This sermon is number 5 in a series of 6
The Father Heart Of God - Part 5
"Elder Brother Disease"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2015 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Good evening all! You're getting better each night at this singing, wonderful singing! It's great to see you here this evening, especially if it's your first time - and there are some folk I haven't seen all week, and I'm very glad to see you here tonight, and some friends who have come - thank you for attending. We hope that you are the recipients of a blessing. We have been in the presence of God this week, there is no doubt about that, as He has drawn very near as we've been looking into 'The Father Heart Of God'. We began on Sunday evening by looking at how Father's heart 'Beats With The Rhythm Of Grace', and we will be touching on that theme again a little bit tonight. Then on Monday night we considered how the Father Heart of God and His love is what this aching heart of mine needs, and yours, and indeed what this aching world needs - what everybody is crying out for and looking for, they don't realise it obviously, and they're looking in all the wrong places. But this is what we were made for: to have intimacy with our Heavenly Father, and when we don't get that we look in other places for intimacy. Then we saw on Tuesday evening how 'Father Flaws', deficiencies in our parental relationships, particularly with our fathers, can affect how we view God and whether or not we actually get through to God. Even if we are converted - how, at times, that can be a hindrance, because of what we have known of a father on earth, how that can be a barrier to His love breaking through into our lives. Last night we looked at 'Mother Wounds', and how it's not just about fathers, but actually mothers can affect us if they have not been everything that they should be before God. Last night, I think it was the first time for many of you, where you considered - and this is to whet your appetite if you weren't here last night - that within the heart of Father God there is a mother's love. If you want to know more about that, you need to get the recording - but, wonderful to know that whatever we have been deficient in, whether it's the love of a father or a mother or both, when father or mother forsake us the Lord will take care of us. Whatever you didn't get in this life through flesh and blood that you are related to, you can be overly and eternally compensated by your Father who is in heaven.
Tonight we're going to look at the 'Elder Brother Disease' - because a lot of folk don't see this, never seem to come to terms with embracing Father's love, and there is a real blockage in their life. Maybe that's you tonight, and some people have been getting through each night, and we have had wonderful things happening afterward in prayer ministry - but maybe you're still here, and you still feel that something is wrong. Well, we're going to read together, but before we do that - turn with me to Luke 15, get the portion of Scripture, and then once you've found that we will have a word of prayer, and then we will meditate upon what the Scripture is saying. We're back into the prodigal son parable, which I would rather call 'The Parable of Abba's Heart'. We have been there several evenings so far, but we're going to go back there again.
Let's pray, and would you pray with me please? The prayer is very simple, it is: 'Lord, speak to me. Lord, reveal Yourself to me'. If you're one of those people I've mentioned who isn't getting through or this isn't getting to you, well, tell the Lord that. Ask for what you need, ask for what you need, what you don't have right now and what you need - ask Him, and your Father in heaven, I believe, if it's according to His will, will hear. So let's say: 'Lord, speak to me and meet with me tonight'.
Abba Father, we do reverence Your Holy Name, and yet we come with such a deep intimacy, knowing that we are coming as children to an Abba Father in heaven. Lord, we thank You for what You've been doing these evenings, and how You've been softening our hearts in Your presence, and how You've been making us so receptive - for many of us to a love that we have never known before. Yet this is the love that You have ordained for us in Jesus Christ, and demonstrated in His crucifixion and His substitution for us as He dies our death and bears our punishment. Lord, we pray that that love of God would be shed abroad in our hearts again by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that whatever hardness there might be or callousness, Lord, whatever we have grown upon us like a skin of thickness that prevents You breaking through and hinders us loving You or loving others - we pray that tonight, Lord, You would do divine surgery upon us by the Holy Spirit, that You will take Your scalpel and that You will make an incision through which our pain can depart and our healing can come. So come, we pray, Lord Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, Heavenly Father, to minister to every need here this evening. May those who have hard hearts, and whose ears are blocked that they cannot hear - may this be the night that You will come and shake them to the core of their being, for the glory of Jesus we pray, Amen.
So tonight, as we look at 'The Father Heart of God', transforming truths from Abba's heart to yours, we're looking at 'Elder Brother Disease'. We're looking at verse 25, we will not read the whole parable - we've been in it a lot of the week. We are reading the end part, after the prodigal has returned home to the father, come to his senses, and his father has received him - not as a servant, as he had hoped it possibly could be, but as a son again. In verse 25 we begin to see the reaction of the elder brother: "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf'. But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him'. And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found'".
