungry children.

If this happened in today’s world, people would instantly go to a solicitor and say I want justice. This parable tells us that God goes beyond justice and gives us more than we’re due.

Justice says that we deserve to die in our sin but God goes beyond justice and offers us eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ, Ephesians 2:3-5.

And when it comes to God’s justice and the way He gives His grace to people, there are two great lessons to be learned.

1. All service ranks the same with God.

It’s not the amount of service that counts but the love in which it is given.

“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.’” Matthew 20:11-12

You can always tell the people who think they deserve more from God than their fellow brothers or sisters in the kingdom of God. You can tell because they grumble a lot and people are always grumbling against God.

Not only is today’s world but also in the Biblical world, Exodus 16:2. Even after they received the Promised Land they grumbled, Psalm 106:24-25.

We shouldn’t grumble about the amount of work a Christian is doing or not doing in the kingdom. We should be patient and grateful for the little work that they’re doing, James 5:8-9. God doesn’t look at the amount of work given, so long as our service is all we have to give.

In fact, ask yourself this question, what’s worth more? A millionaire giving you £100 or a child giving you a card on your birthday that just cost a few pence but they have saved up for that card lovingly for months? All service ranks the same with God.

2. All God gives is grace.

“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?’” Matthew 20:13-16

We cannot earn what God gives us, we cannot deserve it and we cannot put God in our debt. People are always trying to put God in their debt, people are always trying to say to God who deserves to go to heaven and who doesn’t.

When you talk to non-Christians about the kind of people you find in church, they seem to think that we’ve always been in the church. We’ve always been God-fearing people, but people aren’t born Christians, they are born again Christians.

Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3-8 that people need to be born again to enter the kingdom in the first place.

Peter says that you need to be born again to be purified, 1 Peter 1:21-23. Purified from what? From our sin, all Christians have history because nobody comes to the cross, sinless.

What right do we have to say to God, “Hey God that person is a rapist, they don’t deserve to get to heaven?”  “Hey God, that person is a murderer, they don’t have any right in your kingdom?”

Because when we look at others with that attitude, He will just say to us what He said in the parable, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

Take a moment to read Galatians 5:19-21 and you’ll soon discover the kind of people you will find in church. You go and tell that to the average person on the street and they would say, “Well I’m not going to that church, they have all sorts in there”.

But the point is that the people in the church used to do these things, past tense. They used to but when they were born again, they put off that old nature and put on that new nature.

Instead of following the ways of the world, they turned and started following the ways of Christ. Why? Galatians 5:21 “Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

So now that we understand why we needed saving so much because of our sinful lives, we should never say that no one is good enough for God’s kingdom.

What God gives us is given out of the goodness of His heart, out of His grace, Romans 3:22-24. And what He gives us isn’t pay, but a gift, not a reward but a grace.

A man named John Newtown knows all about grace. You may not know who he is, but you should know the famous hymn which he wrote and we still sing today.

It’s called “Amazing Grace” and the first stanza says this, “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

That’s grace, that’s amazing and it’s a gift of God so that no one can stand before God or other people and say, “Look how great I am, look what I do as a Christian.” It’s a gift, which cannot be earned by yourself, so that no one can boast, Ephesians 2:1-9.

And it’s available to everyone who is willing to obey the Gospel call of Christ. I don’t care who you are, where you come from or how ugly your past has been because you’ll be in good company here. God wants you to inherit eternal life as much as the person who has been a Christian for years.

And maybe then you too will be able to sing and come to understand why God’s grace is so amazing.