Grumbling Against Grace Matthew 20

Grumbling Against Grace
Matthew 20:1-16

INTRODUCTION: This is probably one of the most controversial parables ever uttered by Jesus Christ. No other story can evoke as much discussion about the FAIRNESS of God as this parable. These powerful words create heated debate about the controversial generosity of a benevolent vineyard owner.

It has been called the “Wallflower of the Parables.” (Gregory, 122)

C.G. Montifiore calls it “one of the greatest and most gracious of all parables.” (Barclay, 246)

In order to engage the truth of this parable, we must keep these things in mind.

(1) First, this is not a parable about:

(A) ECONOMICS: It is not a parable dealing with sound business principles. The point of this parable is NOT how to run a business or pay employees.

(B) SALVATION: To make a days wage stand for salvation is to miss the whole point and abuse the parable.

NO BODY works for salvation!

Some use the phrase “they were saved at the eleventh hour” to refer to a person saved late in life, in the sunset years. This parable is not about that.

(C) REWARDS. Nor is this a parable about gaining rewards. Rewards are gained on the basis of faithfulness and each person’s reward will be different.

(2) Keep in mind the DISTANT and IMMEDIATE context of this parable.

19:16-22- Episode of the rich, young ruler rejecting the Kingdom of God. He refused to give up anything.

19:23-30- Peter’s reaction to what happened to the rich, young ruler and Peter’s superior attitude; “We have left all, therefore, what is in it for me?”

POINT: Jesus detected in Peter’s question (19:27) an attitude of the heart that was dangerous.

So, Jesus told this parable to issue a warning about the wrong attitude in service and to reveal the true nature of the Kingdom and the Generous King who rules.

This parable is about the RADICAL, OUTRAGEOUS, and sometimes EXASPERATING nature of God’s Grace.

The Kingdom of God is not run like a business. Our God is not the “GREAT KEEPER OF THE LEDGER”, dealing with credits and debits. God’s favor is not something you can earn by the sweat of your brow.

Knowing God and becoming a Kingdom Citizen is a GIFT FROM GOD. END OF REPORT!

APPLICATION (Where you and I fit in):

Most of us are like the disciples of Jesus “INSIDERS” who often get appalled, even surprised at WHO God admits to His kingdom and HOW He runs His vineyard.

Oh, no one would say it out loud, but often we wonder: “What is the good of sitting in church Sunday after Sunday, listening to long sermons when some OUTSIDER, 11th hour, Johnny-come-lately, can waltz in here and be treated the same as the rest of us?” We do not speak those words but we feel them.

One saint wrote, “I’ve been a Bible-believing, church attending, nose-to-the-grindstone Baptist all my life. Surely that counts for something! Then someone comes in, goes straight past GO and collects $200.00, on the basis of nothing more than the GRACE OF GOD! People who enter the vineyard in the eleventh hour and God treats them the same way as me, when I got here at 6:00 A.M., who do they think they are?” That is a modern case of “Grumbling Against Grace”

I pose a more puzzling question... “WHO do we think GOD is?” That is the real issue in this parable.

John Wesley, on the occasion of being kicked out of an English pulpit, said: “There are few matters repugnant to reasonable people than the Grace of God.”

Wesley’s choice of words is classic: “REPUGNANT” (incompatible, inconsistent). He is so right! The worldly mind cannot understand a kingdom that operates by grace.

We love grace when it is amazing and in our favor but question it when someone else is the recipient; especially when our sense of human fairness finds that recipient an unworthy candidate for God’s grace.

We find this parable so difficult to understand because it clashes with our sense of fairness and slices across our “rule by selfishness” nature. The kingdom of our world is run by selfishness. The kingdom of God is ruled by GRACE!

GRUMBLING AGAINST GRACE is not a new thing. It is as ancient as the early Hebrews. Finally freed from slavery, and miraculously delivered from Pharaoh’s army, they formed a “Back to Egypt Committee.” They complained about three square, sustaining meals a day and divine shelter (the cloud of His presence in the day & a pillar of fire at night), and water from a Rock! Imagine that! Set free from bondage and they grumbled against the grace that had freed them.

Another perfect ILLUSTRATION of a person who is guilty of “Grumbling Against Grace” is the elder brother of the Prodigal Son. He accused his father of being unfair and to gracious to his wayward brother. He should have rejoiced that his brother returned. Instead, he complained that he had received unjust treatment. He inserted himself in the storyline when the story was NOT about him.  

God’s grace is amazing but it can also be EXASPERATING! When God’s grace is grace for everyone...when “outsiders” enter the vineyard beside “insiders”... WE GRUMBLE!

So, here is a parable about the outrageous and shocking nature of the GRACE OF GOD. We see the nature of God’s grace and we are challenged not to begrudge the generosity of God and not to try to restrict the scope of His mercy.

Simply this parable makes a very important announcement: The kingdom of God is a kingdom under a new rule: the graciousness of God (not the selfishness of man) rules God’s kingdom. (Sermon in a sentence)

Don’t miss this point!

