It’s easy to take on the attitudes of “I’ve earned” and “I deserve” when we look at what we’ve accomplished and compare it to others around us. But these attitudes can become two of the most damaging and destructive in our lives if we allow them to. Jesus tells a story that illustrates how both can create in us assumptions and expectations that could cause us to miss the greatest gift we’ll ever be offered.Read More
- I will not allow a performance culture to define my life.
- I will resist transactional relationships.
- I will embrace the gift of God’s grace in my life.
- I will not hold God to promises He didn’t make.
- I will not assume God owes me anything.
- I will not complain about God’s grace to others.
Full Sermon Script:
Hey everyone, my name is Scott and I’m one of the teaching pastors here.
If you’re joining us for the first time, we’ve spent the last three weeks looking at stories from the greatest storyteller, Jesus.
He was a different kind of storyteller. His stories all had a purpose, a meaning and He used a variety of storytelling tools like humor, current events, objects, and places to make truth available to everyone.
Behind me is a place of stories. It’s the country’s longest, continuously operated family owned winery, founded 117 years ago. Imagine the stories these vineyards could tell of the hard work that’s built them, of the sweat and tears and labor it’s taken. Of the countless people who have come thru planting, nurturing, harvesting, tasting, and golfing!
The story we’ll look at today is set in a vineyard, much like the one behind me.
It’s a story that can expose a belief about God that we may not even recognize on the surface.
A belief that how we perform for God impacts or influences our relationship with Him.
Here’s the story as Jesus tells it in Matthew 20. (Matthew 20:1-7)
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around.
He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
It’s harvest time, and a landowner needs workers to harvest his vineyards. Like any agricultural endeavor, it’s a seasonal business, and it’s time sensitive. When the grapes are ready, you GO!
So about 6am, the landowner heads out to the marketplace, where workers-for-hire are waiting to be employed for the day. They’re day laborers. It’s the 1st century’s equivalent to those we’re familiar with, standing near large home improvement stores waiting for someone to offer them a day’s work of any kind.
He hires a group of workers and they agree to a day’s wage. Now a workday was 12 hours long, 6am to 6pm, and a denarius was regarded as good pay for a day’s work.
As the morning progresses, the landowner heads back to the marketplace four more times and hires more workers; 9am, 12pm, 3pm and 5pm, an hour before the end of the workday. Why? Why did the landowner keep going out? We’re not told. Maybe the harvest was really large that season and he knew he needed more workers to not lose grapes which would hurt his bottom line. Or maybe he was moved by compassion for those who had no work, who had bills to pay, families to feed. But each time, he doesn’t make the newly hired workers a specific promise about pay. Instead, he tells them they’ll be paid “whatever is right” or fair.
I wonder how many of us would agree to that deal? No amount agreed to, not even a handshake, just head out there and I’ll make sure you’re taken care of. Heard that one before?
But the workers take him at his word, and they head off to the vineyard to work.
The story continues. (Matthew 20:8)
“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.’
Now, the hiring of shifts throughout the day has set up assumptions in the minds of the workers, and maybe in ours. Each shift of workers will receive what they deserve for the hours they’ve worked, they’ll receive what they earned, what’s fair. That totally makes sense. That’s how the system works. We’re paid for the work that we do, for the time we put in, for our skills and knowledge and know how we bring to the table. We earn our worth and our value.
But before you assume the end of the story, listen to what happens. (Matthew 20:9-12)
“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.’
The foreman begins with the last shift. Now, if he’d started with the first, he wouldn’t have the problem that’s developing. But the landowner has him start with the last, and he gives the last shift, who had worked only one hour, a denarius, a full day’s wage. Then the same to the fourth shift, then the third, then the second, then lastly, the same to the first.
They’re frustrated, they’re upset, and they’re vocal!
We’ve worked all day long, and the landowner has made these latecomers “equal” to us. We did most of the work!
And their complaint is valid.
They put in 12 hours compared with the last who put in 1.
