In this episode we discover what home is really all about and what the Bible says about abiding effectively. Using the famous parable of The Prodigal Son, we examine the journey of every human life. The Prodigal Son is a story of excess – the sons’ excessive folly and the father’s excessive love. Even when we hit rock bottom, when our folly seems beyond repair, we are God’s children. There is an opportunity for repentance, and reconciliation with God, and for the right relationship with our Heavenly Father.
If you look up the definition of home, it says something like a place where people abide. It may be with a family, or it may be with a group of people similarly situated like in a nursing home.
And we’re going to look today at what the Bible tells us about how to abide effectively. The real foundation for effective abiding is to know how to receive and how to give unconditional belonging.
We as a human race absolutely stink at this. We’re absolutely terrible at it. And it’s something we have to learn.
And if we want to be a truly welcoming church, if we want to have a functional home, if we want to have even a productive team or business, this is something that we can learn that will be absolutely transformational.
And we’re going to look at one of the most famous parables in the Bible that I think—I’ve heard many sermons on it, and usually it’s hard to mess this one up. There’re so many great things about.
But usually I would say it kind of misses the main point. We’re going to go for the main point today. And it’s going to be uncomfortable, but it’s going to be elevating.
The Prodigal Son
And what we’re going to do is we’re going to look at the Prodigal Son, so called.
Now the word prodigal means excessive, and this parable is usually told about an excessive son; but, actually, this is about three excessive people.
So we’re going to step through and look at each one of the characters in this story. And what we’re going to see is how to receive and how to give unconditional belonging as the foundation for a true home where we can abide effectively.
Now, let’s start by reading the story. It actually is introduced in Luke 15:1-3. And this is really critical. If we miss this, we’re largely going to miss the main point.
This parable was given to the Pharisees
15:1. Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. So they’re abiding with Jesus.
And the Pharisees and scribes complained—
This parable is given in response to the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes, who were the religious people. Let’s just call them the churchgoers.
—saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” Just like he lived with them! He’s abiding with them!
So Jesus spoke this parable to them, saying:
Three parables about lost valuable things
And then Jesus gives three parables.
The first parable is the parable of the lost sheep. And he basically says, look, you’re a shepherd of Israel. When a Shepherd loses a sheep, he’s glad when he finds him. Why can’t you have that heart?
And then he tells the parable of the lost coin. A woman has a coin; it’s a real valuable coin. She loses it. When she finds it, of course, she’s going to be glad.
These people are valuable! They’re humans! Aren’t you glad when they’re lost and then they’re found?
And then, he tells the prodigal son story, and the story has the three people. So we’re going to read the story, and then we’re going to go through and look at each one of the characters.
Then He said: “A certain man had two sons.
And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.
And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.
But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.
Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,
and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.
So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.
And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”
So let’s look at each of the three characters. I’m going to call this the “Family Excessively” because all three of these characters are excessive.
The excessive father
We’re first going to look at Father Excessively. And Father Excessively is excessive in love.
But look at the primary foundation of love. The core of love starts with freedom.
It’s common that people would say, how could God allow evil into the world? That’s a pretty typical complaint against God.
Freedom is the essence of love
But you know, freedom is the very essence of love. When two people come together in intimacy, if they both come voluntarily, we call it love. If one coerces the other, we have some very ugly names for that.
And God is a great lover, and he does not impose himself on anyone. And the reason that evil entered the world is because we chose it; and the reason we were able to choose it is because God put freedom in the world because that is what allows love to take place.
And look at how excessive this father is in freedom. The young son comes and says, can you divide our business and give me the money?
Now to put this into context, this is not a business where liquidity was the norm. There was no stock market back then. These businesses would be family businesses. They would be a fishing business or a farming business or a ranching business. And if anything gets done, it’s going to be done by human power or animal power controlled or directed by humans.
And this son, by leaving, is taking away a worker. He’s harming his family. He’s draining capital from the business. He’s shrinking the business. He’s forsaking future generations. And he’s despising his inheritance.
