Continuing in our study into the Parable of the Workers of the Vineyard (read part 1 here). The last blog covered the explanation of the words, ‘the last shall be first and the first last’. All who are called receive the same wages. We must choose this day whom we will be hired by, for there are two masters in this world. We learned that God rewards by His grace and sovereignty and even our defective service, if done in sincerity, shall be richly rewarded. Now is the second part of this study.
My Own Vineyard I have Neglected You made me take care of the vineyards But my own vineyard I have not kept. You caused my eyes to be tired But in truth I have not slept. You gave me everything. Not one thing did You withhold. You gave to me Your very life But my faith seems to have grown so old. I have become a little weary Though my heart still longs for You Somehow I have become tainted. Everything no longer fresh and new. The river no longer overflows In quite the same way Bringing freshness and sparkle To illuminate the darkest of days. The head is sometimes found drooping When it should be lifted up higher O Lord You know my condition Please rekindle the slowly dying fire. You have given me a fruitful vineyard. Your blessings freely bestowed, have been mine I will burn for You again, for I shall drink anew Of the fullness of Your poured out wine. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
The Parable of the Workers of the Vineyard – Matthew 20:1-16
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.“About nine in the morning 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 noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon 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 five in the afternoon 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 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, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one 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.”
We are good at overvaluing ourselves
Henry says – Those who worked the longest took offence (Matt. 20:11, 12) They murmured at the good man of the house. Not that there is, or can be, any discontentment or murmuring in heaven, for that is both guilt and grief, and in heaven there is neither. But there often are murmurings concerning heavenly things, while in this world.
This signifies the jealousy of the Jews by the admission of the Gentiles into the Kingdom of heaven. Just as the elder brother, in the parable of the prodigal complained of his father’s generosity to the younger brother, so these labourers quarrelled with their master. They found fault because others were made equal with them. They boast, as the prodigal’s elder brother did, of their good services, we have borne the burden and heat of the day, that was the most they could make of it. Sinners are said to labour in the very fire (Hab. 2:13 the nations exhaust themselves for nothing). Yet God’s servants, at the worst, labour in the sun, not in the heat of the iron furnace, but only in the heat of the day.
The Gentiles, who are newly called in, have as much of the privileges of the Kingdom of the Messiah as the Jews have. They have been labouring in the vineyard of the Old-Testament laws in expectation of that kingdom. We are prone to think that we have too little, and others too much, of the tokens of God’s favour. Maybe we can think that we do too much, and others too little, in the work of God. We are good at overvaluing ourselves.
God can do no wrong
However the offence is removed. The Master of the house urges three things: that the complainant had no reason at all to say he had any wrong done to him, Matt. 20:13, 14. Here he asserts his own justice, Friend, I have done you no wrong. He calls him friend, for in reasoning with others we should use soft words and hard arguments. When others are peevish and provoking we ought to speak calmly to them.
It is incontestably true, that God can do no wrong. This is the prerogative of the King of kings. Is there any unrighteousness with God? The apostle startles at the thought of it; God forbid! Rom. 3:5, 6. His Word should silence all our murmurings whatever God does to us, or withholds from us, He does us no wrong. If God gives a certain grace to others, which He denies to us, it is kindness to them, but no injustice to us. Because it is free grace, that is given to those who have it, boasting is forever excluded. Thus shall every mouth be stopped, and all flesh be silent before God.
To convince the murmurer that he did no wrong, he refers him to the agreement: “Did you not agree with me for a penny? And if you have what you did agree for, you have no reason to cry out. You shall have what we agreed.” Though God is a debtor to none, yet He is graciously pleased to make Himself a debtor of His own promises. Through Christ, believers agree with Him, and He will stand to His part of the agreement.
They have what they have chosen
It is good for us to often consider what it was that we agreed with God for. First, Those who choose the pleasures of this world over God choose their portion in this life (Ps. 17:14). In these things they are willing to have their reward now (Matt. 6:2, 5), their consolation (Luke 6:24), their good things (Luke 16:25). Yet they shall be cut off from spiritual and eternal blessings. Herein God does them no wrong, they have what they have chosen, and the penny they signed up for. So shall their doom be, they have themselves decided it.
Secondly, Obedient believers agree with God for their penny in the other world, and they must remember that they have agreed it. Did you now agree to take God’s Word for it? You did and so will you go and agree with the world? Did you not agree to take up heaven as your portion, your all, and to take up with nothing short of it? And will you seek for a happiness in a creature, or in that make up the deficiencies of your happiness in God?
He therefore ties him to his bargain (Matt. 20:14) Take what is yours, and go your way. If we understand that that which is ours is by a gift, the free gift of God, it teaches us to be content with such things as we have. Instead of pining for what we think we do not have, let us take what we have, and be thankful.
He is so much better to us than we deserve
If God seems to be better with respect to others than to us, we will have no reason to complain. For He is so much better to us than we deserve, in giving us our penny, for we are unprofitable servants. He tells him that those he envied should fare as well as he did, “I will give unto him who was last, even as I gave to you. I have resolved and I will.” The unchangeableness of God’s purposes in giving His gifts should silence our murmurings.
