You probably know about the prodigal son.
Jesus told the story, it's found in Luke 15. It went something like this: There was a father. He had two sons. The youngest asked for his inheritance. The father gave him a very large sum of money and the younger son left home. He then spent all he possessed in every self-centered destructive way possible. After he was broke, destitute, and desperate, he came home and begged forgiveness of his father. He was wholly forgiven and restored. But the father had two sons…
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.”The older brother became angry and refused to go in.”
“So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
The father then says something profound and revealing.
“My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:25-31).
Essentially, “Son, why would you be out slaving for me, all I have and all I am is available to you, no slaving required. You have access to it simply because you are my son.”
The older son’s frustrated interaction with his dad reveals that, just like his younger brother, he didn’t truly know his father’s love nature. He “slaved” in a works-based understanding instead of co-laboring in a relational, intimate revelation of his dad’s love.
Because he didn’t truly know his dad's heart, he couldn’t truly know who he was. Because he didn't truly know who he was, he couldn't understand nor join in his father's celebration of his brothers return. He essentially said, “Why on earth are you celebrating my brother? What’s he done for you lately?”
What’s alarming to me, when our relational context with God is slaving, we will actually find ourselves outside of the very house we are meant to call our home; we will actually think at odds with how He thinks. When we don't know Him as our good Father, when we aren't sure as sons and daughters, we not only miss out on our inheritance, we actually find ourselves sided against Him.
When we slave, we are unable to celebrate mercy or grace in our own lives, let alone the lives of others. The scary thing about slaving, besides the fact that it sucks, is that it will actually position us against the very Father we think we serve.
There are a lot of older brother rumblings coming from the church today—religious slaves seeking judgment for failed, lost, deceived, and even restored prodigals.
I would guess much of the world sees the church as the older brother, slaving for a Father while wagging our finger in judgment and condemnation at a lost, lonely, broken, and confused world.
Here’s what I believe: the desire to judge and condemn a lost sinner or a fallen or even deceived saint, is not the heart of the Father—ever.
I was in a conversation with a friend the other day and essentially said just that. He challenged me with, “So are you saying we shouldn’t confront and expose lies and immorality?”
“Only if we can do it without taking our eyes off Dad (Love),”
I said. Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing.
It’s easy to become offended when you are not living in a daily revelation of love.
When we take our eyes off our Father and His perfect love for us, we forget why we are here. We become more interested in defending a set of principles than revealing love. Jesus didn’t come to defend a gospel; He came to reveal the perfection of our Father’s love. It’s religious vanity to think we are here to do anything different.
Jesus wasn't a principle, He is an intimate of revelation of family, of the celebration of the prodigal come home.
Sadly, much of the church is playing the part of the older brother and calling it Christianity. There are still so many who stand outside of intimacy defending their slave-based principles in direct defiance of their Father's great love.
Allow me to repeat: Jesus wasn’t concerned with defending a gospel. He was too busy revealing the Gospel—His Father’s always-good love. He lived miraculously, died selflessly, and rose powerfully, all so we might be restored back to our place in the family—as sons and daughters of God. All so we might freely and fully access our inheritance— the love nature of our Father.
If we don't know our Dad and His always-good love, we are forced to live in the insecurity of slavery, under the weight of self-help christianity, and we are compelled to defend a gospel. If we reject the perfection of our Father’s love, then, like the older brother, we will find ourselves in direct opposition to our Dad.
And you know what direct opposition looks like? Judgment and condemnation. But not from our heavenly Father.
The father of the older brother?
He never condemned his son.
The son condemned himself. He was his own judge, a slave cut off from intimacy.
Father, forgive us for judging when we were created to be loved and to love.
Jason Clark is a writer, speaker and lead communicator at A Family Story ministries. His mission is to encourage sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, to grow sure in the love of an always-good heavenly Father. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children. Website: www.afamilystory.org