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Brotherly Loathe

• Greg Boyd

In the story of the prodigal son, the focus is typically on the younger son who runs away and squanders his father’s wealth frivolously. His sin is as obvious as his disobedience. The elder son is also relating badly to his father, but in a more subtle way.

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In the story of the prodigal son, the focus is typically on the younger son who runs away and squanders his father’s wealth frivolously. His sin is as obvious as his disobedience. The elder son is also relating badly to his father, but in a more subtle way.

Greg reminded us that the context is one in which Jesus is telling parables challenging the religious establishment to reconsider their relationships with God. The Pharisees and teachers of the law often assumed that their religious practices and good behavior secured good favor with God. The story of the elder son shows that this assumption is wrong.

Much like the Pharisees and teachers, the older son is relating to his father through a contract. He’s working hard and behaving correctly to secure his inheritance. He doesn’t seem to be in the relationship for its own sake—he wants to earn his rightful portion of his father’s wealth. So he’s especially mad about his brother wasting half of his father’s wealth and then being celebrated when he returns (which wastes even more)!

The father tries to encourage the older son to come and celebrate but he refuses. Instead he complains that he’s been slaving for his father and has never disobeyed him. It sounds like an attempt to prove that he’s worthy of what the father has to offer but the other son is not. Indeed to most of us, the older son’s behavior looks much better to us than the younger! It’s easy to see why he’d be mad. And this is just where the danger lies. We don’t relate to God through our hard work or our keeping the law, but rather through giving ourselves to him entirely so we can enjoy fellowship with God and share in all he has to give us.

The older son is every bit as separated from the father as the younger son was when he was eating with the pigs. Rather than the bad behavior creating the separation it’s the good behavior and the pride that comes from it that separates the older son from his father. But thankfully, the father pursues the older son just as faithfully as he welcomes the younger back into the family.

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Topics: Covenant, Judgment, Love

Sermon Series: Can't Stop the Love


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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 15:1-3

    Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

    Then Jesus told them this parable:

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