I think it was way back on Sunday evening, if you can remember that far, we emphasised that this parable is not about the one whom we have come to know as the prodigal son. It really isn't! He gets the popular press, but this parable is about God, it is about the Father - that's why I would like to rename it 'The Parable of Abba's Heart'. It's telling us what is in God's heart, particularly towards sinners. This has caused some people, some popular authors, to call this parable 'a parable about the prodigal God', rather than the prodigal son. Now some people are horrified at that, because we associate 'prodigal' with this fellow's wasteful, riotous, immoral living. But the word 'prodigal', if you actually look it up in the dictionary, has the definition 'one who spends or gives lavishly or foolishly'. Now, the young fellow did that with his inheritance and sowing his wild oats, but this parable is all about a prodigal God who lavishes the undeserving with love and grace. 'Oh, we couldn't use the word 'foolishly' about how God loves us' - well, actually the Bible talks about the foolishness of God. If you look at 1 Corinthians chapter 1, you will read there that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men. So God, as He is depicted here in this parable, He is a prodigal God.
However, another common mistake with this parable is not just to focus on the prodigal son, so-called, at the expense of the prodigal God; but to forget that this is a parable about two sons. When you look at verse 11 at the beginning, Jesus said: 'A certain man had two sons'. When we look at these two sons, we see the contrast between law and grace, between performance-based religious attitude toward God, and a loving relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. You see, if you miss this second son in the parable, you miss, I believe, the punchline - and boy does this punch pack a punch towards those who were questioning and challenging the behaviour of the Lord Jesus Christ toward sinners. You remember I pointed this out on Sunday evening, the context of these three 'lost' parables is found in verses 1 and 2, where the religious Pharisees, this highbrow sect in Judaism who wanted to bring every facet of life into line with the Old Testament law of Moses, they were horrified, scandalised and aghast at the fact that Jesus, this Man, receives sinners and eats with them. So Jesus tells this story of a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son to communicate the heart of God - for that's Jesus' job. He has come to reveal the Father: 'He who has seen Me, Philip', Jesus said, 'He who has seen Me, Philip, has seen the Father'. He was the Word of God, and a word is an expression of the mind in the heart. He is the express image of God Almighty, so if you want to know what God is like you look at Jesus - and here is Jesus touching the untouchable, here is Jesus purifying the unclean and the defiled.
The religious elite cannot handle it, they are horrified and scandalised - but this is Abba's heart. It is a stumbling block, it is a rock of offence to them. So the punch of this parable is directed towards this religious crowd, the exclusives. The elder brother represents them. But of course, they are dead and gone long ago - but you're here! I want to ask you tonight: could this elder brother be a picture of you? Is the elder brother a disease that you have as a heart condition? Do you suffer from this elder brother syndrome? I personally believe that this condition is epidemic in the church, especially in Ulster. I would go as far as to say that it is pandemic in the world, because religion is in the world and this is a particularly religious disease. We're going to focus on the church - religion is very popular in the world, the world is not agnostic or atheist, the majority of people in the world believe in some kind of God, and they suffer from this problem, the elder brother disease - but let's concentrate on the church and you.
In 2002 George Barna Research Group polled Christians nationwide in the USA to find out how widespread legalism was - that's people who are obeying rules and the law rather than having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit. Of course this applied to the American church, and the survey found that one in six surveyed by the statement: 'The Christian life is well summed up as trying to do what God commands. How would you respond to that statement?'. Of the one in six surveyed, out of them, if you agreed with that statement, 57% strongly agreed with it, 25% somewhat agreed, and that brings a total of 82% who were in general agreement with the statement that that is what the Christian life is all about - it can be summed up as trying to do what God commands. The only problem if you're in that massive 82% of general agreement, if you're in agreement with that statement the only problem is: it's absolutely wrong! That is not what Christianity is about, because that statement is performance-based. It's more about doing than about being, it emphasises rules rather than relationship with God. A clear reading, generally, of the New Testament teaches that we come to God by grace, not by law. This is what this elder brother character is showing us.
