They say confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation. Well, God is leading me to step out and tell you a story that hits my “performance-based-acceptance” flesh patterns a little too close to home.
I was late to our Sunday school class, which means you get the privilege of walking in front of all those in attendance, and interrupting the teacher’s flow as you sit front and center. I hate being late. I am one of those that would rather be an hour early than a second late. As I took my seat I whispered to myself, “It’s not my fault I’m late.”
This particular class was about the Prodigal Son parable found in Luke 15. As the pastor on the video started to unpack the story, I rolled my eyes to physically declare my disgust at having to hear another Bible story that I have heard a thousand times before. I thought to myself, “I have gleamed every application this parable has to offer, I guess I’ll just check out and waste the next forty five minutes hearing what I already know.” The pastor skipped right passed the younger son and focused in on the older son. This peaked my interest. Something about the older brother’s response always intrigued me, but I wasn’t sure why. The Bible says the older brother was, “angry and refused to go in.” Why was he so angry, I thought? The older son was a “good” guy. He remained faithful to what the father asked of him. He obeyed the father’s commands. He was responsible, showed up on time, and could be trusted. He didn’t demand his share of the inheritance, rather he just kept showing up day after day, working FOR the father. I imagined the older brother getting behind the plow early in the morning and cursing his little brother, hearing that he was out blowing his inheritance on prostitutes and worldly pleasures. I imagined the older son having a level of pleasure when he would hear his little brother was slopping pigs. A sense of self-pride probably drove the older son to get up a little earlier than yesterday, and work a little bit harder today just to prove he deserved so much more than that foolish, wayward prodigal brother of his.
As I sat there thinking about the older brother’s loyalty to his father, and anger towards his little brother… the pastor nailed me by saying, “the older brother self-righteously believed he deserved better treatment from the Father than he was getting, and he also resented the grace the Father was showing to those he deemed “underserving”.” All of the sudden, the Holy Spirit turned a story I was analyzing with my mind… into a very gentle, and yet stern rebuke that pierced my heart. He revealed a self-righteous attitude that I have had towards so many of my life’s circumstances. It seemed as though the entire class faded away, and God was speaking directly to me through His Spirit.
The piercing thought… “I am the older brother”. So many times, I carry the same anger and resentment towards others getting what I don’t think they deserve. The ugliness of my self-righteousness overwhelmed me. Like the older brother, my mind was flooded with thoughts like… “I put the time in, I am responsible, I can be trusted, and I am working hard, so I deserve more!!!” Then the father responded to the older brother, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” It became clear why I have been seeing so much anger in my heart. I was fooled into thinking I had to “do” for the Father to receive His love. When someone else wasn’t “doing” what I determined as necessary in the Christian life, I was angry if they still “seemed” blessed. I want others to extend grace to me; however, extending grace to others was becoming something that I was only offering if they were making an effort to “do” things right. God used the reaction of the older brother to sting me in a beautifully painful way… it quickly reminded me of my own short comings and need of grace… it reminded me of my broken system of self-righteousness. The label of son wasn’t gained or maintained through the effort of the son. The son is a son because he is the heir of the father. “To redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” Galatians 4:5-7
If anger, pride and self-righteousness come out in your reactions to others, or even just stay in your mind; think on these verses below and pray, as I am, for the Spirit to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling (perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, fault-finding) and slander, along with every form of malice (all spitefulness, verbal abuse, ill-will).” Ephesians 4:31
- “because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:20
- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” Philippians 2:3
- “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice” Proverbs 24:17
- “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12
Your Fellow Heir by Grace,