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?

 

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Can the Church Usher in a Utopian Society?

Matthew 13

24Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.25But that night as everyone slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. 26When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27The farmer’s servants came and told him, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds!’

28“‘An enemy has done it!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Shall we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

29“He replied, ‘No, you’ll hurt the wheat if you do. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

. . . . . . . . .

36Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain the story of the weeds in the field.”

37“All right,” he said. “I, the Son of Man, am the farmer who plants the good seed. 38The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

40“Just as the weeds are separated out and burned, so it will be at the end of the world. 41I, the Son of Man, will send my angels, and they will remove from my Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil, 42and they will throw them into the furnace and burn them. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the godly will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Jesus spoke often in the book of Matthew about the “kingdom of heaven”, painting word pictures for His followers to help them understand more clearly what God is like and how things operate under His control.

Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and the weeds to illustrate how God intends to deal with people at the end of the age. Most commentators agree that Jesus is speaking about how judgment will take place at the end of time.

According to Jesus, who explains the parable to His followers, good and evil will co-exist until the end. At that time, Jesus will separate the good from the evil. Those who are followers of Christ will spend eternity with God while those who are not followers will be separated and sent to spend an eternity in punishment for their sins.

But though this passage speaks to the end of the age and the process of judgment, there’s another fact that is so obvious that it’s sometimes easy to overlook. That is the fact that good and evil will exist side by side until the end.

It seems to me that there’s a lot of effort being made within our culture to create the Utopian society – that community where evil is eradicated and everyone’s needs are met.

This vision of utopia doesn’t currently exist, nor is it possible that it will ever exist, if we’re to accept Jesus’ teachings.

This is not meant to dissuade believers from doing good and seeking the welfare of others within their community. On the contrary, we’re admonished to be salt and light to a dying world. One of our functions as believers is to give those who aren’t Christ-followers glimpses of what it looks like to live within God’s kingdom, following His kingdom rules and living under His rule. These glimpses are likely to stand in stark contrast to the ways of the world.

However, as much as we strive to live for Christ and impact the world around us for Christ, we will never fully eradicate evil. Evil and evil people will co-exist, side by side with those who follow Christ and it won’t be until the end of time that Jesus will finally eliminate all evil.

Any thoughts of creating a utopian society are mis-directed, as only a kingdom in which Jesus reigns supreme has any chance of achieving utopian aspirations. According to the scriptures, that won’t happen until Jesus comes again. Until then, we must do our best as Christ-followers to create pockets of kingdom community within a larger world system that is firmly in control of the evil one.

Reflection

In what ways do you think we as believers can create pockets of kingdom community that provide a glimpse to the outside world of God’s goodness and greatness?

In what ways do you see the Devil planting weeds within our culture? What are the tactics you see in our culture that is producing weeds?

What are some practical ways for turning weeds into wheat?

Practically speaking what do you think our goals should be as believers in terms of how much impact we can have on the culture at large?

 

Photo by Tim Matras on Unsplash

Which Soil are You?

Mark 4

1Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. There was such a large crowd along the shore that he got into a boat and sat down and spoke from there. 2He began to teach the people by telling many stories such as this one:

3“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plant sprang up quickly, 6but it soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil. 7Other seed fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades so that it produced no grain. 8Still other seed fell on fertile soil and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” Then he said, 9“Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!”

. . . . . . .

14The farmer I talked about is the one who brings God’s message to others. 15The seed that fell on the hard path represents those who hear the message, but then Satan comes at once and takes it away from them. 16The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. 17But like young plants in such soil, their roots don’t go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word. 18The thorny ground represents those who hear and accept the Good News, 19but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for nice things, so no crop is produced. 20But the good soil represents those who hear and accept God’s message and produce a huge harvest—thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.” (Mark 4:1-9, 14-20, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Mark chapter 4 contains one of the more familiar parables in the gospel narratives, but in my opinion, many Bible translations mis-title the parable as “The Parable of the Sower.”

If you’re not too familiar with the Bible, you should know that all of the chapter and verse divisions are not in the original texts but were added later to make it easier on the reader to find and reference. Here’s an interesting article about chapter and verse additions if you’re curious to learn more.

