Is God Unfair in How He Treats People?

Matthew 20

1“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

3“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5At noon and again around three o’clock he did the same thing. 6At five o’clock that evening he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

7“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The owner of the estate told them, ‘Then go on out and join the others in my vineyard.’

8“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10When those hired earlier came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11When they received their pay, they protested, 12‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

13“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? 14Take it and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’

16“And so it is, that many who are first now will be last then; and those who are last now will be first then.”
(Matthew 20: 1-16, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever been treated unfairly or unjustly? As a kid, when things didn’t work in my favor, I would usually cry out, “that’s not fair!”

But what is fairness? What is just and what is unjust?

In this passage from Matthew 20, Jesus shares a story that may cause you to rethink your view and understanding of fairness and justice.

In the scenario, a vineyard owner goes out early in the day and hires a number of day workers to work in his fields. He agrees to pay them the normal accepted wage for their labor.

At mid-morning the owner hires more workers, agreeing to pay them whatever is right at the end of the day. The owner hires more laborers at noon and again at 5:00, just one hour before the end of the day.

When the work day ends and it’s time to settle up with the workers, those who had worked only 1 hour receive their pay, which turns out to be a full day’s wages.

Naturally, those who worked the full day think they will receive more since they worked longer.

But when the time comes to pay those who worked all day, they receive the same amount that the owner paid those who worked only 1 hour. The workers who worked all day are incensed. How could the owner pay them the same amount even though they worked a whole day when the last group worked only for one hour? It doesn’t seem fair!

What do you think? Was the owner being unfair? Your answer may reveal how you view God and His system of fairness.

The problem is not that the owner is unfair. The problem is that our understanding of fairness is wrong. People tend to operate on a merit based system, or a meritocracy, where those who work harder and achieve more are rewarded more. As a result, we’re conditioned to believe that those who worked less somehow got more. BUT THEY DIDN’T. They got the same outcome and the same payment as those who had worked the full day.

God, who is represented by the vineyard owner, does NOT operate in a meritocracy. God operates in an environment of grace and generosity. He lavishes grace on whomever He chooses. While some might look at this story and conclude that God gave a higher hourly wage to some over others, which seems unfair, Jesus invites the reader and His audience to look at this scenario in a different way.

Instead of assuming God is treating some favorably over others, the point of the story is that God shows compassion and graciousness on some while not disaffecting others. In other words, those who came to work late were generously given the same portion as those who worked the whole day.

Here’s the key point: Those who worked the whole day were not negatively disaffected by the owner’s generosity. They were simply annoyed because of their own greed and envy.

If you think of the daily wage as representing salvation, then in this parable, anyone who responds to the invitation of the owner, no matter how early or late, receives the same outcome – eternal life! It’s not possible for some who respond early to receive a greater amount of eternal life than someone who responds late. The outcome is the same – anyone who responds to the owner (God) will receive the gift of eternal life (a full day’s wage), no matter when they respond.

So what do you think? Does this story demonstrate that God is unfair to some? NO. If anything, it shows how gracious and generous He is while also showing that those who THINK He’s unfair are often motivated by their own jealousy and envy.

Reflection

How have you interpreted and understood this passage in the past? How have you explained the fact that the owner pays a higher hourly wage to some than others? Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t that inequitable?

What do you say to those who claim that God is unfair or that He doesn’t treat people equitably? 

How do you personally reconcile the idea that some come to Christ and serve Him early in life while others may respond to His invitation late in life and yet the outcome is the same? How does this contradict or confirm your own understanding of fairness with God?

What practical ideas do you have for cultivating a deeper, more biblical understanding of God’s graciousness and fairness?

 

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Is Wealth Immoral? (Part 2)

1 Timothy 6

6Yet true religion with contentment is great wealth. 7After all, we didn’t bring anything with us when we came into the world, and we certainly cannot carry anything with us when we die. 8So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content. 9But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NLT)

Ecclesiastes 11

1Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.
(Ecclesiastes 11:1, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Yesterday, I posted here about a passage on wealth from Luke 12, in which Jesus tells a story calling a rich person foolish because he tore down his barns to build bigger barns so he would have a place to store his massive amounts of material possessions.

My post sought to address the issue of whether Jesus was condemning wealth in His story.

You see, there’s a lot of talk about equity these days and one of the areas where people are seeing inequity is in the wide array of financial positions held by people in our society. Some people are poor and some people are extremely rich, and a lot of people are somewhere in between.

In our very polarized society, it’s become fashionable to point to those who have extreme amounts of wealth and declare it to be immoral. It is assumed or implied that the only way people could have that much money is because of greed. To be fair, not everyone is directly declaring it to be immoral, but using words like “insane”, “outrageous”, “crazy” and “unnecessary” to describe the amount of wealth some people have makes the same point. Whether expressed directly or indirectly, many people are offended by the amount of wealth that some people have.

But is it immoral to be wealthy? Was Jesus, in his story, condemning wealth? You can read the details and explanation of my response here but the short answer is no, I do not believe Jesus was condemning wealth. What He was condemning was greed.

As if to reinforce that point, a portion of my reading today consisted of the passages above, which also speak to the issues of money, wealth and greed.

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul speaks to the need for contentment and then follows with a warning of the dangers that exist for people who “want to get rich”. Paul is speaking about greed.

Paul says that when people are greedy they find themselves “trapped by many foolish desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction.” There are many examples of how this could play out but I initially think of a person who, in their hopes of making a big score, wastes all of their money playing the lottery or gambling.

The key verse in this passage is verse 10, where Paul says “the LOVE of money is at the root of all kinds of evil.”

Notice that Paul doesn’t say that money is evil. He says that the love of money is the problem. He continues by saying that many who crave money have wandered away from the faith. To “crave money” is another way of describing greed.

Just as Jesus’ story in Luke 12 was predicated on His warning to not be greedy, this passage from Paul also is delivered primarily as a warning against greed, not a condemnation of wealth.

As was stated in yesterday’s post, wealth is simply a tool. It is neither good nor bad, but can be used for good and honorable purposes or it can be used for evil and destructive purposes.

The Ecclesiastes verse above is a reminder that we are to be generous no matter how much money we have. If you have a lot of money, you have the opportunity be extremely generous.

Most of us are not in that extremely wealthy category, so it’s easy to look at those who have more than enough and wonder, “how can they possess so much money?” We might even begin to entertain the idea that it’s unfair and unjust, which is just a small step away from deciding that it’s immoral.

But be careful. Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth per se and as I demonstrated yesterday, there are many biblical figures who were, in fact, quite wealthy. How do we reconcile these truths if God is against wealth?

Instead of pointing to those who have more than enough and calling it unfair or even immoral, we should check our own heart and motives first. Greed is not a sin that just afflicts the rich. Anyone, from any socio-economic background can be lured by greed. However, those of us who aren’t rich can often cloak our greed by attempting to disguise our envy as justice.

Reflection

What do you think is the difference between greed and envy? When have you struggled with greed or envy in the past?

Paul warns of the dangers of “craving money”. When have you craved money, or any other material possession?

What examples can you think of in your own life or circle, where someone was “plunged into ruin and destruction” because of their “love for money”?

What steps can you take to avoid or resist greed and envy?

Do you agree or disagree with the idea that some people may attempt to point to extreme wealth as a sort of attempt to right an “injustice” when they may be simply expressing their own greed in the form of envy? Explain your view.

 

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels