Parable of the Vineyard

Last Sunday we heard a good message on the “Laborers in the Vineyard” in Mt 20:1-16, from a missionary who taught Hebrew and NT in the Philippines. She used the passage to challenge the congregation on responding to God’s call to active service, whether locally or in the mission field.

I touched on this passage 5 years ago, in:
https://raykliu.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/the-last-will-be-first/
when I wrote about “the last will be first”, but the key point is worth repeating.

In the Parable of the Vineyard the landowner represents God, and the laborers represent us. Many Christians question the fairness of God in this parable. Why would He be so generous to those hired last, but strict, perhaps even mean, to those hired early? Actually this is a diagnostic parable, as it tells you more about yourself than you care to know. When you read it, note who do you identify with – those hired early in the morning, or those hired about the eleventh hour. Who you identify with tells you what type of person you really are. Many identify themselves with those who were hired first:

Mt 20:10-15 When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ 13 But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’

In what way? In that we:
1. View things from what we get out of it; we think we deserve more than the next guy (v 10);
2. Grumble when things don’t turn out as we expected, even though our expectations may be unrealistic and what we agreed to (v 11, 13);
3. See others as not equal to us, as we have contributed more (v 12);
4. Think we have been wronged, that others have short-changed us, when in fact they have not (v 13);
5. Are envious of others’ generosity (v 15).

In short, even though we hate to admit it, we operate more on the basis of works, not grace. We are self-centered. If others work for one hour and get paid one denarius, then surely we who worked 12 hours should be paid 12 denarii, otherwise it’s not fair. Reward is proportional to effort; equal pay for work of equal value. Since the landowner did not do that, he, and by implication God, is not fair. That’s perfect reasoning for a person governed by works. But not God, who is Love and operates by grace.

Have you ever wondered what would happen to the eleventh hour’s laborers’ family if the landowner pays them their due of 1/12 denarius? They would go hungry that day. The poor in those days lived a hand-to-mouth existence. The typical daily wage for an unskilled laborer is 1 denarius, just enough to feed a small family for 1 day. So no work means no pay and no food. The landowner is compassionate towards them, and pays the eleventh hour laborers not what they earned, but a full day’s wage so their families won’t go to bed with empty stomachs. God is gracious and generous but we are not. We are so unlike Him that we should be ashamed of ourselves. But better late than never that we learn to be like our Father.

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John 3:16 vs. Election

Q. One question bothered me all along. When I first learned the Bible, Jn 3:16 moved me with God’s forgiveness of sinners. Yet at the same time, the Bible often mentioned “election” e.g. “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”, which led me to feel God loved some people more. Perhaps “God so loved the world” does not mean He loved everyone the same as I first thought. What’s your view?

A. Some feel either God loves everybody equally, or He wouldn’t be fair. The Bible actually does not teach this “either/or” type of love, but a “both/and” kind – God loves both the elect and the non-elect, just not in the same way. Let me show what I mean:
Mt 5:44-45 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
• Acts 14:16-17 In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.
• Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
• 1 Tim 2:3-4 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
• 2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
• 1 Jn 2:2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

At a basic level, God loves the good and the evil by sending physical provisions to both, not just the righteous but the unrighteous as well. He desires all to be saved, and does not wish any to perish, even though some do not receive Him. God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to die for us, while we were yet sinners. Jesus’ death is not for our sins only, but also for those of the whole world.

However, at a deeper level, God has a saving love for the elect, those whom He had chosen:
Jn 10:14-15 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
• Jn 17:9 I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;
• Rom 1:7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
• Rom 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
• Eph 1:3 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,
• 1 Tim 4:10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.

Believers are beloved of God and called as saints. The Lord knows them and asks on their behalf, not of the world. God causes all things to work together for their good, and has blessed them with every spiritual blessing. He did not do the same for those who reject Christ.

Not only did God differentiate between the elect and the non-elect, we are supposed to do the same:
Ga 6:10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
• 1 Tim 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

We are to do good to all people as He did, but especially those of the household of the faith. This is understandable. Those with a good heart love all people, not just their own, but it is reasonable for them to love and provide for their family first. Not to do so is worse than an unbeliever. Hope this helps.