The Fairness Fallacy

December 14, 2014

David Sorn

Do you want life to be fair? Are you sure about that?

The Fairness Fallacy

December 14, 2014

David Sorn

Do you want life to be fair? Are you sure about that?

SERMON TRANSCRIPT | Matthew 20:1-16


Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.

Let me ask you a question: Do you want life to be fair?

I mean that as a serious question.

Do you…if you could have control over it…do you want life to be fair?

I’ve mentioned this to some of you before…I think this is a fascinating aspect of our culture.

See…most Americans would answer yes to that question without hesitation.

Yes…I want life to be fair.

For many…our national motto might as well be “Give me fairness…or give me death”

We love fairness.

I dare say we worship it.

And it starts early.

My twins are now a couple of months away from being two.

And I’ve been telling people lately that they have to learn words that other kids don’t learn so early.

My turn.



A surefire way to make a kid cry is to hand one kid a toy and not hand the other kid a toy…whether they’re twins or not.

From a very early age, we seem to have this built-in sense of justice… of equality… of fairness.

Well, why?

Why do we like fairness?

Why do we want life to be fair?

Because fairness gives us order…

It makes us feel like things are working just as they should..

Fairness makes everyone happy, right?

Like for instance, every Monday afternoon, I’ve gotten in the habit of taking the twins grocery shopping at CUB on my day off.

They get to ride in one of those police car vehicles attached to the front of the cart, and they love it.

I also give them one of CUB’s free cookies for kids.

Which are sugar free… that part’s not true

They usually do great…until about the time were waiting in line.

Parents, you know how this goes.

There’s a limit on the amount of time you can really be in any store with kids.

And when I’m waiting in line…I’m thinking, “This line ought to be fair.”

The last thing I want to see happen, is some selfish person jump in front of me.

I’ve got two kids under two…I don’t need some teenager jumping in front of me…or some unaware person with two full carts cutting in front.

We crave order…we crave fairness.

People love fairness so much…that they can even vouch for it from completely different angles even.

We love fairness.

Everybody vouches for it! From all angles!

If fairness ran for President, she’d get every vote in the Electoral College.


But I want to submit to you this morning, that I’m not sure we really understand what fairness is all about.

I mentioned that if fairness ran for President, she’d win every time.

But she’d be a bit like some of those political videos that someone makes every election now.

Have you seen the ones where they interview the person on the street?

Why did you vote for this Governor? Why did you vote for this President? Senator?

And people give ridiculous answers.

“I like ‘em?” Why? “Don’t know. Just do”

I liked the color of their signs.

And I think Americans are ready to hoist fairness up on their shoulders with a huge shout of hip, hip, hooray with out understanding who they’re actually hoisting on their shoulders.

See, we like fairness without truly understanding what we’re getting in voting for fairness.

As a church this year, we’ve been studying a book in the Bible called Matthew.

It’s 1 of 4 books in the Bible that is specifically about the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

And we’ve called this series, “The Kingdom,” for in Matthew, Jesus speaks often of what life is like when He is King.

This morning, we’re going to take a look at one of Jesus’ famous stories (called parables) from Matthew.

It’s a parable that you may be very familiar with, or maybe you’re hearing it for the very first time.

Either way, it’s a great one.

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(Matthew 20:1-16) – NIV

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius (A DAY’S WAGES) for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

So I want you to put yourself in this story.

Pretend you’re the very first worker hired.

In those days, the typical workday was 6am-6pm for laborers.

Many families in the ancient world often went day to day…earning enough money, and thus food for that particular day.

And many would start by arriving at the marketplace…hoping to get hired.

So imagine that you arrive early, before the first light, at the marketplace, and to your satisfaction, the landowner asks you first if you’d like to come work in his vineyard for the day.

He even offers to pay you the normal day’s wages…a denarius

So you say “Yes,” and you jump on it.

You get to the vineyard…and the first few hours are pretty easy.

It’s still cool out…there aren’t a lot of people to bug you…and you’re starting the day off with a lot of energy.

