The story of the prodigals is told in Luke 15. Jesus uses the story to expose the self-righteous behavior of the religious people contrasted with the lavish, reckless, unconditional love of the Father for those who have wandered away. The cliff notes version of the story can be found in Tuesday’s blog post.
The older brother found it impossible to rejoice when his younger brother returned home. Doing so seemed irresponsible to him after his brother’s wasteful extravagant use of their father’s wealth. He put himself in the place of judge, determining that his younger brother did not deserve to be celebrated. What would make it so difficult for him to see past the wandering, rejoicing that his brother was home again? It is helpful to carefully read the complaint he registered with his father.
28“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.Luke 15:28-29
The older son wasn’t taking advantage of his sonship; he saw himself as slave in his father’s house. When I live according to a lie – I am a slave – I will not experience the depth of Father’s love for me. Jesus said, “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” (John 15:15)
Paul reiterates the same concept in his letter to the church in Rome. He says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15)
The older son saw himself not as a friend or a son, but as a fearful slave. He didn’t enjoy the benefits afforded to him as a child of the father; rather, he lived a dutiful, responsible life getting the required work done. Perhaps he focused on not being like his younger brother, but he missed the point of relationship. Notice what the father has to say to him.
31“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.Luke 15:31
There are certainly benefits of living next to the Father. Everything he has is mine. But all of that will be worthless if I don’t live in the truth of his love for me. I won’t access it. Obedient legalism will be the trademark of my life rather than outrageous joyful service. Wallowing in perceived neglect, I am unable to celebrate or rejoice in the good things that come to others.
The difficulty doesn’t really lie in whether or not others deserve God’s goodness, forgiveness and love. It stems from my own perception of my position with the Father.
Certainly developing the discipline of celebrating others will help, but that is only a symptom of a deeper issue. Pause and ask the Holy Spirit to show you the lie you are believing. Do you see yourself as obligated to serve the Father? Are you a slave or a dearly loved child? How have you neglected to access the blessings of God because you are dutifully serving rather than joyfully responding to the love of Father?