Pastor David B. Curtis


It's All About Grace

Matthew 20:1-15

Delivered 06/29/2003

Imagine with me, if you would, that you were out of work, you have lost you job and cannot provide for your family. So, you go to a temporary service to try to get enough money to provide food for your family. At 6:00 AM a man comes into the employment agency wanting to hire some men to cut, split, and stack firewood. He needs them to work from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM and will pay them $180.00 for the day. So, he takes a group of men and leaves. Then at around 9:00 AM he comes back needing some more men. Then again at 12:00 he comes back for some more men. At 3:00 PM he comes back needing more men to cut, split, and stack firewood. Finally, he comes back to the employment agency at 5:00 PM and hires the rest of the men who were there.

At 6:00 PM the work day is done. Those who had been hired at 6:00 AM were exhausted and their backs were killing them. Those who came at 5:00 PM had barely broken a sweat. The men lined up to receive their pay, from those who had come last to those who started at 6:00 AM. The men who had been there only an hour were greatly surprised to received $180.00. As the rest received their pay, they each got $180.00, including those who had been there since 6:00 AM.

How would you feel if you were one of the men who had worked for twelve hours? Angry? Cheated? Hurt? How would you feel if you were one of the men who only worked for only one hour? Thrilled? Thankful? Ecstatic?

This is a modern day version of the parable that Jesus told in:

Matthew 20:1-15 (NKJV) "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 "Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 "and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. 5 "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' 7 "They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.' 8 "So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.' 9 "And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. 10 "But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 "And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 "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.' 13 "But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 'Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'

Does it seem unfair to you that the landowner paid them all the same? If the parable was simply about labor relationships, it would be unfair. A person should be paid in proportion to his work. But this parable is not about labor relations, it is about grace. Jesus said, "For the kingdom of heaven is like.....", and then he goes on to tell the parable. What Jesus is teaching here is that "In the kingdom of heaven, the operative principle is not MERIT, but GRACE."

Had you been one of the men in my parable that only worked an hour and received $180.00, I doubt that you would have had any complaints. I'm sure that you would feel extremely grateful. You would not have thought of the man who hired you as unfair.

Upon hearing my parable, you would only have felt the man hiring the workers was unfair if you identified with the men who worked all day. If you identified with the men who worked for only an hour, you would not have thought of the man as unfair, but as extremely generous. The problem with most of us is that we identify with the men who worked all day. As Christians, we look at society around us instead of Jesus Christ, and we begin to feel pretty good about ourselves. We consider ourselves to be twelve-hour workers. Because of our service or sacrifice for Jesus Christ, we begin to think that God owes us. But the attitude that we all really need to have is that of the Roman centurion described in Luke 7. Let's read the story:

Luke 7:1-7 (NKJV) Now when He concluded all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. 2 And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear to him, was sick and ready to die. 3 So when he heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. 4 And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly, saying that the one for whom He should do this was deserving, 5 "for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue." 6 Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. 7 "Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.

The Jewish elders came to Jesus asking him to come and heal this man's servant, because he was deserving. This Roman centurion loved the Jews and had built them a synagogue, so they viewed him as deserving of Jesus' help. How many of us feel that way about ourselves? We have given money to the church, or served in some capacity, so we feel like we deserve Jesus' help. When it comes to our relationship with God, the truth is that all we really deserve is the Lake of fire, that is what we have earned by our sin. Our attitude should be like that of the centurion. In spite of all he had done for the Jews, he didn't feel worthy to have Jesus under his roof or even to go to him himself. The centurion saw himself not as deserving, but as needy.

How do you see yourself, as deserving or as needy? No matter how much you have done for God, no matter how obedient you have been, or how hard you have worked, God is not your debtor:

Luke 17:7-10 (NKJV) "And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'? 8 "But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'? 9 "Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. 10 "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"

What if you lived as a model citizen and obeyed all the laws of the state. You obeyed all the traffic laws; you always drove the speed limit. You always obeyed all the zoning laws, you never built a thing without a zoning permit; never put your trash out more than 24 hours before the pickup time. You always obeyed all the laws concerning pets, you always kept you dog on a leash, and had it licensed, and spade, and vaccinated. You always were honest when paying your taxes, even to the last penny. Would you receive a reward from the city or state for all your obedience? No, all you really did was what you were supposed to do. You didn't obligate the state to reward you, you just did your duty.

As the Sovereign Creator and Ruler of the universe, God has the right to require perfect obedience and faithful service from all his creatures without obligating himself. If we should live in perfect obedience to God, which none of us have, we could only say that we had done our duty. God is no man's debtor.

God Himself asserted His freedom from any obligation when he said to Job:

Job 41:11 (NASB) "Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.

God is rebuking an attitude in Job of "I'm not getting what I deserve." Job was beginning to think that he deserved better than what he was getting from God:

Job 34:9 (NKJV) For he has said, 'It profits a man nothing That he should delight in God.'