A few hours later…and a few more after that…more workers start to show up.

And now you’ve got to wait for them to get up to speed with what you’ve already mastered…and it’s annoying.

Plus, it’s starting to get hot…really hot.

Later, even at 3:00…people are still showing up to work.

And now it’s really annoying.

Because they’re really slow…but full of energy.

And you did most of the work…and you are dog-tired.

But to your amazement, a new crop of workers shows up at 5:00pm…with only an hour left in the workday.


Then, it’s time to pay everyone.

For some reason, the foreman gives the group who just worked an hour…a denarius. A full day’s wages.

Your heart skips a beat.

“This is incredible!” you think.

And you start doing math in your head…

If they paid…the guy who only worked an hour… a full day’s wages…you’re going to get 12 TIMES that amount!


I mean, after all, that’s the only FAIR way to do it!

Put in modern-day terms, the average Minnesotan makes $115 a working day.

So, you start thinking, 115 x 12…(you can’t do that in your head, so you whip out your trusty ancient iPhone...), and you come up with $1,380.

“No way, I’m going to make almost $1,400 in a day!”

Already, you’re thinking about calling your spouse and telling them that you can finally afford that you’ve closed the gap, and you guys can finally afford that vacation to Disney after all!

But as quickly as your heart raised…it drops.

The people who came at 3:00 also get a denarius.

Same with those who came at 12.

And finally, they get to you, and you too…get just a denarius.

You’re furious.

The trip to Disney just because a trip to broken down Gasoline Alley in Blaine.

“This isn’t fair!!” you cry.

“I worked the heat of the day! This isn’t fair”

And yet…back at 6:00am…you agreed to work for a denarius, didn’t you?

Yes…yes… “But it isn’t fair!”

I can still remember the first time I read this story when I was 18.

I wasn’t a Christian yet, but I had started reading the Bible because I was interested in God.

Matthew was the first book in the Bible I read.

I remember saying to myself, “Jesus is a smart guy, but boy is he wrong on this one. That’s just not fair.”


But I want to show you something. I want to explain something to you.

We sometimes forget…that whenever we read a story…we read it through the filter of our own culture.

Let me give you an example of this.

A study was done a few years ago by Mark Allan Powell.

He asked 100 Americans to read the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 and then retell it in their own words.

If you’re not familiar with it…it’s the story of a rich son who demands his inheritance from his father, squanders it in wild living, and when he runs out of money and has nothing to eat, he returns to his father…who lovingly welcomes him home.

It’s a story of God’s love for us even when we wander

Of the 100 Americans who retold the story, only SIX of the 100 mentioned that one of the reasons the son came back was that there was a severe FAMINE in the country in which he was living

Later, Powell, asked 50 people in St. Petersburg, Russia (where a few generations earlier, 670,000 people died of starvation after a Nazi siege of the capital began a 3-year famine.

In Russia, 42 out of 50 people mentioned the famine in their retelling.

My guess is that some of you have read or heard that story 15 times and had no idea there was a famine.

And here’s what I want you to see:

We read this parable (the parable of the vineyard workers)…differently here in America.

This story is rarely heard as Good News in North America…or in Western Europe…or Australia.

You want to know why?

Because when we read ourselves into the story…we do just as I did in my retelling.

We imagine ourselves as the first worker hired.

So it doesn’t’ seem fair.

But to much of the rest of the world (and even to some here)…this parable is heard as wildly good news.

Some would say that it all depends on whether you’re used to being first or not.

And it depends on how much you think you’re owed…in terms of fairness.


So what is Jesus really saying here in this story?

The story isn’t really about fairness.

It’s about generosity over fairness.

It’s about grace over fairness.

Those workers who came at 5pm…with just an hour left in the workday…they didn’t deserve a full day’s wages…and yet because the landowner (whose God in this story) is gracious…he gave it to them anyway.

He gave them grace.

Meaning: He gave them what they didn’t deserve.