They harvested 12 times the amount of the last shift.
If you’re thinking this isn’t fair, they didn’t all earn the same value for the work performed, you’re right… they didn’t… it’s not…
If fairness was the landowners measure or intent.
Jesus continues the story with the landowner’s response. (Matthew 20:13-16)
“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?’
The landowner responds to the frustration, with a bit of surprise in his voice, and even as he’s being accused of cheating them in essence, he calls them friend. You’re receiving exactly what I promised he says, and if I want to be generous to the others with my money, why is that a concern to you? It’s my money and I can do with it what I want.
His response can strike as unsettling, because it’s contrary to our sense of fairness, just as it was to the first shift of workers.
They worked harder, so they should receive more. Yet the landowner treats every worker as equal in what he pays them.
And then Jesus ends the story with, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)
It’s one of the few stories Jesus doesn’t give an explanation to. He doesn’t wrap it up with a “here’s what I mean.”
He leaves us with a cliffhanger, a feeling that the story is unresolved. Even the disciples don’t ask for an explanation with this one.
So what is Jesus getting at?
In just a moment, we’ll look a little deeper.
Often, the meaning of a story is found at the end, where everything ties together.
To understand this story, we need to look back at how it began.
Jesus said, “…the kingdom of heaven is like…” It’s the set up. It’s the indication that He’s going to give a glimpse into this kingdom.
Many of the people listening to Jesus as He told this story were expecting Him to set up a kingdom, a religious political kingdom that would free them from the rule of a foreign political power and allow them the freedom to worship without the oversight of the governing authorities.
But Jesus came to bring a different kind freedom, and a different kind of kingdom.
Jesus came to establish a spiritual kingdom in a world that has been broken by sin and separated from God. The very first message He preached was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17) When He was on trial just before His crucifixion, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked if He claimed to be the king of the Jews. Jesus responded that His kingdom is not of this world, that it is from another place. (John 18:36) From beginning to end, His was a message of the kingdom of heaven.
It’s a kingdom established on the saving and redeeming work of Christ, bringing forgiveness and freedom from our sins and a future hope, a kingdom of extravagant grace. It’s one that brings light into the darkness of this world and empowers us as His followers to be that light. It’s seen in our position with Christ, as sons and daughters, dearly loved, with an inheritance guaranteed in Him at His return.
The kingdom of heaven is where God’s will and work is done; where our character is transformed into the image of Christ, and move more and more into Christ-centered living, and this kingdom is lived out through us. “Thy kingdom come” we’re told to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s a now but not yet kingdom, a present and future kingdom. It’s lived out daily through our lives but not fully completed until the return of Christ.
The kingdom of heaven is an upside down kingdom where it’s more blessed to give than to receive, where strength is found in weakness, where being the greatest is achieved by becoming the least, where the peacemakers overcome the agitators, where one turns the other check rather than retaliate, where you love your enemies.
The kingdom of heaven is where the upside down nature of Jesus’ stories come from.
So, the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who freely gives in an incredible display of generosity that’s independent of anything that had been done to earn it.
But how does that sit with us? Really, honestly.
Looking at the reaction the first shift had, I wonder how many of us would react the same. The agreement they made set internal expectations, and as the day wore on and other shifts came into the fields, led to assumptions. Wage is scalable according to the work performed, right? The problem became, as soon as the first shift saw the last get a full day’s wage, they changed the agreement in their heads. They took in the scene that played out in front of them, set aside that agreement, and changed their expectations. They had done more, they earned more, they deserved more. And seeing everyone else get what they agreed to made them envious and jealous. They had outperformed the others.
This isn’t foreign to us. Life is completely soaked in a performance-based mentality and culture. It’s everywhere we look. Think about various areas of life; health, finance, work, sports, education, relationships, even religion. There isn’t one area unaffected by a performance mentality.
