When God's Grace to Others Bothers Us Luke 15 and Matthew 20

When God’s Grace to Others Bothers Us (Luke 15:30 and Matthew 20:1-15)

We like God’s grace to us, but we don’t always like God’s grace to others. Grace is unmerited favor. It is undeserved, which means by nature it is unfair. People are being given what they did not work for or earn and that upsets us. We will look at two examples of this in Scripture and then discuss the application for us.

Family Worship Guide

Directions: Read Luke 15:24-30 and Matthew 20:1-15 and then answer the questions:

  • Day 1: Why would God’s grace to others ever bother us? Why was the older brother so upset with his younger brother? Why was he so upset with his father? Why were some vineyard workers upset with other vineyard workers? Do you think you would be upset in the same situation?
  • Day 2: Why does God have mercy and compassion on some, but not others (look for the answer in Romans 9:17)? Describe the jealousy you can see in the parable of the prodigal son and the parable of the vineyard workers. Do an honest assessment and consider in what areas you are tempted to be jealous of others.
  • Day 3: What areas of your life do you have to resist discontentment? What helps you be content? Can you describe a time you felt frustrated with others because of God’s grace to them? Can you describe a time you felt frustrated with God because of His grace to others? How does our view of God’s grace to us shape our view of God’s grace to others?

Sermon Notes

Would you believe me if I told you that we don’t always like God’s grace…at least in other people’s lives? We like God’s grace to us. But we don’t always like God’s grace to others.

And why is that?

Grace is unmerited favor. It is undeserved, which means by nature it is unfair. People are being given what they did not work for or earn and that upsets us.

We will look at two examples of this in Scripture and then discuss the application for us. Last week we made it through verse 29. Look at verse 30…

Luke 15:30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’

Whenever God spoke to Moses when he was upset with the Israelites he called them, “Your people.”

Sometimes spouses do this when they are upset with their children. They talk to their husband or wife and say, “Your son,” or “Your daughter.”

That’s pretty much what’s happening here. The older son says, “This son of yours.” He could not bring himself to call him, “my brother.”

The older brother was upset about all the grace shown to his younger brother. He knows about the fattened calf and celebration. Wait until he learns about the robe, ring, and shoes.

And the whole situation is made even worse by the way the younger brother acted.

The older brother said, “He devoured your property with prostitutes.”

It’s like he says, “He’s been living terribly, and this is how you treat him?”

The older brother wanted his younger brother to be punished, regardless of whether he was repentant. Again, this makes him look like the religious leaders who didn’t like seeing sinners forgiven and shown grace.

Let me show you the second example to further drive the point home.

Please turn to Matthew 20. I’m going to go through this parable quickly, because I am looking at it to support what we are learning about the older brother, versus diging out each truth like I’m doing in Luke 15.

Matthew 20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

Early in the morning is probably about 6:00am.

A denarius is the wage for a full day’s labor.

The word agreeing is important! These men knew ahead of time that they were receiving a denarius, and they agreed to that amount. This is a perfectly fair arrangement.

Matthew 20:3 And going out about the third hour (9am) he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’

Notice these workers were not told what they would receive. They were simply told whatever is right I will give you.

They were desperate for work, so they didn’t even try to negotiate a price.

Matthew 20:5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour (1PM) and the ninth hour (3PM), he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour (5PM) he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

These guys are even more desperate. They waited all day and hadn’t been hired, so they also went to work without knowing what they’d be paid.

Surprisingly, watch what happened…

Matthew 20:8 “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.

These guys must have been ecstatic. Even though they only worked one hour they were paid first, and they were paid for a full day’s work.

Matthew 20:10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’

Notice the words, “heat of the day.” The people who started work earlier had to endure the heat. This also didn’t go over well.

Matthew 20:13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?

Now two questions…

First, was the landowner unfair?

No, which he pointed out: I am doing you no wrong.

Second, why wasn’t he unfair?

Because he gave them exactly what he agreed to give them, which he also pointed out: did you not agree with me for a denarius?

