Most reading this column are familiar with the story of the prodigal son. Take a minute to read it in Luke 15:11-32. You know the story well. In this column, I want to focus not on the prodigal son but the “good son.”
“Meanwhile the older son was in the field.” He was out “doing the father’s business” when his younger brother returned home. Amazingly, when he learns of his brother’s return, he is not happy, he’s angry and “refused to go in.”
The sad reality in modern Christendom is that most church people act more like the older brother than like the Father. During the time when the younger brother was gone, the older brother continued at his work, he enjoyed the presence and benefits of his father and their table, he shared the father’s home, but he didn’t share the father’s heart.
Many very religious people in our churches today are just like him. Let’s look at some of the sad similarities.
First we find a man who was busily about the father’s work. He had kept his nose to the proverbial grindstone, but like many today, there was an underlying animosity in him (see verse 29), a feeling that he was not getting what he rightly deserved.
His anger is directed at the father before it is directed toward his errant brother. One almost gets the idea that this older brother was secretly envious of the lifestyle of the younger brother.
Second, here’s a guy who refuses to rejoice over the fact that this erring brother has returned. My guess is had he been the first to meet the boy on the road, he would have accepted the younger’s son proposal, agreeing that he was not fit to be called a son.
The older brother had, I believe, what we might call a “prove yourself first” mentality. You know it: “Yes, eventually we are going to accept you, but first, you are going to have to prove that you really are a changed person.”
Third, not only doesn’t he rejoice over the fact his brother is home, he shuns him; he “refused to go in” (v.28). Today we see older brother mentality in church members who insist that the church is about them, meeting their needs, and keeping them happy.
After all, they’re the ones who stayed home and worked. They’re the ones who pay the pastor’s salary, and pay for the services, and like the older brother, while we are grateful for their support and faithfulness, we have to sometimes wonder about their motives; their work is more for them than it is for the father.
Fourth, when the father comes out to explain himself and his reasoning for what he has done, the older brother is argumentative and it is at this point that he reveals his own heart; it doesn’t matter what the father wants, it’s all about what he wants.
Sounds like someone you know doesn’t it? I bet you’re already thinking of someone this column applies to, but let me stop you and ask, is that someone you? I don’t mean that to be mean, but I do mean it to challenge you and make you think.
If it makes you feel better, I find it personally much easier to identify with the older brother than the younger or even than the father of the story. Like you, I am affected and afflicted by a sin nature, and I have learned that unless I keep that under the Spirit’s control, the old nature crouches like a tiger ready to pounce on me.
I know that about myself, and I know it about you as well.
We in the church need to learn how to reflect our Father’s heart not the older brother’s heart.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.