Category Archives: Thoughts on the labourers in the vineyard

Thoughts on the labourers in the vineyard

Matthew’s gospel may be divided by the expression “When Jesus had finished…”, 7:28, 11:1, 13:53, 19:1, 26:1. The subject of reward is introduced by the question of the young man in 19:16. Eternal life = life of the age = life under the Messiah in the Kingdom, in Old Testament expectation.  The covenant of the law was designed to make Israel into a holy nation under the Messiah, Exodus 19.  The question in the mind of the man is, “How do I know I have done enough?”  Christ maintains the law in His answer, but, in grace, substitutes “Honour thy father and mother” for “Thou shalt not covet”, which he knew the man had broken, and which would slay him as it had slain Saul of Tarsus, Romans 7:7-13.  He now needs to show he does not covet by selling his goods and giving to the poor. Verses 23,24.    A rich man enters the sphere of profession, the kingdom of heaven, with difficulty, but a rich man enters the kingdom of God, the realm of reality, only by the grace of God. Verses 25,26    To be saved is equivalent to entering the kingdom of God, hence the question of the disciples “Who then can be saved”.  The answer to who can enter the kingdom of heaven has been answered already.  In effect, “Rich men, but with difficulty”.  To enter the kingdom of God and cling onto the love of riches is an impossibility, hence the question of the disciples. Verse 27    Peter wishes to know beforehand what his reward will be in the kingdom of God.  He has misunderstood the command “sell that thou hast, and give to the poor”, verse 21.  This is not work done to receive salvation/place in the kingdom, but a right attitude of finishing with self in order to come into the good of grace. Verses 28,29    Grace gives the apostles a place, but all who have turned from the earthly for His name’s sake, shall also receive the reward that grace gives.  Note the comma in verse 28.  It is not “followed Me in the regeneration”, but “Followed Me, in the regeneration…”.  Amillenialists have to read it without the comma, (as Matthew Henry does) and make the regeneration now, even though it is “followed Me”, not “are following Me”. Leave one house and receive 100 back can only happen by grace.  Note it is “houses, or brethren”, not “houses and brethren”.  It is the principle that is in view, not the extent of the practice.  The receiving hundred-fold is not necessarily now.  Nothing to do with going “full-time”, or as a missionary.  All believers have left the earthly for the heavenly, but their attitude to things afterwards is the test.  Peter did not leave his wife, for he lead her about, according to 1 Corinthians 9:5. Only believers inherit eternal life, for it is their reward for service rendered as sons and heirs.  Sinners may receive eternal life as a gift, hence the parable of good Samaritan.  The man who wanted to inherit must realise he cannot as a sinner, even whilst trying to keep the law, but he can receive life as a gift from the good Samaritan.  As long as he looked on himself as being the good Samaritan, (as many still do, clinging to works), and not as the man in the gutter, he would never have eternal life. Verse 30     The young man thought himself first in the keeping of the law, but finds himself last, condemned by the last of the ten commandments.  Peter thought himself first, but a similar reward, or better, is available to all who work out the principle of grace in their lives. This is illustrated by the parable in 20:1-16. Those hired first, the “first ones”, verse 8, agreed the price of a penny for the day.  Those hired later, even to the last, the eleventh hour workers, were engaged only on condition they would get what was right.  Whether that was a penny, or more or less than a penny, was up to the householder.  He only undertook to give what was just, or righteous.  The eleventh hour workers therefore would only expect a fraction of what the first workers would receive.  They do not appear to know beforehand what the first workers are expecting. The first workers made the mistake of reckoning naturally and not reckoning justly.  They received their just reward- but so did the last men.  The fact that it was the same as theirs was not the point.  What is righteous is in view. No wrong had been done to them. The householder wills to give unto these last, even as unto the first, for they have an even amount; each has a penny.  The affairs of the householder, how he organised things, were entirely a matter for him. Then he asks a question.  Have you displayed a false view of things by my right conduct?  Or does the cause lie elsewhere, even in thy wrong attitude to reward?  The latter is the case.  So it is that those who are “first”, not in time, nor in effort, nor in trials, but first in their own thoughts, thinking themselves more worthy than others to receive a reward, shall find that their attitude has deprived them of the best reward.  They will get their “penny”, because the Lord will not be in debt to any, but proportionately, they will receive less.  So it is that a right attitude to reward will turn a “last” labourer into a “first” labourer.  Many are called to serve Christ, (that is, many as opposed to the few who are chosen, but only a few are first-class labourers, in that they are not working for reward, but for Him, or to use the phrase of verse 29, “for My name’s sake”, and not for their own advancement’s sake. In verses 17-19 this is perfectly expressed.  The One who had every claim to be first, was going to be last on the cross, but in resurrection would be “the first of them that should rise from among the dead”. Then comes a negative example in verses 20-28.  James and John want to be first, but must learn to be martyrs, last, in order to be first.  Whosoever will be chief (first) among you, let him be your servant, verse 27, and then the perfect example of this again, in verse 28. In verses 29-34 the subject is rounded off.  The two blind men are introduced by Matthew, for they illustrate the blindness of James and John, who must learn to be delivered from Jericho blindness, so that they may join in the Jerusalem joy of the next chapter. There is a similar use of a miracle in Mark 8.  Verse 18, having eyes, see ye not?”  Then the blind man healed gradually, the only miracle recorded at Bethsaida, despite Matthew 11:20,21.  The disciples see men as trees walking in the next incident, as they tell what a poor vision of Christ the people have, and then Peter sees clearly, “Thou art the Christ”.  As John says, “We beheld His glory”.

Lessons: All reward is of grace.  We cannot merit it of our own strength. All reward will be just. All reward lies in the hand of the Lord, according to His estimate, not ours. All reward is undeserved, so none should complain. All reward will be adjusted according to heaven’s reckoning, which is totally different to that of men.  “My thoughts are not your thoughts…”  Two mites are more than a walletful.  A cup of cold water is a great gift, not un-noticed by the Lord.  A boy gave his sandwiches, and fed 5000 plus, whereas the disciples were helpless to do anything, and thought only in money terms.  Three and a half years is a long time, John 14:9. All rewards will take account of opportunity, length of time available, effort, etc, but also will be regulated by whether “His name’s sake” governed our thinking.  Any work done simply for reputation or self-satisfaction will be seen as second-rate.