Matthew 20:14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’

Let me get you to notice three things in these two verses…

First, notice the word generosity. This is synonymous with the word grace, and it helps interpret the parable: it is about grace.

If it was fair for vineyard workers to receive one denarius for one day’s work, then it wasn’t fair for vineyard workers to work less than one day and still receive one denarius.

But grace is not fair, because it is unearned or undeserved favor. If you’re going to have a parable about grace, it must demonstrate unfairness. If everyone in this parable received exactly what they deserved, it wouldn’t be a parable about God’s grace.

Also, one more important point about the parable…

This parable is not about rewards. There are places in Scripture that teach that we will be rewarded for what we’ve done for the Lord, but that’s not this parable. That parable is about the opposite of that, because if you are rewarded for what you did or worked for, that is not grace. It’s wages…

Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift (or grace) but as his due.

Instead, this parable is about salvation. People get saved at different times in their lives represented by the different times of day. Some people get saved early in life at 6 AM. Some people get saved later in life, at the eleventh hour, or at 5 PM.

Who is the premier example in the Bible of getting saved at the end of like without working much?

The thief on the cross. He received salvation just like people who were saved early in life.

When I first became a Christian and shared the gospel with some of my Catholic family members, because they were part of a works-based religion that required doing enough to be saved, one of the most frequent criticisms I received was, “Oh, right, you’re telling me if people reach the end of their lives and just believe, they will be saved? What if they lived wicked lives? Suddenly, just like that, they get to go to heaven?”

My Catholic family members struggled with this because they didn’t understand God’s grace.

If we understand God’s grace, we will never get angry at others being saved, whether at the beginning or end of their lives, because we also recognize that we did as much as them to be saved…which is nothing.

Second, notice the repetition of the words I choose

I CHOOSE to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I CHOOSE with what belongs to me?

This is the only explanation given for the vineyard owner’s actions. It’s what he chooses to do. The reasons for his generosity, or graciousness, are known only to him, and nobody else.

This is what it means to be God: you get to do what you want without having to explain yourself to anyone.

It’s almost like Romans 9:14-19 where God says He has mercy and compassion on whomever He wants…

Romans 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Being a recipient of God’s mercy or compassion doesn’t depend on human will or exertion, which is to say it doesn’t matter how hard we work. This is why:

  • The vineyard workers who didn’t work as long still received a denarius
  • And the younger brother who didn’t work at all still received so much.

Now if you want to know why God does what he does, which is to say why He chooses to show mercy, compassion, and grace to anyone, listen to the next two verses…

Romans 9:17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, THAT I MIGHT SHOW MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED IN ALL THE EARTH.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Did you catch it?

God chooses to show mercy, compassion, or grace so that His name can be proclaimed in all the earth…which is to say so He can receive glory. This is why God does anything He does.

So, in other words, when the master says, “I CHOOSE to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I CHOOSE with what belongs to me?” he looks like God.

Finally, notice the end of verse 15 says, “Do you begrudge my generosity?”…or, basically, are you bothered by my grace to others?

Some translations say is your eye evil.

The evil eye was a phrase used among Jews to indicate an envious or jealous disposition, which is how it’s translated in some other Bibles…

God says, “Are you envious or jealous because I am generous or gracious?”

And this brings us to lesson one…

If We Don’t Understand God’s Grace to Others, We Will Be Jealous of What Others Have

Here are two things we don’t like:

  1. First, we don’t like to see people get things that we think they don’t deserve.
  2. Second, we don’t like to see people get things that we think we deserve.

This is a recipe for jealousy!

We can be jealous of what other people receive like the older brother was jealous of what his younger brother received:

  • They get the robe, the ring, the shoes, the fattened calf is killed for them, the big celebration…and we’re jealous.
  • We say, “I have never disobeyed any of your commands, but I don’t even get a little measly goat so I can have a small celebration of my friends.”

Or we might be like the vineyard workers, and we are jealous other people don’t have to work as hard as us:

  • Why do I have to work so hard, but they don’t?
  • Why is their life so good?
  • Why do I have all these trials and struggles, but they don’t?

If you have children, you know that one of the most common statements you here is, “It’s not fair.”

