Most people miss it. I did until I read some insights by a guy named Tim Keller in a book entitled The Prodigal God. In Luke 15 Jesus responds to grumbling from the Pharisees and teachers of the law by offering three parables. A lost lamb, a lost coin and a father with two sons.
The third parable is considerably larger and gets more of our attention. We need the lesson of the younger brother, that our sin can’t take us beyond the reach of the Father’s grace. But Jesus is teaching us more in this parable.
Nearly half of this parable involves the elder brother who rejects the father’s gracious actions toward the younger brother and refuses to enter into the celebration. Jesus is showing us that there are basically two ways to be lost; to be our own god and savior.
- One is to ignore God and do whatever we want. Disregard His boundaries in life and act as if He doesn’t exist. That’s what we see in the younger brother.
- The other way is to diligently obey certain aspects of life with God in order to gain leverage with Him. Sort of like bartering with God. I’ve done this and this and this God so you owe me prosperity or health or a cushy retirement or… fill in the blank. That’s what we see in the elder brother.
The truth is that all human beings are lost and in need of God’s grace. We all struggle with the issue of wanting to be in control; of being our own god. As dangerous as it is to do life as a younger brother who rejects and ignores God, it is even more dangerous to unknowingly do life with God as the elder brother.
Stop and consider all that you do in regard to God. Attend church, pray, put money in the offering trays, teach a class… etc. Now ask yourself this vital question:
Why do I do it?
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ~ Psalm 139:23-24
Am I doing any of it to earn God’s favor and gain leverage with Him or am I simply responding to His love?