Parable of the Vineyard Workers

Newsflash: God doesn’t treat everyone fairly, and he does so deliberately. Well, he’s unfair from a particular point of view anyway. In the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus addresses a particular kind of unfairness for which people blame God, and he explains how God just might be fair after all.

Main Points (Choose ONE)

  1. Yes, God plays ‘favorites.’
  2. Envy will keep us from being grateful for God’s blessings.
  3. Be grateful for the opportunity to serve.


Matthew 20:1-16

1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

   3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

   “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

   7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

   “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

   8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

   9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

   13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

   16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


God plays favorites – or so it looks like that to us. On the big scale, it was fair to give everyone a day’s wages. They used to work to earn enough one day to pay for food the next day. If they did not get hired in the beginning of the day, they would hang around all day to see if someone would hire them so that they could have something to eat. When he paid them, he paid them all for a day’s work even though to them it seemed some should be paid more than others. To him, he simply used them as much as he could then paid them all for the day so they would be able to eat the next day. In the eyes of God – he was fair, however, to us it seems that he plays favorites – we just don’t see the big picture.

1.    Yes, God plays ‘favorites’: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

God’s ‘favorites’ are not who you would expect.

Luke 14:10-11 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

  • People who are favored tend to get all sorts of extra attention—making them even more favored.
    • Everyone wants to be friends with the ‘popular’ and ‘beautiful’ people, even if their definition of who qualifies may vary.
    • God doesn’t work that way, though.
      • He gives extra attention to those who are being ignored, and special rewards to those who have nothing.
      • So God’s ‘favoritism’ is motivated by compassion and results in greater justice.


Give an example of a time approached a situation with humility and was rewarded for it. Give an example of a time when you were humbled by God.

  • God exalts those who are humble.  That is, he gives hope to those who otherwise have nothing to hope for.

Numbers 12:3-8 3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)…

“When there is a prophet among you,
I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions,
I speak to them in dreams.
7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
8 With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the LORD…

Why is humility so important to God?

God trusts those who are humble.

  • People who are full of themselves listen only to their own counsel and follow only their own agendas.
  • People who are full of themselves don’t care so much about building relationships with other people—unless those people will be more adoring fans.
  • Neither of those things makes a person trustworthy in God’s eyes.

Luke 22:42 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

Why does God trust the humble?

They’re more dependent on Him.

2.    Envy will keep us from being grateful for God’s blessings: “‘Or are you envious because I am generous?’”

Tell a story of a time when you felt like you were under paid. Why did you feel that way? Was it because you were comparing yourself to some else?

Envy will keep us from being grateful for God’s blessings.

  • These people were getting fair wages for a fair day’s work.
    • Actually, it was a very generous arrangement by the standards of the time.
    • If nothing else, the workers had agreed previously that it was a fair arrangement.
    • The only reason they complained was envy that the workers who started later seemed to get an easier deal.
    • Envy prevents us from appreciating what we have

Proverbs 14:30 30 A heart at peace gives life to the body,  but envy rots the bones.

Why is it so hard have peace when we feel like we’ve been treated unfairly?

If we can have peace when God blesses others generously it will bring us life. If we are envious we will rot to our very core.

  • Not only does envy destroy enjoyment of good things, but it also eats away at us.
  • Envy destroys our strength and our ability to do good work (and thus earn good rewards) in the future.

Mark 12:31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Is it possible to love someone that you envy? Envy is spiteful not admirable.

We should want our neighbors to have the same things that we have and rejoice when they receive blessings.

  • If we’re honest about it, we’ll realize that envy is a kind of hate.
    • Instead of being glad that a friend got something good, we resent it.
    • We build walls and break off relationships just because we’re jealous.
    • Envy destroys relationships and turns life into a game of “Us against Them.”

Proverbs 30:7-9

7 “Two things I ask of you, LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

Why do we always desire more than we need?

The owner treated all the workers fairly because he gave them each enough to eat the next day. He gave them their daily bread.

3.    Be grateful for the opportunity to serve: “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.”

Talk about a time when you were so grateful to have a job or a time when you were so desperate that you would have worked for almost nothing.

Be grateful for the opportunity to serve.

  • These would-be workers were in a tough spot.
    • They were day laborers who relied upon being hired for seasonal work.
    • The longer the day went on, the more apparent it was that nobody needed (or wanted) their services.
    • They were facing the hard reality of unemployment without having a savings account or a credit card to rely upon.
    • They were hired without references or a rigorous background check.
      • The vineyard owner hired them without any guarantees that they would do a good job.
      • Even to the workers first hired, the vineyard owner was being generous with the opportunity to work.

Proverbs 28:19

Those who work their land will have abundant food,
but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.

Why does serving people you love feel so good?

God has promised nourishment for those who work.

  • Earning something for which you’ve worked hard will always be more satisfying than merely receiving that very same thing.
  • Hard work is not in vain.

Luke 22:27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

Who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?

Those who serve are greater than those who receive the serves.

  • Once again, Jesus was turning conventional wisdom on its head.
    • God himself, the King of the Universe, was serving others like a slave would.
    • According to his example, those with power and those who deserve honor are those who seem to have no power and who seem to be giving honor to others.
    • If we don’t realize the good aspects of work and of service to others, we aren’t understanding life the way God does.

Human Struggles

  1. It’s hard to become truly depended on God because our nature longs for independence.
  2. It’s hard to be content when we feel like we’ve been treated unfairly.
  3. We so get caught up in the things we want we forget to be grateful for the things we have.

Application Helps

  1. Ask God questions about small things like ‘What should I do with this free time I have between my classes?’ or ‘Should I go visit my parents this weekend?’ Learn His voice and learn to trust Him in the small things so it’s easier to trust Him in the large things.
  2. Avoid social comparisons, pray blessings over those that you envy, and expose your sin by opening up to someone about it.
  3. Every time you pray thank God for something new and don’t let your own wants and needs dominate your prayer life.