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:
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.


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.


Q. Heb 12:23-24 “to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” I thought firstborn refers to Jesus, (Rev 1:5), but why is plural used i.e. whose names are written in heaven?

A. Yes, firstborn refers to Jesus, not only in Heb 12:23, but also in:

Rom 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
• Col 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
• Col 1:18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
• Heb 1:6 And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, “AND LET ALL THE ANGELS OF GOD WORSHIP HIM.”
• Rev 1:5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—

Firstborn, or first begotten, is not just first chronologically, but also first in preeminence. He is the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead, and the firstborn among many brethren.

The text reads “church of the firstborn” i.e. “church of Jesus Christ”, not “firstborns”. “Church” is a collective noun, referring to the whole assembly. That’s why it is “whose names are written in heaven”, meaning all those who are born-again. There is no contradiction.

Refugees and the Bible

Q. What does the Bible say about how we should treat refugees?

A. In view of real and fake refugees requiring wisdom to discern how we should relate to each, neither the open door policy welcoming all, nor the closed-door barring anyone from entry, seem appropriate. The word “refugee” appears only 6 times in the NASB, but as narrative, not prescriptive. However, there are equivalent terms such as aliens, strangers etc. that yield principles governing the way to relate to them. Since there are too many verses I will not list all of them, only the key ideas.

Alien – a person who sojourns among the native people:
Lev 19:34 The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.
• Lev 23:22 When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God. (Also Lev 19:10; Deut 24:19-21)
• Num 15:16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you. (Also Ex 12:49; Lev 24:22; Num 15:29)
• Deut 10:18-19 He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Ex 22:21 You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Also Ex 23:9; Lev 19:33)
• Ps 146:9 The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.
• Zech 7:10 and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
• Mt 25:35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
• Heb 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Also 1 Tim 5:10)

Real refugees are those forced to leave their homeland due to war, natural disaster, or persecution. They sojourn in foreign lands in search of security, where they are aliens and strangers. Natives should love them as themselves, give alms to them because they are needy, and treat them as they would other natives. They should not wrong or oppress refugees, but show hospitality to them by inviting them in, because the LORD protects them.

Fake refugees, however, are to be prosecuted just as any native law-breaker, because there is one law for the native and the alien. Ideally they should be screened before entry and kept out of the country. If any slipped through the security net, they need to be caught before they cause damage, and punished according to the law of the land.

Muslim Refugees?

Q. I had a brief discussion with a Christian lady. She thinks we Christians have to help Muslims as they need our help. I told her about the European countries which received and helped them, and were repaid with violence and welfare abuse by the Muslims. They want to take over the countries which let them in, and do not assimilate. They want to convert people to Islam, change the place into an Islamic state, and impose Sharia law. They resort to violence, riots, and terrorism. They abuse the welfare system, and drain the countries’ resources. I quoted Deut 7:2-5 and Mt 10:16 to her. Why did God want all Canaanites killed? If I apply Deut 7:2-5, would God want us to embrace these Muslims to love them, because God is love? I feel if I apply Mt 10:16 to refugees, we are to have love but also wisdom.

A. First, I think we need to make a distinction between real refugees forced to leave their country to escape war, natural disaster or persecution, and those coming under a pretense to perpetrate terrorism, create havoc, and cause disruption to overthrow and destroy. I don’t have statistics to prove it, but I expect the former to be in the majority, and the latter to be in the minority. Unfortunately, it’s the minority extremists that cause most of the problems and give a bad name to the whole. You’ve probably met people who claim all Christians are bigots and cause all the problems in the world, such as the crusades, the Inquisition, inciting hatred against LGBTQ etc. That’s not true, but the label that Christians are self-righteous snobs sticks, and you wished people knew better.

Like you, I deplore the fake refugees’ abuses of the system which showed them kindness. But I would not apply Deut 7:2-5 to Muslim refugees, because that’s misapplying Scripture. First, let’s examine the text:

Deut 7:1-5 “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you,
• 2 and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.
• 3 Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.
• 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.
• 5 But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.

From what you wrote, you are equating:
• Present day Muslim refugees = the seven nations living in the Promised land in OT times, and
• Current “Christian” nations= the ancient Israelites who utterly destroyed the nations to take over the land.

While there are similarities e.g. they will turn your sons (i.e. radicalizing youths) away from following Me (Yahweh) to serve other gods (Allah), there are also differences e.g. they are migrants, NOT nations greater and stronger than you (i.e. the European countries to which they escaped). In fact, the radical refugees see the analogy as:
• Present day Muslim refugees = the ancient Israelites in the minority, and
• Current “Christian” nations = the nations whom they are to utterly destroy to take over the land.
They would be wrong of course, but you can see how by misapplying Scripture you can twist it to justify any wrong action.

