Who Are You? – Luke 15:11-32
The Parable of the Prodigal Son could have easily been called The Parable of The Elder Brother or The Parable of The Father’s Heart. The following account explains this comment …
As a prodigal, I too left home and squandered some of my father’s estate. I chose a place geographically removed from my family and disregarded every moral boundary. By God’s grace, this resulted in a loneliness and famine of spirit that led to my return. When I arrived at home, Father ran out to meet me; he embraced and kissed me. I wore the ring and the robe, enjoying a feast, the likes of which I had never seen. So how could such a blessed prodigal ever become an elder brother, estranged from his Father’s affection? The short answer is that, with his lies, Satan aspires …
to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Matt 24:24
If he can find an entrance, the enemy will still crawl over the fence and get into the sheepfold. One of those entrances is where a believer does not have a revelation of who they are in Christ. We are vulnerable when we do not know who we are.
Granted, in Adam, we are rebels intent on ruling our own lives, but there is more to our story. In Adam, we are also orphans, nursing a cosmic-sized rejection complex and identity vacuum. Even prodigals can become tantalizing morsels for demons when they compensate for their insecurity with deeds of righteousness, which they have labeled as obedience and think of as the proof of their love for God. After all …
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him. John 14:21
When the agents of darkness can maneuver a sheep into this corner of the pen, they don’t want to devour it. They want to keep it around to snack on; elder brothers are tasty. They are also strategic. Full of conviction and zeal, elder brothers will attract others. If they can recruit enough saints who are laboring to please God, for all the wrong reasons, they can reach a critical mass and redefine normal Christianity. Its not that difficult since insecure sheep compare themselves to each other and modify their behavior accordingly. Fortunately, Paul, a master in counter-spiritual warfare weighs in …
When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 2 Cor 10:12
A person whose identity is not secure will sell themselves cheap to whatever or whoever might ease the pain of their orphaned spirits. The church was the first community of people who told me I had worth and potential. What do you think this kind of hope is worth to an insecure soul? What was I willing to pay in order to belong? I tell you the truth – just about anything.
Even after my powerful prodigal-reunion, I still absolutely craved the approval of men. I wanted to hear someone (on earth with skin on) saying my name and telling me, “Well done.” Without my identity rooted and established in-Christ, I traded my religious labors for the kudos they could earn me. Even though elder brothers stay and do their chores, in their hearts, they can be miles from home.
Elder brother’s problems begin when they are very young. At the first sign of rejection (it might even begin in the womb), the soul cries out, “This must not be!” With its inborn survival response, the inner man scrambles for security. The personality is formed as the insecure heart finds those places which offer it the most safety from that threatening idea of worthlessness. Interestingly, the same wound produces both the extrovert and introvert, the manipulator and the manipulated. This process of survival is the birthplace of our many false selves. Even a Christian’s heart can become a wasteland if it is still asking “Who am I?”
The bondage of elder brothers is strong because they look great on the outside and they have supporting networks of people and programs, dependent on them, applauding and often paying for their labors. The light of the world is quite dim isn’t it, if it is being radiated for all the wrong reasons?
If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness ! Matthew 6:23
This is my story. Father had to come to this elder brother and persuade him to join the celebration. Just like the one in our parable, I pushed back. Even though I knew I belonged in the gathering , there were powerful things in me that were repulsed by this idea.
Why are elder brothers angry and offended? They may be jockeying for inheritance or they may be working on their image, uncertain of their own worth independent of their completed chores. Who are we really? We may never know, until we can be still and know God in the absence of our production. Our worth to God is intrinsic not conditional.
I could easily relate to the elder brother’s pain as he paused from his chores and heard music and dancing. I could relate to his anger and unwillingness to go in. I could especially relate to the Father’s appeal to his son and this son’s protest …
Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat.
Father had to speak to me about my attitude toward others, whose burden seemed light in comparison to mine. Why? Because I sat in bitter judgement over them. During this interview (which lasted a few years, in my story), Father exposed my heart’s “O”-list. Everyone who had ever Offended me by welching on their end of my performance-for-approval bargain was on this list. My heart had written off and condemned each of these people for their complicity in the unforgivable sin of alienating, ignoring, marginalizing or discounting who I was. In one form or another, every transgressor, real or imagined, had been written off and condemned. These people had not been forgiven from my heart. God himself, who seemed aloof and had permitted these unpleasant things (and others) to touch my life, was at the top of my list.
I had all the elder brother symptoms. I did my chores which were numerous. I was a teaching elder, worship leader and Sunday school teacher. In season or out, I did my chores. Oh yes, I saw Father approaching but I was in no mood to talk. I was angry and depressed and had no clue as to why. Today, in retrospect, my vision is clearer. Here is a sampler of some of my misshapen elder-brother logic …
“Oh well, what’s a little depression? I may not exactly be filled with the joy of the Lord, but my works are evidence of God’s presence in my life.” And my anger? “My anger is only natural, given my circumstances.” Bitterness and resentment? “These are mere attitudes which I can better manage with some recommitment.” Moving on … Judgements against others? “These Philistines and Cretans are deserving of whatever God dishes out to them. I wash my hands of them all.” About this time, having no clue who I was, I probably looked like a chocolate-coated Ding Dong or a Frosted Twinky to the powers of darkness.
The brothers in this parable shared more in common than they probably knew – a complete misunderstanding of their father’s heart. Astonishingly, contrary to our vision of God, the Father’s affections are never cut off by debauchery, nor are they enhanced by performance. They were his boys. Their lives could not alter the fact that they were the beloved sons of an exceptional father.
Father, by all means, lead a host of prodigals out of sensual and indulgent sin. But also, by any means, rescue a host of elder brothers and lead them into the light of your love. Not only stock heaven’s shelves with these stories but publish them on earth for your name’s sake. Amen.
Note; You may blame or thank C.S. Lewis for the imagery of the demonic appetite for the human personality. This is borrowed from his book The Screwtape Letters.