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The Older Brother: Justice over Forgiveness

July 19, 2011

The younger brother is the primary character of the beginning of the story in Luke 15. But the older brother is the primary character of the end. Let’s focus in on the end of the story together today.

When the younger brother returned, he was met with his father’s forgiveness and grace, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (v. 20). The younger brother was also met with his older brother’s plea for justice. Speaking to his father, the older brother said, “Look, these many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (vv. 29-30).

How do I see evidence of that same behavior in my life? When I refuse to forgive and call for justice instead. When I ask myself, “How will she learn her lesson if I am nice to her after what she did to me?” The problem with this demand for justice is that it is not ours to give. Isaiah 30:18 says, “For the Lord is a God of justice.” We cannot execute justice because we are not the ultimate Judge. As we learned yesterday, we often compare our “righteousness” to others’ “sinfulness” and think we are qualified to dispense justice. But only God is holy, and therefore able to be truly just.

(image from microsoft)

So if we aren’t called to provide justice, we are we called to do? The command we are given is to forgive, “Forgive so that your Father may forgive you” (Luke 11:25). When our desire for justice over shadows our ability to forgive, we sin. Forgiveness is not easy. Gary Thomas writes, “Forgiveness involves the total person–everything, in fact, that makes us human.” That is why he says it is a process by which we replace negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors with positive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors toward the other person.

Can you join me today by putting this into practice? If there’s an area of unforgiveness in your life, ask the Holy Spirit to help you forgive and not seek your own justice. The older brother disrespected his father and missed out on a relationship with his brother because he could not forgive. Let’s not make the same mistake.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2011 6:47 am

    “When our desire for justice overshadows our ability to forgive, we sin.” That is great food for thought. I’m beginning to think the American mindset, with its emphasis on justice, really hinders a true understanding of the gospel and full appreciation for what Christ did. We tend to see every situation as an opportunity for justice to be served. Everything else is a distant second….including forgiveness. It’s almost like everything hinges on justice, and without that, all else falls short.

    • Sandra permalink
      July 20, 2011 9:22 am

      That is true Natalie! We see it in every televised court case–people thinking they know the truth and pronouncing judgement so the person receives justice. Justice is a good thing, but forgiveness is even better.

  2. July 20, 2011 9:13 am

    As one who struggles with an ‘over-developed sense of justice’, I truly appreciate this reminder of grace…thank you.
    Blessings on the journey~

    • Sandra permalink
      July 20, 2011 9:25 am

      Blessing to you also Deb! Glad to know I’m not the only one. Lifting you up in prayer today!


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