Now, I want to share with you in the time that I have: how to know if you are the elder brother or not. OK? Are you ready? Look at verses 25 and 26, the first thing that I want you to see about this elder brother disease is: there is no spirit of celebration. The older brother was in the field, and he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing, and he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. Now please note this: the elder brother was near the house, he is near home, but he couldn't understand, neither could he enter in to the enjoyment of the celebration for his brother coming home. Now that reminds me of the disciples, and particularly Judas Iscariot, not understanding the exuberant worship of the alabaster box and the spikenard ointment that the sinner woman broke over the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know that story in Matthew 26 verses 6 through to 9? The objection and the protest that is made is: "That could have been sold, that's very costly, it could have been sold and the money could have been given to the poor!'. Jesus had to reprimand them and defend that sinner woman. He said that what she had done, she had done for His burial, and would not be taken away from her. He went on to say that not only did the fragrance of that anointing fill the house, but in fact it would fill the world because, Jesus said, wherever the Gospel would be preached, this story of that woman and what she did would be recited.
You see, such hilarious giving, such extravagant worship is prodigal. It appears to be wasteful, some think it to be foolish, it certainly is lavish and spends all - but it is something that Christ is pleased with. Not only did the fragrance of that perfume fill the room, it filled the world! And it's still filling the world! But you see, there was a religious stuffiness and stiff-shirtidness with these disciples that we see within this elder brother. Let me tell you something: it goes far beyond reverence and godly fear - this is Les Miserables, misery. Have you ever encountered this? Miserable Christians - is there such a creature on the face of the earth? They are miserable themselves, with all their religion, and they are not content until the whole world is miserable along with them. So this form of 'Christian', they police others by externals, which is the easiest way to police anyone, and they frown on others who express too much joy. They will tolerate you feeling happy, just don't show it! Charles Swindoll calls them 'grace stealers'.
Now, remember I asked you Presbyterians the other evening what the answer to the first question in the catechism was? What was that answer? The chief end of man is to? Yes, to glorify God and enjoy Him - enjoy Him! Remember I said that evening that if it was written today, probably there would be a bit of pressure to drop that word 'enjoy'. It gives the wrong connotation, doesn't it? Not that Presbyterians would be like that or anything, I don't mean that whatsoever! But God wants to be enjoyed! There is something wrong really - and I'm not saying we won't face persecution, that is coming and it's coming big-time, and I'm not saying that your life will be always 24/7 filled with happiness, and some preachers are giving that impression wrongly - but there is a joy deep down in the midst of the storms in the bowels of the boat that we can have as Christians that transcends whatever is going on outside us. God wants to be enjoyed, but there is something wrong in our hearts - and it may indicate the diagnosis of the elder brother disease if we are not enjoying God, and we don't like others enjoying Him too much either.
Do you remember in Galatians chapter 4, they had got sucked into legalism, law, and Paul says: 'You group of Christians at one time would have plucked your eyes out and given them to me' - because probably he may have been shortsighted or badly sighted - and they were so exuberant in their love and sacrifice, they were so joyful that they would have done that at one stage. But Paul had to say to them: 'Where has all your joy gone?'. You see, it had got eaten up with this disease.
If you look at verse 26 you see that he doesn't understand what's going on, why there is this party. He calls the servants and asks: 'What do these things mean?'. He didn't understand the people enjoying themselves, he didn't understanding them getting excited - and do you know something? There are some long faces that attend churches on a weekly basis, and sometimes on a nightly basis, and they really can't understand people enjoying themselves in the presence of God - and they would like to censor it. If that is you, even secretly in your heart, it's probably because you've never seen into Father's heart. You don't understand these Christians that get excited, maybe you are a person that is more interested in getting things right, than what we read in verse 32. Look at verse 32, the father says to this elder brother: 'It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found'. This is what was right: rejoicing! Does the Bible not say that all heaven rejoices over one sinner that repents? We would need 100,000 sinners to repent for some of us to get excited, would we not? Even some of us would think it is unbecoming and unseemly to do such a thing in church as get excited - and when you're sitting in front of the match on a Saturday, boy do you get excited! Do you not?
Friends, listen: on one occasion this Jewish pharisaical spirit tried to silence the crowds on Palm Sunday that were welcoming in their King, their Messiah. It may have been very shallow, but they were quieting them down - 'This is unbecoming, this is unseemly!'. Jesus said: 'If they do not cry out, the rocks will!'. Do you have a spirit that cannot celebrate? Look at verse 27, even after the explanation: 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf' - now, remember, this was the servant explaining to this elder brother, this elder son - even after this he just doesn't seem to get it. I have questions about the Bible when I'm reading things, I hope you ask questions too - and I'm saying: 'How did he miss all this happening?'. I mean, he was out in the field and he was busy and all, but how did he not notice that his brother who had been gone for - we don't know how long - was now home? Obviously he was on the father's property, he was in the father's household, but he wasn't close enough to the father to know what was actually taking place. It's ironic here, to me anyway, that the servants seem to be more clued in about what was happening in father's house than one of his sons. I think there's an application there, because it's amazing that sometimes people outside of the church, people in the world we might say, see through religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness quicker than we do in all the trappings.
