The parable of the laborers
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘you also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’
“So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. 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 my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
Some time ago I was acquainted with a Christian co-worker who regularly complained about the burdens and stresses of the conditions he faced on his job. Many of the conditions that management forced upon him were unusual, unrighteous and sometime even illegal considering the current state of employment laws. Because of this he often quarreled with management about their treatment of him. One day he came to me looking for a sympathetic ear, and as he was very fond of saying, he said to me, “I have rights you know, and they are always breaking them.” Knowing him to be a man that would listen to reason I simply said “My friend, God is not interested in your rights and neither am I. However I am interested in how long you intend to swim in the quagmire of your own self idolatrous pity party?” Stunned, he said “Thanks ….. I think.” I could see the question welling up in his mind. He finally spewed, “Are you going to explain to me how God doesn’t care about me?” I said, “That is not at all what I said. God did not send His son to die for someone He does not care about, but God is a jealous God and He deserves and requires His glory. In what way are you glorifying God by always gossiping about, and back-talking to, the very management that God has put in authority over you? You cannot control how others treat you, but you can control your reaction to it. Don’t you know that when you correct a scoffer you only shame yourself, and when you rebuke a wicked man you only harm yourself? (Proverbs 9:7) A scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Proverbs 13:1b) What right do you have to question the will of God? The Bible says that it greatly pleases God when you are submissive to your boss, not just the good ones but also the harsh ones. It is commendable when you endure grief and suffer wrongfully because of your conscience toward God. But what credit is there if you are treated poorly and respond poorly as well? But when you do good and suffer quietly and take it patiently, this is commendable to God. (1 Peter 2:18-20)” He said, “that’s ridiculous, God doesn’t want me to be treated immorally, we all deserve better than that.” I said, “No my friend, we all deserve to go to Hell, but God chose you while you were yet an undeserving sinner. Get your eyes off the world and focus on eternity. What is 70 years of mistreatment taken for the glory of God, compared to an eternity of perpetual companionship with Jesus?” He looked me in the eye and said, “I get your point, I am serving the wrong masters. I need to focus on serving God not me or my boss.” I said, “Amen brother, Amen. Now praise the Lord, go and sin no more.” He laughed and left.
But what does this have to do with our parable? Turn the page and see.
My friend had several problems inhibiting his correct relationship with God. His sinful self centered thinking has left him blind to the obvious. This man had a job most men dream about, yet he was unthankful to God for it. His focus on himself led him to ignore the will of God toward those God has put in authority over him. This hampered his witness for Christ as people judged him according to his actions. Because he is focused on himself instead of glorifying Christ, when a trial such as unjust treatment is placed in his path, he immediately responds in sin. My friend simply doesn’t understand that as a believer in Christ you give up your human rights for a conscience toward God. This is how Job remained steadfast when faced with an onslaught of trials that none of us will ever suffer, because Job wanted a God life not a good life.
So the next time you are preparing for work, whether it is at home with the kids, or you are driving to your JOB, ponder this; “The name of the man God chose to test more than any other was spelled J-O-B.”
In our parable the first thing one might notice is that the righteous landowner went out seeking servants. 2 Chronicles 16:9a says, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” When the landowner found some people they were not actively seeking the landowner or the servitude of his employment, they are simply standing around, doing nothing. They had no master, nor no purpose to serve because God had not yet hired them. We likewise, outside of Christ, live a perfectly meaningless life. Without the saving grace of Jesus everything you do is sin, even your worship of God is not pleasing to God, if you do not know Him. In the absence of God drawing you to His Son, you cannot nor are you inclined to seek and to know God.
Never the less, the landowner found the people he wanted in his own time, some late and some early. What comes to my mind here is that God gifts each of us differently, some of us he greatly gifts (hires them early in the morning, such as John the Baptist) and others he lightly gifts (hires in the eleventh hour, such as the thief on the cross). Each of us is responsible only for what God has gifted us. We are not called to live the life of the Apostle Paul when we are gifted as much as the repentant tax collector. However we are responsible for the proper use of our gifts. If you have many gifts then God requires many sheep to be fed, (bare the burden and the heat of the day) yet others, judged according to their giftedness and not yours, may feed but a few (have only worked but an hour).
