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Unhappy Laborers In God’s Vineyard

Matthew 20:1-2 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

Jesus told this parable to his disciples directly after Peter remonstrated to Jesus that they had ‘left everything’ to follow Jesus. Peter asked, “What then, will we have in your Kingdom, Jesus?” (Matthew 19:27) In response to the disciple’s expectation to receive much for giving much, Jesus narrated the parable about the disgruntled laborers.

The laborers hired in the early morning started the right way. But they found themselves in trouble later on. They set out with a good attitude, but it deteriorated into grumbling and discontentment at the close of business. All through the day they worked hard and kept a tally on what they were doing and how long they worked for. They may have compared their good and intense labor with those who followed through varying hours of the day. They were probably proud of what they did and worked confidently, knowing they would be rewarded handsomely. They expected to receive more than the others and they felt that they deserved more.

Matthew 20:10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.

When the evening came and the wages were handed out, the workers employed first received the same amount as the laborers who came later in the day. Because the first men had worked longer than the others in the vineyard, they had a feeling that they were entitled to more and because they did not get it, they became upset.

Matthew 20:11-12 And when they had received it, they murmured against the good-man of the house, 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.

Here we are told that the workman began to murmur. Their unhappiness and their joy have been replaced by grumbling and complaining against their employer, because they were not given something extra.

The workmen have forgotten one thing. One very important thing. They neglected to remember that everything is of grace. And how often do we do just the same? What a tragic thing it is when we murmur and complain about what we do not have rather than being thankful for what we do have. We grumble that we have been unfairly treated, that we have a right to more, that others have been given favoritism over us. And yet we ought to be rejoicing in Christ Jesus and all that He has abundantly and favorably given to us. Grace is His gift that goes with us in our Christian life from the very beginning to the very end. And yet we forget. We are all guilty of the mistake that the laborers in the vineyard made, in one form or another.

Not only did these men feel a contempt for the others who had been given so much when they felt they had been unfairly treated, but they had a feeling in their heart that the manager was unjust. With a self-centered and selfish spirit, we too can begin to imagine that God is being unfair to us, that He is not giving us what we rightly deserve, that God is not giving us our due. To be honest, God is so gracious that He is not giving us what we are due, but woe be us to receive what is rightly ours for it is not God’s grace, but His judgement!

The remedy for our sinfulness is succinct. We ought to remember where we were before Christ redeemed us – desperately lost and helpless in a fallen state of sin, totally unable to save ourselves from an eternal separation from God. But by the grace and mercy of God we have been chosen, redeemed and restored to a loving and fulfilling relationship with God, through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. A relationship that God is fully committed to, and which will last through this life and into eternity. We need to have a Kingdom perspective, rather than a worldly perspective and earnestly ask God to help us see our situation from His view, rather than our sinful, earthly one. God’s perspective is a complete reversal of our materialistic outlook on life.

1 Corinthians 15:10 By the grace of God I am what I am, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Our lives have been turned upside down by His grace. And as such we have a new nature, new attitudes, new dreams and desires. We have a new future and a new hope. We have received God’s grace and are thankful for this. We have no need to grumble and complain. We have so much in Him and are being changed from one level of glory to another to become like our Savior. We lay at His feet our demands, our expectations, our rights, our pride, our selfishness and our sinfulness. For our life of grace is no longer about us. It is all about Him. And for this we can rejoice, being His children, who are no longer unhappy laborers in His vineyard, but joyous servants turned upside down by His grace!

Heavenly Father, help me to always place myself under Your guiding and guardian care. To take firmer hold of the sure covenant that binds me to You. To feel more of the purifying, dignifying, softening influence of the faith I profess. To have more compassion, love, courtesy, humility and to deem it an honor to be employed by You as an instrument in Your hands. May I be ready to seize every opportunity of usefulness, and willingly offer all my talents to Your service. Amen.’

About Jennifer Woodley

Jennifer is an Australian freelance writer who lives in a small rural town in sunny Queensland. She is passionate about encouraging others on their journey with Christ through writing and mentoring. Jennifer is a school chaplain, wife, mother of three adult sons and loving grandma of one adorable grandson. More of her writing can be found at www.inhisname6.com and www.faithwriters.com.

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  1. Jennifer,
    Thank you for such an enjoyable article. So important to realize that we have nothing to murmur or complain about, God has our back 24/7 and then some.
    I love your comment about- “turned upside down by His grace.” This expressed it all-and-it depicts vibrant truth!
    Wonderful post.
    God Bless~

  2. All those things that we have or will receive in this life that is earthly will be left behind. We need to let go of those things that can draw us away from our fellowship with Him and being full of gratitude that we won’t be left behind. Our eyes need to be on the prize, which is only found in Him!
    He is likened as the man in the parable who had this vineyard; full of grace and understanding for those who had a need and was willing to work. It was His generosity and compassion that was being questioned. But their minds were filled with anger because they figured that they deserved more than what they settled for. They were not wronged but the events that followed clouded their judgment.
    We see this love and compassion when our Lord hung on a cross. He was paying for our transgressions and drawing all men to be made freed from the enslavement we were bond by cords of sin whether we are very wicked or full of our own self- righteousness. He wanted us so He paid the price to purchase us.
    Those who know the Savior wouldn’t exchange their souls for anything this world could offer. Our relationship with Him could not compare with that which He brought into existence that would be pleasing to the eye. Such as a story I heard about where a man loved his gold and had his pockets full on it when he was laid in a casket. Only to be questioned latter as to why he wanted a pocket full of pavement from the streets in Heaven.
    How foolish to desire things that cannot bring fulfillment and lose your own soul chasing after them.

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