[The following article is an edited transcription of our audio teaching by John W. Schoenheit, Reaching Out with the Love of God Or Christianity: The Come as You Are Party.]
Christianity: the Come as you are Party
In this teaching, we are going to be talking about reaching out with the love of God because God reaches us with His love.
If I had a second title for this teaching, I would call it “Christianity—the come as you are party.” Why would I call it that when the subject is reaching out with the love of God? The answer is that Christianity is a come as you are party. When I think of myself and when I got born again—when I got invited into God’s family, I was eighteen years old. I had been an unbeliever for 18 years. When I became a Christian, I brought my unbeliever self—with all my hang-ups, all my faults, all my failures, and all my bad habits. I brought these into Christianity, and as I read the Bible and as I interacted with other people, I saw that I needed to change. A driving force was there behind that change. Something was there that motivated me to change, and that something in the Bible was love.
Sometimes as Christians we forget, especially when we are older Christians and have been in the faith a little longer. We exercise our senses to discern good from evil. We get so sharp on what is right and what is wrong. We see things that are wrong in other people’s lives, and it is so easy to go up and tell them!
Christianity is the come as you are party. They come to Christianity as they are, with all their faults and failures, and what do they sometimes get? “Well, you ought to change this. You ought to do this.” It sounds like criticism, and it is hard and harsh. That is not what we primarily get from God! The Word does speak reproof. Absolutely it does—no question about it speaking about correction; however, the way that it is done or the way that God motivates us is so powerful. He motivates us with love.
Let us take a look at this and see how it works. This verse is one of the defining verses of the Christian experience.
1 John 4:19
We love because he first loved us.
Wow, what a powerful verse! How many times in my life do I reflect on that—that my energy to love or my desire to love comes from the fact that I am loved. I know that God loves me, and He loved me first. He did not command that I love Him, and then when I did, He kind of warmed up to me. Not at all! He did not say, “Okay, you love Me,” and then He watched me with eagle eyes, and when I finally decided to love Him, He finally decided to become closer to me. Not at all! God pours out His love on people that are hard hearted, unforgiving, self-centered, and selfish. He pours out His love on all people, and then that love begins to warm people up and awaken them. It begins to get them to the point that they are willing to respond.
We are going to see this pattern in a couple of places in the Word. It is very important that we understand that God is constantly reaching out with His love.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
Notice it says that Christ died for the ungodly. It does not say that he died for the godly or the Christian or the blameless one or the righteous one.
Romans 5:7 and 8
(7) Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
(8) But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When I was still a sinner, an unbeliever, God reached out for me with His love. What kind of love? It is the kind of love that would send His Son to die. Why do I love Him now? Why did I love Him 30 years ago? Why? Because He first loved me. Look at the pattern there. God extends His love to unloving people, and that love warms them up, and they change.
I think of the number of times in my life that I have set up walls or set up barriers where I set up requirements of only extending myself just so far until I see that somebody is going to be kind or loving or friendly or gentle or at least like me, and only then do I begin to open up. Well, that is simply not what God has done. That is not the pattern that God has set. God demonstrates His love for us while we were still sinners in that Christ died for us.
Again in 1 John 4, we read that we love because He first loved us. Think of the Christian circles in which we move. Think of extending ourselves to see if we can witness to bring people into the faith, and when they come into the faith, they come in just as they are with all there unbelieving stuff, their attitudes, and their bad background. We do want them to change, and God wants them to change. How are we going to get them to change? How is that going to happen? It is going to happen when they feel loved. You see, people need to be understood, accepted, loved, and encouraged. They do not need to be judged. They do not need to be frowned at, scorned, and criticized.
I am beginning to see that it is instinctive that when somebody is doing something wrong, we want to run over and tell them how to get it straight. You have somebody you are working with in the faith or even around you—it works with your children or with your spouse or it works with your friend, and they are doing something wrong (even if it is a little thing), and instinctively we feel “if I tell them what is wrong, they will change.” The amazing thing is that what comes up inside of us as instinct can actually be counter productive. Think of yourself, you are doing something and you are blessed doing it. You are trying to do a good job; okay you are doing it wrong, but you do not really know it. Somebody comes over and gives you a rebuke, and tells you off, “You are doing it wrong, and you need to be doing it this way.” How do you feel? Do you say, “Well, great, this is super! I needed to be yelled at today because I really wanted to be right.” No, you will not do that. Even though you might appreciate the fact that you want to do that thing right, the way that it was handled as a reproof or a rebuke will only produce what? For most it produces defensiveness, and occasionally that defensiveness even shows up as anger. For others it produces a desire to withdraw or pull back from the person. It may even produce a defeatist attitude in some people. They would say, “Oh gosh, one more time—everything that I try is wrong, nothing ever works out.” It steals their energy and their strength. God does not do that to us. He sheds forth His love to us. When God does reprove or when God does instruct us, it is always in meekness. The Bible specifically says that we are to instruct gently.
