In this episode, we continue to explore excess in the story of The Prodigal Son. Both brothers are guilty of excessive foolishness. The younger brother experiences a certain kind of death because of his foolishness and the older brother a very different kind. God offers unconditional acceptance but a conditional approval. How we seek God’s approval and how we respond to HIs acceptance, affects not just our own lives but the lives of all the people around us.
The younger brother
So that’s the part of the father. Let’s look at Younger Brother Excessively. He was also excessive in love. The problem is he just loved the wrong thing.
Let’s look at 1 John 2:16-17. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.
And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
If we want to have a home where we’re abiding in fellowship with God, our Father, we need to do what the father tells us to do. That’s how we have fellowship. But our relationship, being a child of God, our new birth is not conditional on doing what God tells us to do. We just have enough faith to look, and God does that part all by himself. It’s a free gift.
But if we go back one verse to 1 John 2:15, it says Do not love the world or the things in the world. And so what we love is the key thing here.
And this love word is not eros, which is like the love of chocolate or the love of pleasure. And it’s not phileo, which is the affection for things. It’s agape. It’s the love of choice.
See, we have a choice as believers, as children of God, we have a choice whether to choose the world or to choose God, the things of the world or the things of God. And when we do that, we’re deciding who to love; and that’s who we will abide with. And if we abide in the world, we’ll get the consequences of the world. And if we abide in Christ, we get the consequences of Christ. Because although acceptance is unconditional, approval depends on what we do.
And if we do approved things, we get the great benefits. And we do disapproved things, we get terrible death.
James 1 tells us about this. It says we don’t have temptations that come from our circumstances. All circumstances are the same.
If you have great circumstances, say, “Boy, that’s going to pass away in a short time.” If you have terrible circumstances, say, “Oh, this is awesome for me!” Because circumstances don’t create temptation. Temptation comes from within our own hearts, in our own pleasures.
James 1 describes it this way: Sin is conceived, just like a baby’s conceived. And then it’s born, just like a baby’s born. And then it grows up, just like a person does. And then it produces death. And that’s the way sin works.
It takes a while until you see the full fruits. And that’s what happened to the younger son. It was going great for a while. Everybody liked him till his money ran out. And then he found out that his very conditional acceptance was not really much of a foundation.
Anywhere along there, you could say, well, he’s getting away with it! But sin always comes to full gestation.
The younger son’s death
And look at the death that the younger son experienced. He experienced the death of home. He was no longer abiding with those who loved him. His fellowship with his family was dead. His relationship was still there. He was still a child, but it wasn’t doing him any good. His career in the family business was dead. His connection to his homeland was dead. His inheritance was gone.
Finally, at the end, he was at risk of physical death; and only then did he come to his senses and realize I am almost all dead. And, at least, I can have a little bit of life.
His fellowship is fully restored, so he ends the story with a lot of life. But no amount of sin can squander God’s acceptance.
And here’s the question for us, as older brothers, are we accepting people as they are? Are we disappointed in people when they don’t live up to our standard? Or do we give people freedom and let them choose their own wrath?
There’s plenty of destruction to go around. We don’t have to wish any on anyone. A just but loving father is our greatest foundation, and giving the heart of the father to others is how we can actually have a church that says welcome home. Come abide with us.
The older brother
So let’s look at the main character in the story. We’ve looked at the excessively loving father and the excessively loving son who loved the wrong thing. He loved the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh.
But we also have a third son, and he was excessively loving too. He loved the boastful pride of life. And this is our problem as church people. He was angry and would not go in. And look what he says in verse 29, Luke 15:29.
‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; I kept all the rules! And you’re going to let some rule-breaker totally get away with it.
This is the acceptance of comparison. Because I am better than you, that proves to me that I’m performing at a level that I’m accepted. Now when we think that way, our acceptance—that we must have as humans, by the way. It’s a requirement that we have acceptance. We have to get it from somewhere. And what we tend to do is try to get it from ourselves. And when we say, “I’m better than you, and that makes me approved; and, therefore, since I’m approved, I’m accepted,” who are we getting our acceptance from? Ourselves.
And what is pride? It’s reliance on ourselves. And this is my problem. And this is the church people’s problem. Which is why I think this sermon usually focuses on the younger son. Because the younger son doesn’t typically go to church.