Children say this when they see other children receive something that they didn’t receive:

  • Why do they get to have that, but I don’t? It’s not fair.
  • Why don’t they have to do this, but I do? It’s not fair.
  • Why do they get to go there, but I don’t? It’s not fair.
  • Why do they get to stay up so late, but I don’t? It’s not fair.
  • Why do their parents let them do that, but I don’t get to do it? It’s not fair.
  • Why do I have so many chores, but they don’t? It’s not fair

We think of this with children, but as adults we can struggle with this too.

So, let’s ask ourselves something that I’ve been asking myself…

Am I jealous of others because God has been gracious to them?

Let me tell you one reason it is so dangerous to be jealous of others, and this brings us to the next part of lesson one…

If We Don’t Understand God’s Grace to Others, We Will Be Discontent With What We Have

One summer two sets of neighbors hired my brother, Jason, and I to take care of their animals:

  • I think I took care of some animals for two weeks and there wasn’t much to do
  • Jason took care of some animals for one month, and had lots to do

When the people returned, they paid us what they agreed to pay us, but I received more for working less and Jason received less even though he worked more:

  • Jason received what they agreed to pay him
  • But when he saw that I got more money for doing less it upset him

Notice this is exactly what happened in the parable…

Because the vineyard workers who worked the longest received exactly what they were told they would receive (a denarius), they weren’t discontent because of what they received. They were discontent because of what OTHERS received. If the others who hadn’t worked as long, received less money, they would have been content. In other words, they were discontent because of the grace to others.

This can easily play out in our lives…

We feel pretty good about:

  • Our car
  • Our house
  • Our clothes
  • Our job
  • Our health
  • Maybe even:
    • Our family
    • Our marriage
    • Our children

But then we see people and it looks like God has been more gracious to them than us:

  • They have a better car, house, clothes, job, health, maybe even family, marriage, or children
  • Suddenly our stuff doesn’t look as good. We’re discontent with what we were previously content with

Social media has made this much worse. We get windows into people’s lives that allow us to follow their marriages, children, trips, activities, meals, you name it. We think our lives are terrible compared to these perfect people’s lives, and we’re discontent.

This past week a Christian family from China stayed with us. They grew up in China where they spent the first thirty years of their lives. They have been in the United States for the last four years to receive training to go back to China to plant churches.

In the short time with them, two things stood out to me:

  1. First, our Americanized Christianity has influenced us and caused us to think the American church is the global church. Church looks much different, and I would even say more biblical, in other countries.
  2. Second, we shouldn’t be discontent. About anything. We can be selfish babies.

So, let’s ask ourselves something that I’ve been asking myself…

Am I discontent with what I have because I am focused on others?

And there is another problem that develops when we focus on others…and this brings us to the next part of lesson one…

If We Don’t Understand God’s Grace to Others, We Will Be Frustrated with Others

When we’re jealous of people we will inevitably become frustrated with them and perhaps begin to resent them:

  • We don’t like what they have
  • We don’t think they deserve it

Our hearts become ugly toward them.

This is what happened in our two examples:

  • The older brother became frustrated with his younger brother because of everything he received
  • And the vineyard workers became frustrated with the workers who worked less time.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment…

We understand how the older brother and the vineyard workers felt, don’t we?

It does not sit well with us. It is not fair. It is not equitable. It is unjust.

But if it was fair, equitable, and just, it would not be grace.

You see this in our day when we hear that a notoriously sinful person got saved. It can be as hard for some people to accept as it was for the older brother to accept his younger brother’s repentance.

Even though we have been recipients of God’s grace, we can be stingy with that same grace being shown to others.

It is easy to resent God’s grace toward people we consider to be far worse sinners than ourselves.

We feel this way because of our pride.

When people have lived notoriously sinful lives it doesn’t seem like they are worthy of salvation. They don’t deserve to be saved.

And the truth is, they don’t…but we don’t either. And that’s what makes it grace in their lives and our lives

Sometimes when people grow up in the church and they have worked hard and been faithful, they can be frustrated when people saved later after spending years in the world. They got to have their fun AND they get to go to heaven too.

