As a church of the Lord Jesus Christ, there comes a time when we must answer a basic question. Deal with this question and you start dealing with the heart of your church.
Will we be the church of the elder brother or the church of the loving father?
We all know the parable of the prodigal son, but we often leave out the elder brother. Both are essential to understanding what Jesus meant by the parable (Luke 15:11-32).
Most of us know the gist of the events of the parable. A man had two sons, the younger took his inheritance and left while the older stayed at home and worked with his father. The son who stayed at home was the first born who received the majority of the land and inheritance.
The prodigal son left home and wasted his money. Like most prodigals he found himself in dire circumstances.
Finally, when he hit rock bottom he determined to return to his father.
The parable describes the father as anxious to see his son return. The father embraced him and treated him like a son. The son knew he didn’t deserve to be treated other than as a slave. He humbled himself and repented.
In his joy, the father killed the fatted calf and threw a party to welcome his returning son.
Most sermons about the parable end at that point, but the parable was never meant to end there. When the elder brother saw the kind and compassionate treatment of the prodigal son, he erupted in anger at his father.
The point of the parable is Israel’s unconcern for sinners and tax collectors.
The Jews of Jesus day acted in anger and resentment that the prodigal Gentiles would be received into the kingdom. There was a world of separation between the loving father and the elder brother. It was as if they didn’t know one another.
As we read the parable we should ask ourselves a basic question. “Do I have the attitude of the elder brother or of the loving father?”
Every church ought to ask the same question. Do we love like the father (obviously a picture of God) or do we live in rejection and resentment like the brother?
The answer to our question will help us understand who we really are and how we touch our community.
Notice that the prodigal son reacted in genuine sorrow and with a desire to live differently. His life was messy and unlovely. Are we willing to receive people with messy lives?
As a church we must answer this: “Are we the church of the elder brother or the church of the loving Father?”