Ephesians 5:1 tells us that we are supposed to imitate God. We are supposed to be like God.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
I am here living my life, and I realize that an area exists in which I am not very close to God. I read this exhortation that I am supposed to be an imitator of God, and what does God put right in the verse as a motivation to me? He puts in there that I am loved. He tells us to be imitators of God because you are a dearly loved child. What does that do to me? How does that make me feel? It makes me feel like “Yes, I want to imitate God.” You see, the warmth of that love is so powerful that I feel so accepted. I feel so safe that even before I am an imitator of God, I am dearly loved, safe, protected, and encouraged. I can now reach out and stretch myself. I can bring myself to a new level of imitation because I know that even before I reach that new level, I was loved.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
An exhortation is here for us.
and live a life of love,…
How am I going to live this life of love? Well, an example is there for us.
…just as Christ loved us and gave himself up
How is the love of Jesus Christ exhibited? How is it shown forth? It is shown forth because he gave himself. Nobody had more right from an individual perfection and righteousness point of view to stand off from the crowds than Jesus Christ. Nobody was in a better position to kind of put his hands up and pull back from people and say, “Whoa, whoa, nobody’s touching me. I’m totally righteous. I’m totally without sin. Come over there and talk with you, touch you? You might pollute me!” Jesus Christ never did that. If you think about how he walked with people, he was constantly showing forth God’s love; of course, the primary way that he showed forth God’s love is that he gave his whole life for us.
An exhortation is there for us. God does not say, “Be imitators of God; therefore, and go around reproving people so that they are straightened out. By golly, be an imitator of God by just watching out for everyone’s sins and make sure that you tell them about it loud and long because that way they will be obedient.” God could have done that; but of course, God does not work that way. You would not be an imitator of God if you did that! The point is that God is not saying to imitate Him by going around and pointing out other people’s faults and failures. They have got them, we do too, but we do not need to go around pointing it out. That is not the way to be a child of God.
Christianity is a come as you are party. Lots of people have lots of problems. We are not going to primarily help the Body of Christ if we walk around with our spy goggles on trying to find everybody’s problems. People are going to change when they realize that they are loved. We love Him because He first loved us. When I get His love, when I really understand how much God loves me it empowers me to want to please Him.
Have you ever thought about the natural instinct inside people to want to please? Have you ever seen little children and how they want to please? We are communal people. God designed human beings to be communal people. We like to be in community. We have an innate thing inside of us that makes us want to please. That is one of the reasons, by the way, that when you come down on somebody and reprove them harshly and shout at them, even if you are right, it just takes that person’s energy away and makes them defensive, but if you love them, show them that you love them and accept them. Do they want to please? Absolutely they do.
Think of God: “Gosh, if I just pour my love forth on these people, they will do their own thing. They will never be like Me. They will never be like Christ. They will not ever care.” No, God realizes that if He pours His love out on people, then they will feel safe. They will feel secure. They will feel confident. They will feel blessed. They will want to please Him. They will want to connect, and obedience will not be a problem because they do not have any turf to defend. They will just want to be like God, so that is the example that God sets. He constantly shows His love to people.
A beautiful situation of this can be found in Luke 15. It is very important to understand the content before we get into the parables. I think that sometimes we jump into the parables too quickly before we understand why the parables are placed the way that they are. By the way, the wording here is very powerful. We will look at some of the Greek words and what they mean.
Luke 15:1 and 2
(1) Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him.
