Luke 15 gives us a unique perspective into how people get lost. Some are lost like a sheep – they wander away. Some are lost like a coin due to neglect or the actions of another. Others, like the prodigal, make the conscious decision to go to the far country. But what about the older brother? Is it possible to be lost while in in the Father’s house? And if so, how would you go about bringing that person into the light?
If I read Luke 15 correctly, the old brother represents the Pharisees. While the tax collectors and “sinners” gathered around to HEAR him, the Pharisees “muttered” about the kinds of people Jesus welcomed into the kingdom. (In fact, something gets lost in the chapter break you might not have noticed. In the last verse of Luke 14, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In chapter 15 it is the “sinners” who gather to HEAR Jesus (verse 1), while the Pharisees voice their complaints (verse 2). The Pharisees speak, while others listen. They do not have “ears to hear.”
So here’s the question: How do you reach a Pharisee? It wasn’t until recently that I saw the wisdom of the Father as he reasoned with the older brother. While Jesus teaches us to pursue lost sheep, to fiercely search for lost coins, to wait, pray and welcome the prodigal back with joy and celebration, the Father takes a much different approach with the older son. He seeks to bring about change through patient instruction. He goes straight to the root of the problem. When the older brother says, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you,” the Father responds, “All I have is yours.” When the brother objects to the celebration, the Father replies, “We had to celebrate.” Jesus seeks to change his orientation, a paradigm shift of sorts. He compels him to see through the eyes of grace instead of duty.
In the Gospel of Luke, we see Jesus constantly seeking to bring about a change of perspective which reflects the values of the Kingdom. He taught, continued to teach, and taught some more (Luke 5:22-23; 6:9; 7:41-42; 10:36; 14:5). It is, therefore, my conviction, that if we want to change an older brother, it takes “great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2) over time to bring about a change of heart. It takes the kind of teaching that helps people evaluate their positions in light of Kingdom values.
Questions for discussion:
How are people lost like a sheep, a coin, a prodigal, an older brother? What is the best way to pursue each?
How would you go about changing a congregation of older brothers? (Consider the verses from the Gospel of Luke above. Notice Jesus’ use of questions to challenge inaccurate assumptions).
What are the effects of an older brother in the pulpit? How might you help bring about a change of perspective?
What guidance do the Scriptures give concerning the pursuit of lost people? (See 1 Thessalonians 5:14; Jude 22-23)