Job felt like he wasn't getting what he had earned. He thought that he was deserving of better. Job's attitude was right at the beginning of the trial, but as time went on, he began to feel sorry for himself:

Job 1:21 (NKJV) And he said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD."

Here his attitude is, "Whatever God does is right, He is the Sovereign Ruler." Here Job has the attitude of the worker who worked only one hour. But as the trial wore on, he began to think of himself as a twelve-hour worker:

Romans 11:34-36 (NKJV) "For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has become His counselor?" 35 "Or who has first given to Him And it shall be repaid to him?" 36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

God is, indeed, the Sovereign of all things, the One to whom all creatures are accountable, and whom all should glorify. He is under no obligation to repay anyone, for no one has ever given Him anything. Verse 35 is a rhetorical question, "Who has God in debt to Him? Who does God owe anything to?" The answer is clearly, "NO ONE!"

How many times in your life have you felt like the twelve hour worker, feeling like God owed you something because of all of your labor? Probably too many to count. We must understand that God does not owe anyone anything, except for wrath:

Genesis 6:5 (NKJV) Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

You see, believer, the only thing we deserve is wrath; the only thing God owes us is wrath. If we really understood the depth of our sin and the holiness of God, we would thank God every day that He hasn't killed us. We would thank God for His mercy and grace. But if we see ourselves as deserving good things from God, then we do not see God as merciful and gracious. First we take grace for granted, then we assume it, and finally we demand it as if God owed it to us. Then whenever God acts in justice, we complain that He is unjust.

How often do we question God's motives and actions? In light of the fact that God is in control of everything, does it bother you when you read of or hear of destructive events? Things such as a child being molested or murdered. Do events like that make you question God? Isn't it pride when we question God? Isn't questioning Him saying, "I would have done it differently"? It seems like we are constantly questioning God. When a loved one dies, we respond with, "God, that isn't fair! How could You do that? That person deserved to live, I need him." In bad situations, we think, "God, how could you let this happen to me? How could I be going through a divorce? How could I be so sick? How could You let my loved one be molested? How could I be without a job? Why me? It's not fair, I deserve better." We question God's justice, which is a heinous sin, because God is just.

I think if I asked you what you thought about the health/wealth prosperity gospel, you would all say that it is WRONG! But I would dare say that you all have bought into it more than you know. We may think that it is wrong as a doctrine, but we like the idea. We like the idea of an easy pain free life. I would even go so far as to say that when we experience great pain, we tend to think that God has forsaken us. Subconsciously, if not out right, we have bought into the teaching of Zig Ziglar. He is a success/motivation speaker who is widely read and accepted by many Christians and pastors. He says this, "As you accept yourself, you will see yourself as a person who truly deserves the good things in life." I would dare say that most believers believe that; they think they deserve the good things in life. Most believers think they deserve certain things from God. The word "deserve" means: "to be worthy." I think that most of the church believes that they are worthy of God's grace and goodness. We think that God owes us. In this twisted view, God is the debtor, and man is the creditor. We often think God owes us health; as a matter of fact, He owes us ninety years of healthy life. Or He owes us a certain level of wealth; we deserve to have enough money to meet out greeds, like a nice home and two cars. Or we deserve trouble free children, a loving and faithful spouse. The list of things that we think God owes us goes on and on. Be honest, do you feel that there are certain things that God owes you? Why? Is it because you're worthy?

One of our big problems is that we are twentieth century Americans. And being Americans, we have a strong sense of entitlement. We feel like we are entitled to certain things such as health, wealth, and an easy life. Being Americans, we feel like we deserve a lot. This attitude is very damaging to our spiritual lives. The Bible teaches that God is the ultimate supplier of all we have:

James 1:17 (NKJV) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

We don't have anything that we did not receive from God's gracious hand:

1 Corinthians 4:7 (NKJV) For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

Whatever we have, we have received from God. Now, someone will say, "I have what I have because I worked hard for it." Please notice what God says about this very attitude:

Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (NKJV) "then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.' 18 "And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

Everything we have comes to us from the hand of God. If we do not receive what we think we have a right to expect, it is ultimately God who has withheld. Whenever we demand our rights, we are saying that we are deserving. But the only thing we truly deserve is the Lake of Fire. Any thing that we give to God, He has first given to us:

1 Chronicles 29:13-14 (NKJV) "Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name. 14 But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You.

David offered thanksgiving and praise (v. 13) with a confession that even the gifts which had just been presented were possible because the Lord was their original Giver:

1 Chronicles 29:16 (NKJV) "O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name is from Your hand, and is all Your own.

David knew that he and his people had not given anything to God that wasn't His already. Even our service to God comes from His hand. Isaiah said:

Isaiah 26:12 (NKJV) LORD, You will establish peace for us, For You have also done all our works in us.