(2) But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The picture is a little different if you read the Greek text. It says, “Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering.” This is a pretty good translation of the Greek. They were all gathering or perhaps a more picturesque translation would be “kept gathering.” If you get the picture of Christ with two sinners, let us say that he is with a prostitute and a tax collector and then a thief came and joined them and then a robber came and joined them and then someone who embezzled money came and joined them and then someone else who was a sinner came and joined them. So Jesus is here with this little crowd of sinners, but they kept gathering and kept gathering. That is Jesus. He was so exuding God’s love that he was surrounded by sinners who wanted this love, so the sinners kept gathering around him.
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The Greek text says, “They kept muttering.” The tax collectors and sinners kept gathering and the Pharisees kept muttering. The more the tax collectors and sinners gathered the more the Pharisees muttered.
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
They could not call him by his name. They said “This man!” Who did Jesus’ heart go out to? His heart was so full of love for people that his heart went out to both groups. He so wanted both groups to change and to recognize God’s love for them, to open up their hearts. He so wanted both groups to see how much God loved them. He has these two groups, the one group is the Pharisees, and are they sinners? Certainly, they are sinners. They do not have the obvious flagrant sin of a prostitute or a thief or a robber or an embezzler, but they have sins like arrogance and haughtiness and pride and holier than thou attitudes. Two groups of sinners are here, and Jesus Christ loves them both, and he is going to try to reach out to both of them.
(3) Then Jesus told them this parable:
(4) “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
(5) And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders
(6) and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
(7) I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Let’s look at that and analyze it a little more deeply. A couple of things are going on here. The title in my New International Study Bible, and a lot of other Bibles too, is The Parable of the Lost Sheep. As you know, that is not God breathed. It is not part of the Greek text and I think it misses the point. When you have a Parable of the Lost Sheep, where is the focus? The focus is on the lost sheep. Well, we all like sheep have gone astray. How many sheep have wondered off? They did shepherding for a living here in Luke and shepherds were all over the country. Also, sacrifices occurred daily in the Temple and everybody was familiar with them. How often do you think that somebody had heard of a lost sheep? A lost sheep was no news! That is not the point. Jesus Christ was not trying to obviate that somebody messed up, that somebody got lost again! That is not the point. The point of the parable is that this is a compassionate shepherd. This shepherd would leave the 99, and believe me, in Israel, it is hilly, rugged, hot, and dirty. That shepherd would so care for that one sheep that he would leave his flock and tromp over the hillsides, walk through the thorns and thistles, traverse the hillsides and the valleys, extending himself and causing himself hardship and pain. Why? He does this because he has compassion. He has love. He is going to find that one sheep. You bet he is.
What makes this parable so powerful? It is not that a sheep got lost. You and I, we sheep, are getting lost all the time. We make mistakes so frequently but here was a compassionate shepherd. Why did Jesus Christ tell the parable of the compassionate shepherd? Remember that two groups of sinners are here. It was to show these two groups that God loves them, and He will search for them.
Even if the Pharisees were not including themselves, even if the Pharisees were so haughty and so arrogant that they would not understand that God would come and look for them and love them, they should at least begin to see the value to God of one sinner. If one sinner leaves the group and goes off by himself, God does not say, “Well, it is only one; I have a bunch more.” God is so concerned about the value of that one sinner that He would search and search and work to get that one sinner back. Maybe, just maybe, that parable would show the Pharisees how much God will extend Himself—that God would really show His love and have love for that one sinner.
Realizing that one parable was not enough, Christ told another parable. My Bible lists this as The Parable of the Lost Coin.
(8) “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?
(9) And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’
(10) In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Again, I think that you know what I am going to say about The Parable of the Lost Coin. Has anybody out there lost a coin? I think that I have lost plenty of money in my life. I think that losing money is no news. The fact that somebody would lose a coin is not news. What is news is that somebody would lose a coin but then literally sweep the entire house and search carefully until she found it. That is the point. It is not a parable about a lost coin. It is a parable about a concerned housewife—a concerned housewife who would sweep and carefully look.
In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Again, what is this designed to do? It is designed to melt the hearts of the hard hearted people who think, “Well, they are sinners just cut them loose.” Even worse, a lot of times what the Pharisees did, like us, they would walk up to somebody who is making a mistake and say, “We are going to straighten you up. We are going to reprove you and tell you exactly what to do and how it is!” That is not the way God operates.
