Do You Know God’s Hidden Intention in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard?
By Cheng Xin
One evening, as I sat at my desk after I prayed to God, I read the parable told by Jesus in Matthew 20:1–16, where the kingdom of heaven is likened to a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard, and giving them the same wages regardless of whether they went into the vineyard first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening. When the workers who came first learned of this, they complained to the landowner, but the landowner replied by saying, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own? Is your eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:15–16). After reading these lines of scripture from the Bible, I knitted my brows and couldn’t help but think: “It is reasonable to say that those who practice their faith in God for a long time, who forsake and expend more for the Lord, and who toil and work for more years ought to be rewarded with more than those who come later, but in Scripture it says that the wages are the same for those who come early and those who come late. Isn’t this God intentionally showing favoritism for those who come later?” I found these words very confusing. I didn’t understand what the Lord’s intention was in saying these words.
One day, I ran into a fellow church member, and as we talked I told him about the question that had confused me for so many years. He said, “I also had that kind of misunderstanding. I didn’t understand God’s will until recently, when I read a certain book, that I came to understand this aspect of the truth.” As he said that, he took the book out of his bag and read me a passage, “No matter how much of God’s word you have heard, how much of the truth you are able to accept and have understood, how much reality you have lived out, or how much result you have obtained, there is one fact: The truth, the way and the life of God is bestowed freely on each and every person, and this is fair to each and every person. God will never favor one person over another because one has believed in Him for a long time and the other for only a short time, nor will He treat anyone differently because of their age, their appearance, their gender, the family they were born into, their family’s background, etc. Each and every person obtains the same from God. He doesn’t make anyone obtain less, or make anyone obtain much more. God is fair and just to each and every person. He provides for man in time and in proportion, not letting them go hungry, cold or thirsty, and He satisfies all the needs of man’s heart” (“Man Is the Greatest Beneficiary of God’s Management Plan”). After finishing reading, he continued, “In the past I also thought that if those who believed in the Lord for a long time and expended themselves more for the Lord are given the same rewards as those who believed for a shorter time and who expended themselves less for the Lord, wasn’t this God showing favoritism? But after I read that passage, I finally got rid of the misunderstanding I had about God. It turns out that God treats each and every person fairly. He doesn’t show favoritism to any one person, regardless of whether they are a new believer or have believed for many years, and regardless of their family background, their appearance, and so on. God always provides for each and every person in accordance with their needs. The truth God bestows upon man as He does His work to save mankind is the same, and similarly He arranges environments and opportunities for each and every one of us. Whether or not we are ultimately able to gain the truth depends upon whether we ourselves love and pursue the truth, whether we are able to practice the Lord’s word, and whether we are able to perform our duties in accordance with the Lord’s will and demands. If we do not love the truth, and if we do not pursue the truth, then we are unable to do the things that God has entrusted to us in accordance with His will, and when we encounter things that don’t conform to our own notions, we won’t contemplate or seek God’s will, but instead we will analyze matters with our own minds, and perhaps even misunderstand God or blame God. People who do this, even if they have believed in God for many years and done much labor and work, will obtain nothing in the end, and will even lose the opportunity God gives them to obtain the truth. In God’s eyes, these people are evil-doers, and they can only be eliminated and punished by God. There are also some people who, although they have only believed in God for a short period, have hearts that thirst for and seek the truth. When things happen to them, they are usually able to pray to God to seek the truth, and once they understand God’s will, they are able to practice according to His word. As such people follow God, bit by bit, their corrupt dispositions change, they obtain the truth, and live out normal humanity. Such people have a good final destination.
