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Matthew 20:15

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Is thine we evil because I am good? - The Hebrews used the word evil, when applied to the eye, to denote one envious and malicious, Deuteronomy 15:9; Proverbs 23:6. The eye is called evil in such cases, because envy and malice show themselves directly in the eye. No passions are so fully expressed by the eye as these. “Does envy show itself in the eye? is thine eye so soon turned to express envy and malice because I have chosen to do good?”

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The direct object of this parable seems to be, to show that though the Jews were first called into the vineyard, at length the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, and they should be admitted to equal privileges and advantages with the Jews. The parable may also be applied more generally, and shows, 1. That God is debtor to no man. 2. That many who begin last, and promise little in religion, sometimes, by the blessing of God, arrive at a great deal of knowledge, grace, and usefulness. 3. That the recompense of reward will be given to the saints, but not according to the time of their conversion. It describes the state of the visible church, and explains the declaration that the last shall be first, and the first last, in its various references. Till we are hired into the service of God, we are standing all the day idle: a sinful state, though a state of drudgery to Satan, may be called a state of idleness. The market-place is the world, and from that we are called by the gospel. Come, come from this market-place. Work for God will not admit of trifling. A man may go idle to hell, but he that will go to heaven, must be diligent. The Roman penny was sevenpence halfpenny in our money, wages then enough for the day's support. This does not prove that the reward of our obedience to God is of works, or of debt; when we have done all, we are unprofitable servants; but it signifies that there is a reward set before us, yet let none, upon this presumption, put off repentance till they are old. Some were sent into the vineyard at the eleventh hour; but nobody had hired them before. The Gentiles came in at the eleventh hour; the gospel had not been before preached to them. Those that have had gospel offers made them at the third or sixth hour, and have refused them, will not have to say at the eleventh hour, as these had, No man has hired us. Therefore, not to discourage any, but to awaken all, be it remembered, that now is the accepted time. The riches of Divine grace are loudly murmured at, among proud Pharisees and nominal Christians. There is great proneness in us to think that we have too little, and others too much of the tokens of God's favour; and that we do too much, and others too little in the work of God. But if God gives grace to others, it is kindness to them, and no injustice to us. Carnal worldlings agree with God for their penny in this world; and choose their portion in this life. Obedient believers agree with God for their penny in the other world, and must remember they have so agreed. Didst not thou agree to take up with heaven as thy portion, thy all; wilt thou seek for happiness in the creature? God punishes none more than they deserve, and recompenses every service done for him; he therefore does no wrong to any, by showing extraordinary grace to some. See here the nature of envy. It is an evil eye, which is displeased at the good of others, and desires their hurt. It is a grief to ourselves, displeasing to God, and hurtful to our neighbours: it is a sin that has neither pleasure, profit, nor honour. Let us forego every proud claim, and seek for salvation as a free gift. Let us never envy or grudge, but rejoice and praise God for his mercy to others as well as to ourselves.
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Is it not lawful for me - As eternal life is the free gift of God, he has a right to give it in whatever proportions, at whatever times, and on whatever conditions he pleases.

Is thine eye evil - An evil eye among the Jews meant a malicious, covetous, or envious person.

Most commentators have different methods of interpreting this parable. Something was undoubtedly designed by its principal parts, besides the scope and design mentioned at the conclusion of the last chapter. The following, which is taken principally from the very pious Quesnel, may render it as useful to the reader as any thing else that has been written on it.

The Church is a vineyard, because it is a place of labor, where no man should be idle. Each of us is engaged to labor in this vineyard - to work out our salvation through him who worketh in us to will and to perform. Life is but a day, whereof childhood, or the first use of reason, is the day-break or first hour, Matthew 20:1, in which we receive the first Call.

The promise of the kingdom of glory is given to all those who are workers together with him, Matthew 20:2.

The second call is in the time of youth, which is most commonly idle, or only employed in dissipation and worldly cares, Matthew 20:3.

The third call is at the age of manhood.

The fourth, in the decline of life, Matthew 20:5.