What we need, as you rightly pointed out, is both love and wisdom:
Mt 10:16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. (NASB)
We need to be as wise as serpents, and as harmless as doves, with no self-serving agenda (AMP). Our love need to abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment (Php 1:9). Only then can we discern who are the real refugees that need our help, and screen out the extremists that need to be blocked from harming our people.

Help those who “deserve” it? (2 of 2)

(Contd. from yesterday)

What about the synonym “worthy“? The word “worthy” appears 51 times in 49 verses in the NASB. In view of space I won’t repeat the verses here. “Worthy” is used both in the negative (e.g. worthy of death) and positive sense. The positive sense is applied to both God and men:

God or Christ
2 Sam 22:4 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies. (Also Ps 18:3)
• Rev 4:11 Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.
• Rev 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Mt 10:10 or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. (Also Lk 10:7; 1 Tim 5:18)
• Eph 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, (Also 2 Thes 1:11)
• Lk 7:4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him;

The worker is worthy of his support or wages, but this has nothing to do with “helping” him, because he earned it. Christians are implored to walk worthy of their calling, of the gospel of Christ (Php 1:27), of the Lord (Col 1:10), of God (1 Thes 2:12; 3 Jn 1:6), and of the kingdom (2 Thes 1:5). None of these is earned or deserved, all are received by grace.

The only verse that speaks of someone “deserving” help in the sense of meriting it is Lk 7:4, but that was the Jewish elders’ assessment of the centurion, not God’s. Strictly speaking, God’s evaluation is in:
Lk 17:10 So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’

The centurion, and we as well, are unprofitable i.e. have not “gained” anything, when all we have done is our duty, what we are supposed to do. We have not “earned” anything by doing what was required, the bare minimum. There’s no merit. One might deserve help according to man’s standards, but not God’s. Nevertheless, God helps us and asks us to help others because of grace, not because he/she is deserving, as none of us are. Hope this helps.

Help those who “deserve” it? (1 of 2)

Q. Is there a passage in the Bible that says help those who deserve help?

A. The answer depends on what exactly do you mean by “deserve“. If by “deserve” you mean they are “needy“, then most definitely YES:

Ps 40:17 Since I am afflicted and needy, Let the Lord be mindful of me. You are my help and my deliverer; Do not delay, O my God.
• Ps 70:5 But I am afflicted and needy; Hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay.
• Ps 72:12 For He will deliver the needy when he cries for help, The afflicted also, and him who has no helper.
• Ezk 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.

If you were thinking is there a “priority ranking” in the Bible such that certain people are more “deserving” of our help than others, the answer is again YES:

1 Tim 5:16 If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.
• Jas 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

God has a “bias” for the poor, the needy, orphans and widows, those who have no other means of support. While the world in general tries to ingratiate itself with the rich and the powerful, God is diametrically opposite. His nature is just, and His righteousness is such that He prefers the underprivileged.

However, if by “deserve” you mean “merit” or “earned“, then the answer is NO or at best a limited “yes”. First, the Bible’s fundamental premise is grace, not merit. To say someone “deserves” help implies he has earned or merited it, and we are obliged to help him. Not to help means we are not living up to our obligations, and depriving him of something that is rightfully owed him. That is NOT what the Bible teaches.

When you look up “deserve” in the Bible, the emphasis is not on what you merit by virtue of your good works. I’m using the NASB, a literal translation, for clarity; other versions will be different. “Deserve” or “deserves” or “deserved” appear a total of 11 times in the NASB, but except for Judg 9:6 consistently used in a negative sense – deserve to be beaten, to die, deserve punishment – as recompense or reward demanded by our wickedness, iniquities, and folly:

Deut 25:2 then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt.
• Judg 9:16 “Now therefore, if you have dealt in truth and integrity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have dealt with him as he deserved
• 2 Sam 12:5 Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die.
• 1 Kgs 2:26 Then to Abiathar the priest the king said, “Go to Anathoth to your own field, for you deserve to die; but I will not put you to death at this time, because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before my father David, and because you were afflicted in everything with which my father was afflicted.”
• Ezra 9:13 After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this,
• Prov 26:5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes.
• Isa 3:11 Woe to the wicked! It will go badly with him, For what he deserves will be done to him.
• Mt 26:66 what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!”
• Lk 23:41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
• Heb 10:29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
• Revelation 16:6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.”

It is not used in the sense of earning merit for right, so that we are obliged to help him. Why? Because even though the “good” deeds of “good” people are “good” by human standards, they simply do not measure up to God’s perfect standard:
Isa 64:6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Filthy garments don’t merit anything.

(To be continued)