“I thought of how, when God led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness to Canaan, those able-bodied men and those tall ‘warriors’ people looked up to did not seek God’s will, and even blamed God, and how in the end they fell dead in the wilderness. Yet those women and children who had pure obedience, who practiced according to God’s word, and who obeyed God’s orchestrations and arrangements ultimately entered the good land of Canaan. Also, the Jewish chief priests, scribes and Pharisees were familiar with the Scripture and proficient in the law, and some had traveled to the far corners of the earth to spread the gospel, so they felt as though they had believed in God the longest and toiled and worked the most of all people, and that they were the most qualified to welcome the Messiah and be selected by God. Yet when the Lord Jesus came to do His work, they knew that the Lord Jesus’ words had authority and power, but they were stubborn and arrogant. They refused to set aside their positions to seek the truth, refused to accept God’s new work, and even used all of their knowledge of the Scriptures to condemn and resist the Lord’s new work. In the end, to protect their own positions and livelihoods, they nailed the Lord to the cross, causing them to be cursed and punished by the Lord. But all those disciples selected by the Lord, the Jewish people who followed the Lord, and people from all the nations beyond Israel, despite the fact that they had not believed in God for as long as the Pharisees and did not have as much knowledge of the Scriptures, and had not toiled and worked as the Pharisees had, or traveled to the far corners of the earth to spread the gospel, still had hearts that feared God, and because they thirsted for and sought the truth, they received the Lord’s salvation.
“From this, we can see that the view that we can evaluate who is qualified to receive God’s rewards and blessings based on who has believed in God for the longest time and who has expended, toiled, and worked the most does not conform to the truth. It is an erroneous way of thinking. God certainly does not issue rewards and punishments or decide people’s ends based on these external factors. Rather, He looks at whether or not we have gained the truth through believing in God, and whether or not we are people who do the will of God. Just as the book says, ‘I decide the destination of each person not on the basis of age, seniority, amount of suffering, and least of all, the degree to which they invite pity, but according to whether they possess the truth. There is no other choice but this’ (‘Prepare Sufficient Good Deeds for Your Destination’). ‘People say that God is a righteous God, and that as long as man follows Him to the very end, He will surely be impartial toward man, for He is most righteous. If man follows Him to the very end, could He cast aside man? I am impartial toward all men, and judge all men with My righteous disposition, yet there are suitable conditions to the requirements I make of man, and that which I require must be accomplished by all men, regardless of who they are. I care not how extensive or venerable are your qualifications; I care only whether you walk in My way, and whether or not you love and thirst for the truth’ (‘The Experiences of Peter: His Knowledge of Chastisement and Judgment’).
“These two passages clearly explain the standards by which God measures man and God’s attitude toward man. God has a righteous and holy disposition, and He is fair and impartial toward each and every person. He does not look at whether a person is of low or high status, or at their seniority, or how long they have believed, or how much suffering they have endured. Rather, He looks at whether a person pursues the truth, whether a person loves God and has a heart obedient to God, whether they are able to consider and satisfy God’s will in all things, and whether they ultimately gain the truth through their faith in God. Among those of us who believe in God, regardless of whether we are priests, elders, or ordinary believers, each and every one of us who thirsts for and seeks the truth, and who is humble and obedient, is able to receive God’s enlightenment, and is able to receive God’s blessings just like those who came later to the vineyard. Anyone who believes in God for a long time but does not pursue the truth, and instead clings to fallacies, lives within their notions and imaginings, and shows off their seniority and qualifications, no matter how much suffering they endure, how much they expend themselves, or how qualified they are, in the end they will not obtain the truth, and they will all be eliminated. This is an immutable fact, and is decided by God’s righteous disposition.”
After I heard his fellowship, I understood that no matter how much God’s work does not conform to our notions, God is still righteous, that we shouldn’t be choosy or doubt anything that God does, and that we must let go of our notions, seek, and obey. Just as Jehovah God said, “I Jehovah search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10). In Proverbs 15:3, it says, “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” God observes our hearts and minds, God has a thorough understanding of us, and God knows best who truly believes in Him and who loves the truth, and who is a hypocrite and detests the truth. God decides our endings based not on how long we have believed in God or how much work we have carried out, but rather on whether we love the truth in essence and whether we ultimately gain the truth through our faith in God. This truly is fitting! Now I can see that my notion that God showed favoritism for those who came later by making the wages the same for those who come early and those who come late to the vineyard was mistaken!
Thanks be to God for resolving this puzzle in my mind. May all glory be to God!