"God's Sovereignty and Character"
Matthew 20:2-4, "And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny 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 unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way."
This morning, mankind still tries to charge God with fault. Let a terrible natural disaster or human tragedy occur, and people will immediately howl, "Where is God? How could a just God allow this? God's not fair!" Since the dawn of man's problems with his fall in the garden, he has been blaming God or unjustly attaching things to Him that do not apply. Conversely, some will hide behind the concept of God's sovereignty as a shield when trying to attach some level of malevolence or duplicitousness to God's character. In point of fact, God's sovereignty and character are perfectly aligned - as are all parts of His nature and essence. There is no disharmony, and God's nature is completely free of all the imperfections that we are fraught with. Whenever we see things misaligned, the problem lies not with Him above but rather with us beneath. Though I may not have all the answers as to why certain things happen the way they do, I do know that God's character and all things about Him are completely clear of blame.
Our study verses comprise part of the opening of Christ's kingdom parable about the master, his vineyard, and the labourers that he hires. The total story tells of all the men the master hired who worked varying lengths of time throughout the day. Upon the workday's conclusion, the master pays every man his wage, incurs ire and wrath from the labourers, and responds truthfully about where the fault really lies. This parable highlights God's sovereignty in His kingdom. As verse 15 shows, the master has dominion of his vineyard and what happens in it. While people may not like circumstances and situations, the point remains that the vineyard is the master's, and he has the authority to do as he will with it. God's authority and sovereignty over His kingdom and His creation is no different - just a larger scale. However, unlike natural masters with their domains, this Master is always perfect in His dealings. Notice the language conveyed in the study verses.
Verse 2 highlights the fact that the first labourers agreed to a penny a day. This is important as it is this "contract" that they object to at the end. When they see 1 hour labourers receiving a penny ahead of them, they "assume" that they will receive more, because how could they not? We worked more! They worked only a little! Upon receiving the agreed upon contracted amount, they squawk. How dare the master! How could he? He reminds them in Verses 13-14 that no wrongdoing has been done. He reminds them of the contract and their agreement to it. Who is in the wrong? At man's first blush, he might like to say that the master is wrong for what he did, especially if some of us are on the receiving end of things and think we "deserve" more. However, the agreed upon amount is still the right amount. Anything more would have been a bonus, at the discretion of the master.
Verse 4 highlights that each contract was made for that which "is right." Successive labourers may not have stipulated amounts like the first ones did, but based on the character of the master, they can be assured that their wage was "right." This aspect of the parable underscores the fact that no matter how skewed man's thinking gets, God never wavers in His eye. It remains single and is always right. There is no guesswork, duplicity, or wavering in His mind and spirit. All remains free and clear of any darkness or blight. (I John 1:5)
Looking at the parable as a whole, many commentators and theologians will point this parable in the direction of a Jew/Gentile application. Since the kingdom that Christ established went first to the Jews and then later after His resurrection to the Gentiles, the Jews fit well into the early labourers that worked longer and balked when "first timers" like the Gentiles got to be included as the book of Acts describes. Though this application is a neat and boxed thought, the parable can be broadened much more. Verse 1 says the kingdom is "like" this. So, let us look for this in our lives today to see what we may find. No matter what we find, for it to be right, God's authority and sovereignty must shine with His character completely blemishless.
Sometimes today we see things that do not align with our idea of what is "right." We may object that a churchgoer seems enthralled with a worship service while we feel extremely dry. Perhaps they are new to things while we have labored for years or decades. That is just not right! How can they enjoy this while I do not? Truly, God's kingdom is not like the world in many ways. Though we should have respect for seniority in general, God has blessed many people throughout time to have great experiences though they were not the "senior man" on the block. Should this be objectionable? It is His kingdom. He can do as He pleases, and what He pleases is always right. Consider the young man Timothy as an example. He was a young minister who was a half-breed (Jewish mother and Greek father). Doubtless, he had endured much scorn based on his lineage, and people were apt to despise his age, since Paul was inspired to encourage him not to let that bother him. (I Timothy 4:12) Was it right that God endow this young man with many gifts and talents? Certainly. Is it in God's purview? Absolutely.
Another example today could be how the Lord blesses different local churches. Sometimes we see local bands withering away, and sometimes we see others have a season of revival. How many times do we look at those scenes properly? People may be apt to think, "Well this group is obviously not spiritual while that one is." Others may say, "These have younger people than the other." Yet more might posit, "Well we just need to add _____ to grow ourselves too!" None of these smacks upon the reality of things. No one has all the keys to all the doors to know what occurs and for how long it has been going on. Only the One who knows the hearts of all men can speak with such authority. Therefore, we cannot attach sin haphazardly when we do not know - this was the fault of the 3 miserable comforters in Job. Nor can we say that by putting in something in God's house He did not establish will fix the problem - that charges God with being a bad Husband to His bride. So, what is the proper mindset and course? We should rejoice with those that do rejoice and mourn with those that mourn. As we see revivals in different places, we should rejoice and thank the Master for His gracious blessing upon His vineyard. As we see dryness in different places, we need to encourage those bands while also fervently praying to the God of the harvest that He would send gentle showers, more labourers, and above all peace and joy to the body.
Looking at things outside the direct lens of the kingdom, we can see from Scripture that God operates within His creation sovereignly and perfectly much like He does His kingdom. Though creation in general does not enjoy and experience the kinds of blessings that His kingdom does, His operating procedure is the same. He has the authority to do what He will, when He will, how He will, and to who He will. He also operates flawlessly as His character will allow nothing else. Therefore, when we see problems occurring in the world today, should we murmur against the Goodman of the house? When we experience good times, should we gloat and say, "Is not this great _____ which I have built?" The answers should speak volumes to us. Problems in the world stem from the fact that even though God made man upright, he still sought out many inventions, while miracles and blessings come as a result of His gracious kindness to His creation. (Ecclesiastes 7:29, Lamentations 3:22-23)
What have you and I agreed with Him to in His kingdom? What have we pledged? What has He pledged? We have been commanded to pledge our heart, soul, mind, and might to His service. We have been commanded to seek that first and foremost in our lives. Does it matter if others are blessed the same or more than we are? Does it matter if we have had to bear the burden of the heat of the day upon our backs? Do circumstances and others things creeping in matter as far as the "contract" is concerned? The answer is that the Lord should get our faithfulness at all times in all seasons under any circumstances. Consider His end. He is faithful to us no matter what happens. He is even faithful to us when we violate our contract to Him. His character shines in refulgent display as He gives what "is right" while also having the authority to do what He will with His own. You could not ask for a better Master friends. Such a Lord is worthy, and looking at my own track record, I am amazed at His faithfulness all the time. Consider. How many of us would be faithful to someone else had they treated us like we treat Him so often. Be honest. Now, reflecting that back, how fervent should we be to Him as we labour for His name's sake?