With the help of Tim Keller and his book “Prodigal God” I have been fascinated with the often neglected important lessons from the older brother in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). I believe most people can possess the tendencies of both the elder and the younger brother. But I think it can be easier for Christians, especially Christians who’ve grown up in the church to become “proud” of their faith and to slip into tendencies of the elder brother. Here are five ways to work out if you are an older brother type:
- Older Brothers look to control God by being ‘good’
In the parable, the elder brother exposes his need to ‘be good’ and because of this goodness he lists his demands to God. Even our goodness can be a stumbling block if we think we can control God through it. Questions to ask:
- Do I never feel like I have done enough to earn God’s approval?
- Do I feel like God likes me? (an interesting question which bypasses the word love, because we all know God loves us!)
- Do I feel that God owes me because I have worked so hard for him?
- Older Brothers get very angry when life doesn’t go right
There are two kinds of anger when life doesn’t go well: I’m bad and I’m worthless OR I am valuable so God owes me. The Gospel says I’m very sinful and very valuable. Question to ask:
- Do I get angry at God when things don’t go well?
- Older Brothers hate the law but do it anyway
The older brother in the parable said things like, “I have followed your orders. I have slaved for you.” In other words the commandments he was given he did out of obligation not heart. Questions to ask:
- Do I follow the commands of the bible grudgingly really thinking that I am missing out on fun?
- Do I secretly see how close to the line I can get?
- Older Brothers look down on others
The elder brother can’t forgive. If you think you’re saved by works, you will think things like “I would never do something like that.” In reality when we understand grace and ourselves we understand that all of us are capable of all kind of sin. Question to ask:
- Do I struggle to forgive a brother or sister who has sinned against me?
- Do I think, “I would never do that!”
- Older Brothers lack joy
There was a party on offer and the older brother wouldn’t come in. Questions to ask:
- Do I spend my time angry at life, my circumstance or others?
- Do I know how to laugh and just enjoy God’s presence?
The good news is if you see some of yourself in the above I certainly do (at times) and we have a Father who hasn’t stopped inviting us into his arms—despite all the service and activities we hold up to prove our worth. He is our worth. As Capon wrote:
“Trust him. And when you have done that, you are living the life of grace. No matter what happens to you in the course of that trusting—no matter how many waverings, vices, indispositions, and bratty whining may cause you—you believe simply that Somebody Else, by his death and resurrection, has made it all right, and you just say thank you and shut up. The whole slop-closet full of mildewed performances (which is all you have to offer) is simply your death; it is Jesus who is your life.”