POINT: This very issue is what angered the Pharisees during the earthly ministry of Jesus. The fact that Jesus Christ would fellowship with and entertain, even receive sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. It poses a real problem when sinners have EQUAL STATUS as religious “insiders”, the little darlings, who believe that they should receive SPECIAL PRIVILEDGES!


Lesson #1: Kingdom Citizen’s relate to the King on the basis of Grace alone...not contractual agreement. 

In fact, the ruler of the NEW, spiritual kingdom is defined by grace.

All God gives is from a reservoir of GRACE.   We can not earn or reserve it; we can never place God in our debt. What He gives, He gives out of the goodness of His heart. What He gives is NOT payment for our good deeds but a gift; not a reward but GRACE!

There was a coin, the equivalent of half a denarius’s, called a pondion. The landowner in the parable could have offered this as a payment but he did not. Why? THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS HALF THE GRACE OF GOD!


He is above justice, more than fair, in His dealings with each of us. He is the God of “much more” because He is gracious and generous.

He is the GOD OF “MUCH MORE.” Look at Romans 5. Verses 9-10: “much more” saved, “much more”... verse 15; “much more”...grace came by one man; verse 17; “much more”...receive God’s abundant provision; verse 20: “much more”...did Grace reign!

NEVER be afraid or begrudge the Will of God! He can be trusted because He is the gracious God of “much more.”

Summary: Lesson #1. The King who rules the kingdom is by nature gracious and you can only relate to Him by grace. The rule of His kingdom will always be a demonstration of grace.

Lesson #2: Kingdom Citizens are to relate to one another on the basis of Grace.

Remember Peter asked a question (19:27) because he was reacting to the rich, young ruler’s lack of response. Actually, he made a statement, then asked a question. He asked, “We have left everything to follow you! What will there be for us?”

It is easy to react to someone and reach a WRONG CONCLUSION.

The disciples did this often. EXAMPLE: Man casting out demons (Luke 9:50)

POINT: We are to relate to one another in the kingdom on the basis of Grace, NOT on the basis of:

          1) Envy (with an evil eye) verse 15
          2) Coveting
          3) Complaining
          4) superiority

Peter’s statement is followed by a question (19:27) reveals that he felt SUPERIOR to the rich young ruler who left nothing and refused to forsake nothing. Peter left all. He also felt PRIDE as revealed in his, “We have left all...what is in it for me?” attitude.

Comparison always yields a false reading in life.

God’s criteria: Be FAITHFUL to the OPPORTUNITY you are given and act in GRACE.

This parable is a clear WARNING against PRIDE, SMUGNESS, and SUPERIORITY. Any attitude that results in a superior feeling or sense of entitlement because of something we have done is here rebuked!

Lesson #3: Finally, the kingdom is full of many ordinary people who have been called, but there are few extraordinary servants who are choice (20:16)

The phrase in 20:16, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Is akin to the one found in 22:14; "For many are invited, but few are chosen." In fact 20:16 includes in some manuscripts: “For many are called but few are chosen.” This phrase is definitely in 22:14.

D.L. Moody interprets the phrase: “Many are called but few are choice.”

Subjects in Jesus kingdom who are ruled and governed by the KING will be distinguished by the same grace that characterizes the King. How true! There are many ordinary servants of God but few choice (extraordinary) servants.

TRUTH #1: Ruler (God)...defined by Grace. Reveals how we are to relate to Him.

TRUTH #2: Reign...demonstrated by Grace. Reveals how we are to relate to one another.

TRUTH #3: Ruled (subjects)...distinguished by Grace. This verse reveals how we are to relate to ourselves. We MUST have an attitude of “God first, others before me, I am last.”

ILLUSTRATION: This is the attitude of Christ as seen in Philippians 2:5-11. The truth revealed here is that Jesus Christ “emptied” Himself, not His deity but the display of His deity for personal gain. He emptied Himself of His royal privileges and became a servant to God and others. As a result, God exalted Him.

Today, we are taught and encouraged by our culture to be CONTROLLERS. We are to control our own lives and the environment around us. We are told that we can do anything and be anything we set our mind to and work hard at accomplishing.

The teachings so JESUS are always counter-cultural in any generation. His power pyramid is inverted with the Leader/Servant on bottom.

ILLUSTRATION: Several years ago the churches in Colorado Springs sponsored a huge Christmas ad campaign in an attempt to help people know Jesus and understand why He came (incarnation). One church received a phone call from a blind women whose dog had just died. She said, “I don’t need to get saved. I need a new dog.” They did some research and bought her a new dog. 

Why? Because that is what Jesus Christ would have done. Her heart and life were open to the gospel of grace.

Far too often we try to make the answer to every problem SPIRITUAL when what people need is often very PRACTICAL. Grace knows the difference and doesn’t demand that the answer to every problem be the same.


1) G. Campbell Morgan, Gospels: Matthew, (240-244)
2) Wiersbe, Warren, Parables, (138-148)
3) Gregory, Joel, Sermon Synopses, (122, 123)
4) Wilmoth, Rodney, Sermon: Grumbling Against The Goodness of God, (9/19/1999)