Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he summoned one of the servants and asked what these things meant. “Your brother is here,” he told him, “And your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of trying to please God by doing things for God. We, like the older brother, can miss what is first and priority for God. The Father’s response to the younger son reveals the heart of God towards all of us who have fallen short of His glory. He does not condemn, but He loves us with an out-of-this-world, heavenly type of love. That love was readily available and accessible to the older brother, but perhaps through an offense that occurred when his younger brother asked for the inheritance or even just not engaging the father with a heart for relationship, the older brother lost sight of what is truly important.
The older brother was not there to welcome his younger brother. This reveals a lack of relationship with the father, for if the older son was in relationship with the father, he would understand how important this moment was—and he too would of been there to embrace his younger brother. Where was the older brother? Working in the field.
Work is godly and a gift from the Father for all of us. But when working for God becomes more important than relationship with God, we will miss the heart of God for us and for others. This happens to the best of us in church life. Our identity is so closely tied to doing things for God that we become judgmental and critical of others. We miss the party of grace when we are a slave in the field of self-righteousness. We observe and critique the time of singing in worship instead of also overflowing with a song from our heart. We are slow to shout or clap when someone receives Christ for the first time if we are trapped in the mindset of religion versus relationship.
It’s not that neither son would ever need to work in the field, because part of being a son is having responsibility in the house. The issue is why we are in the field and what motivates us to work. If who we are is tied to anything except the Father’s love, we will be forever trapped in the mindset of sin, of having to earn what the Father is giving us for free.
The older brother had a garment of praise and a ring of identity waiting for him the whole time, but he too needed salvation. He too needed grace to break the chains of self-righteousness that enslaved him. May we all today surrender to the Father’s love, turning our anger into passion for the name of Jesus and joy to see the lost come home.
Put down your plow of condemnation and put on your garment of praise today. Come in from the field of self-righteousness to take your seat at the table with your younger brother and your loving Heavenly Father. Celebrate his return and now your own freedom in Christ!
// Pastor Josh Kelsey