Over the past few weeks we have been studying Jesus’ parable in Luke 15:11-31 about a father and his strained relationship with his two sons. The younger was free-spirited and reckless. The older on the other hand was hard working and responsible, characteristics that would please all parents. Not an unfamiliar family scenario! Yet surprisingly, by the end of the parable, it was the younger son who was fully reconciled to his father while the older son was out of relationship with his father!

In the context of the story, the younger son represents the tax collectors, sinners, the irreligious. The older son depicts the religious, pious, Pharisees. Jesus’ purpose in telling the parable wasn’t just to tell the audience how God freely forgives and restores penitent younger sons but to challenge the Pharisees’ and our self-righteousness.  But as the late 19th century pastor and teacher, Andrew Murray, wrote in his book “Humility”, ‘There is no pride so dangerous, none so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness’.

We shouldn’t be too harsh on the Pharisees. They did try to do right by God. There’s evidence that some of them were God-seekers like Nicodemus who sought to speak to Jesus. Their problem was they did it for the wrong reasons. They did it to earn God’s salvation like wages rather than receive it as an undeserving gift from God. That’s why they were smug about themselves. Their relationship with God was merely external and skin-deep, just like the older son’s relationship with his father. He was the dutiful son not because he loved his dad but to earn his inheritance.

You might be responding to this article by saying, “I am not a Pharisee – I’m just being righteous!” As Murray said, self-righteousness is subtle. Here are a few identifying traits of a Pharisee:

· “Thank God I’m not like …” (said with pride and contempt).

· “This is happening to them probably because they haven’t prayed hard enough, read the Bible more, gone to church more often…etc.” 

· Pharisee types are quick to pass judgment and without mercy.

· Pharisee types often minimize their sins while magnifying others. They major on the minor and minor on the major.

· Pharisee types love talking about how wonderful they are while finding it difficult to admit wrong.

As we examine our hearts, remember God loves elder brothers as much as younger ones. If you’re an elder brother, God has a place for you at his table because of his undeserving and abounding grace.

Coram Deo,

Mark