During the Willow Creek Association’s Global Leadership Summit this year Tim Keller spoke from the text of the parable of the prodigal son. He recently wrote a book titled The Prodigal God and I assume much of what he said is expounded upon in the book which I plan to read soon.

Tim mentioned that the word prodigal also incorporates the idea of reckless expenditure and because this parable involves the reckless expenditure of love by the father (i.e. God) Tim titled his book The Prodigal God. The sub-title (aim) of the talk was to diagnose spiritual deadness and reveal the cure for it.

The parable of the prodigal son was told to Pharisees and religious folk. In Luke 10 we read that the Pharisees and scribes complained because Jesus ate with and received sinners. In the light of this Jesus told three parables, the third of which is the prodigal son.

In the parable we often miss the fact that it was not only the younger brother that was alienated from his father but so was the elder. The younger did not love the father but rather he loved the money of his father and so he asked for his share of the inheritance and goes and spends it. But the older brother wasn’t much different and his attitude is revealed in Luke 15:29

“he said to the father, Behold, so many years I serve you, and I have never transgressed a command of you. And you never gave a goat to me, so that I might be merry with my friends.”

He also was after his father’s possessions though he went after it in another fashion.

At this point Tim mentioned that people try to gain salvation in two ways. The one way is like the younger brother – ignoring God and be immoral and irreligious. The other is like the elder son – be very moral and religious. But in both these ways the heart of the person is not drawn to God but rather what can be gained from God – salvation.

By the end of the parable it is the older brother that is outside the house trying to save him. He is lost because of his goodness. This is what religion does. It acts morally in order to gain salvation while salvation is not gained in that manner. Religion says obey and be accepted. Elder brothers serve God to get things from God. In other words doing what they think is expected of them and so getting leverage over God.

The Gospel turns this on its head – you are accepted, now obey out of love towards the One who accepted you. We get a righteous record because of the Son and then obey because we want more of God himself not of what God can give us.

So, diagnosing spiritual deadness – it is caused by the attitude of the older brother. At one level we believe the gospel, but persistently our hearts go back to religion – we go back to being elder brothers. Elder brothers, and here is the source of spiritual deadness, believe they’re getting leverage over God

  • Elder brothers get angry when their life doesn’t go well
  • When elder brothers are criticized they either attack or are demoralized
  • There is no intimacy in an elder brother’s prayer life – it is about what is to be gained
  • Elder brothers have a sense of superiority because of their good works. Their self image is based on right doctrine and they loath all who disagrees with them.
  • They look down on people who have or know less as lazy
  • They get merciless – forget from where they themselves where saved

What to do about this spiritual deadness.

  • Get to a new level of repentance.

    Repentance that means much more than just being sorry for wrong done and confessing it. It goes to the level of repenting for the reasons behind actions both wrong and right. Repenting from that motivation behind our good actions that seeks to gain something from God.Often the elder brother/Pharisee types are even proud of their repentance. It is one more “good” thing to do by which leverage over God can be gained.

  • Break through to a new level of rejoicing.

    Here Tim touched on something I have never thought about before. The estate of the father was already divided in two because of the younger brother’s request. He went and spent his part of the inheritance so the only reaming part of that estate would then be the elder’s inheritance. At the return of the young brother the father commands a feast must be held and the young brother is given a ring and robe – all of it at the expense of the older brother’s part of the inheritance! Understandably the older brother is furious. Here this squanderer of his father’s possessions comes back and gets all the advantages of the household for which he has not worked and that at the expense of the older brother – scandalous!

    We however have an elder Brother quite unlike the one in the parable. Our elder Brother brings us back to our Father at His expense – his very life.  We, the squanderers, gets welcomed back, a feats is held and we get to share in all of God’s house – all at the expense of our elder Brother.

    This moves us to humility.

    This is cause for rejoicing.

This is truly Good News!!!

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This entry was posted on Monday, October 12th, 2009 at 11:00 am and is filed under Church and Society, Devotional, grace. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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8 Comments(+Add)

1   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
October 12th, 2009 at 11:12 am


2   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
October 12th, 2009 at 11:26 am

It’s good to hear from you again!

This parable is probably one of the most profound teachings that Jesus ever gave. Have you read Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son? It’s excellent and touches on many of these themes.

3   Eugene    http://eugeneroberts.wordpress.com
October 12th, 2009 at 11:37 am

Thanks Phil.
I’ll put that Nouwen book on my wish list.

4   Christian P    http://www.churchvoices.com
October 12th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Thanks Eugene, I needed to hear this right now.

5   John Hughes    
October 12th, 2009 at 1:44 pm


Great post. Really thought provoking. I’m just glad the Father loves the elder brother too.

6   Jerry    http://www.dongoldfish.wordpress.com
October 12th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I read this book a year or ago. It ought to be required reading for entrance into the kingdom of god.

7   Eugene    http://eugeneroberts.wordpress.com
October 12th, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I’m just glad the Father loves the elder brother too.

We would all be in deep trouble if He didn’t. While Tim was speaking I could see so much of that elder brother in myself. It was really scary.

BTW. I could not figure out when to use ‘elder’ and when to use ‘older’. Any help for this Afrikaner boerseun?

8   Christian P    http://www.churchvoices.com
October 13th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

It’s easy for us to become heard-hearted toward those we disagree with and those who we believe have committed a wrong (against us or others). It is easy for all of us to become another’s judge.