What we learn about God in this story is that God is both fair…and gracious.

He’s fair because He gives what he said he was going to give to the first person (a denarius), and he’s gracious to the latecomers.

At first glance, it seems unfair…but only until we realize that fairness isn’t the end all value.

See…we love fairness…even worship it…until it works against us.

I love fairness while sitting in line in CUB…but in my sinful heart…when I’m ready to go & my kids are ready to go…I shake my head at the man in front of me with two items..

Why couldn’t he just say, “Hey, why don’t you go in front of me? You look like you have a lot.”

I didn’t want fairness…I wanted grace.

We love fairness…when someone who wrongs us gets hurt in return.

Americans know almost literally nothing about what Karma actually is…except we think we really like it when it comes back to haunt those who hurt us!


But when we’ve hurt someone…we want them to extend us mercy…forgiveness.

“Don’t judge me…I’m not perfect” we say…

We love fairness…until it works against us.

The idea that fairness is always to our benefit is just a fallacy.

It’s a misleading…a false notion.


Let me show you why this parable looks like it’s bad news, but is actually the greatest news you’ll ever hear.

Let’s have a frank talk about fairness.

I asked you at the very beginning: “Do you really want life to be fair?”

Because…God is a holy God. He IS just. He IS fair.

The Bible says in Romans 6 that the “wages of sin is death”

In other words, to be fair…what we deserve (the wages) for our sin (which is anytime we disobey any of God’s laws in the Bible…I’m probably up to 20 today already)

The Bible says…what we deserve for our sin…is death.

Is eternal separation from God in hell.

“But that’s crazy?!” we say.

Most of the culture believes that as long as you don’t murder someone…or don’t abuse a child…if you have some spiritual belief, that will get you to heaven.

But what’s that based on?

Wishful thinking?

Do you want to base your eternity on “wishful thinking?”

Let me ask you a question:

If God were to see every minute of your life and hear every thought you’ve ever had…(which He indeed has done both of those things)…

If that’s true…if He is to be FAIR…should he find you guilty or not guilty of sin?

See, what I want you to see is this:

One day you will die…and you can not escape your death.

And when you do, you will stand before God in judgment

And he will judge you as “Guilty” OR “Not Guilty”

(Romans 14:10-12) – NIV

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

And let me ask you again, when you stand before God, “Do you want Him to be fair?” “Just fair??”

I don’t.

If God is just fair…I am surely guilty…and I will be going to hell.

But God has to be fair. He has to be just.

Thankfully, for our sake…as I said earlier…like the landowner, He is fair AND gracious.

I mentioned earlier that the “wages of sin is death”…here’s what the full passage says:

(Romans 6:23) – NIV

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

See God is fair. He is just.

He knows that justice must be done for our sin. Punishment must happen. Death must happen.

But He is not just fair.

He is fair AND gracious

And he sends…His very own son…Jesus…to take our place.

This is WHY Jesus dies on the cross.

Jesus is stepping in front of the firing squad for you.

He is sitting in the electric chair for you.

He is taking the punishment that we deserve by dying on the cross in our place.

And fairness is satisfied.

God’s justice is satisfied through the most loving act you could ever imagine.

And we don’t have to take the punishment.

But KNOW…that it is a choice.

God has just offered you a destiny changing, an eternity-changing choice

You know what I really love about this parable Jesus tells?

It’s the landowner who’s out in the heat of the sun looking…time after time…for workers

Wealthy landowners didn’t do that…their servants did that

But Jesus wants to show you today…that God is searching for you!

He’s looking for you.

He’s been trying to find you, and get your attention!

He even has you here today to communicate his love for you.

He DESIRES a relationship with you!

Let me tell you this: God is SO in love with you.

He never stops thinking of you.

He never stops searching for you.

He loves you so much…that even after seeing every thing you’ve ever done…every wicked thought you’ve ever had…he was still willing to send his own son (His own SON!) to die on the cross in your place.

And you know what else this story tells us?