Sometimes folk outside God's Kingdom get unconditional love quicker than we do. Do you agree with that statement? Do you? Don't be afraid to now, nobody's going to throw you out - well, I'll not throw you out anyway! But listen: I've got Scripture for that - have you ever heard of the parable of the Good Samaritan? Do you know what the parable of the Good Samaritan was teaching? It was another punch in the jaw, metaphorically speaking, to the Pharisees - because they felt that there was no one more despicable than a Samaritan. Remember what a Samaritan was, they considered them as mongrels in a religious and ethnic sense. They were mixed not only in race, but in religion, and they were idol worshippers and had a false way of worshipping God way up there in the North - OK? So the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, and Jesus tells the story of the priest and the religious Levite going past this man who is lying beaten at the side of the road on the road to Jericho, and who is it that stops? It's the Samaritan! He takes him on his horse and he cares for him, and he takes him to the inn and he pays for it - and you know what the Jews' reaction was? 'This is not possible, that could not be! This is not typecasting! Samaritans are wicked people, they are unclean, they are religious mongrels!' - but Jesus was saying: 'They, with all their supposed error, according to you, can show more love and compassion and more of God's heart than you do with all your truth'. That's what Jesus was teaching: 'Someone that you despise and think is unworthy, and is not right with God, they can be nearer to what I'm teaching than you are, and you've got the truth'.
The good Samaritan got it. How is your spirit of celebration? How is it? Be honest now. Now I'm not saying that you have to take on somebody else's personality for your temperament, I'm not saying that; and I'm not saying that you should be all, 'Oh, look at me, and what I'm doing' - but here's what happens: do you see when you get caught up with God and God alone, you don't get self-conscious about what other people around you think. In fact, you just lose everybody else in the presence of God, and all you care about is God and getting bathed in His love and responding to Him - that's all that matters. So you're not doing anything to impress anybody, and you're not doing anything to embarrass anybody, and you're certainly not doing anything to say 'Oh, everybody look at me, how wonderful I am'. You're forgetting about yourself, you're forgetting about everybody else, and you're focused on God. Can I say that if all of us were like that, we wouldn't be seeing what anybody else was doing - isn't that right?
Have you got a spirit of celebration? If you don't, it might be because you're an elder brother or sister. Something else: his devotion was expressed through anger. Look at verse 28: 'He was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him' - wow! Nobody is questioning the elder brother's devotion here. It's very clear, as we will see later on, how hard he is working in the field for his father. But I believe it was easier for the elder brother to be a slave in the field than to be intimate with his father. That's a profound statement: sometimes it's easier for you to do all this Christian work than have intimacy with the Father, because intimacy with the Father will open us up to the woundedness that is in our heart, to the issues that need to be dealt with. Sometimes some folk submerge themselves in alcohol and drugs and promiscuous living, but there's a whole lot of folk that submerge themselves in religion, and the evangelical type as well. 'Keep yourself busy and you'll forget all those painful things!' - but when you come into contact with the intimacy of the Father, He begins to heal the hurt. But, you see, the hurt has to come to the surface.
You remember 1 Corinthians 13, that great wonderful purple passage on love. Paul told there that you can be highly spiritually gifted, you can speak in the tongues of men and angels, you can prophesy, you can have faith that moves mountains at your word, you can be so loving and charitable that you give all your possessions to the poor, sell everything you have and distribute the finances, you can even be a martyr and give your body to be burned - but if you don't have love, you're nothing. Well, let me ask you very simply: are Christians known here in Ireland for their love or for their anger? Now, let's be honest. What are you known for? Be honest now. Now, maybe I shouldn't be saying this in the church, but I like Frank Carson - is that a sin? Not yet, hopefully it's not a sin yet! Now I'm not saying everything he said or did was right, but he was a funny man, you've got to give him that! But he was a profound man in some of the things he said, and here's one statement of Frank Carson's - he said: 'There's too many Catholics in Ireland, and there's too many Protestants in Ireland, and there's not enough Christians'. I say 'Amen' to Frank Carson on that one. Too many Protestants, too many Catholics, and not enough Christians.
