Talk 16: Commitment and Labor
WE’RE back in our transformational study of Matthew.
My big message today: Don’t get what you deserve, get what Grace delivers.
I heard this preached by Judah Smith and I’d like to share it with you today.
Imagine this scene.
You’re in your office Christmas Party.
And there’s a Raffle.
And your name is called too early. Your name is the third that is called. (Rats.) The first winner wins a mug. The second winner gets a P250-gift certificate. And you win a T-shirt. In front of the shirt, it says in beautiful and bold red letters, “Boracay”.
You’re supposed to be happy. It’s a nice shirt.
But you’re not. Actually, you’re grumbling that your name was picked too soon. Because you can no longer win the bigger prizes.
True enough, at the end of the party, someone’s name is called, and your officemate walks up onstage to receive an all-expense paid trip to Boracay.
Groan. You ask, “Lord, why do you give me the Boracay T-Shirt, and he gets the Boracay Trip?”
It gets worse. You realize that the guy who won the Boracay trip doesn’t even go to church and curses in four languages. You continue your prayer, “Lord, I’m the good guy here. I attend The Feast. He’s a pagan!”
Do you feel this sometimes?
This is what envy does. It steals our joy. It prevents us from being able to celebrate other people’s blessings. Instead, it gives us misery. We become unable to celebrate with others because what is good for them becomes bad for us.
This is all addressed in our key Bible passage today.
When Life Isn’t Fair
We’re going to read one of the most illogical stories in the Bible. Jesus said, 1 “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. (In the first century Greco-Roman world, markets—or Agora in Greek—were very different. People went to markets to get hired.) 2 He 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. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. 6 “At five o’clock that afternoon 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 landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
(Matthew 20:1-7 NLT)
It’s so fascinating, I want to retell the story so you get all the important details.
One day, at 6 a.m., the Landowner goes to a group of men looking for work. He hires them for the day—to be exact, for 12 hours. He promised he’ll pay them the standard wage for a common laborer called a denarius— which contains a quotient of silver worth—at this writing– about $1.6 or P80.54.
And the Landowner sends them off to his vineyard.
Three hours later, at 9 a.m., he sees another bunch of men standing there doing nothing. And he hires them. The same thing happens at 12 noon and 3 p.m. He keeps hiring a new batch. At 5 p.m., he still sees guys waiting around doing nothing and he asks them, “What are you doing here?”
They answer, “No one hired us.”
So, he tells them, “Go work in my vineyard.” He hired 5 Employee Groups.
Out of these 5 groups, only the first group of employees had a “contract” with the Landowner. He promised to pay them the standard wage. The other groups had no contract. Instead, they trusted the Landowner to pay out of the goodness of his heart.
The Craziness of the Landowner
Let’s continue with the illogical part of the story: 8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 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? 14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ 16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (v.8-16)
Their grumbling is understandable. What the landowner did was utter madness.
Please picture the story in your imagination. At the end of the workday, which was at 6 p.m., the Landowner calls everyone. It was paying time. And he calls the 5 p.m. employee group first. The guys he hired last. Guess what: They still look fresh. They still smell clean. They’ve barely perspired.
He was courting conflict. He was flirting with controversy. Strategically, it would have been better if he called Employee Group 1, paid them off, waited for them to leave, so that his generosity won’t stir up envy.
But for some reason, the Landowner had to display “unfairness”.
When the Landowner paid Employee Group 5 the standard wage, all the other workers who were hired earlier smiled from ear to ear—because they thought, “Wow, he gave those guys—who worked for only one hour—a whole denarius! Hey, I’m sure he’ll give me so much more cuz I worked more!” Imagine them standing in line, groaning about their aches and pains, complaining how hot the sun was, loud enough for the Landowner to hear.
But to their horror, the Landowner gives them the same amount. They’re in shock. Their jaws drop. Their hearts fall to ground. They can’t believe it. And they start fuming, cursing, and kicking!
When God Blesses Others More, He Blesses You
Want to hear my suspicion? I think God blesses people in front of us to train our heart to trust in His goodness even when it’s not obvious.
When it seems that God is not favoring you, when it seems that you’re getting less and the other person is getting more—God wants you to trust that He has already blessed you.
Don’t get what you deserve; Get what Grace delivers.
Many times, we feel like we’re part of Employee Group 1.
When you find out that your officemates are getting higher salaries…. When you find out that your friends are driving better cars… When you find out that former classmates are now living in better villages. When you find out that your equals are no longer your equals anymore—that they’re getting ahead of the game and you’re being left behind.
But are you really being left behind?
Is God really unfair?
Grace Is Always Not Fair
Jesus is teaching the difference between Grace and Justice.
I’ve got news for you. Grace is not just. Grace is not fair. Grace is not logical. Grace IS scandalous. Grace is irrational. Grace is absurd!