The fifth, when sickness and the infirmities of life press upon us. How many are there in the world who are just ready to leave it, before they properly consider for what end they were brought into it! Still idle, still unemployed in the things which concern their souls; though eternal life is offered to them, and hell moving from beneath to meet them! Matthew 20:6.

Others consider the morning the first dawn of the Gospel; and the first call to be the preaching of John Baptist.

The second call, the public preaching of our Lord; and that of the apostles when they got an especial commission to the Jews, Matthew 10:5, Matthew 10:6, together with that of the seventy disciples mentioned Luke 10:1.

The third call, which was at mid-day, represents the preaching of the fullness of the Gospel after the ascension of Christ, which was the meridian of evangelic glory and excellence.

The fourth call represents the mission of the apostles to the various synagogues of the Jews, in every part of the world where they were scattered; the history of which is particularly given in the Acts of the Apostles.

The fifth call, or eleventh hour, represents the general call of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, when the unbelieving Jews were finally rejected.

What makes this interpretation the more likely is, that the persons who are addressed at Matthew 20:7, say, No man hath hired us, i.e. We never heard the voice of a prophet announcing the true God, nor of an apostle preaching the Lord Jesus, until now. The Jews could not use this as an argument for their carelessness about their eternal interests.

Ellen G. White
Christ's Object Lessons, 396-404

But Peter's question, “What shall we have therefore?” had revealed a spirit that uncorrected would unfit the disciples to be messengers for Christ; for it was the spirit of a hireling. While they had been attracted by the love of Jesus, the disciples were not wholly free from Pharisaism. They still worked with the thought of meriting a reward in proportion to their labor. They cherished a spirit of self-exaltation and self-complacency, and made comparisons among themselves. When one of them failed in any particular, the others indulged feelings of superiority. COL 396.1

Lest the disciples should lose sight of the principles of the gospel, Christ related to them a parable illustrating the manner in which God deals with His servants, and the spirit in which He desires them to labor for Him. COL 396.2

“The kingdom of heaven,” He said, “is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.” It was the custom for men seeking employment to wait in the market places, and thither the employers went to find servants. The man in the parable is represented as going out at different hours to engage workmen. Those who are hired at the earliest hours agree to work for a stated sum; those hired later leave their wages to the discretion of the householder. COL 396.3

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Ellen G. White
Counsels on Stewardship, 339

Repeatedly the Saviour says, “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” Jesus would have those who are engaged in His service, not eager for rewards, nor feel that they must receive compensation for all that they do. The Lord would have our minds run in a different channel; for He sees not as man sees. He does not judge by appearances, but estimates a man by the sincerity of his heart. CS 339.1

Those who have brought into their service the spirit of true sacrifice, of self-abasement, are the ones who will stand first at last. The laborers who were first hired, represented those who have an envious, self-righteous spirit, and claim that, for their services, preference should be given to them rather than to others. The householder said to the one who questioned his right to give more to others than to him, “Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?” I have kept my part of the agreement. CS 339.2

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Ellen G. White
Selected Messages Book 2, 182

Those who think more of their wages than of the privilege of being honored as a servant of the Lord, who take up their work in a self-congratulatory spirit because they are to receive wages, do not bring self-denial and self-sacrifice into their work. The last men hired believed the word of the householder, “Whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive” (Matthew 20:7). They knew that they would receive all that they deserved, and they were placed first because they brought faith into their work. If those who had labored during the whole day had brought a loving, trusting spirit into their work, they would have continued to be first. 2SM 182.1

The Lord Jesus estimates the work done by the spirit in which it is done. At a late hour He will accept penitent sinners who come to Him in humble faith and are obedient to His commandments. 2SM 182.2

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Ellen G. White
The Voice in Speech and Song, 241.2

Many who are now the bitterest opponents of truth are acting up to their honest convictions of duty, but they will yet see the truth, and become its warm advocates. Those who now treat them with ridicule, who manifest a harsh spirit toward them, will fall under temptation, and bring reproach upon the cause of God, and cause the loss of souls through their indiscretion. Many who go into the field at the call made at the eleventh hour, will through the grace of Christ so present the truth, that they will be accounted first. VSS 241.2

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