Jesus said: 'By this they shall know that your My disciples: that you love one another'. It used to be in the early church that people pointed at Christians and said: 'Behold how they love one another!' - and what are they doing now in our nation? There are saying: 'Look at these Christians!' - and it's not just a Roman Catholic/Protestant thing, it's in all the denominations - at one another's throats! Even in individual churches! Why is it that we cannot get on with one another? Sometimes we pride ourselves - and this is what I'm getting at - that our devotion can be expressed through anger. This elder brother was angry, he didn't get this celebration stuff, and he was so angry that he wouldn't go in.
Now, don't misunderstand me, there are things that we ought to be angry about. But how do we express our Christianity? Do we express it with angry aggression or with loving compassion? Are we defined by what we are against or what we hate, or how we love people? That's the way it's meant to be - but the elder brother disease, this is a symptom: it expresses devotion to God through anger. He was angry and would not go in. No spirit of celebration, and devotion through anger.
Thirdly: his self-righteousness led him to separate from his family. Do you see what it says here in verse 28? He would not go in! Have you ever heard that before? Have you? Have you ever heard any Christian say: 'Oh, I wouldn't go in there! Oh, I wouldn't go to that place!' - what? Now I'm not suggesting that you should have no discernment, I'm not suggesting that you should be a baby Christian that just puts everything in your mouth that lies on the floor and that has 'Christian' written on it. We've got to trust the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and guidance, but we've got to also beware that we can have a self-righteous attitude that leads us to divide from those who are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever the name is above the door of the building that they worship in.
You see, there are three aspects of legalistic pride. The first is traditionalism - do you know what that is? Now listen: there is nothing wrong with good traditions, there has always been an historic heritage in the Christian church and we need to be careful that we don't lose it. But traditionalism worships those traits that have lost their meaning now, do you understand? They were good traditions once, and they were brought into being because it was helpful and it was wise at the time, but now you won't let go of the thing even though it doesn't any more serve its purpose - that is traditionalism, and it's not of God. Jesus had to say to the Pharisees, who were well-meaning and they really wanted to please God, he said: 'By your own traditions, the traditions of the elders, you have made void the laws of God'. You see there can come a time where they actually cancel out what God intends, 'And so you tithe mint, and cummin, and anise', He said to the Pharisees, 'but the weightier matters of the law, things like justice and mercy and love, you leave those things undone. You're so obsessed about not drinking a gnat in your wine, and you sift it through your teeth' - that's what it means when Jesus said 'You strain at a gnat'. Have you ever seen anybody drinking wine through their teeth? Anybody drinking through their teeth wouldn't be a very pleasant sight - that's what these Jews did, they drank wine through their teeth so that the bugs got caught. Some of you might have trouble - no, I shouldn't say that! Do you understand why they did that? Because those bugs were unclean. But Jesus says: 'This is what you do with a gnat, you strain at a gnat, and you swallow a camel. You were worried about the wee gnat, and you're drinking in big camels of unrighteousness and you don't even realise it'.
That's what traditionalism will do: we get all uptight about these wee things, these man-made rules - not things in the word of God now, but man-made rules - and some of them have lost their meaning today, and we leave the things that God is concerned about undone. The second aspect of legalism is self-righteousness, which is obvious. We think of ourselves better than another, and that leads to the third aspect of legalism which is judgementalism. Traditionalism, self-righteousness, and then judgementalism. The elder brother was a judge, a critic, he was a haughty separatist. He was angry against what he saw as something that was wrong, and he would not go in and have fellowship with his brother nor his father. He built himself up by tearing his brother down. I want to tell you tonight: there are whole ministries and whole organisations, that are built on this foundation of putting themselves, exalting themselves, by criticising others and pulling them down.
Look at verse 30, this is the elder brother speaking: 'But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him'. He was so bitter, you can feel it, can't you? Do you notice this: what does he call his brother? 'This son of yours' - he had such a root of bitterness, that he wouldn't call his brother his 'brother'. I heard only this week, and it's not related to anybody here tonight - I hear it regularly at times, and it grieves me, but I heard it again this week - about a true brother saying to another brother: 'I can no longer have fellowship with you because...' - and if you knew the reason, you'd probably roll around on the floor laughing. It's not funny, but it's so utterly ridiculous. This is what I'm talking about, where we can't call our brother 'our brother'. Listen, I'm going to tell you what I believe the Bible teaches: if someone has repented of their sins and believed the Gospel, I don't care what their background is, I don't care where they're still worshipping, they're my brother or they're my sister in Jesus Christ - and I need to reach out my hand and receive them and give them fellowship. I don't wait until they're like me till I do that, alright? Not until they're a Presbyterian, or a Baptist, or Brethren, or whatever label you like - no! No matter what they are or what they have been, if they are a disciple of Jesus Christ and desiring to follow Him, I need to encourage them, I need to build them up, I need to edify - not pull them down and wreck! Any fool can wreck a thing or wreck somebody.
