C.T. Studd, the famed English cricketer-turned-missionary, once remarked:
"Why are gamblers for gold so many, but gamblers for God so few?"
Perhaps it's because, for most believers in Christ, we've forgotten we're playing with "house money."
House money is a term borrowed from the gambling industry (I use the term industry very loosely). Essentially, house money is free money given to you to use as a wager, like in a casino. When you lay down your bet with house money, you're really gambling someone else's money. You have nothing to lose. You feel free to wager because if you lose, you are no poorer (you think) than before.
In essence, we have forgotten that everything we have has been given to us. It's all house money, given by God, ... meant to be risked for His Kingdom. Which leads me to Matthew 20 where Jesus tells a story. (Allow me to retell the story in my own words, like The Message version of the Bible). Here goes:
Jesus said: "The Kingdom of heaven is like a businessman who owned a vineyard. Very early one morning – about 6am – he hired some workers to pick grapes from his vineyard. They agreed to terms – $100 for the day's work – and began picking grapes.
Three hours later, the businessman found additional workers loitering in the town square. He hired them, too. It was 9am.
At lunchtime, he spotted a group of men with nothing to do. Yep, he hired them. And around 3pm, he found a few more and sent them into his vineyard. Finally, at 5pm, he met a group of men who'd squandered their day ... but were thrilled to pick up a few bucks for short work. He hired them.
So, the businessman hired men at 6am, 9am, Noon, 3pm, and 5pm. At 6pm, he had his foreman gather all the men and pay them their wages. Lining them up in reverse order, he began by paying the group of men who'd only worked one hour. He gave each of them $100! Then he paid those who worked 3 hours, 6 hours, 9 hours and finally 12 hours. Each received a crisp $100 bill.
Well, that's a shocker. Who saw that coming? The men who'd worked the brunt of the day were angry ... "Why should these 'Johnny-come-latelies' be given the same as us?"
It may feel like something unfair is happening, but didn't everyone agree to the terms when they were hired? (Yes). Isn't this a case of a businessman simply deciding to be generous with his money? (Yes). Doesn't he have the right to give away his money to whomever he wants, whenever he wants? (Yes).
In today's culture, this would never fly. The businessman would be hauled before a labor relations board and excoriated. Imagine what the Press would do to him! But let's pause to think this through:
- If the concern is each worker not being treated equally, would the concern go away if each worker (whether 12 hours or 1 hour) was given ... $1,000,000? If being given $1,000,000 each (rather than $100) solves the problem, was the problem really unequal treatment to begin with? Not really.
- Another problem: who ever said the businessman was compelled to hire any of these men? Did he have to? No. In kindness, he chose to.
- Since the businessman owns all his own money, isn't he allowed to give it away to whomever he wishes? Is he guilty of the sin of generosity? That's not a sin, last time I checked.
- In a sense, wasn't each one of us hired at 5pm? Hasn't God, the vineyard owner-businessman, been extravagantly lavish toward us, to include us among His cared-for-workers? Don't we receive in excess what we could never earn or deserve?
- In fact, aren't the wages we really deserve from our behavior less like wages and more like debts? Romans 6:23 says "the wages of sin is ... death." What we earn from our deleterious, destructive work is death. When the day is over and the paycheck is handed out, it's actually we who owe the Employer for the destruction caused in his vineyard. We trampled grapes and uprooted vines. We owe him.
- In remarkable generosity, God gave us what we will never deserve, what we will never work hard enough or long enough to secure.
- We hardly worked an hour – if you can even call it work – and He has made us sons and heirs to his entire Kingdom and its resources!
- And after all that, do we complain when we get ripped off? When we're scammed by a fake beggar (yes, 'pretend begging' is stealing, and God sees that, too)? Do we moan rising taxes and inflation (I also hate these since they're bad stewardship and affect the poor and elderly the most)? Overall, hasn't God given us resource-upon-resource? Hasn't He given us His Son's own righteousness as a gift? Hasn't He given us His Spirit to live within us? Aren't all who've been "hired" by Christ now His brothers and sisters? Hebrews 2:11 says,
"Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters."
If all this is true ... aren't we all playing with House Money? What do we have that hasn't been given to us? And so, what do we have to lose?
Hired at 5pm, we are millionaires. It's not our money. It's house money. Let's be the good kind of gamblers, who will gamble it all on God.