The Prodigal Son Who Chose To Remain At Home
by Al Maxey
Scripture Reading Luke 15:25-32
We're all familiar with the Lord's parable of the prodigal son. We've read it and studied it many times, and have seen numerous lessons legitimately drawn from it. And I would imagine that most of us, to some extent, identify with the wayward son in this story. After all, which of us has not made some bad choices and shown poor judgment in our lives? And which of us has not suffered the consequences?
We have all had our "far country" experiences! Each of us, on some occasion, has probably found ourselves in one of life's "pig pens." Perhaps some of you are there now! Others have come to their senses and returned home. Some perhaps are ready to come back to the Father, and are searching for the way home.
Thus, we easily identify with the prodigal son. In so many ways you and I are or have been that wayward child.
This is also a parable about a father's love for a rebellious, self-willed son. In fact, some have suggested it should more properly be titled "The Parable of a Father's Love." And those of us who are parents can also identify with this aspect of the parable as well. Which of us, as parents, has not suffered pain right along with our children when we see them make poor choices in life? And who among us has not grieved when we see them suffer the consequences of those choices?
Some of you today are anxiously and prayerfully waiting for that day when your son or daughter "comes to their senses" and "comes home." Well, God knows what you are feeling. He, like the father in the parable, longs for the spiritual awakening of His rebellious, misguided people. And He waits patiently for their return; never giving up hope; always watchful; ready to extend forgiveness and acceptance.
But, there is one major character in this parable who is often overlooked, or just examined in passing --- The Elder Brother. In a sense, he is a prodigal son also. His younger brother was lost in the far country, but he was lost at home.
Who was this other son of the father in the parable? --- this elder brother of the "prodigal son"? And what lessons can we learn from him? We will try to answer these questions in this lesson on the prodigal son who remained at home.
THE ELDER SON
The parable begins with this statement: "A certain man had two sons." The next thirteen verses focus entirely on the younger son and the father. The older brother isn't even mentioned until vs. 25. In the final section of the parable, however, we discover that this elder son of the father does have some very positive qualities.
He was a hard worker. When we first encounter him, he is out in the field working for his father. In fact, in vs. 29 this older son points out that he has provided years of continuous, faithful service to the father.
While his younger brother was out "sowing his wild oats," the older brother was in the field, diligently sowing seed for his father .... and working to harvest the grain.
He was also an obedient son. He didn't rebel and go out and squander his father's wealth on loose living, like the younger son. In fact, in vs. 29 he tells the father, "I have never neglected a command of yours." He was obedient .... he was conscientious .... he was a hard worker. In short, we might almost say that he was the "ideal" son. Certainly not like that "wild younger son" who was such a "disappointment" to the father!!
Perhaps we can even say that he was a morally upright individual. At least he certainly seemed incensed over the immoral lifestyle of his younger brother.
These are all good qualities. And if this was all we knew about this older brother, we would have a pretty positive picture painted of him here.
THE ELDER SON'S SINS
Jesus doesn't fault the morality or the obedience or the work ethic of this elder brother. However, He does fault his attitude. In spite of his many commendable qualities and his tireless service to the father, the elder son was not right in his heart! When the prodigal son returned home, the father and his household rejoiced. The elder brother, hard at work in the field, heard the merry-making and came to investigate. When he saw the reason for the rejoicing, vs. 28 says, "He became angry."
This is the Greek word orgizo which means "passionate rage." It comes from the root word orgao which referred to plants and fruits swelling with juice to the point of bursting. The older brother in the parable was so filled with rage that he was ready to burst! He was "so mad he could have exploded!"
Not only was he angry, but he also sulked and pouted and withdrew himself from his brother. Vs. 28 reads: "The older brother became angry and refused to go in." Notice here, however, that by refusing to fellowship with his brother, he also excluded himself from the fellowship of the father's household!!! The father finally had to come outside of the house, where the older brother was, to plead with him to come inside the house. That's an important point --- when we won't have anything to do with a brother who is accepted by our heavenly Father, that places us OUTSIDE the household of God.
This is something many "elder brethren" in the church today need to understand! By cutting themselves off from one who is not cut off by the Father, they are hurting themselves tremendously --- just as the elder brother in the parable did.
The elder brother was also guilty of self-righteousness. When the father came out to talk with him, this son immediately called the father's attention to all the wonderful things he had done. In vs. 29 he spoke of the fact that he had never neglected one of his commands, and that he had worked hard for him for years.
It sounds very reminiscent of the Pharisee in Luke 18. "And He told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt" (vs. 9). Speaking of contempt, the elder brother was guilty of this also. In vs. 30 notice how he referred to his younger brother. "...this son of yours!" He refused to even regard him as a brother! It's as if he were saying, "He may be your son, but he's NOT my brother!"
There was also the sin of envy .... or jealousy. "You kill the fattened calf for him .... yet you never gave me even a young goat, so I could celebrate with my friends!"
Suddenly the picture of the older brother isn't so pretty anymore. This hardworking, obedient son has a corrupt heart. His heart is characterized by anger, envy, self-righteousness, contempt, and pettiness. On the outside he appeared to be the ideal son; on the inside he was anything but! And everybody suffered as a result of his attitude.
The prodigal son was deprived of the warm, loving welcome he should have received from his older brother. The father was torn away from the festivities to plead with a son plagued with an evil disposition.
And the elder brother himself suffered. By his attitude, he had cut himself off from the fellowship and the joys of the father's household. He stood outside .... miserable, angry and alone.
Notice the words of the father to this elder son: "My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this BROTHER OF YOURS was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
Not only does the father appeal to reason here --- he explained the logic for such a celebration --- but he also appeals to his sense of FAMILY: "My child ..... this your brother." The elder son was long on duty and service, but short on family!!
Family should be a place of safe haven. A realm of loving acceptance. A place where failure does not have to be fatal. The elder brother failed to recognize this.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." The true mark of discipleship is not so much in the nature or amount of our service, but in whether or not we show love. I John 2:11 states that "the one who hates his brother is in the darkness..."
When the parable ends, the elder brother is outside the house ..... separate from the celebration ..... standing in the darkness. And it wasn't his years of service and obedience and hard work that put him there .... it was his heart!!!
Sadly, there are many "elder brothers" in the family of God today! Individuals who are faithful in their service to God the Father .... who are obedient .... who are not given to loose, worldly living .... and who are hard workers. But who also just can't bring themselves to love or forgive or accept or even fellowship with their brethren.
The Father pleads with you ..... you prodigals who have remained at home, but aloof from your brothers ..... to enter into the joys of FAMILY.
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