“You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” (John 15:14-15)
In part 1 of this article, I discussed how the father in the story of the Prodigal Son reacted to both of his sons, revealing the difference between whom Jesus called friends and slaves. In this part 2, we’ll discuss why the elder son typically gets a bum rap in today’s church, and how the way it is taught is so reflective of the problems Christians face living here in our modern-day Laodicea. Employing the Gospel of Salvation the modern church preaches today [see Another Gospel: www.Theawakenedchristianman.org], we immediately proclaim converts to be heroes of the faith and “friends of Jesus” merely because they “pray the prayer.” Contrary to John 15 above, no “keeping Jesus’ commands” or obedience necessary. Grace is all you need, and a few words uttered we call the Sinner’s Prayer make you an instant friend of God. Yet, Jesus said, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord’ and yet do not do what I say” (John 6)? and that only those who kept His commands He would call friends. However, due to modern teachings on grace many who call themselves Christian and friends of Jesus today, in fact 90% or more according to the polls, do not “do what He says” and think it’s OK. They don’t see the need to sacrifice much of anything, rather they desire to add salvation to their already stocked shelves of American comfort and security.
Teachings on this parable reveal why they feel as they do. The younger son here, symbolically, was a son and heir of the father, and yet chose disobedience. Yes, he returned, but until he did would we have said he and his father were close? As I discussed in part 1 of this article, we can find no evidence the younger son was a friend, under Jesus’ definition of the word, of the father even after he returned. While there was certainly a celebration when the prodigal returned, there was no indication at all the father treated the younger son as the friend he treated the elder son as. Yet, we make the younger son out to be the hero because his is a story of salvation, and we are all about salvation. His is a story of conversion, and we are all about conversion.
On the other hand, when it comes to dealing with the making of disciples, we’ve lost our way because hard work without promise of success is so counter-cultural to us. We want little work accompanied by success. We love the instant gratification and glory we feel when dancing with the angels as a soul is converted, but when it comes to crawling into the gutters of other’s lives over the long haul to mentor them on to maturity, we don’t have the time, patience, or endurance for that. We’ve bought into the good life here in America/Laodicea and all that goes with the training up of a disciple just isn’t our way. The affluence and boundless freedoms we’ve become accustomed to here [see Too Much of a Good Thing series: www.Theawakenedchristianman.org] have seen to that.
Who was a friend of Jesus in this story? The elder son here did nothing any mature believer hasn’t done many times, particularly in a religious system where they are largely ignored while the focus is always finding more souls to convert. Yet, the father told him they had always been together, and all the father had was his. The Reveal, Where are You? study done some years back by Willow Creek Community Church discovered that, by far, the most disenfranchised group in the fellowship today are those they would call the real disciples. They aren’t challenged to use their gifts, have nowhere to go after all the Bible studies are taught, and generally feel ignored in the wake of a never-ending focus on the pampering of “seekers.” According to that study, around 65% of those disciples polled were ready to leave the system altogether. Twenty years ago, I did, and I don’t miss it a bit. The older son felt unappreciated and got a bit jealous. Can I see the hands of all of you disciples out there who haven’t felt this way from time to time? My hand is up. Way up. Did the elder son do something so egregious here it caused Jesus to say, “Get thee behind me, Satan?” He said that to Peter, the rock of His new church, but He ordained Peter anyway because He knew Peter “was always with Him and all He had was his.” Disciples stumble from time to time, but they practice obedience. Slaves practice stumbling and at religious events stumble into obedience.
The story does not tell us what happens in the end to both sons. That said, I’ll take my stand with the elder son whom I believe Jesus would have called “friend.” The dismal poll results concerning the lack of discipleship today tell us over 90% of those being raised up in Christendom’s temples are ending up like the younger son, who I believe Jesus would have called “slave.” While he gets points for repenting, there is no mention of any obedience after that. All Christendom’s prodigals never get past being “babes who continuously demand milk” (Heb. 5-6), which their pastors are more than happy to serve up in buckets. No thanks. Not regarding his temporary affliction, the elder son would have a far better chance of finding “that narrow gate few go by that leads to life” in the end. The elder son was predisposed to faithfulness, and we cannot say that about the younger. The father treated the elder as a disciple and friend, and we cannot say that about the younger.
So, to all of you elder brothers out there [and I know most who read this blog are] who are seeking Jesus in our modern temples, heed the findings of the Reveal, Where are You? study, and follow Him into marketplace ministry rather than trying to find the challenges you seek there. Ask Jesus to lead and teach you, step out into the risks and rewards of the great adventure, seek community with other friends of Jesus, and let your brothers and His Spirit shepherd you on to maturity. But if you do, don’t expect a comfortable journey. That’s what too many of us have come to expect in our modern-day Laodicea, and that’s why saving prodigals remains such a high priority while the Great Commission of making disciples remains such a low one. Seek to be an obedient elder brother who, despite the moments you stumble, is always with and shares everything with his Father, and is nonetheless called “friend” by Jesus. Oh, and be assured grace and great feasts will be there for you as well.