Jump Start # 2070
Luke 15:29 “But he answered and said to his father, “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends.”
My preacher gave a great lesson last evening about envy. He referred to our verse today and I want to stretch it out some more and expand upon some ideas found that are layered in this passage.
Our verse is found within the parable of the prodigal son. It’s late in the story. The remorseful prodigal has returned as a failure. Expecting the worst, he is surprised to receive the best. A celebration and a restoration as a son. The elder brother hears the music and happiness coming from the house. He fears the worst. His brother has returned. Fuming with anger, he refuses to go in. He’ll have nothing to do with this. The father, who had earlier ran out to the returning prodigal, now leaves the celebration to go out to the older brother and try to get him to join the family. He won’t budge.
Our verse are the words from the elder brother’s lips. He is whining, complaining and throwing his own party—it’s a pity party. The only song he hears is “Woe is me, my life is terrible.” Let’s break down his words and as we do, let’s look into our own hearts as well.
First, for so many years. He sounds like a prisoner. Years of laboring with his father. I thought long about that statement. I have been pretty much gone from home since I was a sophomore in college. There would be moments here and there but not much. My dad is now old, in his 90’s. I look back at our years together and there has been weekly phone calls. I’d drop in now and then. We had some golf outings and were always around at holidays, but I can’t say, “for so many years,” as the elder brother did. What a blessing to have a long and close relationship with your father. Imagine all the conversations they had. They piled up years of memories. The colleges I attended were in other cities or states from where dad lived. My jobs have been in other cities or states from where he lived. Life has just not made it possible for us to spend years together, and here is this elder brother complaining.
Second, I have been serving you. That really sounds like sour grapes and the message of a slave. Haven’t they planted together? Haven’t they built that farm together? Haven’t they made a living together? Father and son business. Most farms started out that way. One generation teaching and helping and then handing the keys over to the next generation. The father even says in response, ‘all that is mine is yours.’ You were working for yourself, not just me. You made a living working here. When there is an inheritance to divide, not only did the older brother get his share, but his work and labor made it possible that there was an inheritance. He saw no benefits in his service. He viewed the situation as free labor for his father.
Third, I have never neglected a command of yours. That seems to be really exaggerating things. Most of us, if not all of us, could not say that I always obeyed my parents. ALWAYS. NEVER neglected a command. Even if that was true, and I doubt it, he certainly didn’t carry a good spirit about it. He may have obeyed on the outside, but the inside was mean and disrespectful. Obeying the commands didn’t change his spirit. He wasn’t the character that the father was.
Fourth, you never gave me a young goat to celebrate with my friends. Now the violins play and we should be getting a tissue because we feel so sad for this poor neglected son. Have you noticed the double “never” in his statements. I never neglected a command and you never gave me a party. I slaved and I got nothing out of it. I worked and worked and I never got any appreciation. Then notice the contrasts in the menu. The prodigal was given the fatted calf. This would have been saved for special occasions, such as a wedding. The older brother mentions a goat. He gets the calf and I didn’t even get a goat. I got nothing. I never get anything. He gets away with murder and I’m left here to do all this work and he gets a party and I get nothing. It’s simply not fair.
The elder brother was blind to his blessings. He was jealous and envious. He gave no thought to his brother and he especially didn’t care that he was back. The elder brother stayed and worked, but his heart was just as lost as the prodigal’s.
This sad, sad song of the elder brother is still sung today. Preachers get this way. They are working through holidays. They are working all the time. Folks in the church are off on vacation, they have weeks and weeks off throughout the year for holidays. Many receive bonuses and extra benefits attached to their incomes and the pitiful preacher, stands in the shadow of this elder brother, singing woe is me. I work and I work. Elders can feel the same way. We work and work and work to get the congregation strong and the members come and go as they please and we are left holding up the walls and keeping the place going. We don’t receive any celebrations. We don’t even get a young goat.
Here’s what I say to that. I know that “woe is me” song, because I have sung it myself a few times.
First, no one made you serve as a preacher or an elder. You have done that by your choice. Don’t act like you are serving time in the state pen. This is a powerful and wonderful role of leadership that you have chosen to take. Lives are being changed by what you do. So, stop the complaining and stop the comparing of your benefits to that of someone in the congregation. There are many folks who would love to have the hours and the library that you have to study, teach and help others.
Second, like this elder brother, we can sing the sad song, “Look how many years I have been serving you.” The you is not the church, it’s God. What a blessing to be able to say that you’ve poured years into walking with God, knowing God, teaching His precious word and showing others the joys of grace and forgiveness. Decades and decades of preaching. Years and years of teaching. What a vast knowledge you have. What incredible insights you have. What strength you have. And, all of this comes by the very way you have done this, serving for years. There is no short cut. There is no fast track. Year after year. Teaching this quarter and guess what, you’ll be teaching next quarter. Over and over and over again. View it as a curse or count it as a blessing.
Third, this elder brother felt neglected. I never neglected a command he told his father, but I never received anything. But his father knew. He knew the hours and years of service that this son had spent on the farm. Likewise, God knows the hours, the years and the sacrifices you have given for Him. Heaven knows. You are not neglected, forgotten or being used. Sometimes some feel this way because of the way a church may treat them, but remember, we serve the Lord.
When the story ends, it’s the prodigal who came home. In many ways, he now wished that he had never left. The elder brother never appreciated what he had at home with his father. Jesus tells this story to Pharisees who did not appreciate what they had with God. Complaining. Comparing. Envious. Jealous. Negative. They missed what many Christians today also miss, and that is, a wonderful relationship with the Lord.
Stop saying, “I’m always teaching.” What a blessing that is. Audrie Clark and Mae Hoggatt were a couple of my fist Bible class teachers. I still remember. They probably never thought that someday that red headed boy would grow up and be become a preacher as I have. Years of service, dedication and love of the Lord makes lasting impressions. When asked to help out somewhere in the congregation, don’t immediately say, “Do I have to?” Think of the honor of serving. Don’t look at “what do I get from it?” but rather, look at the good you can do. One of those little boys that you teach may grow up and preach God’s word. Others may serve in the helping others in the kingdom. You are doing much more than just teaching a quarter class, you are setting examples, building faith and shaping hearts that may go on and do great things for the Lord.
I don’t know if the elder brother ever went into the house. This was a parable, not a real story. But, it is real because it is lived out so many times over and over again.
What a blessing it is to work along side of our Father for so many years.