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Eternity 132 - The Parable Of The Landowner

(Matthew 20:1-16 NKJV) "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. {2} "Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. {3} "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, {4} "and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. {5} "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. {6} "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' {7} "They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.' {8} "So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.' {9} "And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. {10} "But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. {11} "And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, {12} "saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.' {13} "But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? {14} 'Take what is yours and go your way. 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 my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?' {16} "So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."

This parable holds two truths in tension - 1) God is absolutely sovereign and will do what He wants 2)The He is always faithful to His promises. The workers were promised a denarius and they received it. God keeps His word. On the other hand they tried to pin God to their concept of natural justice - that if one hours work earns one denarius then surely twelve hours work deserves more. But God is not one to be told what He should give people, rather He gives according to His will.

This "according to His will" aspect of God is hard for most people to accept. When God is good to my fellow missionary, who may not have worked as hard as I have or made the sacrifices I have made how do I feel? Do I say "hallelujah" or do I go green with envy? What happens inside me when "the missionary next door" gets invited to speak at the big conference or the novice missionary raises someone from the dead and has a revival ? Can I cope with a God who gives blessings, when He wants, to whom He wants, and in the amount he wants?

This idea that we can receive blessings from God that we don't in any way deserve, and could never in a million years deserve, is an idea that rocks the spiritual universe to its very foundations. We are used to Law, we are used to the idea of God with a record book, and in our pride we want to believe that our little blessings were very much deserved. We want God to act with some sort of easily understood proportional justice not His unpredictable grace. We want a God who follows our regulations and is not more generous to the person next door. Fortunately for us God is God and gives His gifts according to His will which is full of love.

What do I mean "fortunately for us"? Because we have a very lop-sided internal balance sheet. In our own minds we add up all our good deeds and sacrifices and fail to subtract all our sins, failings, unbelief, grumblings and general short-comings. Our balance sheet is not so good or deserving as we imagine ( well at least mine isn't). To have a God who is good to us, who is unpredictably gracious, who suddenly pops up with lavish generosity to undeserving people - is welcome news indeed.

The eleventh hour laborers were far less deserving - they just received grace. And it is this grace that caused the reaction that Jesus called "the eye of evil". The envious reaction of comparing rewards - is evil. And in ministry lavish grace often provokes feelings of envy and resentment. How does the pastor of a small church in a community feel when a new church opens in town and suddenly booms and has a revival and he simply keeps on going at the same level. Does the pastor say "the new church is a cult' or invent rumors about sexual immorality or criticize its doctrine or its practices. I have seen all of these envious reactions - and they are evil, and they divide the body of Christ.

This dynamic of unpredictable grace also applies to spiritual gifts which are given simply by grace "according to His will" :
(1 Corinthians 12:11 NKJV) But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
(Hebrews 2:4 NKJV) God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?


I have known people who prayed every day for ten years for the gift of tongues or healing without ever receiving them. Others pray fervently for a miraculous event or spiritual opening in their tribal group and never see it. Grace and spiritual gifts simply won't be commanded. Yet we are to seek spiritual gifts ( 1 Corinthians 14:1) and to seek openings from God for our ministry and there are spiritual principles that make it more likely that they will be given. You cannot deserve a miracle but you can ask for one! There are even times when you can almost "surf the waves of grace" and everything you ask for just happens.

God is not unjust. You will always get what He has promised you. You will always get your denarius. But the splashes of grace are God's to give - and ours to seek with open, grace-celebrating hearts. I think God is more generous to those who rejoice with others. I don't think He gives much to those with "evil eyes" and who have resentment, envy and grumbling in their hearts. Grace should delight us, no matter to whom it is given. Good on them, praise the Lord - for the chap going to the big conference and the novices miracle and the new church's revival. Praise the Lord for the new Christian with a powerful anointing from God or for the successful evangelist. Praise the Lord for the next door neighbors new car given by his rich uncle. And praise the Lord for the promotion of others. Perhaps this has struck a chord with you, perhaps you have been envious of grace. Why not confess it now and be done with it - and ask the Lord for a new, grace-loving, goodness-celebrating heart that delights in the blessings of others!