Paul expressed it this way:

Acts 17:25 (NKJV) "Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

Our life and breath are gifts of God's grace. What can we give Him that He hasn't first given to us?

So, if we realize the truth taught in the Scripture, we see that God doesn't owe us anything. This puts us in the position of the workers who where hired at the eleventh hour. It should make us profoundly grateful. We have all we have, not because we have earned it or deserve it, but because of God's wonderful grace.

In the parable of the landowner, we not only see that God is gracious, but we also see that He is sovereign. He gives what He will to whom He will. We have a tendency to look around and become jealous over what others have. Just like the workers who worked all day were upset that those who worked only an hour received the same as they did. We get jealous over God's grace. We must realize that God is sovereign in the distribution of His grace:

Romans 9:20-21 (NKJV) But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

If you find yourself questioning God, you have played the fool, because you are saying, "Because I can't figure this out, there must be something wrong with God." Paul says, "Shut your mouth and admit that you know very little."

The word "power" is from the Greek word exousia, which means: "authority, or right." What gives God the absolute authority over man? I'm looking for a one word answer - what is it? Creation!

Genesis 1:1 (NKJV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

In the great expanse of eternity, which stretches behind Genesis 1:1, the universe was unborn, and creation existed only in the mind of God. In His sovereign majesty, God dwelt alone.

Genesis 1:3 (NKJV) Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

This is creation, ex nihilo, out of nothing. There was no one to suggest plans to God or to suggest alterations to the plans God had. There was no one to defeat God's purpose. God was alone. He could do as he pleased.

After God created something, the thing had no authority to complain, "Why have you made me this way?" A wren has no right to complain that it is not an elephant. God had decided to create a world, and a world by definition includes differences. The different things have no right to hold God responsible for the qualities they have or the qualities they lack. God is responsible to no one. He distributed wings, horns, legs and minds just as it suited Him. No one has any claim on God. Out of His own free choice, he created angels, stars, planets, the earth, mountains, deserts, rivers, lakes, insects, and elephants, and everything in between. He gave elephants four legs, thick ones, and wrens two legs, thin ones. Why? Because He wanted to!

Psalms 135:6 (NKJV) Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.

To understand the Bible, you must realize that God is the sovereign Creator. The ultimate answer to all objections is the relative positions of Creator and creature. All objections presuppose that man is, in some way or other, independent of God and has obtained from somewhere, or achieved by his own efforts, some right over him. Many folks suppose that once a being is created, he/she can claim that God is obliged to treat him as he wants to be treated, rather than as God decides to treat him. "Man has rights", they say, "that God must respect." On the contrary, man has no rights in opposition to God. What ever rights a man has are those God decides to give him. God, as Creator, can give, withhold, or retake any rights as He pleases. Whatever rights he gives to man are a gift of His GRACE and not a debt. He is free to bless some, more than others, as He chooses. He has the right to do what He wants with His blessings. No one has any claims over the creator.

None of us really wants to get what we actually deserve. We all want grace, but we cannot enjoy grace when there is an attitude of comparing. If you really must compare, look at others that have less than you do, and thank God for His grace toward you instead of complaining because others seem to have received more grace than you.

Last week we were up in Pennsylvania for a wedding. On Monday it was a beautiful sunny day; we sat on the beach and talked with friends as the kids played in the water. Later that evening we went out to dinner with family and friends. We ate on an outdoor balcony overlooking lake Erie. After dinner we walked out to the point and watched the sun set. It was an amazing day. All of that is grace. To enjoy a sunset, is grace, to have food to eat is grace, to have a loving family is grace. We don't deserve any of it.

Think of those in Iraq who have been living in poverty and oppression for so many years, and you should be able to appreciate all that you have. We certainly don't have all that we do because we are so deserving. We are recipients of God's grace.

This parable teaches us about God's gracious generosity. The Bible is full of God's promises to provide for us spiritually, to never forsake us, to cause all circumstances to work together for our good.

Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

That promise in not dependant upon our performance. It is dependent on the grace of God, given to us through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:4-9 (NKJV) But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

The "age to come" to them is the age we now live in. God is showing us the exceeding riches of His grace. We receive the grace of God, not because of our merit, not because we deserve it, but because we are in Christ Jesus.

As you go to God in prayer with the deepest needs of your heart, which would you rather present to Him as a consideration for meeting those needs: your spiritual disciplines, your obedience, and your sacrifice - imperfect as they are - or the infinite and perfect merit of Jesus? To ask the question is to answer it. None of us really wants what we deserve, what we do want and need is GRACE! Grace is: "free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement."

Though God's grace is free and unmerited, there is an attitude that puts us in a position to receive God's grace, and there is an attitude that blocks His grace from coming to us. Listen carefully:

James 4:6 (NKJV) But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."

Are you proud, thinking that you deserve certain things from God? Or are you humble, seeing yourself as a needy eleventh hour worker longing for God's grace? God abundantly pours His grace out to the humble.

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