The Matthew Effect – is God Unfair?

Matthew 25:29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

David Epstein published an interesting read entitled The Sports Gene which investigates the question of whether elite athletes are genetic freaks or simply normal people who overcome their biological limits with sheer will and obsessive training. In one chapter he refers to the “Matthew Effect” which is a term coined sociologist Robert Merton.  It is taken from the Bible verse Matthew 25:29.For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”

Sociologists have used the term to describe people receiving greater riches or more credit than they deserve – based only on the fact that they already possessed significant fame and/or money.  “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”, would be an example of their use of the “Matthew Effect”.  Merton used it to describe scientists who often get more credit than a comparatively unknown researcher, even if their work is similar, only because they are already famous.

In Epstein’s The Sports Gene, he uses it to describe individuals who become world-class athletes in a fraction of the time that it takes others.  While the conventional wisdom is that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, some seem to be able to do it in only a few thousand, and even become better than the rest.  To them they have been given special talent or gifting and they excel and are given athletic success and fame, with only a fraction of the work.  For an example of this, do a search on Bahamas’ high jump phenom Donald Thomas.

When read and used out of context as sociologists have, it would really appear that Jesus is quite unfair.  Why would God give more to those that have plenty already, and take away from those who have next to nothing?  This certainly seems to fly in the face of Jesus’ other teachings of caring for the widows and orphans who have nothing or caring for the stranger robbed of everything.  The answer is found when you take Matthew 25:29 in context.

As you read all of Matthew 25 and even in the previous chapter you will find Jesus teaching his disciples about the kingdom of heaven.  He tells the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the bags of gold.  In both cases they are contrasts of wise and foolish people, those who do a great deal for God with what they have been given, and those who do nothing with what they have been given.  Jesus says that there are those who have been given a great deal and who work diligently to use it to further God kingdom, and to them he will give even more, because they have proven themselves to be good stewards of what they have.  In contrast there are those who, even with the little they have been given, prove not to be good stewards of that small amount and prove to be lazy, so God says that he will even take that away and give it to the those who will be good stewards.

As Christian Athletes you may have been given some talents or enormous talent, but whatever the case, your responsibility remains the same – to work diligently and to be excellent stewards of what God has given you.  If you are proven to be faithful with the little God has given you, he can trust you be faithful with far more.  Whatever you have been given, don’t be a lazy servant; choose to be a diligent servant so that one day when you meet God face to face you will hear the words: “well done my good and faithful servant”. (Matthew 25:21)

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