This week I am going to borrow parts of Timothy Keller’s message titled “The Prodigal God”, which we are studying in our Adult Bible Fellowship.
First of all, he has extracted some lessons from the parable, recorded in the gospel of Luke chapter 15, that in my many years in church I had never heard. You can watch the entire sermon at this link on YouTube.
Anyhow, to highlight what struck me the most, I will focus on the lesser famous elder brother of our story. Particularly on his reaction when he was informed that his younger brother, who had left with a lot of their father’s money and lost everything, was back and had been re-instated as son. He was furious!
Now stop and think: this was probably the happiest day in the father’s life. The son that was lost is now back. The father wanted to celebrate.
The father tries to explain that to the elder son, but he doesn’t want to listen. He wants to make it clear that he has never disobeyed the father, and that he was always there. He was the better son. He had rights. The father owed him a special treatment.
Remember this is a parable. It is not a real story. Jesus is using it to explain a bigger truth. He is explaining our relationship with God.
One son goes away in a journey of self-discovery, and finds out that being with the father was better.
The other son lives a life of self-righteousness, believing that his goodness warrants him rights with the father.
Unfortunately I see us Christians having an elder son behavior: We believe we have rights. We are superior than others.
We act as if our lifestyle deserves to be rewarded with blessings from God. We deserve prosperity. God owes us that because we are good people. We are much better than those wicked people out there. We can be very judgmental.
The truth is: God owes us nothing. He may choose to bless us, but that is by His grace, not our merits. We are supposed to be His servants, not the opposite.
We will not earn His acceptance by doing good things. He has accepted us by His love through Jesus, and as a consequence, we want to obey Him, by having a lifestyle that pleases Him. We can’t get that sequence inverted.
After the class on Sunday, a brother shared with me that recently he was having a conversation with his adult daughter who is far from the Lord at this point of her life. He was reasoning with her, from his Christian perspective, when she said: “You are so self-righteous!” Ouch! That probably felt like a sharp knife in the heart.
Do people see more self-righteousness than love in us? Do we pass the impression that we think we are superior? Are we modern day pharisees? Do we think God owes us blessings to please us?
By the way, seeing lost sons coming back pleases the father… a lot. What about that perspective?
So, when a church is not reaching for the lost younger sons, it may be because it is full of elder sons.