A Godly Father’s Relationship with His Sons (Part 2)

It incenses people who play by the rules that someone would receive God’s grace after living such a wasteful life.  It really shouldn’t make moral people angry and bitter when immoral people turn to their only saving hope.  The reason that it does is that we become proud, envious, and discontented like the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

“But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.” (Luke 15:28).

The Perspective of the Older Brother

We’ve witnessed similar attitudes in Scripture.  Had Nineveh failed to turn from their evil way, God would not have relented.  He would have judged them (Jonah 3.10).  Of course, they did repent and God did relent.  You’d think a preacher would be happy about that, but not Jonah.  It displeased him a lot.  He became very angry about it (Jonah 4.1).  When Peter fellowshipped with Gentile Christians, it bothered the apostles and brethren from Judea (Acts 11.1-3).  Even the Pharisees themselves were the objects of this particular parable:

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them…” (Luke 15:1–3)

They just couldn’t stand the fact that Jesus received and ate with tax collectors and sinners.  They had a disposition which was strikingly similar to that of the older brother.  They hated the fact that sinful people were turning from their hopeless lives to Jesus Christ.

The Pharisees complained that tax collectors and sinners were turning to God through the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.  There are Pharisees in every generation.  They hate it when sinful people repent after living sinful lives.  They are unwilling to be happy about it.  There are two important characteristics of the older brother which provide powerful lessons for us:

1.            He was angry about the father’s reception of the younger brother.

2.            He was unwilling to joyfully participate in his younger brother’s return.

Verse 28 makes it plain:  “He was angry.”  His father tenderly pleaded for his oldest son to join the feast celebrating his younger brother’s return.  But all the older son could do was remind his father of how blameless and wonderful he had been in the past.  “Why didn’t his father realize this?”  Of course, the older brother did all this because he was filled with envy.  He couldn’t be grateful for his brother’s return because of his own foolish pride.

But verse 28 goes on to say, “He was angry and would not go in.”  He was unwilling.  Nothing would move him from his hatred and rejection of his brother.  The Pharisees also were unwilling.  They simply viewed themselves as better than everyone else.  There are Pharisees in every generation.  The hardest people to win to Jesus Christ are those who are self-righteous …those who think they are above it all.  Telling someone that their works are filthy rags will not endear them to your heart.  But they need to hear it.

The Perspective of the Father

But notice how the father responds to the older son:  “Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.”

First, the father was forbearing.  He did not utter bitter invectives or become angry with his son.  The son was very disrespectful but the father was very loving.  Fathers should be this way.  Certainly our heavenly Father is.  He is very patient with prodigal and Pharisee alike.

Second, the father condescended to his son.  He went out and pleaded with him.  Lovingly, he reminded him that nothing in all those years had been withheld from him.  Whatever the father had was his.  But both sons were home, and the father implored the older brother to be grateful not bitter.  Fathers must initiate course corrections with their children in the same way.  They shouldn’t expect their immature children to meet them half-way.

Third, the father loved his son.  It is not as hard to love the prodigal son.  He came to the end of himself and humbly returned, willing to take the place of a servant.  It is much harder to love the Pharisee.  He never is tender and responsive to his father.  But the father was tender and caring nonetheless.  Would the son give up his self-righteous disposition and come in and celebrate?  Our heavenly Father’s heart churns within Him; His sympathy is stirred for the self-righteous and the licentious alike (cf. Hosea 11.8).  We should be the same.

Self-righteousness is insidious.  It creeps in with pride, envy, discontentment, and many other evils accompanying it.  It will cause religious men to justify themselves …to pray within themselves words like that of another Pharisee:  “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18.11).  Those who remain self-righteous cannot be saved.

But repentant prodigals are filled with peace and have a desire to sin no more.  They are truly grieved by the direction their lives were going.  They never want to return to the cesspool of their former lives.  Humility is the recognition that you cannot depend upon yourself but must cling to the grace and mercy of God.  All offend the Father every day.  The key is to come before Him in abject poverty, willing to take the place of a servant only to be given the privileges of a son.

