Day Labourers and the Eternal Reward – Jesus’ Parables

In Matthew 13 we found a series of parables often referred to as the kingdom parables. However, parables about the kingdom of heaven are not exclusive to that chapter. Our text today, Matthew 20:1-16, also presents a kingdom parable.

Jesus likened God’s kingdom to a vineyard, which the landowner sent workers into. He hired labourers early in the morning and agreed to pay them a denarius for their day of work. Later in the day, at the third hour, at the sixth hour, at the ninth hour, and even at the eleventh hour, he found more labourers at the marketplace and compelled them to go into his vineyard, promising that he would pay them whatever was right.

Pay Time…

At the end of the day, it was time to pay the workers. The steward of the landowner paid the workers, beginning with those hired at the eleventh hour. Jesus tells us

…when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. (Matthew 20:9-10)

As you might expect, the men who worked the entire day complained against the landowner, for they received the same wage as those who worked just an hour. They were reminded that they had agreed to a denarius—the landowner had paid them as he had promised. He said,

Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? (Matthew 20:14-15)

How Was That Fair?

At first glance, we might be inclined to agree with the men who worked through the heat of the day. Surely those who did more deserve more pay. But it is important to remember that Jesus is not teaching us about wage rates for day labourers. This is a parable—a physical story with a spiritual lesson. So, what lessons can be learned from the parable of the day labourers?

The vineyard is the church. The workers in the vineyard are Christians. As the parable reveals, not all are called into the kingdom at the same time. Some become Christians early in life while others do not respond to the gospel until their golden years. In the kingdom, it does not matter whether we have been a Christian for most of our life or for just a day—the reward is the same. All faithful Christians have the hope of heaven.

Don’t Be Like the Older Brother

The murmuring of those who served in the vineyard in the heat of the day is like the complaint of the elder child in the parable of the prodigal son. He angrily said to his father:

Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him. (Luke 15:29-30)

The Father commended his elder son for his faithfulness, but added:

It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found. (Luke 15:32)

Those who have been in the church for years need to be careful not to develop the attitude displayed by the men who worked through the day or that which was found in the elder brother. We are not more valuable, we are not more important, nor do we deserve more than the one who just obeyed the gospel. We ought to rejoice over all who come into the Lord’s vineyard, whether long ago or recent, for each member of the body of Christ is a soul which was dead and is alive again, a person who was lost but now is found.

The Same Reward In Heaven

Some have used texts such as 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 or Matthew 25:19-30 to say there are varying degrees of reward in heaven. Our text in Matthew 20:8-15 reveals that such is not the case. Every person, regardless the duration of labour, received the same reward. The servants in the parable of the talents are distinguished by ability, not reward. The master gave to each according to his ability (Matthew 25:15). However, when they came to settle with the master, those who were faithful were rewarded the same (Matthew 25:21, 23).

In 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, it is stated our work will be tested. What work? It has nothing to do with our faithfulness to God. If we are not faithful we’ll not receive a reward (Matthew 25:30). In context, Paul speaks about our role in the work of evangelism (v 5-9). What is the “reward” or “loss” the apostle speaks about? It has to do with whether those we had a part in bringing to Christ endure to eternal life or not. If they are faithful, we will see them in heaven. If they are not faithful, we will not enjoy their presence in heaven. There are no extras or bonuses in heaven—being in the presence of God for eternity is our reward.

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