I’ll tell you if I were this father and believing in freedom as I do, what I would have said is, “You can leave, but you can’t destroy our family business.” But I think there’s a shock value here to these Pharisees, these Jews, when he says, “I’ll do it.” I’ll actually sell some possessions, or I’ll drain the bank account. The older son called it “your livelihood.”
Why is it “your livelihood”? Because the father had saved up. He had expanded his business “lo, these many years,” and now he just gives it to the son; and the son goes and squanders it, which I think is part of the shock value of the story.
Well, why in the world would God allow this? Why would he give us choices when he even knows we’re going to blow it? Well, it’s because he wants to love us, and he wants us to love him back. And that only happens if there’s freedom.
God gives us the evil we desire
Now there’s another aspect of this, though. When the father gives this capability to his son, he’s actually pouring out his wrath. We usually don’t look at it this way, but that’s exactly what’s happened.
Let’s step through Romans 1:18 and following.
Romans 1:18 says For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
And then in verse 22, it says Professing to be wise, they became fools. We think we know best, and we’re going to do what we want to do. And God has given us that choice.
So in verse 24, it says Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts. And the idea there is God’s withholding from them. He says, “No, don’t do that. No, don’t do that. Don’t do that! Don’t do that! That’s not good for you! Don’t do that! Okay, if you insist.”
So step one in the wrath of God is I’m going to let you have the lust you desire.
And step two is in verse 26. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. So now the lusts are controlling you. We can call this addiction.
And then, in verse 28, it reached the third stage. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind.
So first we pursue lust, and then we have addiction, and now we can’t think straight anymore. That is our choice, and that’s God’s wrath, by letting us choose things that are self-destructive.
Folks, we don’t need to judge people in sin. They’re judging themselves. When we sin, we’re choosing wrath.
And, of course, verse 32 says everybody in the same boat gives hearty approval because guilt likes to recruit.
The father gives freedom to the son
This is the progression we watch with Young Brother Excessively, and the father does not chase after him. He does not prevent him. He does not control him. He lets him fall.
Now all the while, the father’s longing for the son to come back, but if he doesn’t come back on his own terms, there’s no real fellowship.
But, as hopefully is always the case when people fall into sin, the young son came to himself. And that is the first step in repentance. He came to his senses. He got some current reality.
And this is another thing about true love. True love is rooted in freedom, but it’s also rooted in current reality and truth.
Pretending somebody’s okay when they’re not is not loving. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “I don’t condemn you. I accept you unconditionally, right as you are. Now stop sinning. You’re not okay. Stop sinning or worse things are going to happen.”
See, this is hurting you. It’s not hurting me. It’s hurting you. But I don’t condemn you.
And to understand that acceptance is something God gives totally unconditionally, but approval is only for behavior that’s good for us. He’s not going to approve self-destructive behavior. They’re two separate things.
That’s how we have a house that’s a home. That’s how we can be a church that welcomes people to abide with us, is by understanding what love really is. And the excessive father with his excessive love gave freedom to his younger son.
Consequences do not remove the relationship
But he also gave truth and justice. When the son came home, the father said to the older son, “All I have is yours.” He didn’t give the son the stuff back. He didn’t reinstate all he had squandered. Sin has consequences, and many of those consequences cannot be unraveled.
But you know what is not at stake? The relationship that we have with God. We are his children because he gave us new birth. Can’t be earned and it can’t be lost.
Repentance begins with understanding your current reality
So the young man, the younger brother, comes to himself; and step one in repentance is to see reality. He says, “I’m starving. My father’s servants have plenty to eat, and I am about to die physically. I did this to myself. I was wrong. I sinned against God. I sinned against my father. I don’t even deserve to be a son.” That’s actually true of all of us. “So I’ll go and ask for mercy. At least I’ll have enough to eat if I’m just treated as a servant.”
So he’s got it now. He’s got all the reality except one thing: He still doesn’t really understand his father’s love because he asked to be a servant, and God is such an excessive lover that while he was still a long way off, he ran to meet him. Because his heart never left his son, but he gave his son freedom. He didn’t try to control.
When we try to control, we kill relationships dead as a doornail.
When we give people freedom, there’s the opportunity for great fellowship. But as Hermann likes to say, it takes two yeses and one no.