Don’t get me wrong. We have no problems with Grace—as long as we’re the ones receiving it. As long as we’re Employee Group 4 or 5, the beneficiaries, we’re okay with the silliness of Grace. But when others are the ones receiving Grace, noooooooooo! We want justice for them!
So, when Grace is given to someone else, we complain.
We fume. “That Grace should be given to me!”
We always want God to be bless us MORE than the others because we believe we worked harder, we worked longer, we worked earlier.
I remember another man who thought this way…
The Oldest Son Is Employee Group 1
In the story of the Prodigal Son, the oldest son couldn’t understand why his Dad was so loving to his immoral brother.
The older brother comes from working in the field. Walking home, from the distance, he hears loud music. He sees flashing lights. He sees a catering truck parked outside his house. He asks, “Hey, what’s happening?” And someone tells him, “Your brother has returned!”
“What?” he asks. “Are we talking about the buffoon?”
He cries foul. He tells off his father, “Dad, you’re being unfair! To me! How can you be so unjust! I’ve been here serving you all my life and you have never given me a lechon manok so I could give my friends a treat! But this idiot throws away 50% of your money and you even invite Ben & Ben to sing in his party!”
If you really think about it, the oldest brother is the only logical person in the story! Put yourself in his shoes (sandals). What’s so disconcerting is that there was no significant time lag between his younger brother smelling like a pig, despairing on his knees, pleading for food and all of a sudden smelling like a prince, partying with his friends, dancing on his feet. It happened in a snap! Perhaps just a few hours.
Our sense of justice in us cries out, “Hey! This is too quick. This is too fast. Let that juvenile delinquent learn his lesson. Let him suffer what I suffered. Let him go through the pain I went through…”
Because in your mind, you’re telling God, “But Lord, they’ve sinned! They deserve punishment! Oh God, please don’t forgive them just yet. Let them suffer for a while—before you save them…”
I warn you: In your life, you’ll see some people dancing who shouldn’t be dancing. Friend, you have a choice. You can either stay out of the party and complain bitterly to God. Or you can enter the party and join the dancing.
I urge you, don’t envy Employee Group 2, or 3, or 4, or 5. Instead, celebrate when people receive Grace. Why?
Because in another season of life, you’ll be that guy who was hired last.
You’ll be that youngest son. And you’ll be desperate for Grace.
Receive Grace and Go!
God’s message to you: Don’t get what you deserve; Get what Grace delivers. If I think about it, I don’t like to get what I deserve. I’m a sinner. My gosh, I cringe in terror if I end up getting what I deserve!
No. I want to get what God gives. Why? I’d rather trust in the Goodness of His heart than trust in the goodness of my heart.
Friend, if there’s one thing you need to remove from your heart, it’s the poison of Entitlement. Many say, “I deserve to be blessed more than that newer guy! I deserve to be blessed more than that other person because I sacrificed more!”
If you speak like this, it means you don’t understand the Gospel of Jesus yet. Because everything you received so far comes from pure Grace. You didn’t work for it. You didn’t earn it. It was all given by God’s reckless generosity.
To the complaining Employee Group 1, the Landowner said: Take what is yours and go. God is telling you the same thing: Take your Grace and go.
Don’t insist on what you deserve.
Instead, insist on what Grace delivers.
Allow God to give you out of the Goodness of His heart.
And you’ll be surprised that Grace is 1000x better. Trust God to give you what is best for you at this season of your life.
Seniority makes people feel entitled.
But that’s wrong. Seniority isn’t a call to be entitled. Seniority is a call to be expended. To be extinguished. To be exploited.
Seniority means sacrifice.
Will you be the eldest son who sacrifices his life for the family? Will you be Employee Group 1 who sacrifices for Employee Groups 2 to 5?
If you’re the Eldest or the Parent or the Leader or the Pioneer or the Older person, your role is to sacrifice. Never try to get what’s fair for you. (If you do, I assure you that conflicts will happen.) Your role is to see to it that you get lesser benefits while the others get more benefits. Be the Grace-Filled Person. And when you do this, trust that God will find a way to reward you outside the existing system.
I repeat: Seniority means Sacrifice.
Parents make these same sacrifices. Leaders make these same sacrifices. Pioneers make these same sacrifices.
In your relationships, always be the Grace-Filled Person.
Be scandalous in your love and forgiveness towards others. Give reckless, illogical, outrageous Grace to your children, spouse, parents, friends.
I don’t know what your situation is right now. Perhaps you feel that an injustice has been done to you. Perhaps you’re getting the short end of the stick.
Perhaps you feel others are being favored. Perhaps you feel that God is blessing others more than you.
As we come and worship Him, trust in Grace. Trust in the Grace that flowed from His Cross. He gave His life so that you get what you don’t deserve—you get what Grace delivers.
You don’t have to chase after Grace. Grace will chase after you. Blessings will chase after you. Miracles will chase after you. Abundance will chase after you.