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Lessons from the Life of the Older Brother

July 18, 2011

A few weeks ago here at Scripture Dig we shared our favorite Bible characters. My favorite is Paul, because I can relate to his struggle with wanting a works-based salvation to realizing he’s the chief of sinners who is fully dependent on God’s grace. There’s another Bible character I can empathize with also. But he wasn’t a real person. He’s the personification of so many of us who grew up in church, following all the rules. He is the older brother in the story usually referred to as “The Prodigal Son.”

This week I’d like to take a fresh look at this story from Luke 15:11-32. But we will look at lessons we can learn from the older brother’s actions and responses. If you are like me, it will be convicting. But it is also a story of God’s grace–and that is always good news!

When we look at this story from Luke in its context, we see that the audience was not only a group of “prodigal sons,” but also “Pharisees and the teachers of the law.” It was the second group who was grumbling about Jesus’ relationship with sinners. So Jesus tells them a story about two brothers and their father.

“The parable of the two sons takes an extended look at the soul of the elder brother, and climaxes with a powerful plea for him to change his heart.” (Timothy Keller, in his book The Prodigal God)

The first lesson from the life of the older brother is a lesson the Pharisees and teachers missed when Jesus told this story–we are all sinners.

The “older brothers” in the audience were mad because Jesus was eating with sinners. Those sinners. People who do x, y, z….. Not people like us who do everything right. When you compare yourself to others, it’s easy to become prideful. You don’t struggle with the same obvious sins they struggle with. You make a check list that you know will make you look good:

Go to church- check.

Read my Bible- check.

Pray- check.

Volunteer- check.

Be faithful to my husband- check.

Love my kids- check.

And even on those rare bad days when maybe you don’t read your Bible or pray, at least you do it more often than that other guy. Maybe you did complain about your husband and kids to a friend, but at least you cooked them dinner and served it with a smile.

But God doesn’t judge you on a sliding scale. Matthew 5:48 gives His standard, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” So even on those days you’re feeling “better than _____”, you’re still not perfect.

The audience listening to Jesus’ parable that day didn’t get it. But we can get it. We can see through the wall between “us” and “them” and realize we’re all sinners. Sinners in need of God’s grace. When we realize that need we are able to experience God’s forgiveness and love.

Please have an open heart this week as we look at lessons from the life of the older brother. We can rejoice that not only did the prodigal son return to the open arms of the father, but that there’s room for the self-righteous older brother as well.


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