It’s Not Fair – part one

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. Matthew

In a recent post I identified fairness as a Goliath of humanism. The Goliath metaphor represents an
idea or a practice so culturally accepted that it becomes a champion of
conventional wisdom, even while standing in opposition to the truth of
Scripture. So this metaphor represents concepts that are seemingly
unchallengeable. There are several such modern day champions which challenge
biblical truth. Humanism is the modern source of these champions, though the
issues they represent are as old as sin. In the days ahead we will look at
several of these humanist champions, these modern-day Goliaths. Let’s begin with fairness.

The modern concept of fairness is rooted in achieving
justice from an individual’s perspective. Biblically, however, fairness must be
defined as doing things God’s way. The only way to be fair from a Christian perspective is to apply God’s word
objectively to a given situation. Is this the same thing as making sure each
child gets the same number of minutes to play with a toy, or making sure that
each child has the same number of toys to play with? Let’s see.

Jesus uses an intriguing parable to teach about fairness. In
Matthew 20:1-16 we find the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The owner
of the vineyard sends workers out at various intervals throughout the day to
work in his field. The first group started at sunrise and agreed to work for a
full day for one denarius. Then he hires workers to work for 9 hours, six
hours, 3 hours and finally the last group for only one hour. He tells each of
the subsequent groups of workers that he will pay them what is right—that is,
what is fair. (see vs. 4). They also agree and go to the fields to work.

At the end of the day the workers received their pay,
starting with those who were hired last. To the surprise and, I am sure, glee
of the other workers, those who worked for one hour received a denarius. You
can imagine the workers who were hired at sunrise calculating how much more
money they would be receiving than what they agreed to. Then they found out
that they also received one denarius. Immediately the grumbling began – this is
not fair! Why, they had worked all day in the hot sun. Now these latecomers,
who only worked the last hour (when the sun was going down), were paid equally
with them.  Perhaps the first group chose
a spokesman to complain to the landowner, for in verse 13 the landowner is
addressing just one of the men.

The landowner says in effect to this unhappy worker, “I have
paid you what you agreed was a fair wage. I have not been unfair to you. Are
you upset that I have chosen to be generous with these other workers? Don’t I
have the right to do what I want with my own money? Take your pay and go home.”

This parable offers an almost unsettling perspective on
fairness. The first group agreed to work for what they thought was a fair wage.
The rest of the workers trusted the landowner to be fair. However, at the end
of the day the first group of workers shifted their standard of fairness, from
what they had agreed to in the morning to what the others were paid in the
evening. This is the point: fairness is not determined by comparing how others
are treated. Fairness is determined by the one who sets the standard for
fairness: God. This passage in Matthew teaches that Christians must understand
fairness as obedience to God in any particular situation. If one follows a biblically
obedient path, he can be sure that he is doing the best thing for those around
him as well. Doing what is right or fair must be in relation to God first. Then
and only then can you assess what is the right and fair thing to do for others.
If the workers had attempted to determine among themselves what the fair wage
for each group should have been, chaos would have resulted. The landowner, not
the workers, was the one to determine what was fair.

Here is an interesting comparison of how the Bible uses the
concept of rightness or fairness.

He told them, ‘You
also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right
Matthew 20:4

Children, obey your
parents in the Lord, for this is right.
Ephesians 6:1

Both passages use the word right, translating the same Greek word. Children should be taught
with confidence that the fair thing, the right thing is always to do what God
requires. This can free children from the tyranny of always trying to figure
out if they are being treated fairly in comparison to others. God determines
what is fair. He can be trusted to be fair even when things appear to be unfair
to you and children. The determination of what is fair must be left with God
and his word, not with our sense of what is just. God is the ruler of your
children’s world and they must learn that they are accountable to him. In the
terms of this discussion, God is the one who determines what is fair, so Understanding
fairness requires having a Godward orientation rather than a selfish one. Humanism
and its proponents, such as Dewey, Piaget and others, have shaped our culture’s
understanding of fairness. We will look at this specifically in upcoming posts.

Tomorrow’s post will make practical application of this
parable, using a comment made by Heather. For now, why not take some time to
consider whether your ideas about fairness stem from biblical principles or
from the world’s vantage point. The world’s idea of fairness is demonstrated by
the unhappy workers. To understand fairness biblically we must have lives that
are oriented towards God and his ways.


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