Wednesday, February 23, 2011

God's Own Fairness Doctrine

Today will sort of be an extension of yesterday's post.  Well, actually, yesterday's post is sort of an illustration of today's post.  We all know of people who lived terrible lives who came to Christ on their deathbeds.  We also know others who lived their whole lives for Christ never turning from that childhood faith that marked their lives from beginning to end.  We all know that those who are in Christ all receive eternal life, whether it is someone who comes to him on their deathbeds or whether it is someone who lives their whole lives for Christ.  It almost seems unfair that some can live a horrible life but (like the thief) come to Christ in their last moments and receive the same eternal reward as someone who has lived for Christ their entire lives.  I want to explore what the Bible says about this and I hope that we will see that the perception of unfairness comes from a misunderstanding of the Gospel and a failure to deny ourselves.  Today we will be going through another parable of Jesus.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  Matthew 20:1 NKJV
Jesus begins as he begins many of his parables telling us what is about to say is an illustration of the kingdom of Heaven.  Sometimes it is hard to us to understand things without an illustration and so Jesus provides these glimpses of eternity through everyday scenarios we all can understand.  In this case, we have a landowner who needs laborers for his vineyard, just as God seeks laborers for His harvest. 
Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. Matthew 20:2-5 NKJV
So this landowner has a lot of work that needs to be done.  He finds some workers at the beginning of the day who agree to work the whole day for one denarius.  He sees that there is a greater need than there are workers so he again goes out at the third, sixth, and ninth hours to find more workers only for the subsequent workers he makes no such deal.  For the rest, he says he will pay them what seems fair at the end of the day.  They all agree to their respective terms of payment.
And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.'  Matthew 20:6-7 NKJV
This man at the last hour went out again.  I am not sure if he had more work of if he just went out, but he saw some workers standing idly by.  He asked them why they were not working and they replied that no one would hire them.  He sent them into the vineyard as well and receive a fair wage to be determined later.  Note that he specifically went out and sought those who spent no time working.  Note that he specifically sent them in for little if any time to work and yet still get paid. His desire was not for the labor of these few, but to see if they would be faithful enough to just show up for work.  They agreed and went into the vineyard.
So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.' And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius.  Matthew 20:8-10 NKJV
Interesting that the landowner instructed his steward to pay first those who arrived last and to pay each the same wage.  Remember, the landowner only made a promise of a specific amount to the first group that were there all day.  Those who came in for the last hour received what was an average day's pay at that time.  That was not a bad deal at all.  Being that they were paid first, those who were there all day saw that everyone else received the same denarius they were promised irregardless of how long they have been there.  Those who have been there all day did the math.  They figured that if the landowner was giving a denarius to someone who worked less, they must be receiving more.  Those hopes probably faded as that same denarius was given to those who worked three, six, and nine hours.  Their hopes were crushed then they were finally paid and received that same denarius. 
And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.'  Matthew 20:11-12 NKJV
Those who worked all day were upset.  They worked all day long and received the same pay as those who worked only an hour.  They felt like they were treated unfairly and let the landowner know it.  The response from the landowner is the crux of today's lesson.
But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.' Matthew 20:13-14 NKJV
First of all, the landowner says, you were paid in accordance with what you agreed.  That same denarius seemed like a good deal at the time. The only reason it does not seem good now is because those who worked less received the same.  They were envious of those who labored little, forgetting that they were paid exactly what they agreed to.  The landowner is not done.  
'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?' So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen." Matthew 20:15-16 NKJV
The heart of the envious first workers is exposed.  They feel they are entitled to more because of their own labor.  They feel they deserve more from the landowner than what they agreed upon.  The landowner decided to be generous to the last workers and that generosity exposed the evil envy of those who worked all day.  It was the landowner's money and it was up to him in how he would spend it.  He decided to use his own money to bless some workers who could not find a job for the day.  The first workers, instead of rejoicing in the generosity of the landowner, they were angry and envious of those who were blessed.  May we never have that heart. 