That it doesn’t even matter if you’ve been avoiding God…if you haven’t been living for Him up to this point.

Think about those people who were hired at noon…or 3…or 5.

I identify with those people!

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and my list of sins were starting to pile up…fast.

And yet…it wasn’t too late.

God offers every single person forgiveness…no matter how late and no matter how many sins you’ve already committed.

Are you familiar with the phrase…even at the 11th hour?

It comes from this story.

5pm (the last hour the workers were hired), was called “the Eleventh hour” in traditional Jewish timekeeping.

As I mentioned earlier, this story shouldn’t just be read as bad news…but as Good news.

For some of you in this room…YOU are the workers getting hired at 5pm!

And God wants to give you forgiveness and heaven just like everyone else.

It’s amazing!

And it’s not too late.

But don’t put this off.

As we’ve been talking the last few weeks…we have no idea when our end will come.

And when we will meet God face to face.

And at that point…it will be too late.

The only way we hear “Not Guilty” is if we believe in Jesus on earth…to take the punishment for us.

Make a decision to follow Him now.

Let today be the day that you decide to open the gift of forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

Because it’s a gift. That’s what that passage in Romans said.

And with every gift…you have decide if you want to receive it or not.

The landowner is looking for you…and you have to decide this morning…if you want to turn your life over to Him and follow.

Make a decision to tell him that you can’t do this on your own…that you need Him to forgive you sins…and that you want to follow Him.

And I want to give you an opportunity to do that this morning.

In fact, let’s do this: Let’s everybody just bow their heads and close their eyes.

I want this to be a special moment between you and God.

If you want to become a follower of Jesus Christ and believe that He died for you…

If you want to be forgiven…start a relationship with Him…and spend eternity with Him.

I want to give you an opportunity to tell him that you want to become a Christian…which simply means Christ-follower.

Christian isn’t “I live in America and believe God exists”

It literally means “Christ follower”

Not just a believer…but a follower.

If you want to do this…to believe in Jesus and give Him your life…to let him be the leader of your life…I want to give you an opportunity to do that.

But first…I want to pause for a moment…and allow God to speak to you.

This might be a bit unorthodox…but I want us to just be silent for 30 seconds or so.

And I want you to think about this.

Is it time for you to accept His Free gift of forgiveness, and turn your life over to Him?

And then, when the 30 seconds are over, I’m going to give you an opportunity to stand up where you are…as a symbolic way of giving your life to God and choosing to open His gift”

Let’s take 30 seconds now…and think about this…pray about this.

(wait 30 seconds)

Okay…you can keep your eyes closed.

But wherever you are, all across this room right now.. If you’d like to become a follower of Christ, to enter into a relationship with Him, and accept his gift of forgiveness, I want you to stand up wherever you are.

If God is nudging your heart in this…that means He’s real. That means…it’s TIME. If you feel it in your pulse…in your heart…that’s God. Accept His forgiveness. Start a new life with Him. It’s amazing!

If you’re standing up, would you pray this prayer with me?

It’s not a magic prayer…but just a prayer to tell God where you’re at…again, the Bible says, we 1) believe in our hearts and 2) confess with our mouths.

So I want you to say it out loud with me. Repeat after me

IN fact, there are a lot of other believers already in the room, and this is what we believe.

So, let’s all say it together with these new believers.

Repeat after me

Dear God

I confess to you, that I have sinned against you.

But God I believe, that you sent your Son Jesus, to take my place

And God I thank you, for forgiving my sins.

And now I commit, to following you, with my life.

If you are standing, I need you to do one more thing for me.

It will only take 2 minutes, but it’s 2 of the most important minutes of your life.

I need you right now to quietly sneak out of your row, and go to the back of the room (go ahead)

Our follow-up team is back there by the blue rectangle to give you some extremely important resources to get started on the most important journey in your life.

So head back there…it’ll only take 2 minutes…and you’ll be able to sneak back in your seat.

Let me pray as we get back into worship.

Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN

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