Additionally, any title headings have also been added by the various Bible translators to reflect their own understanding and commentary on the stories and themes that are presented.

So while most Bible translations title this story as “The Parable of the Sower” it seems to me that the story is really about The Four Different Soils.

Jesus himself gives the explanation for the story, explaining that the farmer is a person who brings God’s message to others. The seed represents the message that is being presented and the soils represent the heart conditions of the people who are hearing the message.

The first soil mentioned is the hard soil, or the path. A walking path in those days would have been hard and compact because of all of the foot traffic. Therefore, any seed that fell would not get buried enough to take root. It would just become bird seed. Hence, this soil represents a person whose heart is hard and the message of God does not penetrate enough to make any impact.

The second soil is the rocky soil. Seed that falls here is able to take enough root to germinate and sprout but because the soil is not very deep the roots are not able to go deep enough to become hearty and this plant dies as soon as the weather gets hot. Without an adequate root system, the plant cannot access enough water and nourishment to thrive.

Jesus says that this soil represents a person who experiences a lot of problems, represented by the rocks. They immediately receive the message with joy because it sounds good and they are looking for an immediate fix to the issues they are facing. But when things don’t work out as quickly or as precisely as they expect, they give up on the Christian life and move on to the next self-help option.

The third soil Jesus mentions is the thorny soil. Notice that the seed that falls in this soil takes root, sprouts up and it grows. But because the thorns are crowding it, these plants don’t have the space or ability to produce a crop. They are fruitless.

Jesus says this soil represents a person who hears and accepts the message but Jesus is just one of many things in their life. Jesus is not a priority. This person gets so weighed down with all of the cares and trials of life that their spiritual life never displays the kind of fruitfulness that Jesus would desire for them.

The last soil is the desired soil, the good soil. This soil is rock-free, thorn-free and has been cultivated so that the seed will quickly and easily take root. Because the ground has been properly prepared, the seed that falls in this soil takes root, grows and produces an abundant crop. It is fruitful!

When looking at these four soils, it is clear that the first soil represents a non-Christian. It’s my belief that the second soil also represents a non-believer. This is the person who appears to have a genuine conversion experience but it is fleeting and so the commitment to Jesus is very temporary.

The third person represents a genuine believer whose spiritual life is unfruitful and stagnant. This soil reflects a large percentage of believers in the church today, people who have made genuine decisions for Christ and who continue in their spiritual journey, but whose lives aren’t reflected by fruitfulness and growth. The reason for that, according to Jesus, is a lack of priority. Instead of Jesus being primary in their life, their pursuit is on worldly and material gains and issues.

The fourth soil represents a person who hears the message, accepts it and their lives produce a huge harvest. In short, their hearts have been cultivated in such a way that God’s message has the maximum effect on their life.

Notice that if you are the farmer and you’re scattering seed randomly in a particular area, it is likely the geological composition of the earth in that area is the same. In other words, if you were to take a sampling from each of the areas, and then analyze the composition of each of the soils, you’d get the same results from each sample. The chemical compounds and percentages would be the same in each case.

What makes the soils different is not that they are compositionally different, it’s they are cultivated to different degrees.

The farmer takes great care to cultivate the soil in which he is going to plant. He removes any rocks and extracts any weeds or thorns that might be a hindrance to producing the fullest crop possible. Additionally, he tills the soil, making it loose enough for the seed and for water and other nutrients to penetrate the surface and go deeper to where the roots will be.

What this means is that you can cultivate your heart just as a farmer cultivates the soil of his field. It may not be easy work, but you can do the hard work to remove the rocks and thorns from your life that may keep you from experiencing genuine growth.

You can till the hard dirt in the field of your heart to make it more receptive to the message. Having good soil isn’t luck and it isn’t automatic. Those who are producing a harvest in their life are doing so because they’ve done the hard work of farming their heart and cultivating its soil so that God’s message can have its maximum impact.

No matter where you’re at in your spiritual journey, you can do the same!

