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Mar 11, 2018

Spiritual Minimum Wage

Spiritual Minimum Wage

Passage: Matthew 20:1-16

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Parables That Change the World

Keywords: comparing, gift, greed, grumbling, jealousy, joy, salvation, wage, work


Jesus' Parable of the Landowner & Laborers is a perfect parable for our culture and lives. So often we are caught up with attitudes of jealousy, greed and discontent when God wants to give us joy, gratitude, salvation and eternally meaningful work. This parable also clarifies the relationship of salvation by grace through faith and the work God has called us to do.


Spiritual Minimum Wage

Matthew 20:1-16

March 11, 2018


How has God used the parable from last week of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Praying in Luke 18 to speak to you about something this week?

  • ME:
    • Continuing conviction of my tendency to pigeon-hole/size-up/judge people by first impressions rather than by their heart (which always takes real relationship and time to get to know).
    • How that hinders unity that God wants in His family.
    • How much of a “recovering Pharisee” I am: thinking myself better than others, not as sinful, with more to offer God, etc.
    • Paradox of life: when we think we are closer to God, being spiritual, living well before Christ in comparison with others around us is when we are actually the ones who are farther away from God… while those who are broken by life and feel how much they need mercy are usually closer to Christ Jesus. 
  • COMMUNION: focus on mercy and brokenness
    • Can you remember when you have felt the weight or damage or pain of your sin? Not talking just about being in pain because of your sin.  Talking about being in pain because of what your sin was doing to others?  To your relationship with God?  Feeling the weight of your own sinfulness rather than the pain of life from other people’s sin. 
    • Remember what it felt like to just cry out for God’s mercy without any expectation or demands that He would rescue you?
    • Our common sinfulness, varied though it may be, should be something that binds us together at the Lord’s Table. The fact that we ALL need mercy equally should mean that we all share what we bring to the table, be it need or be it abundance.  (That is the diversity we bring today—emotionally, relationally, physically, materially, educationally, etc.)
    • Perhaps ABSTAIN if you haven’t felt in your soul for some time
      • a true sense of unworthiness,
      • of needing mercy,
      • of being broken as a person,
      • of not having it together in life and
      • certainly not having it together before God.

If you lack this sense of neediness, brokenness and desire for God’s mercy, spend this time praying, asking for genuine brokenness (if you are really hungry for more of God) to replace passivity or indifference or apathy.

  • By all means ABSTAIN if there is sin in your life that God has already spoken to you about and you are not eager to have Christ remove it…or to take the steps you know you must to remove it. This act of communion will bring only judgment rather than forgiveness if that is the case.   

INTRO:  Story

This week I was reading about an amazing start-up company in Bellevue, WA…you know, where Microsoft and Amazon and Nordstrom’s and Starbucks and REI all have their headquarters.  There is a LOT of money moving around on that side of our state.  

            Anyway, this company got started right in the middle of the “Great Recession” of 2007/8.  They apparently had some really deep pockets behind them and they saw the recession as a very narrow window in which to launch their new software product in their particular market niche of artificial intelligence. 

            So in January of 2008, they started hiring.  They went looking for unemployed software engineers, information technology managers and artificial intelligence geniuses.  They scooped up some 85 people from just the Seattle area and put them to work in older, surprisingly rundown offices in the basement of one of the older buildings in Bellevue.

Unknown to these new employees was a closely-guarded company secret about employee compensation, namely that every employee was making the same salary, $185,000 a year.     

            Three months into it, the management realized they needed to accelerate Research & Development significantly.  So they went outside of Seattle looking for more talent.  They hired another batch of engineers and developers and inked the same contracts with them.  And, not surprisingly, that move necessitated another move—an upgrade in offices to a slightly better but still more cramped office building just outside Bellevue.

            By the end of the second quarter, in early June, it became evident that they were at the forefront of their field.  So to stay ahead in the competition, they now went nationwide with their search for engineering and information talent. They hauled in another fifty-five developers from the cream of the crop nationally.  And they did the same at the end of the 3rd Quarter in 2008.  And, not surprisingly, they had to move offices yet again.  But this time it was into one of the nicer and more centrally located office buildings in downtown Bellevue.

            As they approached the end of the year, management went on a world-wide search for additional talent, hiring some 70 additional software engineers to hopefully guard their number one spot in this globally-expanding market. They paid to move all these engineers to the Seattle area from places like India, Europe, China and Japan.  And they settled them in condos and posh apartments in Bellevue so they could begin their work immediately. 

            At the company Christmas party held that year at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bellevue, they booked rooms for every family, every couple and every single employee in the company.  Then they threw a lavish dinner and reception for everyone.

