So the last will be first, and the first will be last. Matthew 20:16
The modern concept of fairness is rooted in achieving
justice. Biblically, however, both fairness and justice must be defined as
doing things God’s way. From a Christian perspective, the only way to be fair is to apply God’s word accurately 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? Not really.
In the last post we looked at the parable of the workers in
the vineyard to gain a biblical perspective on the concept of fairness. I made
the point that what is right or fair must be associated with what God wants
rather than what we think is right or fair.
The apostle Paul uses the same word for rightness or fairness
that Jesus does when he instructs children that it is right to obey their
He told them, ‘You also go and
work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right. Matthew
Children, obey your parents in
the Lord, for this is right. Ephesians 6:1
Paul says (Ephesians 6) that obeying parents in the Lord is
the right and fair thing before God. This is a freeing principle for parents
and children. It is not always necessary to check and see if big brother got a
larger scoop of ice cream. Being obedient to God leads to trusting him that he
will be fair with us—even if others appear not to be fair.
Now we are ready to make this application to your own home.
Heather raised a great point in a comment regarding her 4-year-old and her 19-month-old.
Here is part of her comment:
I’m very much looking forward to the next post on this issue.
"Fairness" is one area of parenting where I really struggle to keep a
biblical perspective. I’d especially like to see how the example you gave with
the children above would play out if one of the children was very young. My
children are 4 and 19 months old. My 4 year old is certainly capable of
learning about sacrificial love, but her little brother just isn’t old enough
to grasp those concepts. So when they’re squabbling over a toy, I really have a
hard time knowing how to respond to both of them in a biblical manner.
In the scenario Heather raises the issue that both children
must consider is what God wants as opposed to what they want. Given the ages of
these children, obviously Mom is going to have to help the children see what
God wants. As Tedd Tripp points out in Shepherding
a Child’s Heart, a primary goal in parenting is to help children have a
Godward orientation rather than a selfish one. With children the age of 5 and younger,
the Godward orientation is best taught by clearly establishing the authority of
God in everyday life. 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, the four-year-old must be committed to honoring and
serving her younger brother. This is not a natural response for children. The
four-year-old could legitimately fear that her little brother will think he has
acquired a personal servant. This is where parents come in to keep things
focused on God’s perspective. The younger child also must be taught that the
world (in this case, his family) does not exist to serve him, but to serve God.
When there is a squabble over a toy, the issue must not be equal time; rather, the
issue is What honors God? The older
sister can help her brother understand how to play more enjoyably with certain
toys, just because of her age and experience. She can “have fun” helping her
little brother learn how to play with his toys. She can even help him learn how
to play on his own more effectively. The little brother can be taught to
appreciate his sister’s efforts. He can be taught that she is not a servant but
someone that God has placed in life to help him. There will be times when she
will play on her own as well, and that is also appropriate. What is important
to teach here is that if God is honored, things will be best for everyone.
This approach does not mean that timers cannot be used sometimes
to help children and parents remember when it is time to let others have a
turn. But what must be avoided is the attitude that says, “I have my right to
my 15 minutes with the toy.” If this is the case, then there is grudging sadness
when the time is up. Parents should be trying to teach that there is delight in
helping others have fun. Sometimes this might mean a child happily giving up his
turn in order to see a brother or sister be encouraged and happy.
Sinful natures drive the flesh to selfish desires that know
no satisfaction. Human fairness will not appease these desires. However, the
love of Christ can replace those desires with God’s kind of fairness—the
fairness that teaches that the last will be first, because Christ came not to
be served, but to serve. This is what is behind the Golden Rule.
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for
this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
More on fairness in the next post. In the meantime, let me
know your thoughts.