Sermons on Matthew | To the Work | Matthew 20:1-16


To the Work (Matthew 20:1-16)

My first-ever job was with Domino’s Pizza. I had gone down to the Employment Office, submitted a resume, and they sent me over. I had no trouble being hired – looked over my resume, my application, and hired me immediately. It was a fun first night at work – I’m bad with directions and I was a deliveryman! I worked for four hours and was starting to get the hang of things.

The manager called me the next day. She had been looking over my application, and she found a problem. I was only 17, but the company’s insurance required drivers to be 18. I had worked four hours at Domino’s and they let me go!

That has been a “funny” story in my family for years – Not being able to hold an entry-level job.

We are facing some serious economic challenges as a nation. It may be that some of you have faced challenges in the current economy. You may have lost a job; You may not have had as much work as usual. Countless people in the nation are hurting and struggling to support their families.

It’s not fun to wonder how and when you’re going to support your family. I’ve been there. For men it seems especially painful, because God created us to work. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10).

This morning’s text is about work. Specifically, the text is about the necessity to find work. It even touches on the anxiety of having trouble finding work. Jesus uses a very specific cultural experience to teach a very important lesson: God acts out of the richness of his grace!

Scripture (Matthew 20:1-16)

verses 1-2:

This is very likely taking place about 6 AM – Work typically began about 6 AM before the day became too hot.

Laborers would often congregate in the marketplace to be hired. They were hired on a daily basis. Not working on a certain day meant that they weren’t paid on that day. In the ancient world, many people didn’t know if they would eat from day to day. Remember, there isn’t any Unemployment Insurance or other social programs.

The denarius was the common daily wage.

verses 3-5a:

The third hour was 9 AM. People in the marketplace likely believe they won’t support their families that day. Work began three hours ago. There isn’t a specified amount agreed upon – the landowner simply agreed to pay what is right.

verses 5b-7:

This process repeats itself at noon, at 3 PM, and 5 PM.

There is a point here that’s going to become quite important: The landowner needs the vineyard harvested. It appears as though the landowner really needs his fields harvested and done so quickly. That would be why he repeatedly goes to find more workers.

verses 8-15:

The landowner calls those he hired in reverse order, the last he hired are called first. Each worker is given a denarius. Those hired at the eleventh hour surely didn’t expect to receive a full day’s wage, just as those hired early in the morning expected more pay. Those who were hired first grumble against the owner of the vineyard.

In response to the grumbling of the workers, the landowner says, “I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” (vv 14-15).


What the landowner does makes absolutely no economic sense whatsoever. In today’s economic climate, you’re not going to find an employer who decides to pay you a full day’s salary to work an hour or two. If you’re paying someone to work, you want him to work! That’s why I said that the main point of this text is: God acts out of the richness of his grace!

There are two implications we need to take from this text:

God needs workers for his vineyard.

The landowner keeps going to the marketplace to find more people to work in his vineyard – His crop desperately needs to be gathered.

God has so much work, and there is room for everyone who is willing. There is a world to evangelize. There are hungry people to feed. There are hurts to ease.

God has a place for you in his vineyard. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). What good work will you do in the vineyard today? Would you be able to share the Gospel with a friend or neighbor? Is there someone around you struggling to make ends meet? Could you provide a meal? Is there some hurting person with whom you can weep or a person who simply needs to be heard?

God rewards the workers in his vineyard with plenteous grace.

I opened this lesson by talking about anxiety from unemployment. That was quite purposeful. If these men are worth half their salt, they’ll be extremely anxious by the lack of work. How can they ever expect to feed their children without a day’s work? But, along comes a generous landowner who absolves all that anxiety with his plenteous grace. Not only do they get work, but the landowner pays them far beyond what they would have expected.

There are many people in this world who face great anxiety.

  • Some people are anxious about their purpose. Why are they on this earth? Is it just some sort of cosmic accident? Throughout Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrestles with these questions -Is the purpose of life found in work, in recreation? Solomon found an answer: Ecclesiastes 12:13. In this Parable, we find purpose – the landowner has work for all!
  • Some people are anxious because of the weight of their sin. Psalm 38:3-4. This Parables provides a remedy – the landowner has plenteous grace for all.
  • Many are anxious about the state of the economy. They worry about how they’ll feed their family. In this Parable, the landowner freely provides for those who work for him. God provides for his people. Matthew 6:33. God doesn’t provide for all our desires, but he does provide for our needs.

Before we move on, we need to notice a vital implication of this text. As I said, they point of this passage is that God acts out of the richness of his grace. Some people get very nervous when we mention God’s great grace. Indeed, there are some folks who think that God’s grace absolves man of any responsibility. But, in this text, it is those who work who receive payment. In other words, we need to be workers in God’s kingdom to expect the benefits of his grace.


If you were to grasp that God acts out of the richness of his grace, how would your life be different? Would you become a Christian, knowing that God could forgive you of all your sins? Would you seek to serve God all the more, realizing that he gives far more than you deserve? Would you seek to share the Gospel so that some lost soul might know God’s rich grace?

Do you need to respond to God’s grace this morning?

This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Greenwood church of Christ in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee.

Share with Friends: