by Sarah Phillips
But he answered and said to his father, "Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came , who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.” ~ Luke 15:29 – 31
I recently ran across a forum discussion about being single that stuck with me, a fellow single. The original posting went something like this:
"I really want to be married. I've waited years and years to be married. I've saved myself for my wedding night and lived a life pleasing to God. So it really pains me to see all these people who compromised their purity getting married and having children when I’ve lived chastely but remain single and dateless. They are being rewarded while I stay sad and alone. It's just not fair."
Have you ever felt this way? It's natural to feel frustrated when we make good choices and get burned while those who made poor choices seem to have it easier. Yes, most of us have empathized with the older brother of the prodigal son at some point. After all, he is the son that did everything right. We understand his pain in the opening verse.
But truthfully, the older brother wasn't much different from the younger. Both brothers believed a fallacy: If I do things my way, I'll win out. The consequences of a prodigal son's actions are often obvious – life often crumbles around them as they break away from God’s truth and embrace reckless living. But what exactly happens when we embrace the attitude of the older brother?
We may still attend church, continue to make righteous decisions, and maintain the appearance of wellbeing, but we begin to rot on the inside as we internally pull away from the Father's life-giving love. As I observed this forum thread unfold and reread the scriptures above, I saw three subtle dangers to the soul who suffers with Older Brother Syndrome:
Loss of spiritual clarity. When we embrace the stance of the older brother, our spiritual vision darkens because we turn our gaze away from Christ to fixate on someone else’s life. The older brother travels down an ungodly path because he fails to see things from his merciful father's perspective. From his corner, he cannot see that the prodigal brother suffered for his transgressions and repented with sorrow, nor can he see his own blessings clearly. He festers with envy over the celebration, and misinterprets his father’s forgiveness as a personal slight. While the older brother may justify his anger in light of the pain his younger brother inflicted on their father, the oldest son only increases his father's pain with his bitter, ungrateful heart.
Pride finds a foothold. Let's face it - comparing our "goodness" to another's faults can only lead to a full-blown case of spiritual pride. And pride is deadly to the soul. It causes us to lose gratitude towards our Father, obscures our own need for mercy, and misleads us into thinking God owes us something. We may make ineffective -- even destructive -- attempts to grasp at the blessing we no longer trust God to provide for us.
Misery settles in. "Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:31) Unlike the prodigal, the eldest brother had access to his loving father for his entire life. Yet his response to his father's joy does not reveal a joyful heart. Pride, envy, judgmental attitudes and perfectionism squeeze peace and happiness out of our lives. My sister wisely pointed this out to me recently: there's no point in comparing your life to another, "unless you are bent on being miserable."
So what can we do to find peace when we feel life treats us unfairly? When your frugal family reels from job layoffs while the Jones' still enjoy stable employment? When your godly parenting skills fall on deaf ears while the neighbors boast over their accomplished kids? I think its okay to acknowledge feelings of sadness, frustration, and even confusion. But at the end of the day, it's best to stop looking at others, and start looking up.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?" (Gen 4:6). Cain and Abel are another set of brothers who suffered from envy. Cain’s sin ultimately mastered him, and he murdered Abel. Is there anything you’re holding onto in your heart that is causing you to “look down,” away from the Father’s loving gaze? Ask God to remove it from your heart.
The Characters of Christmas is a podcast created to help you take a fresh look at the Christmas story by getting to know the minor characters that played a part in Jesus’ birth. It is the companion to Dan Darling's book "The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught Up in the Story of Jesus."