Sunday, October 18, 2009

Grousing About Grace

"God's kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. "Later, about nine o'clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went. "He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o'clock. At five o'clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, 'Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?' "They said, 'Because no one hired us.' "He told them to go to work in his vineyard. "When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.' "Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.' "He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?' "Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first." (Matthew 20:1-16, The Message)
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The Pharisee within me completely understands the response of the 6:00 AM workers. If you are honest, the Pharisee within you does as well. Many of us have been raised in Christian homes under Biblical teaching and discipline since we were very young. The core of that teaching was grace, to be sure, but all too often there were additions made that sounded good, but they aren’t part of our “deal”.

Once you are saved, if you work hard for God, your rewards in Heaven will be great … greater than those who didn’t work hard during their Christian life. That’s what we were told so many times and in so many ways. It was never overtly a works theology, but it certainly played out as one. We were told clearly and plainly that God blesses the life lived for Him. And I have no debate against that at its purest core. God does want us to live a life that pleases Him and works for His kingdom. The key here lies with the idea of “extra blessings” that are granted or even guaranteed.

The early workers in the field watched with growing anticipation as the hired labor was paid. The one-hour workers got their dollars and moved on. The six-hour workers got their dollars and moved on. Certainly, they would anticipate getting at least two dollars, or perhaps even more. It didn’t matter what they had agreed on twelve hours ago or even what the going day rate was for manual labor. They saw a ridiculously generous master and they began to salivate for something more. Imagine their shock at receiving exactly what they agreed to.

Or do you even have to imagine it? God, in the part of the radically benevolent landlord has offered the same salvation to everyone on the same terms – believe and repent. Nothing we do can add to that one bit. Paul was clear in Romans about our status apart from grace. And yet, we somehow want to take verses and passages about working for God to mean we are guaranteed something more just because we had the opportunity to find God’s grace in Jesus earlier than others. And in doing so, we actually “devalue” God’s grace in our hearts and minds, which is a very sad thing.

We should daily be falling down on our faces, astounded that God has chosen to give us anything at all. His promise to us is clear – believe and live forever … take up your cross and follow me … drink of this Living Water and never be thirsty again … so many ways of saying the exact same thing. We rebelled and deserve absolutely nothing! God, in his incredible grace, made provision for us to live in His kingdom forever. Like the angels, we should rejoice every time another sinner comes into relationship with Christ. But somehow, we get stuck too often grousing about what we didn’t get versus what somebody else did get.
As we travel the Crooked Path, may our focus be on what God has done for us and what He is willing to do through us. We are members of a redeemed community and our “work” should be to spread the news as far and wide as we possibly can. Anything we do for God is, at best, filthy rags and we all know what those are worth. Instead, we need to glorify God for His provision and reflect His love and ridiculous generosity to a dark and dying world. That is a task worthy of our Master.
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  1. When is the last time you compared yourself to another Christian, specifically so you could feel “good” about what we’ve accomplished?
  2. Do you feel some level of distain that God has provided His grace to so many “unworthy” people out there? Or do you rejoice that one more person is saved from eternal separation from God?
  3. Where is your heart and your focus? Are you expectantly rejoicing in what God has done, or stubbornly grousing about what you think you deserve?

The Message – Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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