Unfair

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Matthew 20:8-15

In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus is trying to teach us about what the Kingdom of God is like. He’s trying to show us a different understanding of justice, grace and mercy. If Jesus were to stand up and tell this story today, He would surely offend our American sense of justice and righteous indignation.

This is the scandal of grace. The principles of God’s grace and generosity do not operate on principles of justice. Jesus was trying to reorient the people’s definition of “fairness” toward a gospel of grace rather than a gospel of justice.

God desires to be generous with His grace. Those who get saved at the final moments of their life will inherit eternal life just as those who have been faithful followers of Jesus their whole life. We see this with the criminal on the cross who was hanging next to Jesus (Luke 23:42-43). We see this with the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God loves to be generous with His grace.

Jesus makes it clear that God is not being “unfair”(verse 13). Everyone got what they agreed to. If we read “injustice” into this parable then we have a different definition of justice than God, and it is we who need to adjust, not Him. The real problem that this parable exposes is not God’s sense of grace or justice, but our sense of righteous indignation.

When you read this parable, who did you identify with? Were you celebrating God’s grace and mercy with the workers who got hired in the last hour of the day and got a full day’s wage? Or were you identifying with the workers who had worked all day and got the same thing as the guy who only worked an hour?

This parable exposes our heart. Who do we think we are? Are we the one who “earned more” and should have gotten more? Or are we the one who has graciously been saved by unmerited mercy and the extreme generosity of God?

Let me give you a hint. We ALL are the workers who only worked an hour. This parable was designed to expose the unhealthy sense of entitlement that rises up in us all. We like to call it “justice” but this parable exposes it for what it is–self-righteousness.

Let this parable sit with you. Let it bother you. And then let it return you to gratitude for the extreme grace the Father has show us through His Son Jesus.

Lifestyle of Forgiveness

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22

We will all sin from time to time, but that does not mean we have to live a lifestyle of sin. A person may drink too much one night. That’s an action of sin. But when someone gets drunk night after night, that is a lifestyle of sin. When someone sleeps around, that is a lifestyle of sin. When someone intentionally and continuously embezzles money, that is a lifestyle of sin. It’s not a stumble or slip up, but instead a pattern of behavior that flows out of a heart that is unhealed.

This distinction is important because it is in the areas of chronic sin where the demonic is most likely to enter our lives. These are the areas where demons set up camp in our heart, mind, and body and begin to torment us. One of the most overlooked chronic sins in the Church is a lifestyle of unforgiveness. Jesus makes it clear that we are not just called to forgive a few times. As those who have been forgiven of all of our sin by the grace and mercy of God, we are to live a lifestyle of forgiveness.

To drive this point home, Jesus tells the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. A man who owed the king 10,000 bags of gold could not repay it, and yet the king forgave the entire debt. But when that man found a guy who owed him 100 silver coins, a much smaller debt than the one he was forgiven, the man refused to let it go. The man choked the guy and threw him in prison until the debt was repaid.

But when the king found about about this, the king brought the man in and said:

‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

Matthew 18:32-34

The man was shown mercy but didn’t show others mercy. The man was given total forgiveness but wasn’t willing to forgive his fellow servant. So the king enacted the biblical principle found in Luke 6:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Luke 6:37-38

The man had the opportunity to measure with grace, mercy and forgiveness. Instead, the man measured with justice. Justice is getting what we deserve. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve. So the king measured him with the measure that he himself used. And justice demanded that the man be thrown into prison until he could repay the debt.

Another interesting plot twist in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant is that the jailers tortured the man. The lesson is clear. A lifestyle of unforgiveness leads to a tormented life. Unforgiveness becomes a super-highway for the demonic to set up camp in our life and bring all manner of torment to our hearts, minds, and bodies.

Chronic sin often leads to chronic problems. Chronic unforgiveness leads to chronic problems in our mental health, emotional well-being, physical health, and relational intimacy with others. Forgiving those who have hurt us is the quickest way to kick the enemy out of our life and restore flourishing to areas of our life that have been shut down for years.

Who do you need to forgive?

Pray this:
In the name of Jesus, I choose to forgive as I have been forgiven. I now choose to forgive _____________. I release any right I have retained to bring revenge. I release them from my hands and place them into Your hands, Jesus, my Just Judge. I break every curse I have sent to them and call forth a blessing to them instead. Thank you for the grace to forgive and the power to live in freedom. 

The Power of Words

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit…For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:33-37

Our language reveals our heart. If we continue to lie, there is deception in our hearts. If we continue to speak words that are harsh and condemning, there is anger (and maybe rage and hate) in our hearts. If we continue to push people away with our words, there is rejection in our hearts (because we always feel rejected regardless if that is the truth or not). We will have to give an account of every empty word that we’ve spoken. We will have no defense except the blood of Jesus.