'This son of yours'. But here's a lesson: if we don't know how to truly receive grace from God, we won't be able to offer it to other people. That's a lesson if ever there was one. You see, if you haven't a heart that has seen into Father's heart, and you know that it beats with the rhythm of grace, in all likelihood if you have a performance-based relationship with God, everybody else will have a performance-based relationship with you. So they have to live up to your standard before you can give them the imprimatur, and say: 'Ah, they're a good fellow, they're a good Christian, they're a proper Christian now - they're the real thing, them boys'. Until they let you down, and you hear about them doing something that you wouldn't do - you become the standard. Because you have a performance-based relationship, that's the way you think God is with you, He's looking down and thinking: 'Now come on, you can do a wee bit better now. Oh, that was bad, pull your socks up! Oh, what? I told you about that before!'. You think God is up there doing that, and that's the attitude - as I said the other evening, you become like the God you worship. So if you have a performance-based relationship with God, you will have a performance-based relationship with your brother.
Isn't it amazing, Jesus was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners - yet He never had a standoffish attitude. Isn't that remarkable? Jesus was never holier-than-thou, and yet He was the holiest of all. Now, what right have you to look down your nose at anybody else, whatever they're doing, if the Son of the Living God didn't? Let me ask you a question: would you rather be right than have a relationship with God and have a relationship with your brother and sister? Because if that's you, you've got a problem. How you relate to others, even those that you don't agree with - particularly those that you don't agree with - says a lot about how you actually relate to God. We can all disagree, but we can disagree agreeably. The elder brother demonstrated a far greater concern for laws and lives - and that's the mark of a legalist: getting it right! Being right is more important than relationship: 'Here I stand, I can do no other'. I know a good fellow said that, but you know sometimes we can be so isolated in our self-righteousness. He was right, thank God he was, but sometimes we say that about absolutely two flies crawling up a wall, or what colour the kitchen should be painted in the church: 'Here I stand, I can do no other'. We're nailing the thesis to the wall every 24 hours about issues - this was the Gospel Luther said that about! The big issues today are the issues that we are not getting hot and bothered about.
With you, like the elder brother, is it more about saving face than saving grace? Have your convictions become restrictions for you and for others who share them? Is your freedom in Christ being robbed? He had no spirit of celebration. His devotion was expressed through anger. He was self-righteous, and it led him to separate from his family. Fourthly: he condemned the sins of the flesh, but he condoned the sins of the spirit. Look at verse 30 again: 'As soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him'. You remember there were two sons in this parable, one was rebellious and this elder one was religious. Can I say, as Neil Anderson says: make sure that you get the prodigal to the Father before the elder brother gets to him. Make sure you get the prodigals to the Father before the elder brother gets to them. The prodigal was guilty of the sins of the flesh, the obvious ones let's say - harlots, drunkenness and all the rest, revelry. But this elder brother was guilty of the sins of the spirit, the not so obvious ones. I did a series once on 'Sins We Have Sanitised', sins that we have made acceptable to us. Often they are not the external things, the dirty things we might think of, but they are internal.
Let me show you, 2 Corinthians 7, turn with me to it. Keep your finger there in the prodigal son, 2 Corinthians 7 verse 1: 'Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh' - that's the prodigal - 'and the spirit' - that's the elder brother - 'perfecting holiness in the fear of God'. Sins of the spirit, things that other people can't see. You see, legalists can police the outside. You know, if you're lying drunk in the gutter in Magherafelt or Cookstown on a Friday night, well, that would be you finished in the church, that's it! I'm not saying we should be going about doing that, but you can be sitting in the pew, and you can be in a position in the church, and you can have a root of bitterness in you for 25 years - but you think the boy in the gutter with an addiction problem is worse than you. You need to think again. You that are slandering and backbiting, spreading rumours, getting in the way of the work of God.
