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Fair or Not Fair?

Posted on September 24, 2023

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Fair or Not Fair?

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Psalm 145:1-8

Philippians 1:21-30

Matthew 20:1-16

I know that I have preached about fairness in the past but it is a subject always worth repeating. It seems from childhood we develop this innate sense of fairness. I find this the case with my own children. If one child has a cookie or a popsicle and the other two see this what automatically goes through their mind? It is not fair unless they have one too. Sometimes a treat is given as a reward for good behavior or for finishing their meal even when they do not want to. They would much prefer to have the treat over eating their spaghetti or mac and cheese. But then it comes down to when one of them may earn the reward and the other does not and only one gets their reward. The one who did not earn their reward then of course is upset and there are tears and they think it is just not fair. To a child fairness is only fair when they get the reward that they seek. It is all about their own satisfaction. They could care less about it being fair for someone else. A win-win mentality is not natural. For some they even take this into adulthood.

Jonah as we read about him today is a prime example of this. He is a prophet of the Lord. God speaks to him directly and tells him what he is to do and what he is to instruct to the people of Israel. I think Jonah had a lot of pride in being a prophet of the Lord. He had it all easy with speaking to his own people. However, God asked Jonah to do something different. He asked him to speak to a different people and nation. These were not Israelites. These were people known for doing all kinds of evil things much like that of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jonah felt that these were a people who deserved to die. To Jonah their destruction would be a fair and just punishment. That may be very true but God desired to give them a chance. This is why he sends Jonah to warn them of their eminent doom and to wake them up of their crimes and sin. Jonah knows that God is forgiving and he knows that if these people repent then God will relent on his punishment. Jonah does not want God to relent so he takes it upon himself to do all that he can to prevent this from happening. We all know the story how he runs away and then is thrown into the sea to be left for dead and then God sends a great big fish to swallow him up and save him from destruction. Jonah disobeyed God and deserves punishment and yet God relents and spares Jonah and gives him a chance to repent. Jonah prays for 3 days and then is thrown up onto dry land. This time he obeys and warns the Ninevites. Of course, the Ninevites repent and humble themselves before the Lord and the Lord relents on his punishment and over 100,000 people are spared destruction.

Jonah after seeing that God spares the Ninevites, appears to have this childlike temper tantrum and childlike understanding of fairness. He is angry because it is just not fair that these evil and bad Ninevites be spared punishment. When the shoe was on the other foot of course Jonah was all for God relenting on his punishment and justice. However, when it comes to these people whom Jonah appears to hate, then this of course is different. Different at least in his own eyes. He fails to realize that he deserved and does deserve the same punishment for himself that God was threatening the Ninevites with. Jonah sinned and did wrong. God tries to help him understand, “is it right for you to be angry?” Why should he be angry about God’s mercy. He sure isn’t angry about it when he is on the receiving end of mercy. If he really wants God to be fair according to his own definition of fairness then he by all rights should still be in the belly of a fish.

In Matthew 20 Jesus tells a parable about some workers who also have an issue in dealing with their view of fairness. There are these workers at the beginning of the day who are hired by a farmer to go work in his fields. They agree upon a day’s worth of wages to work in the field. They get to work and a few hours later the farmer finds some more workers to work in the field and he has the same agreement with them. This continues until it is the last few hours of the day and when it is all over, they line up to receive their pay. To the people who worked the least amount of time he still gives them a full day’s wage. He does the same right down the line and when he gets to the people who started at the beginning of the day they are expecting to be paid even more since they worked the longest. But no, they receive the same day’s wage that was originally agreed upon and they are upset about this. They say that it is not fair that they work all day and still get the same wage as the people who worked only an hour or two. The farmer explains that he paid them what was agreed upon and what is it to them if he chooses to be generous with his own money.

Now let’s put this parable in the context of heaven. God will give people the same reward for accepting his Son regardless of what time in life they accept him. If they accept him as a child and are faithful all of their lives then great, they will be rewarded in heaven. If they come to Christ moments before they die then great, they will also be rewarded the same in heaven. God is generous and wants no one to perish. Now some may view that this is not fair. Well, the truth is that it was not fair that Jesus did nothing wrong and yet he was still beaten as a criminal and then hung on a cross to die. Yet he did so anyway and so that all would have a chance to be free. If everything was fair according to our own definition then we ourselves would never have a chance at mercy or forgiveness and there is nothing we could ever do to earn our way back into heaven for our crimes have already been committed. However, praise God in his mercy that he does not treat us fairly but instead treats us with abundant mercy and love. So, then I ask you this morning, do you prefer God to be fair or do you prefer him to be unfair? As for me I am thankful that life is unfair and I am even more thankful that God is unfair for now at this time because there will be a time soon when God will be more than fair and will bring justice upon the earth. For now, we should be happy and grateful for what we have.

We should have the same view point as Paul as he explains in his letter to the Philippians. Paul is not worried or concerned about fairness. He is in prison and his only crime is for preaching the Gospel of Christ. Yet we read about his concerns in this passage this morning. He is not concerned about whether he is treated fairly or well. He says to live is Christ and to die is gain. He would love to die and be with the Lord for he knows it would be the best outcome and reward. And yet he understands at this time it is still better for him to live and suffer what he is suffering for the sake of the church so that they may be encouraged and edified. To Paul this is much more important than receiving the reward of heaven at this time. But you see not once in any of his letters to the churches does Paul complain about whether he is being treated fairly. All he says again is that for him to live is for him to live for Christ and then in death which in the world’s eyes would be true unfairness, to him would be gain. True fairness would be for Paul to suffer all that he has suffered and then gain nothing. For Paul had done many evil things before coming to Christ all for the name of the Lord or so he believed. Therefore, to Paul he is receiving a just reward. What is more, he understands all of this and accepts his circumstances with the knowledge that if he lives then he lives for Christ and that if he dies then he dies for Christ. If only we could understand life in this world as Paul understood. The beautiful thing is that we all are given the same chance to make that choice as Paul was given. Therefore, may we live our lives in unfairness by living for Christ and then dying for gain. Oh, how wonderful is living a life that is unfair.