“And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 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.’”—Matthew 20:11-12 (ESV)
One mark, and probably the most visible one, of a false congregation (church/Ministry) is when it’s overflowing in numbers. When people are coming from the big and small towns, walking tens of hundreds of kilometres just to be at this one place, you ought to smell the fish.
Why do I say this? Because, by its very nature, the gospel is offensive. It makes people angry, it sends more people out of church than it brings them in (fact). This world has a way it operates. Mainly, it runs on a kind of fuel called earning. I like to call it tit-for-tat. “To get something, you have to work for it”, “Good things come to those who are prepared for them.” You have heard this.
In other words, to get something, you have to work for it. When you work hard, then you have earned the right to deserve it. You can now enjoy your kill because you went out in the woods and did the hunting (by yourself). I feel I am speaking a familiar language here.
Now enter the Gospel. It’s free and doesn’t require anything on our part. What about our work and deserving? The gospel throws that in the garbage can (it always has one garbage can reserved for such purposes). It doesn’t draw lines of those who are deserving and those who are not. It recklessly gives the same amount to all.
But then, we have people who have toiled their entire lives to deserve God’s love for them. They have worked. And then there are those whom society thinks they don’t deserve an ounce God’s love, because they haven’t worked enough (or they haven’t worked at all). They have continued to remain in wrong groups, are doing a lot of bad stuff (my friend recently lost her phone, one of these guys snatched it from her), they can’t even show up in church, not even on Easter Sunday or Christmas. These are the riffraff you hear about, the ones we love to talk about in our “holiness groups” as a way of demonstrating our own exponential holiness.
The offense of the gospel is that it accepts these riffraff without requiring them to first change. To add salt to injury, the gospel does not ask for a guarantee that they will change after they are accepted. The gospel just opens its doors and lets it the riffraff, the beggars and fools in to eat and drink until they are full, without a coupon. Not just that, it asks them to stay as long as they want because this party is for always.
Now hear the good guys: “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.” The gospel pays the same amount to those who have been working 50 years and those who started yesterday at 5:30 in the evening. What is so offensive about grace is that it gives, for free, the same amount to those who have spent their entire lives working and those who have never even showed up at the workplace.
The “good guys” are mad because they think God should pay them, in hard currency, for their sweat, tears and blood. They have endured the scorching sun, put up with annoying line managers, walked in the rain every morning just to get to work, and along the way, they have accumulated a wealth of experience. But when it comes to payday, they receive 30 shillings, same as the whippersnapper who confirmed his appointment lunchtime yesterday. How offensive!
That is why a gospel-preaching, bible-believing church will be nearly empty, these “good guys” will find another congregation where their efforts are congratulated and their picture printed on top of the Sunday Worship bulletin. Thanks Morris.
The seemingly good guys think that they are good, which is just outright foolhardy. The bible says that no one is good, that all of us have fallen short. Question is: “Where are these offended guys getting their ideas from?” They better calm down and accept the truth that they are no way better than anyone else.
And when we accept that we are not good, that in fact, we are worse off that we can dare imagine, that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect glory (better still, that we fall short every day), the gospel of God’s free grace that requires nothing on our part but gives everything to us becomes Good News for every day. You are not better than the other guy; it’s just that God is Good enough to save you and the other guy. While all of us were still sinning, Christ died for all the ungodly.
That is your very long (but relieving) Lifeline, AMEN.