These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 20:1-19 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

Matthew 20:1-19


  1. Parable of the vineyard workers (1-15)
    1. The landowner hires workers (1-7)
    2. The landowner pays workers (8-10)
    3. The workers complain about unjust wages (11-12)
    4. The landowner responds to their complaints (13-15)
  2. Jesus predicts His death and suffering (17-19)

I. Parable of the vineyard workers (1-16)

Background Questions

In this parable what does the vineyard represent?
The landowner?
The workers?
A denarius?

Key Questions to Understanding the Parable

Why does the landowner go to find more workers many times?
What does this teach us about the kingdom of God?
How does He interact with the last group of workers? How did the landowner feel about the fact that they had been standing there all day?
Is there anything else they could have been doing? (They could have taken initiative to find work. They could have observed what needed to be done and stepped forward to offer their services instead of waiting to be called.)
Do you see yourself in this story? If so, who are you?
Why do you think the landowner paid the last group first?
What principles can we learn from the fact that they were all paid equally?
Did they all deserve equal pay?
Was the original workers’ complaint fair or not? Why or why not?
What does this parable teach us about God?
What does it teach us about man?
What is the final point in this parable? How does this relate to our passage last week?

Application Questions

How can we obey?
In what areas do you need to be willing to be last?

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. This parable teaches us about the kingdom of heaven – We learn several aspects about this kingdom. Firstly, we have a boss. He has a plan for His kingdom and for His church. He doesn’t necessarily reveal all of His plan or intentions ahead of time. Secondly, there is work to be done in His kingdom. Primarily we are the ones doing the work. This is our job. It is fair and it is right. Thirdly, those who do work in His kingdom will be rewarded by the boss.
  2. He went out early – The workers who were out at or before dawn were the first ones chosen. These were people who were very committed to their jobs. Being very diligent, they wanted  to find work. So they sacrificed their early morning sleep to get out of bed and get out and make themselves available. As always in God’s kingdom, there is always work to be done. If someone is a willing worker, he will soon find plenty to do. And they were fairly rewarded for the work that they had done.
  3. I will pay you whatever is right – It is God’s decision (Psalm 33:11 and Proverbs 8:14), and His decision only to decide how to deal with His workers. He can give more or less rewards according to His own choice. When He determines what is right and what is wrong. He is sovereign. He is the ultimate authority. And we would do well to faithfully submit to whatever He decides, because what He decides will be good. There is an implicit trust here on the part of the workers. They need to believe that this landowner will be fair and just. If they don’t believe in the good nature of the landowner, then they wouldn’t be willing to go without a clear deal in hand. Although the passage does not say, we can imagine in real life a group of workers would only be willing to take the word of the landowner if he had a good reputation. So from this we learn two application points:
    1. Application 1: We need to place our faith in the Lord because He has a good reputation. He has our good at heart. He will deal with us mercifully. Sometimes we don’t see or understand God’s designs. We maybe don’t know why we face trials and certainly don’t know what the future holds. In those times, we must trust Him implicitly.
    2. Application 2: We should strive to be like God. And that means we should also have a reputation for dealing with others honestly and fairly. If you told someone “come work for me and I will pay you whatever is right” would they be willing to? For Christian business owners, this is especially applicable. See Colossians 4:1. We know that many bosses often do not treat their employees reasonably and we never like to be on the receiving end of that, so we should not be on the giving end either.
  4. He went out many times – There is always a need for more workers in the kingdom. As we know, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Are you actively praying for more workers? Are you actively training more workers?
  5. Go and work in my vineyard – Much work needs to be done. Certainly this was true in the time of the disciples, and with around 7.6 billion people in the world now it is absolutely still true now. See Hebrews 4:6-11 (Our Sabbath rest is still in the future. Today there is work to be done!) See John 9:4.
    1. Application: Are you working in the kingdom as you should? If so, are you working hard or resting a lot? God wants each of us to be diligent workers in His kingdom. One day there will be rest for us, but now He calls us to work. Is working in a vineyard easy? It is hard work out in the fields all day under the sun. That work makes the rest at night that much more comfortable!
  6. Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing? – The landowner’s question is somewhat of a rebuke. The natural reply of that group of people was “nobody hired us.” To that the landowner says, “You’re hired!” But you see they did not have to stand there all day doing nothing. It was a waste of their time. And frankly it was a little bit lazy. They could have been more resourceful. They could have taken more initiative. Instead of standing there, they could have gone out to different fields asking the landowners if they needed help. Or they could have observed where the harvest was taking place that day and said, “I will work for you, pay me what you think is right.” In the church today there are people like this too. They tend to be passive. They tend to sit around in the pews and wait to be asked to help. If they are asked, “why are you not serving?” they might say, “nobody asked us.” Brothers and sisters, you don’t need to wait around for someone to ask you. God has already called each of us to service. You need to get up off the seat and take initiative and observing what needs to be done, go and do it. There is always work available. In your church go to ask how you can help and almost certainly you will be given some job to do. But don’t demand a certain position or a certain job. Be humble and do whatever is needed. The same is true in your community or your family. We should not stand around and wait passively to be asked to do something. Use your eyes God has given you to see what needs to be done. Use your feet to go where there is work. And use your hands to start to pitch in.
  7. Pay them their wages beginning with the last – It is not a very normal way of paying people and highlights the point that Jesus wants to make about the first being last and the last being first.
  8. Note that emphasis is on grumbling rather than thanksgiving – Why is it shown that the last group grumbled, but not mentioned that the first group rejoiced? I believe the reason is that we tend to complain more than we tend to give thanks so this is a very realistic representation of what would happen. Application: Be thankful for God’s mercy! The landowner promised to pay these people what was right, and He went way beyond that to give them far more than they deserved. He is not stingy. He is merciful and gracious. See Exodus 33:19. We should not be jealous when God treats others mercifully or extends great blessings to them. Instead we should truly rejoice with those who rejoice. Be happy when God deals so kindly with others. See John 21:21-22. When Peter thought Jesus has promised that John would not die until the second coming, he asked about it. And Jesus said, “what is that to you?” We should not stick our noses into others’ business. We should not compare ourselves with others in this way. Have you ever met people who always want to compare? Perhaps they compare jobs or salaries or house or achievements or children’s achievements. I think the Lord would say to us, “What is that to you?” If He so chooses to bless someone else with a great job or a great house then what is that to you? Comparing leads to coveting. Coveting leads to greed. Greed leads to discontentment. Discontentment leads to complaining.
  9. The reply of the landowner – He is the authority. He can pay more according to his hearts’ desire, but note that he absolutely does not pay less than anyone observes. From this passage we learn that God is sovereign and He will dispense His blessings how He sees fit. And He does so in a generous way, but not necessarily exactly equal. This is good for us, because in reality if He treats us all as we deserve, then we will all be punished  for our sins. So in reality, He treats us all like workers in the latter groups in this parable, giving us more than we deserve.
  10. The last will be first and the first will be last – Do you want to be first or last? Tricky question, huh? God wants us to humble ourselves and serve Him willingly, not grudgingly. If you are willing to sacrifice and put yourself in the last place, He will show great mercy and kindness to you. But if you selfishly pursue glory and riches, you will be left holding nothing.
Study Matthew 20:17-35
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