You may have also noticed that at least four times that day the landowner said “whatever is right I will give you”. But who determined the amount that was right? Was it not the landowner when he paid those that were hired about the eleventh hour, the very same denarius? The landowner did to each laborer what was right. He did not treat anyone unjustly. Yet some complained thinking themselves deserving of better than what was pre-determined as right. Their eyes were sinfully focused on the worldly mammon and not the eternal prize. What will be the significance of each of our unequally burdened but equally brief lives be during millennia in Heaven? But while yet alive on earth let us not lose focus that ALL things God works together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) Yes even trials, burdens and being treated unjustly at work are for our own good! Give thanks and Praise the Lord when they come upon you.
The landowner said, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things.” All-powerful, almighty God has the right to do as He pleases within the realm of His righteousness. But is this right? Is it fair for God to do as He pleases? Was if fair for God to tell Rebekah, before the two boys were born, “The older will serve the younger.” This was before the boys had done anything good or bad. God said this so that the one chosen would be chosen because of God’s own plan. He was chosen because he was the one God wanted to call, not because of anything he did. As the Scripture says, “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.”
So what should we say about this? Is God unfair? In no way. God said to Moses, “I will show kindness to anyone to whom I want to show kindness, and I will show mercy to anyone to whom I want to show mercy.” So God will choose the one to whom he decides to show mercy; his choice does not depend on what people want or try to do. (Romans 9:11-16.)
Are we not blessed that our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus loved us while we were yet sinners, that in Him we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will? (Ephesians 1:11)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
So God is not unfair in anything that He wills to do, but rather He always gives to each what is right. In fact, praise God that He has not dealt with us as we deserve, but as His Son deserves.
Which brings me to my final point; the landowner gave to them their wages “beginning with the last to the first”. The Bible has much to say about how we should see ourselves. But let’s look at what the Bible has to say about one of the spiritual giants, John the Baptist.
John the Baptist received the Holy spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. Matthew 11:11a says, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” But then it goes on to say “but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist.” If the great John the Baptist is not the greatest in Heaven but rather the least is greatest, then the question arises, who exactly is least in Heaven?
While we cannot know the answer to that question quite yet, we can know the heart of such a person. And I would like to reveal his heart in a prayer.
Dear awesome and powerful Lord Jesus, let us fear not the people who can kill our body but after that can do nothing more to hurt us. For we know the One who we should fear. We should fear the one who has the power to kill us and also to throw us into Hell. Yes, You are the one we should fear. So let us not desire to save our own lives but instead desire to lose them for Your sake. Let us not think we are adequate in ourselves to think of anything as coming from ourselves, but let us understand that our adequacy is from You, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the New Covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Dear Lord let us not think that we stand, lest we fall. Let us not think of ourselves as something, lest we be nothing. Let us not think that we know anything, lest we find we know nothing at all. Let us not think we give anything to You as if You needed anything from us. But rather let us know through and through, branded on our heart and minds, that we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Amen! Luke 12:4-5, Matthew 16:25, 2 Corinthians 3:5-6, 1 Corinthians 10:12, Galatians 6:3, 1 Corinthians 8:1, Philippians 3:2
There is no way humanly possible to teach all there is to learn out of this or any other parable in the span of these few pages. But I hope that this article causes you to open your Bible and read this parable with a new understanding that will greatly bless you in a way that this article never will.
The Bible is the living word of God. It is called the living word, because it is the means by which God has chosen to reveal His mysteries to those who seek Him and to confound those who seek their own. Please seek Him while the day is yet called today, because you do not know if you will ever make it to tomorrow. Just hours ago I found a little bird, a finch possibly, in the building where I live. He sprightly flew around looking for the way he came in, until he found a cache of bugs stuck to a glue trap on the floor. Easy pickins’ until he found himself stuck as well. I found him alive and well but missing a few feathers. Thinking to give him a night of rest, I stuck him in a cage where he soon was calmly sleeping, his head tucked lightly under his wing. Just now I went to see if my new buddy was still sleeping. He was sprawled out, dead, not a wound to speak of. Alive one minute, dead the next!
Brother Terry Walker
Providence Baptist Church
Greer, South Carolina