22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. 25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ 28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ 31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”
Not only did the older son have an angry spirit of grumbling and an inflated sense of goodness but he also had a:
- A faulty understanding of grace
The reason that the party was such an insult to the older brother was because he believed that he deserved more than the younger son. He thought he deserved a fattened calf, or at least a goat because he was the one who had been working hard in the fields and had kept all the rules while his younger brother was off living in rebellion. Christians who rely on following the rules often feel like they deserve some kind of recognition or reward for their service. So when the spotlight shines on those who have repented after living a reckless life instead of celebrating they complain. Their faulty view of grace causes them to focus on fairness instead of forgiveness. The older son’s faulty view of grace caused him to buy into the believed that grace was based on his work not God’s. As a result he made the motivation for serving God recognition and reward instead of relationship. Yes it’s true that God wants to reward us but that reward is based on obedience not obligation. The true motive for service is love not law. When we base our work for God solely on what we will get our reason for serving ends up revolving around a business arrangement instead of revolving around relationship. We end up believing that we can buy God’s blessing and because belief drives behavior it affects both our attitudes and actions. Not only did the older son have a bad attitude but he also acted like a baby, whining when he could have been worshiping. The problem is that whenever we start talking about what we deserve we end up leaving the realm of grace and step into the area of human performance. In Matthew 20 Jesus shares a parable to show us the true nature of God’s grace. It’s a story of a master who sends workers to work in his vineyard. He agrees to pay them a full day’s wage, so they start working at sunrise. At 9 a.m. he sends some other workers to help, and then at noon and at 3:00 he sends some more. Then, just before quitting time, at 5:00 he sends some new workers to help, too. Finally, the whistle blows and it’s time for the workers to receive their wages, starting in verse 8 we read these words: “Call the workers and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first. Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’ (sound like the older brother?) He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the ones who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my money? Are you going to get stingy because I am so generous?’” Matthew 20:9-15 The Message. To understand the true power of this parable we need to remember the audience to whom Jesus was speaking in the parable of the prodigal son, verses 1-2. There were tax collectors and sinners there, but there were also Pharisees. The Pharisees were those hyper-religious people, full of their own sense of goodness and they despised tax collectors. What Jesus was saying is that God the Father receives sinners not based on their merit but on His mercy. The Pharisees were trying to earn God’s acceptance, and Jesus was teaching them that they too needed God’s grace. Are you basing your righteousness on following rules or on your relationship with the Redeemer? There are many older brother believers, who have served the Lord for years out of a proud sense of their own religious purity. The problem is that you have forgotten what it was like to be lost, and you think you deserve God’s blessings. God’s grace is available to anyone who comes to Him in repentance. Righteousness doesn’t come from following the rules it comes from faith in the Redeemer. Remember the thief on the cross he didn’t do any works he just accepted the work. Do you rejoice with the Father when rebels repent or do you end up resenting? Do you find yourself grumbling and focusing on your goodness or on God’s grace? You have a choice you can pout or you party, what will you choose? Will you be the Christian caught up in complaining or celebration?