We have the next parable in Luke. The heading in my Bible is The Parable of the Lost Son, yet I think that we know from life that many teenagers begin to feel their independence and go off into one thing or another away from the family. It takes them a while to find themselves and come back. The fact that a lost son occurred is not really news. If I were to re-title this parable I would call it The Parable of the Forgiving Father. We are going to see the father’s forgiveness here. We are not going to just see the father’s forgiveness for one son. I think that this is very important. Remember, Jesus Christ is there, and he is looking at two groups. One group has sin that is very open and very upfront. They are thieves, embezzlers, robbers, and prostitutes. Their sin is obvious to everyone, but a second group is there whose sin is not so obvious; however, their sin is just as real—a sin of self-righteousness, a sin of arrogance, the sin of rejecting others when you should be loving them. Do not kid yourself. Remember that the Law of Moses did command them to love.
Matthew 5:43 and 44
(43) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
(44) But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
In verse 43, when Jesus Christ said that you have heard it said love your neighbor and hate your enemy, that did not come from the Old Testament doctrine. The Jews of Christ’s generation had heard that but they had not heard it from the Old Testament. They had heard it from the teaching of the Jews. We need to be very clear on that. Jesus Christ was not contradicting the Old Testament here. He specifically said that he had not come to do away with the Law. He also talked about the Law being righteous and just. Even the Apostle Paul in Romans 7 writes about how the Law is good. The Law in no way said to hate your enemy, but by the time of Jesus Christ, this was the Jews teaching from the front of the synagogues to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Jesus Christ wanted to straighten that out.
Matthew 5:43 and 44
(43) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
(44) But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
In Luke 15 we have two groups of sinners—the flagrant and obvious sinners and the Pharisees whose sin is just as real but a little more hidden. Now, who does Jesus Christ love? Who does Jesus Christ want to reach? Who does Jesus Christ want to have open their heart to God and be delivered and be made whole and be blessed and be able to be a blessing? Jesus Christ wants that for both groups. He then tells a parable here about a forgiving father who has two sons. One of the sons is obviously a sinner and obviously in the wrong. The other son is just as much a sinner and just as much in the wrong, and the father is going to extend himself to both sons. Just like Jesus Christ is saying that the Father’s love is extended to both groups. We will see that as the parable develops.
Luke 15:11 and 12a
(11) Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons.
(12) The younger one said to his father,
I love that it says the younger one. Remember that in the parable, Jesus Christ is now trying to reach the Pharisees and these obvious sinners. He makes the obvious sinners the younger son. You see, that would help warm the Pharisees’ hearts because they were so proud that they were righteous before God. They would see themselves as the older and wiser people.
The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
This is very unusual to us in our culture today because of telephones, modern travel, ease of travel, legal procedures are set in stone, and lots of ways of confirming what people want in their will. In Bible times, it was pretty standard that a father might die unexpectedly and then a huge dispute would occur over exactly what he wanted with one guy saying this and one guy saying that. You know that people tend to change their minds. You know how badly testimony can be blurred about what somebody said or meant to say. It happens in the paper every day of the week. It was more common—I will not say it was absolutely the standard in Bible times, but it was more common in the Bible times that a father would divide his estate to his children while he was still alive. To some degree, he would retain control over it, but everybody would know that this guy was running this part and this guy was running that part.
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
The parables of Jesus are so powerful in the way that they apply in ancient times as well as now. I would say that verses 12 and 13 could be applied beautifully to how divorce works in the United States. Notice in verse 12, the younger son divides himself off from the family mentally. Instead of being an integral part of the family, mentally he is like, “I want what is mine.” Then in verse 13, he divides himself physically. This is much the way divorce and separation works in the United States. Somebody is in a marriage and part of the family. The first thing that they do is divide themselves away mentally, and then they leave physically. It has been the same for thousands of years. The son in verse 12 mentally divides himself, and in verse 13, he divides himself physically. He goes to a distant country. What would the distant country be? It would be the world. The world has an attraction but the attraction is deadly. It is like a moth that is attracted to the flame, but when it gets close enough it is burned up. It is killed. That is exactly the way that the world works. It is a light out there. It is glitzy. It is attractive. It draws you to it. Something is there that you want, so people move toward the world, but then when they are in it, it kills them. It is interesting the way that this works. The son saw something in the world that he wanted, and he went out after it. He squandered his wealth in wild living.
Luke 15:14 and 15
(14) After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.