Reflection

Which soil best represents your life and why? Which soil do you want to represent your life?

What are the rocks and thorns that are dominating your heart? Name them. 

What steps can you take to remove rocks and thorns from your heart?

How can you till the soil of your heart so that it is more receptive to the message of God’s word?

What are the different ways God’s seed is being sown in your life?

 

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

A Trap Religious Leaders Can Fall Into

Matthew 21

33“Now listen to this story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. 34At the time of the grape harvest he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. 35But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

37“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

38“But when the farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ 39So they grabbed him, took him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

40“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”

41The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

42Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures?

‘The stone rejected by the builders has now become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous to see.’

43What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls. ”

45When the leading priests and Pharisees heard Jesus, they realized he was pointing at them—that they were the farmers in his story. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid to try because the crowds considered Jesus to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Jesus often spoke in parables to teach spiritual truths. In this parable, the landowner is the Lord and the farmers are the Pharisees. The servants represent the Old Testament prophets that God continually sent to warn His people, but who were constantly rejected.

In the story, the landowner finally sends his son, who represents Jesus.

In the parable, the farmers decide to kill the son because they don’t want to relinquish control and power. They don’t want to serve the owner and give him his portion of the proceeds. They want to BE the owner and keep all the proceeds for themselves.

Jesus explains the meaning of the parable in verse 43:

What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.

The fruit Jesus is referring to is the nation of Israel’s acceptance of Him as the Messiah. Since the religious leaders were rejecting Jesus, and they used their power and influence over the people to keep the people from accepting Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus is warning them that their status as God’s special chosen people was in danger. Like the farmers in the story who were stewards of their master’s land, the Israelites were simply stewards of the message and revelation of the one true God. By rejecting Jesus, this stewardship would be taken away from them and given to another nation.

What is this other nation Jesus was referring to?

Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22-23 which was also referenced by Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-7, in which Peter says that Jesus is building a new temple made up of those who would follow Him. Thus this new nation is not a physical nation, as Israel was, but a spiritual nation with those who believe in Jesus as its citizens. I wrote about this new temple here.

Jesus was using this parable to show the Pharisees that they were rejecting the Son because they didn’t want to relinquish their religious control over the people. Verses 45-46 indicate that the religious leaders realized what Jesus was saying about them. However, instead of repenting, their inclination is to arrest him.

This parable was directed at the Pharisees and the nation of Israel and the punishment Jesus mentions cannot be duplicated for us today. So how then does this parable relate to us in our current culture? What can we learn from it?

Though we cannot reject Jesus in the same way, and thus we cannot experience the same penalty Jesus mentions, I think there are lessons we can learn from the way the Pharisees responded to God and the revelation He was giving them.

I think one potential lesson is that there is a dangerous trap for religious leaders, or anyone who is in a position of authority over others. The trap is to think so highly of yourself that you believe the people you are leading cannot get along without you. Instead of shepherding people to follow the Lord, we can become enamored with our own voice and our own self-importance and we can become consumed with gaining and maintaining a following for ourselves.

Being in authority and power over others, as the Jewish religious leaders were, can become so addictive and necessary to our own identity that we will do whatever is necessary to keep it. In the case of the Pharisees, they were willing to kill the Messiah himself to keep it.

We’re not in a position today to kill the Messiah to hold onto our power and authority, but we may still go to great lengths to keep our positions, including lying, deception, manipulation, intimidation, fear, bribery, harassment, etc.

Reflection

In the parable, God sends his messengers to convey truth but the messengers are constantly rejected. What are some of God’s messages (doctrinal truths or commands) that you find difficult to follow and are tempted to reject?

In the parable, the outcome of the nation of Israel rejecting the Son is their stewardship is taken away and given to another nation. What do you think will be the outcome for those who reject Jesus today? How will God treat the farmers of today who continually reject the messengers, including His son, whom God has sent?

What are some situations or relationships where you have found yourself wanting to maintain power and control when you know you should release it? 

Some people will go to great lengths to maintain power, authority, status or position? What do you think causes a person to adopt an “any means necessary” policy to maintain their power?

 

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