Labor Day was established as a federal holiday in 1894 to honor the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the country. It’s a day to reflect on all the good our collective work accomplishes. What does Jesus say about our work?
A Parable About Work
Jesus told a parable about how a landowner who hires workers to work in his field. He hires some in the morning, some at noon and others just before quitting time. At the end of the day, he pays them all exactly the same – a fair wage for a full day of work.
Those who worked the field all day were angry. They felt cheated. The landowner responded that he had paid them what he promised and that if he wanted to pay the others the same, he could. After all, it was his farm.
This parable is one of the most striking descriptions of God and how he relates to us and our life’s work.
Four Truths About God and Our Work
1. It’s GOD’S farm.
This is the over-arching theme of the parable. It’s God’s world and he can run it the way he wants to run it.
When Job and his friends tried to question the way God was running the world, he responded: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?” (Job 38:4-5).
In other words – who are you to tell me how to run things?
Likewise, the landowner reminds the complaining workers that it was his resources that were supporting them and that he could do whatever he pleased with those resources. He says to them, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” (Matt. 20:15).
The truth about your work and the money it produces is that it all belongs to God – the money, everything the money buys … even the energy you spent making the money – it ALL belongs to God.
If you don’t believe me — just go to a funeral. I’ve never seen a hearst pulling a U-Haul. You don’t take anything with you when you die simpy because it was never yours to begin with.
2. God is ALWAYS true to His Word.
The workers complained and the landowner responded – Didn’t I agree to pay you one denarius for your day of work? They say, Yes. And what did I pay you? One denarius, they say. He points out, then I paid you what I promised to pay you.
The landowner was true to his word. Of course, they wanted more. But, he didn’t promise more. He promised one denarius. By the way, one denarius was considered the daily cost of living for a family.
God is true to his promise. Sometimes we want more. But, we don’t need more. His promises are sufficient.
3. God is Full of Grace.
This parable is about grace, but I see the grace in a different spot than most. Most see it in the final action of paying everyone the same. I disagree, and I’ll tell you why later.
I see the act of grace in the farmer giving everyone work. He didn’t have to do that. But, this farmer keeps going back to town and he sees guys who are not working. He talks to them. He tells them that he will give them work. There is no indication that he actually had to give them work – that he desperately needed them – but, he does it anyway. This is God’s grace in action.
He calls us to his work. Does he need us? NO. But, he calls us to the work anyway. It’s an act of grace that we get to work for God in building his Kingdom.
4. God is Good (Just/Fair).
The farmer’s final act proves that the landowner was good – fair – and just.
In the agricultural system, the workers would gather at the town square and the landowners would meet them to hire the number of workers they needed for the day. If you didn’t get picked, you didn’t work, and your family wouldn’t eat that day.
The workers that stayed all day in the hot sun waiting to be hired were, in fact, working. They were working at finding work. In fact, the landowner was surprised they were still there at the end of the day. He decided to give them work because they had been faithfully waiting. And he decided to pay them for the full day because they had sacrificed their day waiting, just in case he needed them.
Paying them a full day’s wages was the right thing to do – the just thing to do.
Look at what he says in verse 4 – “He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’”
That word for “right” is the word that means “righteous, upright, just.” He promises them before they work that he will pay them what is just, fair, right.
The first workers who worked all day were promised one denarius for a day’s work. But, these he promised only to pay them what was “right, fair, just.”
And then at the end – when the others were complaining – he said to them: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt. 20:15).
That word that my Bible translates “generous” is not the word for generous. It’s actually the word for “good, upright, just.” In fact, the KJV, NKJV, ASV, TYNDALE versions all translate it “good.”
GOD IS GOOD – This is fundamental to all Christian belief. This is the reason our work means something. God is good, and we will spend eternity with him. Without that our work is meaningless.
Solomon spent his life and considerable resources searching for the meaning of life and work. In the end, he cries out: “’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Everything is meaningless!’” (Eccles. 12:8). He concludes: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Eccles. 12:13-14).
Our work is one of the most important things we do. It represents the investment of our life energy. Reflect. Celebrate. Enjoy!