If you want to read my story about this, there’s a book called Yellow Balloons in the bookstore, and my Job experience was coming to a reality that I am an older son. I’m judgmental. I complain when other people get stuff that they don’t deserve, according to my standards. And I’m a control person.
And I went through a couple of years of intense pain coming to that reality. I hit rock bottom.
It was a different kind of rock bottom. It wasn’t a rock bottom of drunkenness or addiction. It was a rock bottom of coming to current reality about who I am as an older brother. And I began to understand this freedom thing.
And it dawned on me that this was critical for me to engage with my sons. I have four boys.
And so I preemptively did this: I sat down with them, various times and in various ways, and got better at it, I think, as we went along. And I said, look, I’d love to have a great relationship with you, but it’s not going to happen as long as you’re under my thumb, as long as you’re in my shadow. And I would love to someday go into business with you. That would be a dream of mine. But only if you want to. And only if you do it on your terms. So I’m going to give you your college money, and I’m going to set you off on your own. You’re going to make your own decisions, and you’re going to get a great education. You can either do it by going and getting a degree that’s really valuable, or you can do it by squandering all this money. And that will give you a great education too. You’re sacking groceries, and all that money is gone, you’re going to have learned a really valuable lesson. But I hope you come back, and I hope you come back on your terms.
And you know what? I, today, work with three of my boys, and they’re here working with us on their own terms.
And the one that doesn’t work with me told me, he said I know I would have gone the younger-brother way and gone into gross immorality if you had tried to control me at all because I know myself well enough to know I wanted the world really bad, but I knew it was going to wreck me. But if you had tried to control me, I could have blamed you. And since I knew I was going to have nobody to blame but myself I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
When you grant people freedom, you’re actually giving them the power to either bless them immensely or to bring wrath on themselves.
Hits rock bottom, still a son
While he was still a long way off.
To the Jewish audience here, the younger brother couldn’t have gone any lower. Pigs were the dirtiest of animals, the lowest of the low. And he’s not only in with the pigs, he wishes to eat what they can. He’s not even allowed to do that.
But he comes home, and he reaches and he finds something very surprising, that he’s accepted unconditionally. He never lost his sonship.
Acceptance into God’s kingdom is something that’s given freely. It can’t be earned. It cannot be lost.
Enough faith to look up
John 3:14-15 tells this very clearly. John 3:16 is the famous “God so loved the world” verse. But 14 and 15 say that the way Jesus is going to save us is by being lifted up on a cross, just like the snake in the wilderness was lifted up on a pole. He says as the serpent in the wilderness was lifted up, so the son of man must be lifted up that whoever believes will not perish.
Well, in the wilderness people have been bitten by venomous vipers, and they were going to die. Many of them did die. They prayed for help. And God came to them and said, “If you’ll just look at this bronze snake I had Aaron make and have enough faith to look at it hoping you’ll be healed, then the venom won’t kill you.”
And in parallel to that Jesus says you’ve all got venom in your veins you inherited from Adam. It’s called sin. It’s going to permanently separate you from me. But if you’ll have just enough faith to say I don’t want to be separated from you, God, I want to be healed, and have just enough faith to look, I’ll take care of putting you in my kingdom, putting you as a child. Unconditionally.
Look, this younger brother couldn’t have done anything worse from the perspective of churchgoers. He squandered. He abused. He denied. It was the worst of the worst. And he didn’t lose his sonship.
What could we do that would unravel the grace of God? What could we do that would cause Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to be insufficient? Acceptance is unconditional, but the love of the Father is something we want to learn to give to others.
And what we have to do is learn to be excessive in loving others, and that starts with freedom and truth-telling. And part of truth-telling is what you’re doing is hurting you. Stop it. You’re a drunk. You’re an addict. Let’s get you better. But you’re not disappointing me.
One of the main ways we convey conditional acceptance is through disappointment because when you’re disappointing me, the focus is on you doing what I want you to do; and that’s not love. Love is seeking the best for others. Let’s figure out what you need to do that’s best for you.
He welcomed him his son home just as he was. And we end the story with the younger son in fellowship with his father, even though he squandered his inheritance.
So that’s the heart of the father, the great excessive father.