The preceding chapter ends with these words from the Lord, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19:30) At the end of the parable before us, the Lord repeats Himself in Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” It is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard that illustrate that truth.

This parable speaks of rewards. It also speaks of God’s sovereignty that allows Him to give rewards according to His own perfect will. The parable seems to speak to Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27, “Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; WHAT SHALL WE HAVE THEREFORE?” Peter was overly occupied with what his reward would be. We should be occupied with Christ and trust Him to distribute rewards as He sees fit.

Notice in this parable that the master of the house hires men to work early in the morning, then he hires more in the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 11th hour. Let’s look at how much the master agreed to pay these men. Those hired first were paid a penny for their labor, which was a normal day’s pay. Verse 2 tells us, “And when HE HAD AGREED with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” The master AGREED with the laborers for a penny a day. This clearly shows that the laborers set the wage and the master agreed to it. When those in the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 11th hour were hired, they did not bargain for their wage. The master promised that he would pay them “whatsoever is right.” (Verses 4 and 7). They trusted him to do what was right in his own eyes.

When it came time to pay the workers, we see that the master gave those who were hired in the 11th hour a penny. The reaction of those who were hired first revealed their true character. Let’s read verses 10-15, “But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman 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. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” Remember those hired at first bargained with the master for their wages. They agreed to work for one penny. The master did not defraud them. He gave them what they asked for. The others trusted the master to give them whatever he deemed appropriate. He gave them all one penny, also.

The master asked those hired first, “Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Verse 15). Were they angry at him because he was generous to the others? Were they envious of the others, even though they received exactly what they asked for? There is no record that those hired in the 3rd hour were angry because those hired in the 11th hour received the same wage as they did. No, it was those who were more occupied with their wages than in pleasing the master who hired them that were upset. So, it goes that many that shall be brought into the kingdom last, shall be first in receiving rewards.

So, let’s now read Hebrews 6:10, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” We really do not deserve any rewards at all. We read in Philippians 2:13, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Any labor that we do that is worthy of rewards truly belong to the Lord. He gives us the will to labor for Him, and He, Himself, actually does the work through us. There is no room here for man to glory, but the Lord is so gracious that even though it is Him working through us, He rewards us as if we did the labor. That which is done to the glory of the Lord does not escape His eye. As if we had labored out of our own desire and strength, the Lord is quick to reward. And He rewards according to His own loving sovereignty. (287.6)