555 Difficult Bible Questions Answered

273. In the Parable of the Laborers What Is the Principle Taught?

This parable in Matt. 20:1-16 stands in close connection with the preceding chapter, and its evident purpose was to illustrate the sentiment of the closing verse: "Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first" The parable has reference to rewards, and illustrates the method of their bestowment upon the followers of Christ, namely, in such s way that the last shall be equal to the first, and the first last—a way that rewards faithfulness of service, rather than length of service or the amount accomplished in the service. The purpose of the parable, being understood, it cannot properly awaken any question as to discrimination in the matter of the pay of the laborers. As to the transaction of the householder, as represented in the parable, there was no injustice in it He agreed with the first laborers for "a penny a day," while with the others no specified amount was agreed upon, and he could pay them what he pleased. Further, the Saviour does not necessarily approve the course of the householder, and we are not required to show that it was either right or wise, as an act of man toward men, but only that rewards in the kingdom of God are thus bestowed without reference to the time of service, another and very different consideration actuating our Heavenly Father in this matter—namely, faithfulness. The parable was an answer to Peter's question (Matt. 19 -27), "Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee: what shall we have therefore?" In a word, it was a rebuke of the bargaining spirit. Those who follow Christ for the sake of the reward, and not from love of him, will not be defrauded. They will have all that God has promised them, but they are not those whom he most loves. A parent who promises a child a reward for a certain service, or for good behavior, and notices that the child performs the task or behaves himself better than at other times, when no reward is promised, does not approve of the child's spirit He does not like to see the child doing for money the thing that he does not do for love, as he ought to do. Still, he keeps his promise and pays, as he agreed. But the child who does cheerfully and readily, as the parent requests, without any promise of reward, is the one whom the parent approves. That child would surely be rewarded, though no reward had been promised. The householder in the parable makes his bargain with the first party of laborers. The phrase, "when he had agreed with them," clearly implies negotiation. With the others he made no bargain, merely giving his promise to pay whatsoever was right They trusted him, and went to work. He liked the confidence they showed, and he gave them more than they expected. The early morning laborers had no just ground of complaint They received all they had stipulated for. All through Christ's ministry he showed the same spirit. He craved personal love and confidence. He wanted people, above all things, to trust in him. Peter's question must have chilled Christ's spirit. It might have been interpreted as showing that this man who Christ supposed was following him for love, was there for what he could make out of it. Hence, the rebuke of the parable.