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Heaven is unfair

Updated on August 4, 2020
Ewen Lin profile image

Ewen trains evangelists by teaching the Bible to students at Edith Cowan University.


(This was a based on Matthew 20:1-19 - highly recommend you read it first!)

What is our reaction when we witness injustice? Or when we experience inequality? Whether it’s someone getting paid less because of their gender, or someone getting a distinction by cheating, we don't like it. And there are the other less obvious things like why do you and I find ourselves in WA and not Victoria? Or born in Australia as opposed to Somalia?

If only life was fair. More than that, all of us want to believe in fairness - that if you work hard, do good, you’ll receive good in life. That crime doesn’t pay and bad guys ultimately lose. We want to believe that don’t we? But as much as we hope for it, we know it’s just not true. If you do good, there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive good in life. Even our health. You can be a gym junkie and eat salads all day and still get cancer. As much as we want to believe that life is fair, or should be fair, reality is it isn’t.

Would it surprise you if I said that heaven is the same? Heaven is unfair. If you think this world is unfair, wait till you see the next one. Because that’s what this passage is about.

Jesus told this story in response to a someone who has done all the right things. Went to church, gave money to charity, sorts his recycling, eats a healthy diet, drives within the speed limit. He does all the right things and guess what? It still wasn’t enough. That’s the rich young man in chapter 19. And when the disciples saw that, they were shocked just like we should be. It’s not fair right?

And so Jesus tells this story. The point of our passage is this.

Heaven is unfair because God is generous.

Let’s read again from verse 1.

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5 So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

The comparison is easy to see. The master of the house is God and the vineyard is Heaven. It’s a metaphor. And the master hires 5 sets of labourers beginning with the ones in the morning all the way till evening time. Notice that he only negotiates their salary with the first group. The others he merely promised to pay what was right.


Just think about the second group for a moment. Presumably this second group of labourers didn’t get up early enough in the morning because otherwise the master would have hired them. They were described as standing idle, which I think is a little dig at them. I’m not saying they’re lazy, but you know they could have woken up earlier if they really wanted a job.

And so it went the whole day. First group negotiated their salary. Done. Second group, third group, fourth group, and lastly uni students who would only just got out of bed. 5 groups of workers who got different shifts and worked different hours. It’s not rocket science right. There’s a reason we have Fairwork Australia. Those who worked more get more. Those who worked less get less. That’s what we believe life should be.

And then comes payday.

8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’

I don’t know about you, but I get where these guys are coming from. I get grumpy as well when I see what I think is unfairness. Imagine seeing someone in your group assignment getting a HD when you know they didn’t do anything. You on the other hand worked your butt off and you just got a credit. It’s a little unfair isn’t it?

Is this what Heaven is like - unfair? I actually think the answer is yes. It goes against everything I kind of expect or assume heaven to be. After all, Jesus says many who are first will be last, and the last first. Why is that the case?

Heaven is unfair because God is generous.


Look at the master’s response.

13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Did the master do anything wrong? You’d have to say no. Look, here’s the contract we negotiated. See your signature here that says you’ll get paid 1 denarius for a day’s work? If you were happy to sign it in the morning, why are you grumpy now?

Look closely at the passage. It's almost as if the master is being intentionally controversial. Why else would he pay the last group first? When the first group saw what was paid to those who worked less, verse 10, they thought when it’s their turn they’ll get more. The money that was fair to them when they started working suddenly became unfair. But it’s not like the master cheated them. And here’s the harder truth to swallow. The master didn’t seem to care. In fact, he almost gets angry at them. Take what belongs to you and go. Which group do you guys think will be back first thing in the morning the next day?

The point that Jesus is making is this. Heaven is unfair because God is generous. Was the master absolutely fair to the first group? He didn’t cheat them or pay them less than what they agreed. Absolutely fair. But at the same time the master is so generous to the last group. If the master was unfair, it was to the last group. It wasn’t fair for them. It was better than fair. So what does this mean?

Jesus tells this story to challenge us. And the challenge is this:

Do I want God to be fair to me or do I want God to be generous to me?

Those are our options. God can either be fair to us and give us what we deserve, or He can be generous to us and give us what we don’t deserve. And you know the crazy thing? He’ll even let us decide. Why do I say that?

Because there is someone who was willing to be treated unfairly. Think about this. By paying the last group more than he needed to, the master accepts the unfairness. It’s His money right. His foreman or maybe his accountant are probably going nuts – why did you do that? Because he was willing to be treated unfairly, the master was generous to the labourers. That's a picture of what God is like.

Look at what Jesus says next. Look at verse 17.


17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

Was any of this fair? No! God shouldn’t have let Jesus suffer the way He did. God shouldn’t have let people condemn Jesus to death. Jesus committed no crime at all. But He was mocked, flogged, and crucified. Unfairly! Why? All so that God can be generous toward us. The last will be first, and the first last.

Heaven is unfair because God is generous

If you guys are anything like me, you want God to be generous to you but fair to others. Give me the distinction but hey if someone else didn’t put in the effort, they should get what is fair. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s how we naturally think.

But I want you to picture the 5 groups of labourers and imagine it’s the next day. The master goes out in the morning again. Who will he find? People who are smarter now to negotiate a higher salary? Or just people who are still in awe of the master’s generosity?

Why is it that our Christianity often times just feels so bland? We believe in God, but how many of us here get up in the morning thinking man I can’t wait to go see God again. He was so good to me yesterday. I certainly don’t. Do you? It might just be that we are treating God more like the first group of labourers - just here to do my job, earn my pay, and go home.


Let me encourage all of us to take this passage to heart. See how God is generous that He is willing to be treated unfairly just so He can be generous to us.

Heaven is unfair because God is generous.

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