What is Fair?

Dogs have a strong sense of what they consider fair. If you have more than one dog, and one dog gets a treat the others think they should get one too, even if the other dogs didn’t do anything for the treat. They love getting something for nothing and when it comes to obeying commands, they have a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude. They also don’t have any kind of long-term planning where you can tell them: “OK. You do this for me now, and there’ll be a huge payoff later.” For them, fair is “I get treats whether I do something or not.”

We find that cute and amusing when it comes to dogs. The problem is we’re that way when it comes to our approach to God. Our prayers and our obedience are based on a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude, or a what-have-You-done-for-me-lately-God attitude. Our sense of what is fair is based on whether God gives us what we think is fair.

But our concept of fair is all wrong.

After telling the Philippians about how he was living a life of contentment that was unaffected by his circumstances and after praising them for their sacrificial gift delivered to him by means of Epaphroditus, Paul assures the Philippians of God’s supply to them by saying:

“But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). 

This is another of those verses that we as believers are quick to quote but slow to consider. Our problem is that word “need.” We often approach God as though He is a genie in a bottle and though we may not say it in so many words, our prayers reveal that we interpret the word “need” as the word “desires.” We can certainly convince ourselves that a want or desire is a need. What we don’t want is to trust God to show us our real need and to meet that. How many times in the gospels does it appear that Jesus ignores the question posed to Him? It seems either He answers back with another question, or He gives an answer that seems to miss the question altogether, until we look more closely at His response. Then we recognize that the Lord was meeting the real need, something that the petitioner never saw until the Lord gave His answer.

Fair is not me getting what I want, or me getting the same as everyone else. I heard this illustrated once by an educator. He said, “Let’s say you have a classroom full of students. They can all read what’s on the board at the front of the class, except for Johnny. He’s on the front row and he’s still squinting to see what you wrote. For most of us, ‘fair’ means everyone gets the same. So, with that kind of thinking, I could say as Johnny’s teacher: ‘Suck it up, kiddo. No one else gets glasses, so neither do you. Look harder.’ Or, I could say, ‘Johnny needs glasses, but to be fair, I’m going to give everyone glasses and make sure they are all the same prescription as Johnny’s.’ Now I have one kid who can see the board and everyone else is squinting through glasses they don’t need. Fair isn’t everyone getting the same. It’s everyone getting what they need.”

To apply that to our relationship to God, fair isn’t me getting what I want, or getting the same as what God has given others. Fair is God giving me exactly what I need in any given circumstance – and God always gives me exactly what I need. Because He supplies all my need according to His riches in glory. If I have that understanding of what is fair, then like Paul I can always say:

“Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Philippians 4:20).

It all hinges in how I answer the question: “What is fair?”

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