(15) So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
There are some beautiful truths in this little section of Scripture. In verse 15, when it says that he hired himself out, the Greek text literally reads, “He glued himself.” That is what happens to someone when he is in need. When someone is in need, they become clingy. An unhealthy clinginess occurs and they cannot think. They are not independent anymore. This is very true of needy people. Perhaps you have a needy person in your life that clings to you in an unhealthy way. The Bible points that out. As soon as this child becomes in need, he becomes clingy. He actually glues himself to “a citizen of that country.” What is the country? It is the world. What is the Bible telling us very clearly, and I think we all know this? A citizen is someone who lives there, who belongs there. It is his country. A citizen of the world is someone who is well adjusted to the world. The Bible tells us about these kinds of people and warns us: “What fellowship has light with darkness? What communion has God with Baal?” People are there in the world that just fit in so well. It is important that we realize that some people are out there that are very adjusted to the world. The Bible says, “Don’t be deceived. Bad friendships corrupt good behavior.” We can certainly be aware of that. Now, does that mean that we should not show those people our love? It does not mean that at all.
We absolutely have to show love to those people because that is what God does. The child here goes and glues himself to someone who is well adjusted to the world. How can we tell that he is well adjusted to the world? Well, we can tell because he does not care about anything else. He knows that this child is a Jew, he sends him to feed pigs which would be against the very fiber of the child’s being, but the citizen of the world does not care. That is how people of the world act. That is why the love of God is so powerful and why we have to become experts in it and why when it says that Christians have to be imitators of God that we have to be able to show the love of God. We represent God on earth.
We have got to be able to radiate that love, and when we do, the people of the world will see something that they have never seen before because the citizens of the world do not show that kind of love. The citizens of the world do not love people, but we can because we can show God’s love because He first loved us. God loved me, so now I can show His love to a people who will never see it from the world in which we live. No wonder people change so wonderfully when they really understand the love of God and how He loves them.
Verse sixteen shows how badly this boy was being treated.
He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
The people of the world just have no love. They have no compassion. Verse seventeen is powerful.
“When he came to his senses, he said,
Absolutely, for a Christian to live like a pagan is a form of insanity. Why would you do it? It is so important for us to show the love of God, and when we do, people come to their senses. Literally, the blindness is pulled away.
(17) “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!
(18) I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
(19) I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
(20) So he got up and went to his father.
What a wonderful section of Scripture. First of all, do you see the repentance here? He not only came to his senses, but he did not show arrogance or haughtiness or pride. He did not say, “Well, I only messed up a little bit.” He was really broken. He said, “I am going to go say to my dad, ‘I have sinned against God. I have sinned against you. I am not even worthy to be called your son.’” Was that true? Absolutely, it was true. He said, “Make me like one of your hired men.” This would have been a true estimation if we were dealing with worthiness here. That is what he would have deserved.
Verse 20 is great because he did not just think it; he did it.
So he got up and went to his father.
A whole lot of people think about repentance. They think about being loving. They think about being obedient, but do they ever really do it? This son was so humble that he did do it.
So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…
You see, the Father is looking for us. What is Christ communicating here? He is communicating that God has given you freedom of will. He will let you run your life in a lousy way if you want to do that. He is not down on your case every time that you make a mistake, but He is watching, waiting, and desiring for you to come back.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him;
That is the sinners hope. The father did not see him a long way off and say, “Uh-huh, that is my son who wasted all my money. I bust my tail my whole stinking life to build-up this farm and this estate. What does my son go and do? He goes and wastes it. I wonder what he is going to say now? I wonder if he is going to hit me up for more money?” The sinners hope is in the Father’s compassion. When I finally come to myself and finally realize, “Oh boy, I have really done it. I have really sinned. Wow, I really need to go and say I’m sorry.” You come and you are so hopeful that your apology will be accepted. You are so hopeful that when you say, “I have sinned. Will you please forgive me?” You are hopeful that the person will say, “I forgive you.” God is here, and He just does not say, “Yeah, okay I forgive you.” No, it is not just an academic forgiveness of well, as long as you ask I will forgive. It is the type of compassion that the father was waiting for this moment. The father wanted this. This was the desire of the father’s heart. He desired for his son to come back and change, but the father had to let the son come to that decision of his own free will. The father did not go and nag the son until he changed, but the father extended his love. Now, the son comes back and the father is filled with compassion. Does he forgive the son? Absolutely, he forgives his son. He more than forgives him; he reinstates him.
he ran to his son,
In the biblical culture, the father would have been older. This would not have been the easiest thing for the father to do, but the father ran to the son.
