Now that we’ve identified the players, let’s take a few moments to look at some applications. While there may be further applications for this parable other than the ones that are listed below, here are a few to get you started…
- First, it may be easy to look at those things that God has given others and feel that He is also obligated to give us more or better things, just as some of the laborers in this illustration did. But it’s important to remember that God has different plans for each of His people. The critical thing is to get busy doing the work that God has called us to do regardless of where we happen to be in life and let God be concerned about any rewards that may or may not follow.
- Jesus once gave a quick illustration that identifies what our attitude really should be as we serve God in the “vineyard” of our daily lives: “When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, he doesn’t just sit down and eat, but first prepares his master’s meal and serves him his supper before he eats his own. And he is not even thanked, for he is merely doing what he is supposed to do. Just so, if you merely obey me, you should not consider yourselves worthy of praise. For you have simply done your duty!” (Luke 17:7-10). A person who lives a God-honoring life doesn’t believe that they deserve to be especially honored (or “paid more” like some of the workers in our parable) just because they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place.
- If the workers in the vineyard had been paying their full attention to the work that the vineyard owner had given them to do, they probably would have been much less mindful of and concerned about those who came later but were paid the same. It’s usually better to concentrate on the responsibilities that God has given to us rather than paying a lot of attention to what others are (or aren’t) doing.
- It was said earlier that the denarius that the vineyard workers were paid is symbolic of Heaven. Here’s one possible way to interpret that: Let’s say that a person has reached the end of their life and with their very last breath, they genuinely apologize to God, admit that they didn’t live their life in a way that was pleasing to Him, and ask God to have mercy on them in Jesus’ name. On the authority of Scripture, The Doctor can tell you that such a person will go to heaven because as Romans 10:9 tells us, “… if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”With this in mind, the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard tells us that a Christian who dies after serving God for many years should not say, “That’s not fair- I served God all my life. How could someone turn to God in the very last moment of their life and go to heaven just like me?” In that instance, God’s response may very well be like the response of the vineyard owner in the parable that we just read…
“‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'”
Now let’s be clear on something- eternal life with God in heaven is it’s own reward and everyone who accepts Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for the things that they’ve done wrong will share in that reward. This will be true whether that person was a Christian for 50 years, 20 years, 10 years, 1 year, or the last 3 seconds of their life.
However, this does not mean that God will not honor those who have served Him with their lives, for as Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:27 “…the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. What this parable simply means is that God’s gift of salvation and eternal life with Him in Heaven is not based on how much time we spend working for Him. Salvation is based upon God’s grace or His unmerited favor towards us.
- Finally, there is Jesus’ somewhat puzzling statement that “…the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16). What does He mean by this? Well, Jesus seems to be reminding us that our experience in heaven will be very different from the life that we experience now. Those people and things that seem to be the most important now will actually be least important then. In a similar way, those who are quietly doing God’s work with very little recognition now might find themselves highly honored then.