There are several important messages in this story.  First, we see the wicked heart of those workers who felt they deserved more payment then those who came last.  They were envious.  They were selfish.  Instead of being happy  that they earned their day's pay, they wanted more.  They wanted what they felt they deserved.  Having that kind of heart in our service is evil.  Think about it, if we truly got what we deserved from God, we would be sent to Hell for all eternity, but through the work of Jesus Christ we have eternal life.  The Bible is clear that no work we can do can outweigh the wrong we have done.  In fact, the best of our best work is but filthy rags before God.  We can not be upset that someone coming to Christ in the last moments of their life is receiving the same eternal reward that we are because we did not earn our eternal reward either.  Furthermore, if we see our service to God as some kind of "labor" instead of the honor and blessing that it is, then we have something terribly wrong with our hearts. We do not serve God because we have to, we serve God because we get to.  If you lived your whole life in service to God, then you should be thankful for that chance or would you rather have lived your life in slavery to the filth of sin?  The answer to that question shows just where your heart really is.  Do not feel any bit of envy in the person who came to Christ in his last moments because I can tell you as someone who lived into early adulthood as a slave to sin that there is nothing better than serving the Lord.  That person did not have a "good" life, but missed out on the countless blessings we all receive in our service to God.  Our eternity may hold the same rewards, but our life on earth was so much better than theirs ever could have been without Christ.  If you think differently, then you need to examine yourself. 

Another message is that none of these workers came to the vineyard of their own volition.  The landowner went out and sought them and sent them.  Many were called with the opportunity of serving, but few were chosen to go into the vineyard.  Considering each time the landowner went out he found more workers, there was no shortage of men looking for work.  He did not choose all of them, though, but chose certain ones at certain times, all for work, and all for the same pay.  We can not enter our service of God on our own volition.  We are all called when we answer the call of the Holy Spirit working on our hearts to receive that free gift of salvation from the Lord.  Some of us  receive that call when we are very young.  Some when we are at our last breath.  But it is up to us to answer that call and go where the Landowners sends us. 

One more message is that we must understand that we do not control God's gift of salvation by grace.  We do not choose who receives that gift and who does not.  We do not choose who gets what mansion in Heaven among those that do.  It is not for us to complain that this so-called wicked person is receiving the same gift as us, but to rejoice that God has given us that gift.  We are no better than the sinner who comes to God at his last breath.  It is by the grace of God that we were called with much time to serve.  You did not earn your salvation any more than the person who comes to Jesus on his deathbed.  We are all saved by grace through faith. 

And, finally and most importantly, we see the message of grace.  We see it in all it's wonderful glorious goodness.  These men at the end were specifically invited when it was impossible for them to do much, if any, work.  They were not called for their labors.   They were not called because they did something good.  If they were any good, someone would have hired them.  But these were the problem workers, the lazy workers, the rejected workers who probably never put in a fair and honest day's work.  Again, no one would hire these men so they must have had some kind of reputation.  Despite all of that,  they were called and not called for their abilities but out of the grace and generosity of the landowner.  This grace and goodness of the landowner is the same grace of goodness of our God.  We should rejoice that the offer of salvation is just as real to those who lived wickedly with one last breath to breathe as it was for one who came to Christ at a very young age.  There is still hope for your loved ones who have not received that gift.  There is still hope for friends you have who do not know the Lord.  Whenever you share the Gospel message, there is the hope that anyone who hears it can be saved.  If anyone reading this does not know the Lord, no matter how old you are, no matter how close to death you are, and no matter what wrong you have ever done, this message is especially for you.  God is calling you in your last hour.  God is calling you not because of the great works you can do for Him, but out of His love for you.  He is calling you because despite your life of rebellion, He sent His son to die for your sins.  He is calling you not because of anything you did or can do, but because of what He has done.  That, my friends, is grace.  And once you have it, whether you work for twelve hours or one hour, it makes it all worth while. 
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV

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