Let me show you. Do you remember the 'Top of the Pops', we have a top ten list of sins - and they aren't God's top ten. Turn with me, please, to Proverbs 6 verse 16: 'These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look', there is number one - top ten, number one, a proud look. Have you ever seen a proud look in church? What? That's probably the best place to go and look for it! Go to a business meeting, you'll not know where to look for proud looks. I'm not being facetious, I've been in them. A proud look, 'a lying tongue', you can go to the same place if you like - a lying tongue. 'Hands that shed innocent blood', now you remember that you don't have to actually literally kill somebody to have murder in your heart. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that if you just hate your brother, that's enough. 'A heart that devises wicked plans', Christians would never do that! 'Feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies', and look at this, 'and one who sows discord among brethren'. One who sows division among brothers - God hates it! It is an abomination to Him!
Now unless I'm reading a version that drops verses out here and there, there is no mention of adultery here, there is no mention of drunkenness, homosexuality isn't mentioned in this list. Now I'm not saying those things aren't big to the Holy God of Heaven - sin is sin, and we have to be careful at comparing them - but these are the things that really get God going. So why are they the things that don't bother us? Why is that?
Finally, ultimately the elder brother's condition stemmed from wrongly relating to God, verse 29. Back to the prodigal in Luke 15, verse 29. His lack of a spirit of celebration, his devotion that was expressed through anger, his self-righteousness and separatist attitude, his condemning of the sins of the flesh and condoning the sins of the spirit - they all stemmed from him wrongly relating to God. Verse 29: 'He answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends''. I said to you the other evening, this older brother was relating to God more like an employee to an employer, rather than relating to God as a child to his father. Now, you might get on with your employer, and God bless you if you do; but it's a totally different relationship than you ought to have with your Dad. Is that not right? Who talks to their father like this: 'Oh, I've served you these many years, and you never rewarded me'? He was wrongly relating to his father, and this is the elder brother disease of wrongly relating to God on a performance level, and all these other symptoms come from it. These two sons are very different, and yet they are very similar. One was rebellious, the other is religious; one was a miserable lawbreaker, the other is a miserable law keeper. But the problem with both of them is the same: they really never knew the heart of their father, neither of them! Both were self-centred: one in sins of the flesh, the other in sins of the spirit - but the father loved both of them in spite of their flaws. These two sinned in very different ways, but their solution was the same: the love that is in the father heart.
Whether you're a wayward prodigal or an elder brother tonight, the answer is the same. Now maybe as God's Spirit has been brooding in this meeting tonight, you feel like you maybe are an elder brother? I believe, by the way, that there is an elder brother in all of us - so nobody should be getting off the hook tonight. I believe there is a Pharisee in all of us, I believe there is a legalist in all of us. But I want to tell you tonight: if you have identified that this describes your photofit, in God's eyes that's not how He sees you. Now listen, I want you to hear this: even if you're displaying these symptoms of this disease, that is not - if you're born again child of God - that is not the way God sees you. This father saw him still as a son, look at verse 31: 'He said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours''. You see, the elder brother didn't know what he had in his father, and he wasn't enjoying what was already his. You see, the elder brother already had the love of his father - look at that in verse 31: 'all that I have is yours'. He already had it! He didn't need to keep trying to prove himself and earn it!
You're here tonight, and even if you are displaying these character traits of the elder brother - listen, you need to hear tonight: just quit! Stop! Stop striving, stop driving, stop trying to earn, and enjoy what you already have! You see, this is the secret: when you know whose you are, you're a child of the Father, you will begin to understand who you are and then you will know what to do. You see this elder brother didn't understand the love that was in his father's heart, he didn't know that he was the son that his father thought him to be, and so he tried to perform to earn his love. Yet all the time, all that the father had was already his. The tragedy is: he could have used his father's resources at any time. Would you go back to verse 12? Look at the beginning of this parable, the younger son said to the father: 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me' - now, read this, read your Bible - 'So he divided to them his livelihood'. Did the prodigal son get it all and waste it all? No, he divided equally between the elder brother and the prodigal his livelihood. So this son had his inheritance: 'All that I have is yours', and furthermore this son actually stayed in father's house - but it was his anger and his pride that kept him away from father's heart.
You could be in Father's house tonight, you could be saved, and you could be in the household of faith and worshipping - and I don't care where - but you could be considered by all and sundry and yourself as right with God, but you're not seeing into Father's heart because of elder brother disease. Both these sons were in father's household - and you know the story is often preached is a gospel message, and I have done it and continue to do it - there's not a problem with that. But this story is really about the restoration of a true relationship with God, not the start of it, but a relationship with God that was somewhere at one point - the prodigal was at home, and this elder brother was in the house, but he wasn't really getting through to God. This story is all about how wayward people and religious people can have true relationship if they could only see into Abba's heart.
