11/6/2014 10:00:00 AM
There are many powerful lessons to be learned in what is perhaps the best-known parable of Jesus, the story of the prodigal son. At its core, of course, it shows the heart of God toward sinners who ask for redemption, in stark contrast to the way the religious people of Jesus’s day saw them.
But I am starting to see in this parable something I’ve never seen before: a cautionary tale for those in the Church who would leave its covering.
The story of the prodigal son is familiar to almost everyone who has spent any time at all in the Church:
“And he said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
‘But when he came to himself, he said, “How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.’” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
‘But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate.’”
- Luke 15:11-24, ESV
The great John MacArthur’s book about this parable, A Tale of Two Sons
, provides critical context that we often ignore in studying this parable. The younger son’s request, he notes, was “outrageous, impudent and grossly dishonoring to the father.” We live in a time when we expect young people – young men in particular – so experience the world on their own for a period of time. But in the Hebrew culture of Jesus’s day, a young man’s request for his father’s inheritance would be interpreted this way: “Dad, I wish you were dead. I want out of this family now. Give me my inheritance so I can get out of here.” While we might nod with understanding at the young man’s request, those hearing Jesus tell the tale would have recognized it as one of the most disrespectful, inappropriate and hateful things a young man could say to his father. What’s more, it was economically foolish. MacArthur notes that the assets he would have received weren’t redeemable until the father’s death anyway, so he essentially would have sold his birthright for pennies on the dollar, if that.
What happened next is predictable. The young man left the shelter of his house and went out to experience the culture. And shortly thereafter, he began to be in want, because culture creates desire. Our decisions are based on our desire, and our desires are based on the culture we are in. If we’re in God’s house, and are immersed in that culture, naturally we’ll desire the things of God. But when we stray from the house, and become fully acclimated to the culture of the world, our desires will align with the world’s culture.
How does this relate to spiritual warfare? It’s simple: the adversary of your soul can’t touch you when you’re under the covering of God’s house. So he has to get you out of the house and into the culture to have an impact on you. If you wander outside the cover of God’s house, Satan has a free shot at you.
I’ll go farther: outside the environment that gave (new) birth to you, you’ll die. You may need to get out of the environment you’re in, and back under the covering of God’s house, to come back to life.
There’s much more to learn from this story, including the totality of God’s forgiveness and the ugly attitude of the older brother (clearly meant to represent the Pharisees in the original telling, and easily translatable to today’s “church people”). But God has been impressing on me through this parable the importance of God’s people being in His house. Ever notice that Malachi 3:10 commands us to bring
the tithe into the storehouse, rather than just send it? That’s not an accident.
God’s people need to be connected to His house, the local church. He wants our presence. And more importantly, we need His.
- November 5, 2014