As believers, we sing of God’s amazing grace, but, if the parable Jesus told in Matthew 20 is any indication, lurking beneath these praises could be a heart of jealousy.
In this story, found in Matthew 20:1-16 and often called the Laborers in the Vineyard, Jesus tells of a landowner who hires laborers to work in his vineyard. He does this throughout the day, so that the laborer hired in the early part of the day works many more hours than the laborer hired at the end of the day. Yet, the landowner pays each worker the very same wage–the amount initially agreed on when the hiring took place. Thus, those who worked longer received the exact same wages as those who worked for only one hour.
Predictably, when those who had worked a full 12 hours noticed that the landowner had paid each man the same wage, they grumbled and complained to the owner of the vineyard. This was the owner’s answer in Matthew 20:15, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
Since the landowner is representative of God, we should take this parable as a cautionary tale to guard ourselves from complaining about the blessings God bestows on someone who appears undeserving of such grace. Instead, when God showers someone with blessings, our response should be one of joy. Imagine how pleased the landowner would have been if the workers, who bore the heat of the day, had rejoiced with with the workers who had worked but a few hours. What a celebration they could have had!
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:14-15.
When I was putting together a proposal for a Christian literary agent about the first book in my Titus Ray Thriller, One Night in Tehran, one of the questions the agent asked me was “What is the Scriptural basis of the novel?” Because the majority of Christian fiction is either Amish fiction or in the romantic suspense genre, I imagined the Bible verses the agent usually received from authors in those categories was about love or forgiveness or kindness.
My novel is about Titus Ray, a veteran CIA intelligence officer who comes to faith in Christ through a group of Iranian Christians. He is spiritually impoverished, with no religious upbringing and no clue about how to live out his faith while continuing his espionage activities for the U.S. government. However, a verse of Scripture often quoted by Javad, the Iranian who led him to the Lord, is one Titus adopted to help him through difficult times. It’s from Matthew 10:16, where Jesus addresses his disciples before sending them out to announce His coming Kingdom.
Jesus said, “Behold I am sending you out as sheep among wolves, be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
When I sent the proposal to the agent, that’s the verse I chose as the Scriptural basis for my series. Since I never heard back from that agent, maybe it wasn’t the best Bible verse to use.
However, I’ve come to appreciate that verse, and, since using it in my novel, I’ve run across a post on that Scripture by John Piper, a present-day theologian and author of the most helpful book I’ve ever read, Desiring God. Here’s the link to that post.
A short paragraph from the article reads, “So, yes, go among wolves and be vulnerable as you preach the gospel, but when they lunge at you, step aside. When they open their mouths, don’t jump in. And not only that, be as innocent as doves. That is, don’t give them any legitimate reason to accuse you of injustice or immorality. Keep your reputation as clean as you can.”
Today, believers wade through a morass of cultural upheavals and political issues, much like helpless sheep wandering among wolves. Yet, Jesus commands His followers to use wisdom and innocence as the primary means of presenting His Kingdom to the world.