As the evening drew to a close, the President of the company got up and made a speech in which he thanked every member of their team (several hundred employees by then) for the amazing work and achievements they had accomplished for the company that year. He also informed them that, because of their hard work and long hours, the Board of Directors had voted to give each employee a year-end bonus in addition to their annual salary.  They could pick up their checks as they left the ballroom that night.  The rest of the evening was spent dining, dancing and drinking in celebration of their great success. 

As having a little too much to drink will often do, a number of the employees got a little loose-lipped about their Christmas bonuses.  It soon became public knowledge that the new December hires from overseas had gotten the same amount in bonuses as the seasoned employees hired 11 months earlier who had work in the cold, crowded basement offices of that first building. 

But it got worse.  Not only were the bonuses the same for ALL employees regardless of time hired by the company; everyone had apparently received the same salary of $185,000 for that calendar year 2008… regardless of WHEN they joined the company and regardless of how much they had actually contributed to the corporation’s success that year.  Those who signed on in January 2008 were paid $185,000 for the year, just as those who signed on in December that same year!  Those who worked long days and often into the night were paid and received bonuses identical to those who had clocked in at 8:00 a.m. and out at 5:00 p.m. every week. 

I’ll leave you to imagine the uproar that company had on their hands when everyone came back to work after Christmas break.  And I’ll let you imagine what was said, emailed, texted, tweeted and written to company management after the bonus checks had been cashed.  J 

What’s wrong with that company, its management and Board of Directors?  [Wait for answers.]

But what’s wrong with them legally?

What’s wrong with them ethically?

Fact is, there is nothing wrong with them, absolutely NOTHING!

  • They made fair and generous contracts with every single employee.
  • They fulfilled every commitment in every one of those contracts.
  • And they gave bonuses to every one of their employees that year.
  • They were even voted The Most Generous Company of the Year in Washington.
  • They were amazingly legal, moral and…generous!

But they still have a lot of engineers and software designers and AI geniuses mad at them for what they did.  Or they would… IF this story were real…which it is not.  It’s a modern adaptation of a parable we are looking at today.  J 

So turn to Matthew 20 and let’s read vss. 1-16. 

            For your information on the context, the disciples have just seen a very sincere, very rich, very moral and good man, who wanted to spend eternity with God, walk away from Jesus because he wouldn’t walk away from his wealth. 

And Jesus had just told the disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”  (19:23, 24). 

            Just so we would understand that Jesus was actually talking about the impossibility of sending a camel through the eye of a literal needle, Matthew tells us what the disciples said: “Who then can be saved?” 

ANSWER from Jesus?  “With man this [anyone being saved let alone a sincere, moral, blessed-by-God-with-wealth man] IS impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

            Salvation of any human being is the work of God, first, last and in between.  And that is something the Bible clearly declares from start to finish.  Religion declares that salvation is a work of humans, dependent on what WE do.  That could not be farther from the truth. 

            But Peter is still stuck back on the moral, rich man.  He’s started calculating what he had left behind to follow Jesus.  He certainly wasn’t anywhere near as wealthy as this other chap.  But he had walked away from his fishing business, his boat, his land, home…and even his family.  He was certainly paying some price as was his family for following Jesus. 

            So after reminding Jesus that the 12 had “left everything to follow” Jesus, he asks, “What’s in it for us?” 

            Jesus’ answer may surprise you…especially if you have no room for getting blessing out of following Christ.  Jesus essentially tells Peter that, when He sets up His kingdom and ultimate Kingdom rule over the earth, not only are the Apostles going to be given amazing roles of rulership and judging in that Kingdom but everyone who has left anything of value to follow Christ is going to receive 100 times what they left plus eternal life! 

            And then Jesus ends with the mirror image of the very phrase He is going to end our parable with:  “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.”  Not a few.  Not some.  MANY!  Heaven will be The Great Reversal of all time! 

So let’s introduce the players in this parable:  Mt. 20:1--“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.  He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.”

  • Who is the “landowner”? [God]
  • What is the vineyard? [God’s kingdom]
  • What is the vineyard work? [Kingdom work in this world]
  • Who are the hired workers? [People who respond to God’s invitation to come and work/believers.]
  • What is the denarius? [Salvation/eternal life]

Another point of background.  A denarius was equal to a whole day’s pay, not minimum wage and not Bill Gate’s salary.  It was a good family wage for someone working 10-12 hours a day. 

Read 20:3-7

Why had these later laborers not been hired earlier?  That’s the same question the landowner asked the last guys hired.  Answer:  “Because no one has hired us.”  What’s the meaning of this? 

            No one had shared the gospel with them.  No one had invited them to join the work party?  No one had been out extending the invitation to come work for the day…or their whole life!  But they still get hired. 

Vs. 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.’”

            For those of you accounting majors, here is the LIFO way of accounting:  Last In, First Out.  J  Only here it has to do with paying wages, not making investments.  So the last hired are the first paid.  It seems as if the landowner is wanting to be sure that what he is about to do will be seen by all.