Luke 15:20b and 21
(20b) he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
(21) “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
Right in the middle of the son’s speech the father is saying, “I got your heart. Enough talk.”
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe…
The robe, which was the authority of the family—remember with Joseph and his brothers, the brothers were mad when Joseph got the special robe. Now, this is not a special robe per se in the sense of an heir-ship robe, but it was the best robe hanging around the house at the time. It was the robe that the father is using to reinstate him into the family.
Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger…
Again, in the biblical culture, the ring meant authority. The father wanted him reinstated into the family. He wanted him given authority.
Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
If you check in the biblical culture, servants walked barefooted. That is one of the reasons, by the way, when Abigail was talking to David and she said, “May I wash the feet of those who serve the king?” The fact that the son would have sandals on his feet is again the reinstatement of property/ownership.
Luke 15:23 and 24
(23) Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.
(24) For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Look how God shows His compassion. Is this a parable about a lost son? Oh sure this son was lost, but do you get that this is a parable showing how God loves a sinner? If you are a tax collector, if you are a prostitute, if you are an embezzler, or if you are a thief, and you are sitting at Christ’s feet, and he is saying this parable. Do you think that you get that it is about you? No wonder Jesus Christ was surrounded by tax collectors and sinners because he was telling them how much God loved them. Let me ask you a question, were his words wasted or were tax collectors and sinners changed? I seem to remember a man named Matthew who was a tax collector. Did he change and become a great apostle? Absolutely. Was it because Jesus Christ got in his face and told him that he should not be a tax collector and that he was going to mess up his eternal life? No.
Jesus Christ loved these people, and they changed. I know that when I knew that God loved me, I changed. God has not appointed us to be ambassadors at large for finding sin in other people. We are asked to be an imitator of God and live a life of love. That is what we are supposed to be.
Now the interesting thing is that another group of people are listening to Jesus Christ. They are the older son. They are sitting there listening to this love for the younger son and how it is going to affect them.
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field.
I love that because if you go back through the history of the Bible, the field always stood for the world.
Cain said to Abel, “Let us go into the field.”
Field is not in the King James Version, but it is in the New International Version and in the Hebrew Text.
While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
All through the Bible and in the parables from Jesus Christ, the field represents the world. It even says that in the parable of the tares that the “field is the world.”
Where is the older son? The older son who thinks that he is doing so well with God was in the field. The older son, meanwhile, was in the field, which is exactly where the Pharisees were.
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.
Like the Pharisees, the older son does not come close. Remember, the Pharisees are standing apart, and they kept muttering.
So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.
The older son would not come or get close. He is going to stand back and call for the servant, “Hey, you over there; come over here. What is going on here?” The servant is really excited.
‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
The servant is trying to enroll the older brother into the celebration and in the love and in the joy. The servant said, “Your brother has come.” The servant did not say, “Well, your father’s younger son has come home.”
The older brother became angry and refused to go in.
And the Pharisees were muttering and refused to come close. Watch this as again you see the sinners hope.
So his father went out and pleaded with him.
The father did not look out the window of the house and say, “What is my older son doing? He is disgracing himself. He is disgracing the family. If he does not want to come in to the house, he does not have to come. He can stay out in the hot sun and bake for all I care!” The father, in a sense, had every right to do that. The father’s heart was broken when that child left—just like your heart or my heart would be broken if our teenager left. When that child came back safe and sound, the father was so excited and so blessed; instead of participating in that joy, the older son was just angry. The father could have been so upset at the older son for that, but again the loving father comes out and pleads with him. Just like God would do with the Pharisees because the Pharisees are going to change the same way that the obvious sinners are going to change. They are going to change when they know that they are loved. They are going to change when they see that God will extend Himself for them. They are going to change when they realize how much compassion God has for them.
Luke 15:28b and 29
(28b) So his father went out and pleaded with him.
(29) But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you And never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.