There are many people whose words that they speak are ruining their life. Words have the power to bring life or death to the people around us. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit“(Proverbs 18:21). Matthew 12 mentions fruit as well. We will eat the fruit of our own words. If our words bring life, we will experienced life all around us. If our words criticize, cut people down, judge, mock, condemn, and punish then we will experience death all around us. That will be the fruit we eat!

Another way to understand this truth is that our critical and harsh words not only bring death to the people around us (and subsequently becomes the bad fruit that we eat) but there is also a boomerang effect to our words. The measure we use will be used against us.

If our measurement tool is full of forgiveness, grace and love, that is the tool that will measure our own life. The enemy will have no place to attack us. But if our measurement tool is full of judgement, anger, resentment, criticism, and perfectionism then that is also the tool that will measure our own life. The enemy will launch attack after attack on our life because we’ve given him a standard of measurement that leaves us completely open to attack. Our life could never hold up to the standard to which we hold others.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Luke 6:37-38

Your words were meant to bring life to the people around you. Your words were meant to bring life to you! “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt...”(Colossians 4:6). We need to examine our heart to see what is coming out of it in the form of words. If toxic words are coming out, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to clean out the deep places of our wounded heart. We need to take off the old self, put it to death, and put on the new self which is being renewed day by day to look more like Jesus.

You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Colossians 3:7-10

Take inventory of your words and it will reveal the condition and contents of your heart.

What kind of words have you been speaking lately? Have they brought life or death? Have you felt their boomerang effect?

Boomerang

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Matthew 7:1-2 & Luke 6:37-38

Harsh words and negative feelings that come from judgment have a boomerang effect. When I speak in harsh and condemning words, it is as if I am speaking those words over my own life as well. The measure I use against others will be used against me. The enemy loves to use our own words not only to tear someone else down but also to then become pronouncements of judgment upon ourselves. And when I decide not to forgive someone who’s hurt me, I create a shell around my heart that makes it impossible to receive God’s forgiveness for my own sin.

Yet, if give forgiveness, I will experience forgiveness flooding into my life. If the measure I use for others is full of grace and mercy, I will experience grace and mercy. This is why those who have the hardest time forgiving others are those who struggle to forgive themselves. The measure they use for others, and for themselves, is rooted in the Law and not in grace. For those who’ve sinned against them, they are looking for justice and revenge instead of mercy and grace. And so they experience justice for their own sins instead of mercy and grace.

Based on this principle, we shouldn’t be surprised when conservatives–who go around pronouncing judgments of immorality on everyone–eventually get caught in some scandal of immorality themselves. We shouldn’t be surprised when progressives–who go around pronouncing judgments of bigotry and hate on everyone–become cocooned in their own prison of self-righteous close-mindedness. This is just the fulfillment of Matthew 7 and Luke 6.

As followers of Jesus, we walk by grace, dispensing forgiveness and grace to everyone around us. We are called to give freely not only our money, but also our mercy. And as we do, God loves to pour out His love, grace, forgiveness and provision on us. It’s a joy for Him.

What measure are you using?

Instruments for Special Purposes

 “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

2 Timothy 2:19-22

I grew up with cliches in the church that were based off of a skewed understanding of God’s grace. I remember hearing things and saying things like, “All sin is equal to God” and “God will use anyone regardless of our sin.” These cliches are half-truths mixed with error that circulate around the church as a way of trying to get away from works-based righteousness. The heart behind these sayings is good but the message can be easily taken in the wrong direction.

The missing piece here is that God’s grace doesn’t just forgive, it also empowers us to live holy lives. Grace doesn’t just wipe out our record of sin, but it also gives us the ability to flee evil desires and live clean.

Paul was clear to Timothy that part of following Jesus was turning away from wickedness and leaning into holiness. Paul was clear that when we cleanse sin out of our lives, we become able to be used by God in greater measure in the Kingdom of God. Like surgical instruments, if we are rusty or contaminated, we spread that contamination any time God tries to use us. So the more purified we are in our lives, the better surgical instrument we become in the hands of God. And, yes, sometimes our sin or immaturity will prevent God from using us. This is both for our good and for the good of those to whom we would have ministered.

Is all sin equal in the eyes of God?

It is true that what Jesus did on the cross paid for any and all sin. God can forgive any sin. It’s not harder for Him to forgive one over another. But different sins do have different consequences. The damage of sin varies greatly depending on the severity. So pretending that one sin is no more severe than another is harmful. There are different levels of sin in the sense of severity, and we have to admit this in order to bring healing to the devastation that sin causes. All sin is forgivable, but the mess that sin creates differs greatly depending on what it is.

