July 15, 2019

Are you grateful or a grumbler? That question has refused to leave me alone for weeks now. It all began when I discovered the meaning of a statement from Jesus that has always confused me: “the first will be last and the last first” (Matthew 19:30; 20:16).

The statement bookends a parable about laborers in a vineyard, which is a clue of what He meant by it. The basic plot: a vineyard owner hired laborers at the beginning of a workday for an agreed upon wage. The owner then proceeds to hire more laborers until the last ones were hired with only one hour left in the day. At pay time, everyone is paid the exact same amount. The ones who had worked all day get upset, even though it was the amount they had agreed to at the beginning of the day. Their attitude toward the owner shifted from gratitude to grumbling, because they started comparing themselves to others.

The vineyard owner represents God, who is speaking to us as His laborers. As we study the parable, He gives us a perspective that can deliver us from grumbling back to gratitude:

  • The owner tells the laborers he had done them no wrong because he paid them what they had agreed to (Matt 20:13). Application: remember God’s faithfulness and stop complaining.
  • He reminded them that he had every right to do with his resources what he wanted to (Matt 20:14-15a). Application: remember God’s sovereignty and stop comparing.
  • He uncovered their root problem when he asked, “Is your eye envious because I am generous?” Application: remember God’s grace and stop envying.

Those who consider themselves first—and others as less worthy of grace—will in fact be last. They will be marked by grumbling, comparisons, and criticism. Those who consider themselves last—i.e., not entitled—will be marked by gratitude and joy.

Immediately after this parable, Jesus gave His disciples the primary motivator to move from grumbling to gratitude: He told them he would be put to death and rise again (Matt 20:17-19). When we face His faithfulness to us, we will stop complaining. When we accept His sovereignty in saving us, we will stop comparing. When we remember He was willing to bear the ultimate heat for us so we could become joint heirs with Him, we will stop envying.

Are you a grumbling laborer in God’s vineyard or a grateful one? It all depends on if you see yourself as first and others as last, and if you let God’s grace for you in Christ melt your heart.