Do you ever get annoyed when others get praise and no one compliments you? Maybe you honestly believe that you have borne the greater burden but others have arrived late with far lighter loads and attracted all the plaudits? Perhaps you have been overlooked having served quietly for years while others have advanced having come recently on the scene? Did you faithfully humble yourself under God's mighty hand with modest gifts only to be surpassed by a johnny-come-lately person with stellar attributes? Are you sidelined now while others are centre-stage? And does it eat you up, make you green with envy, tempt you to get bitter, or fill you with rage or resentment? Or are you just a little bit half-hearted in applauding their rise? Is it just a matter of being tempted by morsels of envy? Have you been too quick to criticise or sneer when they finally slipped-up, which is what you always secretly hoped? Did you sneakily enjoy getting the knife in (with a twist) when you could? Then this is for you - I suspect that means us all - some of us in ways more subtle than others!
I've just been reading through William Hendriksen's brilliant commentary on Matthew (I love most of his stuff - concise, clear, complete, generally-speaking - one of my 'go-to' guys).
I had been studying Matthew 20:1-16 in my personal devotions. I have to confess (to my shame) it is a parable that I have never properly nailed down before: I hadn't taken the time to reflect properly on what it taught.
Hendricken makes 3 summary points as to what Jesus is getting at - let me share them with you, in their commandment 'imperatival' form:
First - Avoid A Work-For-Wages Spirit
That was the problem with those who were hired for the vineyard at the start: they worked for reward not the joy of serving the master of the vineyard - they had as Hendriksen calls it, the mercenary Spirit. Let us remember the Gospel and its service rewards are all free grace.
Second - Recognize The Sovereignty Of God
There are reasons, best-known only to Himself, why God gives some greater gifts, provides them with more frequent opportunities for service, promotes them to a higher or more public stage or sphere of service than others: in heaven we can be sure we will see God was most wise; so on earth we should content ourselves with that.
Third - Be Removed From Envy
If we have a work-for-wages spirit, and think we are more deserving than others, because we have worked harder or longer, we have seriously misunderstood the principle of grace: none of us deserves a thing from God except destruction, hell, death and miseries in this life - any reward that a son of Adam gets for service that was our duty to render gladly is given by our Father in an infinite measure of grace (how then can we compare infinite reward with infinite reward?).
Hendriksen concludes with a salutary warning - please, for this is a matter not of salvation but sanctification (all in the end go away with their denarius), child of God, for the sake of your soul, the love of Christ, and the blessing of His Church, take this warning against grumbling to the depth of your heart & reflect prayerfully upon it:
Was not each disciple's yearning to be the greatest a next-door neighbour to gruesome and soul-destructive envy?
Conclusion - Time For Action
What then if I have been guilty of grumbling or have been tempted to guilty gripes and later given in?
First - Repent
Recognise as a believer that your conduct is displeasing to your master. Beware of this sin becoming a root of bitterness in your life. Learn to hate every entrance of envious thoughts into your mind, will and heart. Renounce and resist all first hints of jealousy. Be ashamed of how low your thoughts can stoop and what mean thoughts you can have of other folk in the flock who advance in gift or grace. If you know of others who go green like 'The Hulk' when they are overlooked, pray for them, and encourage them to join the joy of the brethren success. Exemplify how they also should learn to congratulate other Christians and get rid of 'sour grapes' gripes and grumbles.
Second - Believe
Maybe the sense of injustice that you wrongly feel is so deeply ingrained and wounding to your pride that you find it impossible to believe you can be changed. You need to believe the Gospel: Christ went to Golgotha to be punished for your gripes, so there could be an ocean of pardoning mercy and a fountain of blood-bought forgiveness. Believe that the heart of Christ never grumbled or griped. For the joy that was set before Him (redemption accomplished, resurrection experienced, exaltation celebrated, intercession entered, coming anticipated - all this just for starters), including the Father's well done, Jesus plunged himself into the pollution of our pit and was forgotten and overlooked by the world that put him to death. The reason Messiah rejoiced in this was in order to pour out any and every infinite grace that you get. That means the Saviour has help that you need to call upon - so that you can rejoice and resist temptation to bitterness.
A Prayer For Grumblers
Heavenly Father, I confess that often I have been tempted to grumble when others seem to advance when I have done more work. Until temptation came, I thought I served in love, but this trial has shown me the mercenary interest in my heart. It seems far too powerful for me to deal with. I tend towards bitterness, resentment and jealously. Even if these things are only tiny seeds of weeds, help me, by your grace to dig them up and root them out. Please, Lord Jesus, grant me your Holy Spirit's power lest this evil take a grip. Give me the heart of Christ who gave Himself to open shame and ridicule, in order to give me any grace I have which is so undeserved. Help me to see that you know what serves the Gospel purposes of Christ best - give me grace to rejoice when you exalt others or bring hard-to-stomach providences into my life. Set me free from all bitterness. Cause me to know that, having confessed, and repented of this guilt, by the blood of Christ, you have washed away my sin and shown me the path of self-forgetfulness and self-death. In all our churches, more and more, may habits of grumbling become a thing of the past in the Cross of Christ. Amen.