Children love justice. Growing up in a family of six children I quickly learned to be obsessed with fairness. “But he got two cookies!” or “Why doesn’t she have to vacuum too?” were phrases that escaped my lips on many occasions. There was something in me that desired to be rewarded for what I did. If I cleaned my room, then I wanted a pat on the back, even if I was just doing the bare minimum.
Looking back it’s quite obvious that my obsession with fairness wasn’t consistent. I never cared if my parents forgot to ground me, spank me, or make me eat my vegetables. I loved getting rewarded whether I deserved it or not. Watching my siblings get “more than they deserved” was something absolutely outraging! My hypocrisy was embarrassingly blatant.
I wish I could say that my strange obsessions were a thing of the past. Unfortunately they are still here, haunting me like an ugly shadow. I am better at hiding these disgusting tendencies though. I have learned how to make this selfishness appear to be a plea for justice. I have learned how to glorify myself, while using special “religious words” that sound humble. I know how to throw out a “God is merciful” statement after hearing about the success of a “sinner”. It’s easy to be caught in thinking “I did my duty. Where is my reward?”
The core of my issue lies in my pride (most sins do). As humans we have a burning desire to be great and to be responsible for that greatness. We are selfish and we constantly ask “what’s in it for me?” We throw fits if someone gets what we wanted…especially if they appear to not have worked for it. I don’t think any Christ follower can read the verse below without feeling a twinge of conviction.
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Matthew 6:3
I love when people know about the great stuff that I have done. I love the praise and the high fives. Validation isn’t a bad thing in of itself. The Apostle Paul even said, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Still we are likely to struggle with what I call “older son syndrome”. Remember the story of the prodigal son? The Father welcomes home his no good rebellious son with a feast, and the older faithful son is fit to be tied. He’s got my obsession with fairness and justice, but he fails to see the grace that his father is extending to him.
Check it out.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:25-31
Just like you and me this older son failed to see that he was no more deserving of his father’s love than his younger brother. The older brother certainly was experiencing a happier and more secure life because of his obedience to his father, but his obedience is not what earned the great inheritance that was to come. The Father’s mission is to showcase his kindness and grace. It is not His mission to hand out of smiley face stickers to the ones who think they don’t need grace. Ouch. I like smiley face stickers.
Recently while I was reading through the book of Luke, I came across a story that I don’t remember reading before. My response to the passage resembled that of a deer caught in headlight. Jesus is sharing a parable about duty and our obsession with award.
7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10
You are probably like me and have a list of duties that you do over and over again. They might be related to work, parenting, housekeeping, ministry, or even daily Bible readings. We do these things in basic obedience to God, but we still want to be fairly rewarded and noticed. We want to get to heaven and feel a sense of accomplishment when we look back on our time on earth. Jesus has a strong answer to our strange request for special recognition.
9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
When I get caught up in feeling sorry for myself because I have “done my duty” and I feel “unappreciated”, I need to stop and pray. “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty.” Grace and grace alone is my ticket to heaven and my relationship to God.
“I am an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty.”
“One of the ironic similarities between heaven and hell is that no one in either place thinks they got what they deserve.” – John Fischer