Is God UNJUST in His COMPENSATION CRITERIA? “And 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. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 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.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 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?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” (Matt. 20:9-16)
"For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name" (Heb. 6:10)
The above passage is the ending part of a parable that our Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples to make some important points concerning His compensation criteria. After reading through this parable, it is clear that both the thoughts and ways of God are much higher than our thoughts based on Isaiah 55:8-9: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts."
This parable illustrates the truth that while all true disciples will be rewarded; the order of rewards will be determined by the attitude that these disciples had shown toward service and rewards. Although rewards are forthcoming, Jesus rebukes the spirit of serving for the reward itself rather than to serve God for this is what His Word says: "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men" (Col. 3:23). For those who fail to recognize their absolute dependence on grace for any good thing from God’s hand, the message from this parable is a bitter pill to swallow. It is evident that for a disciple of Jesus, there is no room to be jealous of the good gifts God has given to another!
This parable describes a landowner who went out early in the morning at 6:00 a.m. to hire laborers to work in his vineyard. These men contracted to work for a denarius a day, a reasonable wage at that time. Later at 9:00 a.m. this landowner found some other unemployed laborers in the market place. In this case there was no labor-management agreement! They went to work with only his word that he would give them whatever was right. Still later, at noon and at 3:00 p.m. the farmer hired more laborers on the basis that he would give them a fair wage. At 5:00 p.m. he found more unemployed laborers. They were not lazy; they wanted work but hadn’t been able to find it. So he sent them into the vineyard without any discussion of pay. It is important to notice that only the first set of laborers were hired as a result of a bargaining agreement; all the others left the matter of pay to the landowner!
At the end of the day, the farmer instructed his paymaster to pay the laborers, beginning with the last hired and working back to the first. It was the same pay for all—one denarius, which made the initial set of laborers bitterly resentful since they had worked longer and through the heat of the day and so in their opinion ‘deserved more wages’! However, from the landowner’s reply we can distill five wonderful lessons and insights into God’s compensation criteria:
- In the kingdom of heaven we must adopt an entirely new kind of godly perception and understanding, while we abandon our greedy, competitive spirit. The initial set of laborers had bargained for a denarius a day and got the wage agreed on. The others cast themselves on the farmer’s grace and got grace. Grace is always better than justice. It is better to leave our rewards up to the Lord than to strike a bargain with Him!
- God is sovereign; He can do as He pleases. What God pleases to do will always be right, just, and fair. God has the right to do whatever He wishes with what is His. God is just; He will never fail to keep His promises. God is generous; He can show His grace to those who have had limited opportunities or have come lately into His kingdom.
- According to God’s compensation criteria, no one will receive less than what he/she deserves, but everyone will receive what he/she needs. The person “who thinks to bargain about final reward will always be wrong, and God’s loving-kindness will always have the last unchallengeable word.” (James S. Stewart, ‘A Man in Christ’)
- In the kingdom of God, grace is given because of the nature of the Giver, not by the worthiness of the recipient. Receiving God’s grace is a privilege for sinners, who really deserve nothing but condemnation. There will be a lot of surprises in the matter of getting the final rewards from God one day. Those who think they would be first will be last because their service was inspired by pride and selfish ambition. On the other hand, those who served out of love and gratitude will be highly honored.
- Finally, this parable may have Jewish-Gentile overtones, with the Gentiles’ coming belatedly into the great plan of God. Whatever the case, the lesson in the parable is surely that God is both fair and generous with His servants!