Maybe for you it’s work. I was talking to a friend last week who said the productivity at his company has been through the roof the last few months. With no commutes and the blur between home and work life, employees are working more and producing more. The company is considering keeping everyone at home because of the increased performance. Performing well in your vocation is admirable, unless you put work before your family and care more about advancing your career than loving those around you.
Or take the area of finances. We want to know the performance of our money; our investments, retirement funds, the value of our home. Is the dollar up or down, what are the markets doing? If it’s not performing well enough, move it, reinvest it. Our money needs to be performing for our benefit. But when the pursuit of more becomes the priority, and it’s never enough, and we’re willing to bend our integrity or morality in order get more, we’ve lost sight of the goal.
Relationships can experience the best and the worst of a performance mentality. Whether it’s a friendship, a work relationship, a marriage, family dynamics, relationships should be mutually beneficial and satisfying, ideally where I care just as much about you as I do about myself. Until I’m not getting in return what I’m putting in, until it’s not reciprocal, until I view it through the lens of all that I’m doing and all that you’re not in like manner.
This is where we can run into a belief about God, the belief of a performance-based relationship with God. We can carry this into our relationship with Him, as if He owes us because of how we’ve performed for Him. I’ve spent my life following You, doing all the right things, none of the wrong things, or at least as few of the wrongs things as I could do.
What this does to us is set up a belief system that says what I do and how well I perform determines what I earn, what I deserve. And while performing to the best of our abilities is admirable, when it crosses over into the attitudes of I’ve earned and I deserve, it becomes a performance trap.
We look at what God is or isn’t doing become resentful because I deserve more than they do.
We begin to judge others by what they’re doing or not doing; what they’ve done or haven’t done.
We make comparisons of our performance against theirs and then put our expectations on God of how He should respond.
Two of the most damaging and destructive attitudes we can have are “I’ve earned” and “I deserve”.
They form a transactional relationship with God.
We approach God with all the good and right and spiritual things we’ve done. The ways we’ve served for so many years, those programs we’ve run, the bible studies and small groups we’ve attended and led, the countless Sunday services we sat through, the money we’ve given, the scriptures we’ve memorized, and the list can go on and on.
We come to God saying, Look, here are all the things I have done to earn what I deserve from You.
It’s really an attitude of entitlement.
And when He doesn’t perform how we expect, we, like the first shift of workers, can become resentful, envious and even bitter at God.
Or maybe the opposite is true for you. You’re consumed by the belief that you haven’t done enough for God, you haven’t earned, you don’t deserve and because of that, God is withholding from you, giving you less of Himself than He does to others who are so much more spiritual and gifted and talented. Your performance trap works in reverse yet leads you to the same place of envy and resentment towards God.
The performance trap is one of the greatest lies Satan uses to keep us from fully experiencing and embracing the grace of God.
You see, this story is not about universal wages for employees.
The story is not about what or how much the workers did or didn’t do for the landowner.
The story is not about what we earn or deserve.
Notice that the landowner doesn’t comment on how much the workers produced or how well they performed.
Notice he doesn’t tell the foreman to pay each shift based on the merits of their work, what they earned, or what they deserve.
The story is about the irrational generosity of the landowner.
Whether they were first or the last to show up, he was equally generous.
The last will be first, and the first will be last. There will be no difference.
Now, some of us may be thinking, last are first and the first are last. What does that even mean?
Think of it this way. Imagine a race. The only way for the last to be first and the first to be last in a race would be for everyone to finish simultaneously. If everyone crosses the finish line at exactly the same moment, the last are first and the first are last. Everyone ends in a dead heat, equal.
Now, how often does that happen?
In our story, those hired first, those hired last, and everyone hired in-between all received exactly the same wage. All of them, from the first to the last, got the full benefit of the landowner’s generosity in an equal amount. They did not have all the same experience working in the vineyard, but they all had the same experience with the landowner.
And that is the point Jesus is making, the truth within the story. It didn’t matter how much work they put in, what they did or didn’t do, what they had earned or deserved. What mattered was what the landowner wanted to give them. Just as what matters in the kingdom of heaven is the grace that God offers equally to everyone.