A Godly Father’s Relationship with His Sons

There are three main characters in the well-known Parable of the Prodigal Son.  First, the prodigal (wasteful) or younger son parallels all broken believers who have retreated from the Father only to return and be well-received by Him.  Second, the Pharisaical son parallels those who claim to be a part of God’s family only to demonstrate self-righteous anger when the Father extends His grace to the undeserving.  Third, the protagonist in this story is the father in my understanding.  He parallels our heavenly Father who demonstrates how all who turn to Him receive undeserved forgiveness and love.  The younger brother is undeserving, but so is the older brother.  This is the parable in a nutshell.

Of course, we may learn from all three perspectives in the parable.  First, we direct ourselves to the lesson of the prodigal son.

The Perspective of the Prodigal Son


The perspective of the younger son’s retreat is the most common focus when approaching this parable.  Most are able to relate to it.  Certainly the tax-collectors and sinners related to the younger son.  His retreat begins at a point in his life where he has everything; it ends when no one gives him anything – no food, no relief, not gratitude, no compassion …nothing!

If our children depart from the presence of God to do life their own way, they do so because of a perception that they are not free but long to be so.  They wish to cast off the restraint of parental and pastoral authority and do their own thing.  They increasingly take for granted the grace, mercy, and compassion that God affords them.  They will direct their energies, time, money, and abilities to sinful, wasteful living.  They may not sin to the extent of the prodigal son, but they operate under his perspective of life.

Time reveals to the true child of God the same acute disappointment that the prodigal son experienced.  God loves us too much to allow us to retreat from Him.  He will do what is necessary to break our resolve to do our own thing in life.  No one can return to God until they realize just how empty life is without Him.  As parents, that leaves us dependent upon our heavenly Father to deliver our retreating children.


The prodigal son was not a reasonable man when he was running away from such a compassionate dad.  Sin is never reasonable.  But the Bible does say that at last this man came to himself.  He begins to think of his father’s house.  There are steps he takes which lead to his return.  First, he reflects upon how foolishly he has behaved and upon the much more satisfying life he could have with his father – even as servant!  Second, he resolves to return to his father for forgiveness; however, in so doing he finds freedom under the father’s restraint and authority.  Go figure!  His resolve to return came at a time when all hope was lost for him.

When we see how foolishly and wickedly we behave as backslidden believers …how wretched and deplorable the circumstance of our sin is, it makes us long for a time when life was once satisfying.  We come broken and contrite.  We are humbled by our illusory attempt at freedom.  We are now ready to return to the throne of God’s grace for freedom.  There we ask for mercy.  The props are kicked out from underneath us.  We’ve come to the end of ourselves.  We see that there is only satisfaction in an all-sufficient Savior who has given us His all-sufficient Word.  So, we return.


When the prodigal son returns, his father is waiting and watching.  He runs to his son with open arms and recognizes him from afar.  A father’s compassion knows no bounds.  I speak as one who knows.  It will be demonstrated by his actions.  He doesn’t even allow his son to say what he has rehearsed.  Signs of lavish affection are abundant in the story.  When we are really meditating upon this story, we cannot help but be moved to tears.  The best robe, shoes, a ring, the fatted calf – indeed, all is well!

We find the same reception when we return to God.  We don’t deserve it because of our initial retreat.  And yet, our Father receives us with joy.  There is no “I told you so” attitude here.  There is only love, mercy, and compassion.  There is only forgiveness for the broken and contrite son.

If we are to expect such a reception, then we must return broken and contrite before the Lord.  We must cry out for His mercy as miserable prodigals.  The more accurate our perception of our broken relationship, the greater the joy when we understand the acceptability we have before the Father because of the Son of God.

You may be afraid to return to God because you’ve retreated a great distance.  But no child of God is beyond the reach of the reception we see in Luke 15.  As a matter of fact, how much better it is to realize that we have retreated and then return to the Father.  Then, we too, may experience a lavish reception.  But why does a long period of time need to pass?  I have retreated and returned in a space of five minutes.  Are you actually trying to pay for your sinfulness by remaining in the wilderness?  Didn’t Jesus pay it all?  He has said, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7.37) … “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11.28).