Vs. 9ff-- “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.’

            What are they saying?  “This isn’t FAIR!”  “This isn’t equal work for equal pay!”  “You’re going to have a suit on your hands.  We’re going to sic Labor & Industry on you, bud!”

             “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?’

            So, where is the problem?  With the landowner or the laborers?  (Laborers.) 

And just what is the nature of the problem?  [Envy and greed on the negative side of things.] 

What is missing?  [Joy at another’s good fortune, at the landowner’s generosity, at him keeping his word, paying on time, hiring so many people, having a great harvest, etc.] 

So, clearly one of the things being taught her is that, no matter how little or much time and effort the different hires put into this, they all received the same thing at the end of the day.  If we are correct in interpreting the denarius as the gift of salvation, then this interpretation would seem to match the rest of scripture.

  • Whether you come to faith in Jesus at the beginning of the “day” of your lifespan…or at the end of your life…everyone receives the gift of the Kingdom of heaven.
  • It doesn’t depend upon how long you get to do the Lord’s will or work in this life for the Kingdom.
  • Nor does it seem to matter even the quality of the work you do, whether you worked through great difficulties in life or got to join the team after the “heat of the day” was passed and the cool of the evening was setting in.

Salvation is not as a result of our time and effort put into Kingdom work.  (Other things may be, but not salvation.)

OBJECTION:  Someone is sure to be thinking, “Yah, but didn’t everybody have to work in the landowner’s field to get paid, to get the denarius?” 

            The parable seems to indicate that everyone who actually responded to the invitation to come and work did, in fact, work.  But there is nothing here that would indicate that any of them had to take a proficiency or efficiency test.  They were all simply “hired” whenever they heard the invitation and responded.  Work doesn’t secure salvation; salvation secures meaningful work in the kingdom. 

            Unfortunately there are too many supposed followers of the Master who think that simply saying “Yes” in some spiritual Unemployment Office to an announcement/invitation of work without actually showing up to the job site and rolling up your sleeves, constitutes an acceptance of the offer of work.  It doesn’t.  We don’t work for the offer of work but we sure will actually get to work in the Kingdom IF we’ve really accepted the offer of salvation. 

A good work ethic is not the point of this parable.  Neither is fair working conditions or fair wage issues.  But one of the obvious things in this parable is that those who eventually got paid actually moved from the unemployment line to the job site. 

APP:  The same is true of the offer of salvation.  When you receive Jesus’ offer to save you from sin and bring you into His kingdom, there will be a change of heart and a change of purpose in life.  No longer will you live for yourself. Now you will go to work expending time and energy, money and effort to do His bidding, His work, work in His fields. 

This is why actually going into the harvest and working in the fields of people’s lives is so important.  Work is a big part of what Jesus calls us to when He saves us.  And the person who says, “I really love the landowner but I don’t like to do what he’s given me to do,” really doesn’t love the Landowner…the Lord. When you’ve been bought out of slavery to sin, set free to live in righteousness, then you’ll want to give all you can to follow, obey and work for God himself. 

If you don’t know how to do that, you need to sit down with someone who you look at and think, “They are really living the Kingdom life.  They are really doing things for Christ.  They are really working in the Kingdom and seeing fruit.”  Ask them what you can do to put feet to your faith.  And if they can’t help you, please, by all means, come to me or Bob or Jesse or Tina or other ministry leaders and we will take the time to help you become productive in the Kingdom. 

It is not the purpose of this parable to teach about rewards for faithful servants in the Kingdom.  We will see what Jesus says about that in some other parables. 

But don’t be confused:  just because salvation is free to all who respond to Christ’s invitation does NOT mean that everyone will receive the same rewards in heaven regardless of the life you lived here on earth as a Christian.  Multiple parables and passages of the New Testament teach that what we do with our lives after accepting Christ’s invitation to join Him in the harvest field will have profound impact on what we experience in eternal life and what God asks us to do or puts under our care in the life to come. 

The end of Matthew 19 that we saw earlier makes that very clear. 

OBJECTION:  Someone is probably thinking, “Well I thought heaven was going to be wonderful for everyone.  Do you mean I’m going to be regretting what I did or didn’t do in this lifetime when I see what others did with their lives?” 

            Perhaps…and probably.  But it won’t be an eternal regret.  Jesus will wipe those tears away too.  And then we’ll move forward. 

            But there will be one grand difference that will probably make all the difference in the world.  You will feel about someone else’s success what God feels about them. 

You won’t be envious.  You won’t be jealous.  Those fleshly responses to other people’s successes that are so natural to us now won’t even be a part of our thought life.  Their successes and God’s generosity towards them for their faithful service will probably just serve to make us better, more fervent sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father for the next chapter of eternity, whatever that is. 

