Summary: Understanding Grace


- My Mom has been a nurse all her life – she volunteered at the local hospital and then intervened during high school and immediately after. She then got into nursing school and worked her way to becoming a nurse and most of her adult life was spent working and going back and forth to school as she could until she became a RN Supervisor. She discussed the amount of money she made at the end of her time and she said that amount was almost equal to what nursing students make now after they finish their schooling.

- What do you think about that?

- Chapter divisions in the Bible are usually helpful as they allow us to find our way around the Scriptures. Occasionally, however, they can hinder our understanding of a passage if they cause us to look at it apart from its context. This often is the case with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16). Because of the chapter division at the end of Matthew 19, we fail to understand the parable in its context of Jesus’ teaching in 19:16–30.

- This parable is Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27: “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Like many of us today, Peter thought he related to God on the basis of merit, and he was already adding up his merit points.

- The parable is part of Jesus’ reply to Peter, which begins in chapter 19, verse 28. The message of the parable can be summarized in this statement: The operative principle in the kingdom of heaven is not merit but grace. We readily understand this principle in the context of our salvation. We know Paul’s words: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. …not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9), but many believers assume that we earn God’s blessings by our works — apart from God’s grace.

[Matthew 20:1-16]

(1) We are called to live our lives on the basis of God’s grace (not just our salvation).

(2) God’s grace is generous:

a. Consider first the abundant generosity of His grace. The master hired laborers for his vineyard first at 6 a.m., then periodically throughout the day. Finally, he hired some at 5 p.m. to work only one hour. This man, was both fair and generous. To the first group of laborers he was fair, as he readily agreed to pay a denarius, the ordinary wage for a day’s labor. Then he was progressively more generous to each group of laborers hired throughout the day. The master could have paid them what they earned, but he chose to pay them according to their need, not according to their work. He paid according to grace, not debt.

b. The parable focuses particularly on those workers who were hired at the eleventh hour. They were treated extremely generously, each receiving twelve times what he had earned on an hourly basis. Why did the landowner hire these laborers at the eleventh hour? The owner in the parable pays all the workers enough to support their families.[2]The social situation in Jesus’ day was that many small farmers were being forced off their land because of debt they incurred to pay Roman taxes. This violated the God of Israel’s command that land could not be taken away from the people who work it (Leviticus 25:8-13), but of course this was of no concern to the Romans. Consequently, large pools of unemployed men gathered each morning, unemployed men gathered each morning, hoping to be hired for the day. They are the displaced, unemployed, and underemployed workers of their day. Those still waiting at five o'clock have little chance of earning enough to buy food for their families that day. Yet the vineyard owner pays even them a full day’s wage. Was it because an extra push was needed to complete the work? More likely, since Jesus was not teaching about Jewish agriculture, but about the kingdom of heaven, those eleventh hour workers were hired because they needed to receive a day’s wages. Laborers of that day lived a day-to-day existence. That is why the Law required land owners to pay hired men at the end of each day (Deut. 24:15).

c. This is the way God treats us. Over and over again, the Bible portrays God as gracious and generous, blessing us not according to what we have “earned” but according to our needs — and often beyond our needs. He has already blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3), and He promises to supply every temporal need, again in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). The truth is, we cannot “earn” anything from God apart from His grace. As Jesus said elsewhere, when we have done all that we are commanded, we should say, “We have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). We have not obligated God or earned His blessings. Rather, all blessings come to us “in Christ,” that is, by His grace.

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