Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Matthew 20: Grace is Opposed to Entitlement

Matt 20:1-16 "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.  After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.'  So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?'  They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'  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.'  And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.  And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. 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? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'   So the last will be first, and the first last."

Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard is a study in contrast between grace and the entitlement mentality. God's attitude towards us his children is always based on grace--by that we mean the motivation for His actions towards humankind is always based on who He is--a loving and good God--not because of who we are. It's never based on our position or our contribution. In God's kingdom, the principle of operation is always based on grace, not law. But what is "grace"?

In this parable of the workers at the vineyard, every worker was promised one denarius no matter which position they were called and no matter how much they contributed. They all agreed when they accepted the offer. The owner of the vineyard offered one denarius as a fair wage for a day's work. However, as the day got longer, the working hours got shorter. So, those workers recruited later in the day actually worked less for the same pay. So at the end of the day, when the last worker was paid a denarius for just one hour's work, those who were recruited earlier expected to be paid more. As it turned out, they were also paid one denarius--and that was when discontentment set in.

There are some important grace principles at work here:
  • God is sovereign ("Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?'): God is under no obligation to any human expectation. He gives what in His wisdom is "fair" distribution of his riches. Because He is good, we will not be short-changed. So, whatever we get is exactly what we need, not what we deserve. So Paul writes, "My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). 
  • God's Blessings are Fair, not Equitable ('Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.'): While we can understand why the earlier workers were unhappy, having worked more but getting the same pay, it was fair because they received what they were promised. But it was not equitable because those who came later received more pay for less pain. God's kingdom is not an egalitarian society: some are blessed more in some areas (finances) but others are blessed more in other areas (ministry, influence, etc). God treats all his children fairly, though it may seem that some are getting greater "blessing". It's better not to compare "blessings" but to be thankful for what we have so that we will always be content: "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:11-13). True success in God's Kingdom is not always measured by what we have or the size of our pocketbook. Jesus and Paul made the greatest contribution to God's kingdom but both died in poverty.
  • Be Grateful:  When we focus on what we lack rather than what we have, we will always end up becoming envious of others who seem to have "more”. Under grace, we all receive according to what we need, not what we deserve. The attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude demonstrates faith. “More” is not always better because people who seem to have “more” actually carries more anxieties and fears because of their so-called “blessings”. Those who live a simple life enjoys God’s abundance more than those who seem to have “more” blessings but less enjoyment of God’s life.

The grace mentality, not entitlement mentality, characterizes kingdom people. It’s not what in it for me but what’s in it from me that counts.

Father, thank You that You blessed us according to our need, not our greed. Amen.

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