Will God use anyone regardless of their sin?

Yes, but He won’t use everyone in the same way. Sometimes our sin prevents God from using us at all. It’s not that God doesn’t want to use us, but sin in our lives (and immaturity) creates cracks in the foundation of our life. If God were to put the heavy weight of responsibility that comes with being used by God in powerful ways on a foundation that has huge cracks in it, the foundation would crumble. It’s God’s love for us and grace toward us that keeps Him from using us when we are steeped in sin. He doesn’t want us to be crushed under the weight of it.

The other thing that happens when we are used by God in powerful ways is that the enemy often launches counter-attacks against us. If we have secured our life by allowing ourselves to be continually purified, we can withstand the attack. But if our life is Swiss cheese, full of holes created by impurity, sin, selfishness and rebellion, then the counter-attack is extremely damaging. We don’t have the spiritual fortifications to withstand it. God would rather not put us in that situation. He’s not punishing us for our sin by not using us; He is protecting us. This is what a loving Father does.

If we want to be used by God in the Kingdom, we don’t have to be perfect. But in order for us to be used by God in increasing measure, we must be purified in increasing measure. We must be willing to have the refining fire of the Holy Spirit expose our sin and partner with us to remove it from our lives. Justifying our sin is no longer an option.

What is grace?

For anyone who is a follower of Jesus, this is our story:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live…But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5

Yet, many of us misunderstand grace. Grace is not just being washed clean of sin. That is forgiveness. Grace empowers us to do what we couldn’t otherwise do. Grace is the divine enablement of God.

If we were a car, grace would not be the windshield wiper fluid dispensed whenever some sin has made our windshield unclean and our vision obstructed. That’s forgiveness. Grace is the gasoline in the car! Mercy is God’s passion to rebuild and rehab broken-down cars instead of tossing them into the junkyard.

As Dallas Willard says, “You will consume much more grace by leading a holy life than you will by sinning, because every holy act you do will have to be upheld by the grace of God.” Using the car analogy, a car that is in the shop all the time uses less gasoline than a car that is constantly on the move accomplishing the mission for which it was intended.

A life of holiness is a life in continual dependence upon grace. When Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast”(Ephesians 2:8-9), he is saying, “For it is by gas that the car goes, through the turning of the ignition, and this is not your doing. You didn’t earn the gas; you didn’t put the gas in the car; you simply turned the key or pressed the button. God gave you the gas that made it go.”

Paul continues in the next verse, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”(Ephesians 2:10), which is like saying, “For we are God’s restored car, rebuilt from the ground up, not in order to sit idling in a garage, but to go driving on the highways and byways transporting people back to God.”

Sowing & Reaping

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 1Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6:7-10

If we read this wrong it can sound like it is opposed to grace and forgiveness. This is because we read this outside of the context of an agrarian society. Everyone listening to these words in the first century understood farming and just how long it took plants to grow. The time between sowing and reaping was many months.

So we need to not have a “slot machine” mindset when reading this truth about sowing and reaping. It’s not true that you immediately get back what you give out. That’s slot machine mentality. Farming is a gradual, continual process. Paul is saying what you pour yourself into is what you’ll become.

In our culture we might better understand investment language. If you spend your life using your retirement to gamble in Vegas, don’t be surprised when you get to the end of your life broke. If you make good investments, you’ll reap a good reward. And your own pleasure and comfort is not a good investment.

If we live life to please ourselves, we’ll find our lives broken at every turn. If we live life to please the Holy Spirit, over time, “if we do not give up,” we’ll step back and discover a life that is more full than we could ever have imagined.

So were does grace, mercy and forgiveness come in?

Think about farming. Forgiveness is all those moments between planting and harvesting where weeds are recognized and pulled up. Mercy is when a farmer puts a wire fence around the veggies so that the plants are protected from the opportunistic animals. Grace is the sunshine in the morning and the rain in season. Grace is the dark rich soil loaded with nutrients. Farming isn’t about planting the perfect seed and then doing nothing until harvest. Farming is an ongoing process of cultivation, just like discipleship and sanctification.

But make no mistake, what we originally plant makes all the difference in the world. If we find we’ve planted something of the flesh in one part of our life, we can always turn the soil over and plant something new. It’s never too late to plant seeds of the Spirit no matter how late in the season it is. No matter how much damage has been caused by the locusts we’ve allowed in our lives, Jesus can restore the land. The Lord says:

Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

I will repay you (make up) for the years the locusts have eaten…

Joel 2:23-25