We have to have acceptance. We must have it. Maybe we’ll get it from a gang, where if we fulfill our role properly, we’re accepted. Maybe from a bar, where if we go and do what everybody else is doing, we’ll be accepted. Or a clique. Perhaps a team. A business.
Perhaps a church where if we go and follow the rules of the older brother, we can compare ourselves to others and say, “See, we’re okay, and they’re not.”
Know them by their fruits
Well, you may say to me, what about the verse that says they will know them by their fruits? Great question. Let’s just look at that verse.
Matthew 7:15-16, from the Sermon on the Mount.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
You will know them by their fruits.
You know what this verse is telling you to do? Judge me. Judge whoever stands here in the holy spot, and ask yourself, should I be listening to this person? Does their life measure up? It does not tell preachers to tell other people to judge others. It tells you to judge preachers. How about them apples?
Well, there’s another fruit inspection verse. Galatians 5:19.
Luke was telling me he sings this song to his kids in Sunday school. I got a kick out of this.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry.”
We don’t do it that way, do we? We focus on the good fruits. But these fruits are given to us for self-examination.
So you got two kinds of fruit inspections: preachers and me. There’s no inspection for others.
Well, what do we do as older brothers? Well, we take this list.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery—ooh, bad. That’s a bad one. If somebody does that, they’re bad.—fornication—really bad. —sexual immorality—Ooh! uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred—see how bad these people are?
—contentions—Well, sometimes that can be excused. We all know churches are well known for contention, but that’s just human frailty.
—outbursts of wrath—Well, yelling at the referee is just an important part of the game.
Selfish ambitions—You know, I had a guy tell me one time, if people aren’t good at anything else, they get involved in church politics, climb the ladder there.
We start excusing the ones of these that are hard for us; and we focus on the ones that are tough for other people. And then we all pat each other on the back and say, aren’t we wonderful? Because at least we’re not like them.
Well, that’s not the way this thing works. All of these things are fruits of the flesh. And if we’ll self-examine, what we can see is, oh, I have problems with the older-brother parts of this.
Unconditional acceptance; conditional approval
You know what that means? I’m a jerk. And I need to learn to start to accept unconditional acceptance from God instead of trying to do it for myself because it doesn’t work anyway.
It begins with receiving. I’m accepted. Going to stop trying to get accepted because I am.
And then it goes to giving. I’m going to give it to other people. I’m not going to excuse bad behavior, but I’m not going to excuse it in myself either.
Well, it ends with those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. So that means that anybody who does this is going to go to hell. Really? That means we’re all going to go to hell because we all do these things, at least some of them. Put envy in there, and you’ve got everybody.
But inherit the kingdom of God is talking about rewards. The young son in the passage lost his inheritance. The father says to the older son, “All I have is yours.” He didn’t get his inheritance back, but he got the fellowship back.
We can see this in Colossians 3:18 through 4:1.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them.
Telling you all how to live constructively.
Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.
And then we get to bondservants, workers. Obey in all things your masters, employers, according to the flesh, in the world, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, not just when they’re watching, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.
And whatever you do—whatever you do. Anything you do. Play golf, watch kids, change diapers, mow the grass, whatever you do—Do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance—Inheritance is a reward. And it’s a reward for obedient behavior. Because approval is not guaranteed. Acceptance is totally guaranteed. Who guaranteed it? Jesus, on the cross.
But approval requires good behavior. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men, Paul says, because we’re all going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive rewards for deeds done in the flesh, whether good or bad.
So if you do good deeds, you get a good reward. If you do bad deeds, you get wrath.
But we’re still sons. We’re still children. That’s not at issue.
And if we get this, then we can give it.
If we make our church a place where you’ve got to follow our rules to be accepted, we’re doing more harm than good. If we make our church a place that welcomes people as they are, where they are, understanding we’re all fleshly, and then urges and encourages and coaches them to live constructively for their benefit, and talks to them in ways they can hear, then we’re being the kind of home that this father had.
It’s God, and he had two failures: one that left and one that was at home and didn’t understand what he had.