This destroys the performance trap, because God is not keeping a list of what we’ve done, what we’ve earned, or what we deserve.
He gives to everyone who would accept His offer the gift of unearned, undeserved, irrational, unconditional, extravagant grace.
Grace, by definition, is not owed and cannot be earned.
Take a moment and listen to Ajay’s story.
Philip Yancey, in his book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” writes of a conference comparing religions that took place in England, where experts from around the world debated what belief, if any, was unique to the Christian faith. They began eliminating possibilities.
Incarnation? Other religions had different versions of gods’ appearing in human form.
Resurrection? Again, other religions had stories of return from death.
The debate went on until C. S. Lewis, consider one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century, wandered into the room. “What’s the rumpus about?” he asked, and was told his colleagues were discussing Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions.
Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”
After some discussion, they had to agree. The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity and is the distinguishing mark of Christianity from all other religions.
The Apostle Paul was an extreme overachiever when it came to the performance trap.
His life focus was on performing FOR God. Listen to what he wrote his list of performance credentials,
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Philippians 3:4-6)
If it was to be earned from God, he did it.
If anyone deserved from God because of what they’d done, he did.
But he also experienced the grace of God, and all he had done in the performance trap to earn God’s approval was put up against that grace and found empty. After listing his performance resume, he simply says “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (Philippians 3:7)
Paul elsewhere takes the performance trap head on when he writes…
“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.
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
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 2:4-9)
It’s not by our performance, so that we can’t boast.
Think about that for a second, because let’s get real, we like accolades, we like recognition, we like to be rewarded.
But there’s no Blue Oaks MVP trophy to put on the mantel.
There’s no Most Improved Christ-Follower of 2020 plaque to put on your wall.
There’s no recognition letter from God saying, Couldn’t have done it with you!
There’s nothing we get to point at and say, “Look at what I accomplished. Look at what I earned. I was the most deserving.”
The grace of God is the expression of God’s kindness toward the undeserving.
The Greek word for grace refers to an action that was beyond the ordinary of what could be expected.
Grace is the foundation of our salvation and our relationship with God.
Grace is our liberation from the performance trap.
Grace is receiving what we don’t deserve, being given more than we could hope for.
Listen, Jesus didn’t die on the cross to make you earn His love.
A relationship with God is not dependent on what you’ve done or do for God.
Entry into God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, is not gained by your performance.
It is solely through the irrational generosity and gift of God’s grace.
You might very well be the most gifted, talented, capable, accomplished person.
Or you might feel like you have nothing to offer to anyone, let alone God.
EITHER WAY, God has extended to you the GIFT OF GRACE.
So how do we guard against the performance trap with God?
DON’T HOLD GOD TO PROMISES HE NEVER MADE
We create expectations of God based on what we think or expect He should do, rather than on what He has promised. The workers hired at the start of the day felt the landowner owed them more when they changed the agreement in their minds. When he didn’t, they accused him of being unfair, yet they got everything they were promised.
God doesn’t break His promises to us. When God doesn’t do what we think we’ve earned or deserve, we blame and criticize Him instead of being grateful for all the promises He has kept.
DON’T ASSUME GOD OWES YOU
A transactional relationship assumes God is obligated to you and owes you. God doesn’t owe you anything. Instead, He graciously invites you into a relationship with Him in which He promises to bless you, to be with you. Everything God gives is a result of His generosity, not what you’ve earned.
DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT GOD’S GRACE TO OTHERS
How do you react when God gives grace to someone you feel doesn’t deserve it? Listen, God is never unfair to us. We are unfair to God when we judge His action by our expectations and respond with envy and complaints. God has generously given each of us immeasurably more than we deserve, and we have every reason to celebrate His goodness in our lives and in the lives of others.
So, if you’re caught in the performance trap of I’ve earned and I deserve from you God, let it go and embrace the unearned, undeserved, irrational, unconditional, extravagant gift of God’s grace.
Blue Oaks Church