Just heard an excellent sermon by Tim Keller on the older brother in Luke 15 that I (once again) found deeply convicting.
All of us are familiar with the parable of “The Prodigal Son” from that chapter of Scripture. If you’re like me, my instinctual reaction goes something like this: “Lord, I know that in some ways I’m just like the younger brother who goes off and sins badly. Thanks for your grace for me.” And then I move on without it really sinking in because, deep down, I don’t think I’m all that bad. In fact, most days, I think I’m pretty darn good.
Maybe you can identify with me. I’m convinced that Jesus put the older brother in His parable for people like you and me – morally-decent, church-going people who ‘obey the rules.’ Often, though, we press through life without giving much thought to our real-time spiritual condition. So, here’s my ‘Older Brother / Sister Test’ based on Keller’s sermon and Jesus’ older brother:
- Is your life characterized by an undercurrent of anger? Be honest! Older brothers and sisters think their lives should go pretty well because they’ve worked hard and lived decent lives. The problem is, our lives never go the way we want them to. We do badly on the exam; our spouse doesn’t appreciate us; the same patient shows up in our ER with the same ridiculous complaints; our attending treats us badly. When that happens, older brothers/sisters get angry because they’re not getting what they think they deserve.
- Does your life display “duty without beauty?” In other words, do you do what you’re supposed to, but without real joy? Older brothers/sisters go to church, pray, do social justice/mercy, study hard, put up with difficult patients and give their money away, but it doesn’t give them much joy, especially when they don’t get the results they were looking for. They ask for lots of things in prayer, but rarely linger over God’s beauty and character, because God is mainly a means to and end for them.
- Do you quietly look down on people who aren’t like you? How do you feel, for example, about your classmates who aren’t doing well? Your colleagues who are in ‘lesser’ specialties or only completed ‘lower’ levels of training? Patients who’ve contributed to their illnesses? Older brothers/sisters look down on people who aren’t doing (as) well and judge them – however piously – because they’re getting what they deserve (so we think).
I hope all of you feel, with me, that you failed this test badly. When we admit our failure, we’re ready to embrace the Solution.
Yes, the answer, once again, is Jesus. Like the Father in Luke 15, He forgives outrageously bad younger brothers, who obviously need salvation, and people like you and me, whose need is less obvious but just as real.
We need to sit down with God and ask Him to search our hearts in response to the 3 questions above. “Show me, Father, where I’m the older brother/sister. Help me to find my value and worth based on You and what you’ve done, not on me and what I’ve done and not done.” As He helps us repent specifically, we will find our lives increasingly overflowing with joy, obedience for the right reasons, and humility toward everyone around us.