Scripture: Luke 15:25-32
Just about everyone has heard the story of the prodigal son. If you’ve attended church much at all, if you’ve been to Vacation Bible School, or if you’ve done any kind of Bible study, the story of the Prodigal Son is one of the most popular of them. A wealthy father has two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance early, the father gives it to him, he leaves the farm and squanders the money on wild living, he becomes destitute and is so hungry he wants to eat pig slop. He decides he’d be better off just to go back to his father’s farm and work as a servant. He knows he doesn’t deserve to be a son, so he hopes there a chance he can just get a job from his Dad. He knows the farm, he knows the other workers, the pay is meager, but its better than nothing. There is enough food there that he won’t be craving pig slop. So he returns, and while he is in the distance his father sees him, runs to him, embraces him, receives him as a son and restores him as a son. He throws a great party, and rejoices that the son who was lost is now found. It’s a beautiful picture of the love of God, and how he accepts us back after we have sinned against him. Most of the time, probably at least 90% of the time this story is told, we stop with the younger son. We focus on him, when Jesus’ point isn’t made in the younger son’s actions, but in the older son’s attitude. Attitude is critical in our relationship with Jesus, with family, with church members, and with people in the community. We can have many good deeds characterize us, and extreme sacrifices of time and energy, but if our attitude is bad, it taints our entire Christian witness.
Yesterday I read a story about a boy named Mike. Mike was in the second grade. On the way to school Mike’s arm bumped against a seat on the bus. It was a bad scrape and began to bleed. It bled until blood got all over his clothes. He also had forgotten to put his homework paper in his book bag so he got in trouble. At recess he was hit in the mouth while playing and lost two teeth. After school he slipped on the ice and broke his wrist. On the way to the hospital he reached into his pocket with his good hand pulled something out. His father asked him, “Son what do you have?” He said, “Dad, it’s a quarter – 25 cents! I found it on the ground when I fell down. It’s the first quarter I’ve ever found. This is the best day of my life!” Most of us would say he had a horrible day, but to Mike it was a great day. The difference was in his attitude. So as our passage begins, the prodigal has returned home, the father is overjoyed, and the party is in full swing. In the older brother’s response, we see three things that characterize his attitude, or his spirit, that are not pleasing to God. Through his example, we can learn for our lives today.
First, of all, in the prodigal’s brother, we see a pouting spirit. Verses 25-28 say, “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in….” It’s very possible that the personalities of these two brothers were very different. I can envision the younger brother being the outgoing one, the one who couldn’t live within the boundaries his father had set. He had to enjoy life to the fullest, and he had to do it all right now. Planning ahead, delaying pleasure, was simply not a part of his vocabulary. He lived in the moment and was driven by having one party after another. Life was all about having a great time. He lived on the wild side. The older brother was likely much different. He was driven by duty, by loyalty and by obligation. He was much more low key. While his brother lived for pleasure, he lived for work. He was zealous for the father, for the farm, for the jobs that had to be done. He was dedicated to his purpose in highest, most intense way possible. While the younger brother tended to party himself to death, the older brother tended to work himself to death. So when he receives the news that his younger, goof-off, blow-the-family fortune brother had returned home, and that Dad was throwing a party over it, he was ticked off. This wasn’t just a small, informal get-together Dad was having. The fattened calf had been killed, and a calf would have been enough food to feed a village! He was so angry that he refused to enter his father’s house, which was an insult to the father’s dignity and could have resulted in punishment for him. Things just weren’t right, so he withdraws in anger and pouts. We may think this kind of behavior is horrible, but we often do so today. In fact, I believe we tend to act more like the older brother than the prodigal. When we look into Scripture, its easier for us to see. The Apostle Paul praised God in prison, while we pout in our prosperity. Paul glorified God in his poverty, while we complain in our affluence. Jesus cherishes and praises the church as his bride, while we obsess over her blemishes and her belly fat. There have been very few times in the history of Christianity that believers have had so much yet appreciated it so little. We grumble excessively about our spouses, our children, our parents, our classes at school, our hassles at work. If we have found ourselves sinking into this kind of pouting disposition, the way to rise above it is to change our focus. Celebrate where God is working, rather than commiserating where he isn’t working. Determine that whatever the problem may be, it isn’t enough for you to sacrifice the joy you have of being in the Father’s family. Realize the attitude that you possess is contagious, and can either be a blessing or a burden to the people around you. In the prodigal’s brother, we see a pouting spirit.
Then, in the prodigal’s brother, we see an accusing spirit. Verses 29-30 say, “But he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’” There are at least five accusations here. His father hasn’t shown any generosity toward him – he’s never given him anything special. Your heavenly father is blessing people around you, but has he given you anything special? Of course he has! His father hasn’t shown any compassion toward him – he doesn’t care about him, just that rowdy other son. It’s obvious God cares for other people, but does he really care for you? Of course he does! I believe if you were the only person on the planet, Jesus would have still died for you. The brother isn’t his brother anymore – he is “this son of yours” – he’s saying the prodigal is no longer his brother. We may have brothers and sisters in the body of Christ who don’t do what they should – they aren’t on the same “spiritual level” as we are – regardless of how we may view them, they are still our brothers and sisters in Jesus, with as much standing before God as we have. The brother has been with prostitutes – nowhere in this story does the brother mention prostitutes – the older brother is jumping to conclusions. When our temper has flared and our spirit has soured, our thinking become clouded. Step back, pray, and allow God to give you a fresh perspective. His father is being wasteful and excessive by killing the fattened calf. God can bless whoever he wants whenever he wants however he wants – he is God! So in the prodigal’s brother, we see an accusing spirit. We all have the tendencies. We all have been there.
Then, in the prodigal’s brother, we see an uncaring spirit. Verse 31-32 say, “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ” The prodigal’s brother didn’t care for his father’s gain. He couldn’t see how happy his father was, because he was so caught up in his own indignation. He didn’t see things through his father’s eyes of compassion, but only through his own eyes of judgment. He also didn’t care that his brother had returned home. He wasn’t thinking about his father’s happiness or his brother’s welfare, but only for himself. The father attempts to set him straight. The story ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger – we don’t know what happened to the prodigal’s brother. In the prodigal’s brother we see an uncaring spirit. Did he somehow find a better ou tlook on life, or did he remain at a distant from his father and brother for the rest of his life?
When this story ends, we don’t know what happened to the prodigal’s brother. The father is rejoicing over his lost son, the prodigal is grateful that he’s been received back home. The only thing left to be decided is the attitude of the prodigal’s brother. This morning, what will your decision be? For that part of you that has been the prodigal’s brother, what will you do now? Will you continue to be bitter and resentful, or will you realize the Father’s love for you, the great worth of your brother, and be at peace once again?