Study 4 THE OLDER BROTHER
TEN OF OUR LORD’S PARABLES
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: Luke 15:25-32
We often refer to the parables of Luke 15, but strictly speaking there is only one parable (as verses 1-3 indicate), and the teaching of the whole chapter (verses 1-32) should be taken as a whole. Here we are studying the most neglected and least-liked part of the parable, which relates to the older brother. The lost sheep, the lost silver, the lost son never cease to attract us, but the main lesson the Lord was teaching the scribes and Pharisees was contained in the latter part of the parable – the story of the older brother.
Who is the Older Brother? Not who was he – for he lives today! The Older Brother is presented to us as a “son” (verse 25), and as a “servant”; he is a perfect illustration of a worldly Christian: of one who is born again (John 1:12-14), but who is worldly (1 Corinthians 3:1-4); saved, but dominated by self.
What are the characteristics of a worldly Christian?
1. The Older Brother was filled with a spirit of ENVY and JEALOUSY.
This is shown clearly in verses 25-27! He should have been thrilled with gratitude that his brother had returned – but no – he is jealous! How does jealousy work? The first ten words in verse 28 tell us. What a cruel thing jealousy is (Proverbs 27:4)! It can starve us out of joy, peace and power. It can be seen in the face and heard in the voice. Jealousy is killing – look up Proverbs 6:34-35 and Song of Solomon 8:6; compare 1 Corinthians 3:3.
2. The Older Brother found service a DRUDGERY instead of a JOY.
We see this in verses 28-29. He was a good worker – certainly not lazy – but one mark of worldliness, of a low spiritual state, can be over-work! What the son really said was, ‘These many years Ive been slaving for you…’ Although he was a son in the true sense of the word, he thought of himself as a slave! When a Christian is constantly rushing about, it is dangerously possible that he is working for the Lord in the energy of the flesh, and that he needs to learn to do less himself so that God may do more through him (Philippians 2:13). Does the love of Christ compel us to truly serve Him, and not to serve ourselves? Look up 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. If so, we shall feel it is our duty to serve the Lord (1 Corinthians 9:16), and we shall regard it as a privilege.
3. The Older Brother was DOMINATED by SELF.
Look up Romans 8:1, 13, and compare Galatians 5:19-21.
- (1) This man was self-righteous (verse 29). He had not done awful things his brother had been guilty of doing. There was a lot of truth in this, but his ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude was disgraceful! Compare Luke 18:11-12.
- (2) He was self-centred. In verse 29 we have the words ‘I’ or ‘me’. Are we always talking about ourselves, of our experiences and our achievements? Do we want to be the centre of attention? Are we self-centred, self-assertive, self-opinionated?
- (3) He was full of self-pity. He acted just like a baby! Read verse 29 again, and compare 1 Corinthians 3:1-2. Poor Older Brother – what a sad and sorry spectacle he makes! Are you like him? The cure for self-pity is to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).
- (4) He was self-satisfied. Yes, he was evidently content with his efforts to obey his father’s orders (verse 29). How many Christians are like that – living in bondage to the Law (Romans 8:1-17)!
4. The Older Brother was full of INGRATITUDE.
Hear him complaining in verse 29! He speaks of his “friends” but one wonders if he had any real friends! How much he had to be thankful for! – being spared the miseries of sin. Then, he had received his share of his father’s “property”, and as the older brother he would have received the larger portion – yet he was complaining and ungrateful – like any worldly Christian.
5. The Older Brother showed no concern or sympathy for the LOST.
How tragic verse 30 is! Yet there are Christians who think and speak like this. Do you detect his complete lack of sympathy with his father and brother as he says, “this son of yours…your property…prostitutes…”? But – what are we doing with the lost? – condemning them or seeking them? Face up to this: are we really filled with sympathy and loving concern to see them saved? Are we deeply concerned to help to restore the backslider?
6. The Older Brother was OUT OF SYMPATHY with his father.
This fact is written all over the story. The father had one burden and that was to see his lost son restored. But did the Older Brother share this burden? No! Do we? While we are content for sinners to remain in the far country and to die in their sins, how worldly we can be! – how little we share the passion, the love, and the spirit of our Master (Matthew 9:36; Luke 19:10)!
What is the remedy for this terrible disease of worldliness and self-centredness?
It is found in the amazing pity of the father and his tender words in verse 31. And if you are asking, ‘How can I be cured of my selfishness, self-centredness, self-pity, self-interest…?’ – notice the three things the father said to his son:
- (1) Think of your PRIVILEGE. “My son…” Compare 1 John 3:1-3. How unworthy the Older Brother’s attitude and spirit is for a son of God! Christian, rise to the full dignity of your high calling in Christ; you are a son of God – act like one!
- (2) Think of your POSITION. “You are always with me…” Yes, Christians are a heavenly people, with Christ now! Look up Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 3:1-3. How unworthy it is when heavenly citizens are so earthly minded! But Christ has the power to change me from a self-centred, failing Christian into a Spirit-filled, Christ-centred, victorious believer.
- (3) Think of your POSSESSIONS. “Everything I have is YOURS…” Look up Romans 8:17; Colossians 2:9-10. Possess your possessions!