First, as someone who got saved in my early twenties after spending years in the world, I can tell you that you didn’t miss out on anything. Being in the world is like the prodigal son living in Gentile territory. It is not pleasant.

Second, I’m jealous of people who got to grow up in the church and avoid all the garbage that I experienced. I’m jealous of you who heard the gospel early in life and have been able to walk with Christ as long as you can remember.

So, let’s ask ourselves something that I’ve been asking myself…

Am I like the older brother or the vineyard workers and I am frustrated with people because of what they have?

The last part of lesson one…

Lesson One: If we don’t understand God’s grace to others we will be (Part Four) frustrated with God.

Let me get you to think about something…

The older brother was frustrated with his father and the vineyard workers were frustrated with the owner.

Who do the father and vineyard owner represent?


This is very fitting, because if we don’t understand grace to others, we will be frustrated with God:

  • He isn’t giving us what we deserve
  • He keeps giving everyone else what they don’t deserve

Instead of viewing God as being gracious, we will view him as being unfair and unjust.

But if we choose to celebrate God’s grace to others, then we can find ourselves obeying Romans 12:15 rejoicing with those who are rejoicing.

Most importantly, we will be rejoicing with God Himself, because as we have seen from these three parables in Luke 15, nothing causes heaven greater joy than sinners repenting and being saved.

Now our last lesson…

Lesson Two: Our view of God’s grace to others reveals our understanding of God’s grace to us.

Jamison taught something in Sunday school months back that I thought was profound…

He shared that the way we explain the gospel says much about our understanding of our sin, and I would add, our understanding of God’s grace to us.

For example, people might say, “I wasn’t a very bad person when God saved me.” The idea is they were doing well and then the gospel made up the difference or closed that chasm that existed between them and God.

This is a revelation of how they view their sin and God’s grace. Their sin wasn’t very bad, so they didn’t need much of God’s grace to be saved

And there are two negative consequences of this view:

  1. There is little appreciation for what God has done for them
  2. They will look down on others who were more sinful and needed LOTS of God’s grace to be saved

On the other hand, people who recognize how far they were from heaven and how completely incapable they were of saving themselves experience two positive consequences…

First, they don’t look down on anyone, because they know how sinful they are and how much of God’s grace they needed.

Second, they have great appreciation for what God has done for them. Think of what Jesus said to the immoral woman who washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.

Luke 7:47 [Jesus said], “She loved much, because she was forgiven much, and people forgiven little love little.”

Jesus didn’t literally mean that some people are forgiven much while others are forgiven little.

Instead, He is describing our awareness of our sinfulness and how much we have been forgiven for, and the more we recognize God has forgiven us for the more we will love Him.

If you think of the older brother, did it seem like he was aware of his sinfulness?

No, and that’s why he was so upset with his father.

Now if this all makes sense, follow me for a moment…

Our joy at God’s grace to others is usually a good indication of our understanding of God’s grace to us:

  • If we believe God has been gracious to us, we will rejoice over God’s grace to others, because we know He has been equally gracious to all of us
  • But if we believe God has not been very gracious to us – because we are so good and haven’t needed much of Hiss grace – we will be frustrated at God’s grace to others, because they did not deserve it and it is unfair.

We will be like the unforgiving servant. Listen to what the master said to the servant when he wouldn’t show the grace to others that he’d been shown…

Matthew 18:32 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

­Let me conclude with this…

If we ever feel like the older brother or vineyard workers and are bothered by God’s grace to others, we need only think about how gracious God has been to us.

2 Responses

  1. This lesson I have received it in such a new and beautiful way! Actually, it on s new Revelation unto me. This will I also teach the children at our Orphanage Schools.
    Do you happen to have materials on other Boys me teachings? This will be do helpful in our Otreach too.
    Hope to hear from you too.

    1. Hello Stevenson,
      Thank you for letting me know. I am blessed that my sermon ministered to you and that you will be able to use in your ministry.

      I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you mean when you asked, “Do you happen to have materials on other Boys me teachings?” Can you please rephrase this? I would be glad to help you if I can.

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