Now, can we address another issue raised by this parable:  FAIRNESS?

The Landowner (God) comes right out and says, “My generosity IS fair.  My calling you out of spiritual unemployment whether as a child or teen or middle aged adult or senior citizen…it’s all fair.  There is nothing unfair about God’s gift of salvation offered to all at any time in your life.” 

ILL:  My parents, as I’ve said before, came to faith in Jesus in their mid-40s and 50s. 

By the time my mother turned 5 years old in the Lord, she was speaking to women’s groups, sharing her testimony, leading evangelistic Bible studies and seeing dozens, even hundreds of women coming to faith in Christ.  She spent the next 40 years of her life witnessing, teaching and discipling women.  She made up for 45 lost years of her life lived for herself. 

My father did the same thing in his life.  He used his legal expertise here in Spokane to help hundreds of people do everything from adopt children to fight evil.  And by the time he turned 10 years old in the Lord at age 64, he had left his law practice to go give 9 months a year to Multnomah University in Portland so hundreds of students could continue to get financial aid, get a Bible education there and go out into the world to be pastors, missionaries and lay workers all over the world in the Kingdom. 

Was it “unfair” that they didn’t come to Christ as kids or teenagers?  No.  Was it unfair that they received salvation in the latter part of their life?  No.  It was eminently merciful, eminently gracious of God. 

And if, at the judgment, God gives them far more rewards than I get for a lifetime of trying to follow Jesus, I will be SO happy for them.  I won’t be jealous or envious because I know they probably lived better and grew more in the last half of their life than I have done in a lifetime.  And because my present love for them is probably more Christ-like, more godly, than my present love many other Christians whom I don’t know in the world, I can tell you that I will be filled with joy to see them so honored in the Kingdom of heaven with whatever rewards God sees fit to give them. 

Which brings me to another QUESTION:  How much of our service to Christ is marred (not, however, ruined) by…

  • our present, fleshly jealousy,
  • greed,
  • expectations about how God should work in this world and reward us now and
  • grumblings or discontent about what we perceive to be the “fairness factor” in life?

Personal:  I have wasted far too much time and energy frustrated about why I’m not like other spiritual superstars or pastors when Jesus just wanted me to work the best I can in the field He gave me and leave the judgment about success or fruitfulness up to Him.   

WHEN we find ourselves struggling with the perceived “fairness factor” in life and with God, what should we do?  I think this text gives us some great direction.  Look how the landowner responded to some of his worker’s charges of being unfair. 

Vs. 13-- “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend.”

  • Learn to hear from the Master personally. Notice how he spoke “to one of them.”  God will speak personally to us when we are willing and ready to really listen. 
  • Accept God’s Word to you as truth… whether it makes sense or not. The Master declared a truth that the employees didn’t really want to hear: there was no unfairness in His dealing with them…just as there is no “unfairness” in God’s dealing with us.  There is plenty wrong with our view of life and what God does or doesn’t do; but there is no evil, no wrong, no partiality and no unfairness with God.  The Landowners words should have brought conviction to the grumbling laborers. God’s word to us should sometimes bring conviction because our perspectives on life/truth are often out of focus. 
  • Choose to hear the tone, voice and tenderness of God: “friend.”  The landowner didn’t call this laborer by a dozen names he could have:  grumbling servant, jealous and envious worker, sorry excuse for a good laborer, etc., etc.  Instead he used “friend,” a term of endearment, something that shows that landowner was more interested in relationship than in profitability or efficiency or the most for his money.
  • Get back to the basics. God offered every one of us so much in salvation itself, things that we all need and none deserve regardless of how hard or long we work for Christ. If that is all we receive in the end, God will have been imminently generous, kind, loving and good.   

NOTE:  What are some of those things that salvation brings to every one of us that are utterly a gift from God and not dependent on our work? 

  • Forgiveness --Adoption as sons/daughters
  • Inheritance in Christ --Reconciliation
  • Redemption -- Holiness
  • Atonement -- Love
  • Security -- Justification

Are we grateful for these things now?  Or are we looking to other things to make us happy now? 



  • Tired of standing around in life spiritually unemployed? God has been looking to “hire” you…to give you salvation and make you His “friend.”  If you haven’t accepted His offer yet, why not today?


  • Do you need to roll up your sleeves, get to work and actually be about the Master’s business that he “hired” you to do? What is the next step for you?  How can we at Mosaic help you?
  • Have you lost your joy of just being “spiritual employed”, just reveling in what Christ’s gift of eternal life has brought to you and every other believer?
  • Lost your joy because you are comparing your work and your wage with other children of God? Time to ask forgiveness for jealousy and greed, for grumbling and discontent in the difference between what you are doing or where God may have called you to do?
  • Need to hear God’s voice again? Need to embrace a word of correction from Him?  Need to recognize His heart wanting to be your friend?