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Are You The Older Brother?

other-brother

The reports of great Easter services yesterday are already coming in! One church plant, not even two years old, had 212 in attendance and ten joined. Another report of a church plant not yet five years old had a record attendance of 539 with six baptisms. Our church exceeded our average attendance by 150 and had 495 present on Easter. How did these reports cause you to feel or react? Were you able to rejoice or did it make you skeptical or envious?

In the story of the prodigal son there are actually two prodigals. One took his inheritance, squandered it, and finally came to his senses and returned home. When his father saw him he rejoiced and the celebration began but the older brother was not a happy camper. The older brother was angry and said, “Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends!” (Luke 15:29)

The real story in the parable of the prodigal son is actually the older brother. In context, these were the kind of people to whom Jesus was telling this story. The older brother was actually more lost than the younger because he could not see his lostness. His goodness and respectability had blinded him. Sadly, he was living with the father but was far from him. He was more concerned about keeping score of how others were serving more than taking care of his own relationship with the father.

The older brother serves as a warning to us that it is possible to obey God’s commands and be lost. It is possible to faithfully attend church, read your Bible, pray—and be lost! As you work for God you can appear to be very close to Him and yet actually be very far from Him. If you still need a little convincing then you should take a look at Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 18:9-14. The older brother did not have the same heart his father had!

How do you know if you are the older brother? Are there signs to look for that should cause us to repent and ask for the Father’s forgiveness? Maybe we are not the older brother but are acting like him at times. What should we look for? Here are things to watch out for to make sure our hearts are like the heart of our Father:

First, when you cannot rejoice when prodigals return home you are acting like the older brother. The father was dancing and celebrating but the older brother could not. There was no rejoicing in his heart because he was angry and believed he was justified in being mad. The issue was not that it made him mad but what he did with that anger. The older brother was seething because he had saved up this anger for years and now it was boiling over.

When you harbor and hold onto offenses over a long period of time they can lead to depression, ulcers, insomnia, and outbursts of anger. They give you a negative attitude and rob you of the joy of the Lord. The key is always to get before the Lord, admit our anger, and then ask Him to help us to rejoice the way He rejoices. If you are always skeptical when a prodigal son returns home you acting far more like the older brother than you are the father!

            Second, when you are constantly griping and complaining you are acting like the older brother. He says, “This son of yours!” He does not even want to admit that he is his brother. It appears that he does not want him back in the family and would just as soon go on without him. The older brother is condescending, proud, and faultfinding. He hears the music and wonders why he was not invited? He sees the celebration and is jealous that they were throwing a party for his brother and not for him.

How do you know if you have become like the older brother? When you are always negative. Especially about the things that makes our heavenly Father rejoice! Philippians 2:3-4 says this about jealousy, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” You can tell a lot about a person’s heart if they cannot rejoice when others are blessed and they are not!

Third, when you have a hard time forgiving you are acting like the older brother. Are you prone to holding grudges? Do you often think, “I may forgive but I will never forget?” Do you struggle with harboring bad feelings when someone has chosen the wrong path and then returns home? Are you actually sympathizing with the older brother and feeling like he is really getting a raw deal here?

Where do you start in this process of forgiveness? You need to grasp the enormity of your debt and realize it is much greater than you can even imagine. John Newton said this, “I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great savior.” Ephesians 4:32 states it clearly, “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. “ The heart of the father is to forgive while the heart of the older brother is to hold a grudge ‘til Jesus comes!

Healthy churches and healthy Christians rejoice when God does great things!