A couple of things are wrong here about this. The first is the attitude—all these years I have been slaving for you. Well, that was the attitude of the Pharisees, yet the Bible tells us if you are doing the work of God correctly then it is supposed to be a blessing. The Christian who is doing the work of God properly is going to be so excited about being a Christian. The Christian is going to be so blessed to wake up in the morning to meet the Lord and meet our heavenly Father and say a quick word of prayer and blessing—to just be thankful to move in their day with their Christianity. The Pharisee’s attitude here is all these years I have been slaving for you. I think that something is here for us to see. If you are a Christian, and you consider your Christian existence to be slaving for God, or your work for God is not a blessing, I would assert and tell you that the work of God is a blessing. God tells us over and over again that His work is a blessing and that people will be blessed, so I would ask you to consider the way that you are approaching your Christianity.
If you are not blessed, I would ask you to take a good look at your fundamental beliefs and see if some things are there that need to be adjusted. God so wants you to be blessed! Remember what Christ said about his yoke being easy and his burden being light. If you are a Christian and you do not feel like the yoke is easy or the burden is light, I would ask you to assess, maybe get some help on how to adjust things in your thinking, so that your Christianity will be a great blessing to you. It is supposed to be.
The Pharisees had this attitude of slaving for God all these years. Watch the older brother’s attitude here.
Yet you never gave me even a young goat …
That is a complete misrepresentation of the truth. It shows us something about bitterness. When a person is angry or bitter, they do not perceive life properly. What is going on out in the world is not at all what they actually hear. If you go back in the parable to Luke 15:12:
The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
According to the Law of Moses, the older son would have gotten twice as much as the younger son, and yet how does the older son relate to that? He does not even get it. He is so bitter and so angry that he does not even appreciate the father’s love.
But when this son of yours [He will not even bring himself to say, “my brother.”] who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
Now, did the older son know this about the prostitutes? No he did not. All the older son knew is that the younger son went away and came back. The older son is making the assumption that the younger son came back broke, and he is making the assumption that he spent his money with prostitutes. That is the assumption that comes from an evil heart. The Bible itself does not say this. It says that the younger son squandered his money in wild living. That could be gambling and good food. That could be buying fancy things and not paying attention to where the money went. Jesus does not even insinuate that the younger son was with prostitutes. Could the younger son have been? Yes, he could have been with them, but the older son did not know this. From where did this accusation come? It was coming from the wickedness in the older son’s heart.
How do you think that this hit the father? Do you think that the father was loving enough or astute enough to see the bitterness in his older son’s life? Yes, the father could see it. The father could have said something like, “Wow, you are sure bitter about this? Your younger brother comes home and all you are is bitter and making false accusations. Man you have your head on backwards! You can stay out here in the sun. I am going back inside. You can repent out here and get yourself right with God!” No, watch again, what is it going to take for this child to change? It is going to take love.
“’My son,’ the father said,
All through the parable the word “son” in the Greek has always been huious [hwee-os] which is the technical word for son. It is the word for son that focuses on authority of the family, from father to son. In Luke 15:31, the use of the word son is a totally different word in the Greek. It is teknon [tek-non]. It is the warm word and is normally translated as child. In the face of all this bitterness that is spewing out of the older son, the father instead of getting angry and instead of reproving him gets warmer, gets softer, and shows more love. You can just see the father’s heart breaking inside. He says, “My child, my teknon, my child…”
“’My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.
Boy, that love should have melted the older son’s heart.
But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours [not my son] was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The parable ends here, but you are like, “Yeah, and what happened to the older son?” We do not know what happened? We do know that Christ extended himself to the obvious sinners, and their response was that they kept coming and kept coming and kept coming, but when Christ showed the Father’s love to the Pharisees, what was their response? They kept muttering and kept muttering and kept muttering. How does the parable end? The parable ends like the situation ends with the love being extended to the older son, the Pharisees, and them not yet making up their mind whether they are going to respond or not.
The Pharisees maybe have not made up their mind how they are going to respond, but I assert that we as Christians need to make up our minds how we are going to respond. We need to respond in love. This is so important. In Romans 2:4 we will read about what brings people to repentance.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
It is the kindness of God that brings people to repentance. It is not finding all their faults and pointing them out. Man, sometimes we can get so self-righteous. We see somebody else sin or do something the wrong way and we want to point it out. I remember a phrase from my childhood when raised as one of four children. Being the oldest, I had a leg up on my three siblings. It was easy for me to find things that they were doing and tell mom, “Look at this,” or tell dad, “Look at this.” Something that I got told was, “Mind your own business.” Some truth is there to that when it comes to Christianity.
