When The Success of Others Doesn't Seem Fair

Megan Dahlman
July 9, 2018

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Fair Success

​“Is your eye envious because I am generous?” Matthew 20:15 

This verse is a spear straight through the soul. It invades our sense of justice and fairness. It makes us come face to face with the way we compare our level of success with others. This verse makes us squirm a little. 

Here's the story.
Jesus said those words at the end of a parable describing His kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom that we all have a hard time wrapping our minds around. The one that seems so backwards to the way our flesh operates. 

This particular parable was about an owner of a vineyard that hired laborers first thing in the morning to work in his vineyard for the day. He agreed on a very fair daily wage with the workers, for which they were grateful and went to work. Throughout the course of the day at various intervals (9:00, 12:00, and 3:00), the vineyard owner hired more laborers. He even hired some with only one hour of work left (around 5:00 pm). 

When the work day wrapped up, he gathered all the workers together to pay them. You would think that he'd pay the latecomers an hours' worth pay, and then everyone else more than that based on the time they clocked in. That would be fair, right?

But he didn't do that. He paid everyone the same. A full days' wage. He gave the latecomers the same amount of money as the ones that worked all day long. 

Well, of course this caused the ones hired first to complain and grumble, even though they were paid exactly what was agreed upon. "These men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day!!" (vs. 12)

It just didn't seem fair. 

Then the owner says this to the complainers: "Friend, I have done you no wrong; did you not agree with me on your wages? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?"

When Our Sense of Fairness is Threatened

Where am I going with this one? Hang on tight...this is going to get personal. 

“Why have you been standing here idle all day long? ...Go into the vineyard, too.”

We know these "idle" people. These are the ones that barely do anything and get the same results, sometimes better results, than us. So not fair.

Most of us women would say this about certain men in our lives, right? “He just stops drinking for a couple days and loses 10 pounds! What the heck?! I’m over here busting my butt and he barely has to lift a finger!” 

His metabolism just isn't fair.

We certainly say this about other women, too...the ones that it all seems to come so easy for them. You know her. She doesn't have to work hard at all. She births a baby and simultaneously gets a flat stomach without a stretch mark in sight. She seems to actually love eating salads and working out. The store Lululemon was designed for her body, apparently.  

Her genetics just aren't fair. 

None of this seems fair. They’re idle, working a fraction of the amount we are, and still have tremendous success. 

“Friend, I have done you no wrong.”

We feel like we have been wronged. But we knew from the outset that it was going to be hard, that we would have to put in a ton of work. We knew we would be “bearing the burden and the scorching heat of the day.” That's what we signed up for. 

And we are grateful to do the work because the results are worth it. We would be totally fine if we are only surrounded by people that are struggling for it as much as we are. (Misery love company.) 

But we're not.  
So we become jealous. 
We start to envy. 

We see ourselves working out 5 days a week, closely watching what we eat, and making little bits of progress. Then we look over and see someone else making more progress with less effort. 

Have we been wronged? Is this not fair?

We Can't Handle It​

This whole parable is addressed to the grumblers, the harder workers, who simply cannot handle the amazing expression of God’s grace and generosity. This is frequently us.

We get so angry and jealous when someone is gifted with more success and better results than we are, especially when they've barely worked for it. 

​But this is how God often works. This is the frustrating beauty of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

In its original setting, this parable about the vineyard owner and wages highlights God's sovereign graciousness and generosity extended to "latecomers" into His kingdom. He was talking about the poor, the outcast, and the far-from-perfect. The ones that don't appear worthy of His generosity. The ones that shouldn't make it in...they don't deserve it.

And of course, Jesus wraps up this story with the phrase "So the last shall be first, and the first last." (v. 21) He plays His trump card, and it makes us squirm. Dang it, Jesus!! (Oh, I said it, because we're all thinking it.) 

We don't like it. "They're not worthy of so much success! I should have more!" ​ 

“Friend, I have done you no wrong.”

Apparently, God does not have time sheets. He gives generously however He pleases. 

Comparing Success

How have you been comparing your success with others? Have you been envious of the results that other women have around you? Are you jealous when they seem to have it all figured out so quickly and pass you up? 

As a business owner, I personally struggle with this. I see women entrepreneurs in the fitness industry that have larger, more successful businesses than mine yet are much younger. "Hey, that's not fair! How are they so far ahead?!" But if I removed all comparison, I would be able to see God's goodness and blessings in my own life and business. He has been so good to me! 

I'm sure you've heard the phrase "Another person's success does not rob you of your own". Doesn't this phrase make even more sense now? This is essentially the point of the parable. 

Here's what we all need to do:

  • Quietly and diligently go about the work you have set out to do, even if your results aren’t as awesome as someone else’s.
  • Trust. Trust in God's sovereignty. Trust that He knows what He's doing. Trust the process that you're on. 
  • Stop complaining. Knock it off. Just keep working. 
  • Rejoice with others in their success. It does not mean you're failing. 
  • Be thankful. Notice how far you have come. Notice your victories, the things you have already conquered. Be grateful for the ability to work so hard and be so diligent. 
  • Realize that there is frustrating beauty in the Kingdom of God. His ways are not our ways. The closer we are to Him, the more we'll understand it. 

​"Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God."
Hebrews 12:28 MSG


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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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