So we shouldn’t look at the results of how people respond to our unconditional acceptance and conditional approval, our love based in truth and freedom. We should just do it. Let God worry about that.
Well, Romans 8:15-17 says For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God—
If you’ve ever had the Spirit speak to you, even to say, “Hey, that’s not a good thing to do,” that’s evidence. That’s sufficient evidence. You’re a child of God.
When people ask me my testimony, I often disappoint them because I’ve been a believer as long as I remember, so I didn’t have any point in time that I can talk about. I don’t know a date. I didn’t have an experience. I didn’t get struck on the road anywhere. That’s really disappointing to people because, I think, often, our faith is in a point in time. Our faith shouldn’t be in a point in time. That may be part of our experience; but our faith should be in the one who redeemed us. It should be in the Spirit and the Father.
And the question isn’t what day and time. The question is, who do you trust?
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
That’s an unconditional statement. We are children of God. If you had enough faith to look, you’re a child of God.
and if children, then heirs—So if we’re a child, we have an inheritance—heirs of God—God is our inheritance, no matter what we do, no matter how bad we are—and joint heirs with Christ, if—
So there’s two aspects to our inheritance. One part’s unconditional. Being a child of God can’t be messed up.
You can be a younger son that squanders everything or an older son that’s arrogant and prideful. You can’t mess it up.
But if we want to reign with Christ, we have to suffer the same thing Christ suffered. And what did he suffer? He suffered being killed by the older sons because he disappointed them.
And his response was, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
If we want to be his heirs, then we need to give other people unconditional acceptance; but stand for truth and speak the truth in love about what behavior is good for you, what behavior is good for me.
God wants us to reign with him, but it’s conditional
Revelation 3:21 says To him who overcomes—who wins, who conquers, conquers the flesh mainly— I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I—Jesus speaking—overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
There’s a family business. There’s a father who has a family business. He wants sons and daughters to come join his business. But the only ones he’s going to let have the responsibility to run that business are the ones who suffer the sufferings of Christ. That’s the greatest of all rewards. His family business happens to be running the new earth.
Well, most of us are the older brother, probably. I certainly am. And this is challenging for me. But I’ve been trying to do this since I came to my senses, since I went into my pit of despair and realized I’m a judgmental jerk, older brother; and I have tried to practice it since. I still deal with my flesh every day.
But I thought I would end by talking about a friend of mine. Many of you know him. I had him read this sermon and asked him, can I share your experience? And he said, yeah, go ahead. Use my name if you want to. I’m not going to use his name because I don’t want you to be thinking about the person. I want to be thinking about yourself.
But this guy actually got both the younger son and the older son. He kind of oscillates back and forth. He’s an alcoholic, and he also a struggles with pride.
And I have a lot of compassion for this guy. He reminds me of myself in many ways. But, you know, this guy came to a point in time where he finally admitted I’m an alcoholic and I need help. So I was part of a team of people that helped him go get rehab, and he got sober.
But he keeps lapsing because he has this thinking that, I’ve beaten it now, so I can go live like other people. Or he says, why shouldn’t I be able to reward myself with some alcohol like other people do? And all this kind of thinking.
And I had him read the sermon, and I said, you know, I want you to understand what I’ve tried to do with you. Because I’ve had some very hard conversations with him. You know, you’re a drunk. You’re killing yourself. Everything around you is being destroyed. I’ll help you, but I’m not going to help you if you’re not going to be accountable, is kind of the statement I’ve had with him.
And multiple times he says I’m done. I said, okay. You know, I’ll give you a couple days to make sure that’s really what you want to do. And he keeps coming back and says, no, that’s not what I want to do.
And this is what he said after he read this sermon. He said, “It really hit home with my current experiences. Romans 1 is so convicting. I’ve seen the giving over happen, and it scares me.” As it should. “Sin is nothing to play with as I once thought. It’s a cancer that corrupts everything and spreads within social groups.” Sin is something that doesn’t just affect us; it affects everything around us.
So, if we want to have the love of the Father, give people unconditional acceptance and approve only what is good, then we will have the welcoming kind of church we’re talking about. But if we do, we’ll probably be rejected like Jesus was; but that’s okay, because that’s suffering the sufferings of Jesus, and that’s how you actually win in life.