I don't know whether you've ever noticed this about this parable, but it's open ended - do you notice that? We don't know whether this elder boy ever gets it, we don't know whether he falls down at his father's feet and says: 'I didn't realise all I had, and I'm sorry for being so hardhearted and trying to earn'. I don't know how it ended for the elder brother, but how will your story end? Let us pray.
I just want to take time now in the presence of God. People are dying, not for laws, but for grace. They are dying to know the Father's love. Here in these Pharisees was a crowd of people who knew their Bible, but they didn't know their God; they knew their Bible, but they didn't know the heart of God. Our churches in our land are filled with well-meaning Christians with mountains of Bible knowledge, but with molehills of knowledge of God's heart. You could be one of them here tonight. Now I'm not going to ask you to respond if you're a Pharisee or an elder brother - but if you want to, you should do. But as I said: there a Pharisee in all of us, there is some part of us that tries to earn God's favour and doesn't rest in grace. If you're a person who has realised that its grace and grace alone, and God has spoken to your heart tonight - you mightn't even be a Christian yet, but you've been trying to earn God's favour and buy your salvation. I don't care where you are on the road, as long as you've got it tonight. Maybe you've been a very legalistic family, or the version of Christianity that you got injected into you when you were young is of this ilk and you're finding it a bondage to break away from, and you can't get through because of all that stuff - but you want to break through tonight and truly know the heart of God.
Where you are seated, while heads are bowed and eyes are closed, is there anyone who will acknowledge that God has spoken to them tonight, and they want to open their heart - no matter how hard it might seem to be - you will prise it open and let the grace of God and the love of Abba Father flood into it by the help and power of the Holy Spirit? Would you raise your hand just where you are seated? God bless you. God bless you. God bless. There are people raising their hands throughout the building, is there anyone else? God bless. God will honour you for acknowledging your need tonight. Anyone else? God bless you. Anyone else? God bless. God bless. We're not going to prolong this, but we want to give an opportunity for you to respond to the word of God. People in leadership, people in ministry - is there anyone else?
Now let's pray, and you respond to the Lord, you who have acknowledged your need. Just confess to the Lord - what is your sin? Self-righteousness? The Bible says God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, so humble yourself and God will not be able to resist you. He can't resist someone who humbles themselves. Confess your sin, whatever it is. Maybe you have been hurt - and we've all been hurt if we've been hanging about church for long enough - and there are probably people we need to forgive. Maybe an elder brother has hurt us, and we have become that elder brother or sister, because we have hardened ourselves to others lest we get hurt again. Maybe we have a critical spirit, maybe we censor those who are happy and excited in God - maybe we don't even realise we're doing it, but we are cursing them. Do you know that can happen? Out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. We can be saying: 'Oh, give them a few months, ach, they're young young now, wait till they hit life - boy, that'll knock that nonsense out of them!' - that's a curse. You're wishing them ill. We need to repent of these things. Maybe it's anger, you have been angry - and maybe things have been done that are wrong. Wait till I tell you: ministers, elders, leaders in churches make mistakes all the time - amen? Because they are human - and, newsflash: you make your own mistakes to! The half of you - I shouldn't say it, I'll not say it. You need to pray for your leaders, not slander them. 'If all the breath thus vainly spent, in heaven to supplication was sent', imagine what would happen!
Repent, ask the Lord to forgive you, and - by faith - embrace His Father Heart and let it melt yours. Renounce the devil and all his works, ask the Lord to deliver you from any hold of bondage that the enemy has had over you, and ask the Lord now to melt your heart and set you free, melt your heart and set you free. Do it now.
Lord, I pray for everyone here tonight, that You may do a great work in all our hearts. How could any of us have pride when we consider the greatness of our God, and the humility of Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord? How could any of us stand beside the cross of Jesus and have pride or judgementalism, when there is a thief beside Him who cries for mercy and he gets it? When the soldiers around Him are piercing His hands and His feet, He says to them: 'Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing' - how could any of us have pride? Forgive me for my pride. Abba Father, You have again graced us to see into Your heart, and we have seen that there is a cross there. Lord, You have allowed us another gift: to see into our own hearts, and to see the Pharisee and the hypocrite there. May all of us tonight be able to say with the Apostle: 'I am crucified with Christ', that when we look in from now on we will see a cross in our hearts, and Jesus on the throne - that we may love our God with all our being, and love our brother and our enemy. For Jesus' sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Union Road Presbyterian Church in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the fifth recording in his 'The Father Heart Of God' series, entitled "Elder Brother Disease" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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