He had no reason to quarrel with the master for what He gave was absolutely his own, Matt. 20:15. As before He asserted his justice, so here his sovereignty. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own? God is the Owner of all good, His propriety in it is absolute, sovereign and unlimited. He may therefore give or withhold His blessings, as He pleases. What we have, is not our own, and therefore it is not lawful for us to do what we will with it.
What God has, is His own and this will justify Him in all His disposals. When God takes from us that which was dear to us, and which we feel we could not spare, we must silence our discontentments with this. May He not do what He will with His own? Abstulit, sed et dedit—He has taken away; but He originally gave. It is not for such dependent creatures as we are to quarrel with our Sovereign. In all the awards of His grace, God gives or withholds the means of grace, and the Spirit of grace, as He pleases.
God is sovereign Lord of all
What seems to us to be done on the spot, will appear in the end to have been done wisely, and for right ends. This is enough to silence all objectors, God is sovereign Lord of all, and may do what He will with His own. We are in His hand, as clay in the hands of a potter and it is not for us to prescribe to Him, or strive with Him.
He had no reason to envy his fellow servant, or to begrudge him. Nor any reason to be angry that he did not come into the vineyard sooner, for he was not called sooner. He had no reason to be angry that the master had given him wages for the whole day, when he had idled away the greatest part of it.
The nature of envy is an evil eye. The eye is often both the inlet and the outlet of this sin. Saul saw that David prospered, and he eyed him, 1 Sam. 18:9, 15. It is an evil eye, which is displeased at the good of others, and desires their hurt. What can have more evil in it? It is grief to ourselves, anger to God, and ill-will to our neighbour. It is a sin that has neither pleasure, profit nor honour, in it.
The underlying belief in it is, “because I am good.” Envy is a contrast to God, who is good, and does good, and delights in doing good. It is a dislike of His proceedings, and displeasure at what He does, and is pleased with. It is a direct violation of the two great commandments at once. That of love to God and love to our neighbour, in whose welfare we should rejoice.
Many are called but few are chosen
Here is the application of the parable: So the first shall be last, and the last first. There were many who followed Christ when the gospel kingdom was first set up, and these Jewish converts got a head start on others. Yet Christ, to silence their boasting tells them that they might possibly be outstripped by their successors. Though they were before others in profession, they might be found inferior to them in knowledge, grace, and holiness. The Gentile church, which was as yet unborn and as yet stood idle in the market-place, would produce greater numbers of eminent, useful Christians, than were found among the Jews.
More shall be the children of the desolate than those of the married wife, Isa. 54:1. Who knows but that the church, in its old age, may be more fat and flourishing than ever, to show that the Lord is upright? Primitive Christianity had more of the purity and power of that holy faith than is to be found in the degenerate age in which we now live. Yet what labourers may be sent into the vineyard in the eleventh hour of the church’s day? And what plentiful profusions of the Spirit may now be, above what has yet been, who can know?
Build your hope for heaven upon the rock of an eternal choice
They had reason to fear, lest they themselves should be found to be hypocrites; for many are called but few are chosen. This was applied to the Jews (Matt. 22:14) and it is still true now. Many are called with a common call. All who are chosen from eternity, are effectually called, in the fullness of time (Rom. 8:30). In making our calling sure, we make sure our election (2 Pet. 1:10). But many are called, and yet refuse (Prov. 1:24). Even as they are called to God, so they go from Him (Hos. 11:2, 7), and so it appears that they were not chosen, for the elect will obtain it, Rom. 11:7.
There are but few chosen Christians, in comparison with the many who are only called Christians. It therefore highly concerns us to build our hope for heaven upon the rock of an eternal choice, and not upon the sand of an external call. We should fear lest we be found only seeming to be Christians, and really come short, (Heb. 4:1 since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it).
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
Prayer for the Day
Father I come to You. Forgive me when I am prone to think that I have too little, and others too much of the tokens of Your favour. May I never overvalue myself, but in humility understand and know that everything is purely by Your grace. May I always, in reasoning with others, use soft words and strong arguments, especially in the attempt of winning souls for You. When others are peevish and provoking may I speak calmly to them. Cause Your Word to silence all my murmurings in whatever You do or whatever You withhold from me. For I know that You do me no wrong. May I never seek for happiness in a creature, but always make up the deficiencies of my happiness in You.
Cause me to not pine for what I think I do not have, but take what I have, and be thankful for it. For I know that You are so much better to me than I deserve. For I am an unprofitable servant. Whatever I have, is not my own, and therefore it is not lawful for me to do what I will with it. May I make my calling sure, and so make sure my election. Cause me to build my hope for heaven upon the rock of an eternal choice, and not upon the sand of an external call. May I fear lest I be found only seeming to be Christians, and really come short and so be put to work by Your grace. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.