Galatians 6:1 does not say that if someone is sinning, you are to just ignore them and let them die in their sin. That is not the point. You understand that I am not saying that, right? If someone is sinning, we do not get them to change by going over there and waving our finger at them and speaking to them in harsh terms and telling them that they are a sinner. Even in reproof and correction, we must make sure that the overriding attitude is love.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently…
This is so important. Sometimes we Christians decide to play the lone ranger and ride in there and straighten out everybody’s problems. We need to ride in and show the love of God, and show people how much God loves them and give them a chance to respond. If we do need to speak, we need to be gentle and loving.
James 1:19 and 20
(19) My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
(20) for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Man’s anger does not bring about a righteous life. I am not going to get somebody to live righteously by being angry at them. It just is not going to happen.
I am going to get somebody to change when they know what to do, and they know that they are loved and feel safe and supported so they can change. The son in the parable could come back in to the family because he knew that he was accepted and loved.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Do I want the wisdom that comes from above? Yes, you bet I do. What does it say? It says that it is corrective and finger pointing? No, it does not. It is considerate. It is peace-loving. It is full of mercy. The world is hard enough on us without us being hard on each other.
In Ephesians 4:29 a difference is there between what could be said and what needs to be said. I think that we all know that you can say a lot because you can see a lot. Jesus Christ could have seen a lot of faults in a lot of people, but a lot of them he just simply ignored (overlooked).
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
I contend that criticism never does build people up according to their needs. You can correct in love, but criticism does not build people up. I also remind you of Ephesians 4:32.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Remember Ephesians 4:15:
… speaking the truth in love, …
Jeremiah 10:24 is an interesting verse.
Correct me, LORD, but only with justice– not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing.
I love this coming from the heart of Jeremiah. Does he want to be like God? Sure he does. Does he want to do what is right in his heart? Sure he does. Does he know that he is going to mess up? Sure he does. So what does he say to the LORD? He says correct me LORD. I want to be like You. I want to be an imitator. Correct me LORD, but just with justice. Do not correct me in your anger. Now, would God have a right to get angry with us if we mess up and sin? Sure He would have a right to do that. Jeremiah says, “Wow, I want to be corrected. I want to be like You, but do not correct me in your anger unless you reduce me to nothing.” That is what anger does. It does this with me, with you, with my children, with my wife, with my wife to me. In all our interpersonal relationships, if somebody corrects us in anger, what does it do? It reduces us to nothing.
Let’s look at Ecclesiastes 7:20. This is another great verse from the Old Testament about correction and inter-relating. I think that this is great!
There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
Well, sure that is true, so if you see somebody sinning give them a break! If you sin, you can expect a break from others. You are going to get a break from God. Let us give each other some slack here.
Ecclesiastes 7:21 and 22
(21) Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you—
(22) for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.
Come on now, how many times have you heard a news broadcaster or read in the newspaper or heard somebody say something and it just get right under your skin at that moment. You get a little flash of anger, and you say all this stuff about the person. Ten or fifteen minutes later or more, you work it out. It was just something that you just had to kind of work out of you and adjust to it and process it emotionally. Imagine how you would feel if somebody came up to you and said, “I heard you said that. I know what you said. You said this and that. I am angry about you saying that.” We need to give other people in our life a little slack to process and then seek to understand them.
I am not saying that we should allow open rebellion to go on. You know what I mean by that. It says here not to pay attention to every word that people say. We do not make things better by being the lone ranger and pointing out everything that is wrong with everyone.
Romans 12:16 is talking about living in peace.
(16) Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
(17) Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.
(18) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
If we are going to be ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ, then we are going to have to live a life of love just as he did. If we are going to be imitators of the Father, then we are going to love people, and we are going to love them even when they do not love us. We need to reach out to people with the Word of God because Christianity is a come as you are party. People bring their past lives and their sinful patterns right into their Christian life, and they do have them. God does not run around pointing out everybody’s sin, and He does not appoint us to do it. If things are going on that you can help a person with it, and you can restore people gently, and you can speak the Word of God in love to make peoples lives better, fantastic.
On the other hand, the Bible does not give us license to see the faults in everybody else’s life and complain about them. That is not what we are about as Christians. Let us all be imitators of God and imitators of Christ and show forth that wonderful love of God in full confidence that just as we love now because God first loved us, others will have a chance to love when we first love them.