Jesus tells us a parable about a man who had two sons (see Luke 15) — one who squandered his wealth and the other who stayed at home. Many a sermon has been preached on the "lost" son but perhaps no son could be more "lost" than the one who stayed at home.
The younger brother was a rebel who ended up penniless, shameless, and friendless. The elder brother stayed at home. Outwardly he lived a very respectful life — very much like the self-righteous religious Pharisees who had a loveless, judgmental religion.
You'll find Pharisees in Bible-believing, conservative, fundamental churches more than in other places. You may even be one. Let's explore what one would look like in today's world.
The Performance of a Pharisee
If ever there was a man who knew how to perform, it was the elder brother. Notice where we first find this man — he was working "in the field" (Luke 15:25). But, he served his father for the wrong reason. When a man serves for reward, it's not long before he's complaining that he's not being blessed sufficiently. And it even gets worse when somebody else seems to be more blessed than he is blessed.
There is liberty and joy that flows out of a love for Christ. You can serve in the church from the time it was constituted till the day you die and will go to hell if your motive isn't to serve the Lord.
The Pout of a Pharisee
The oldest son got a pout on and his father came out to his pity party and begged him to come inside (see verse 28). But he wouldn't come in. He needed to be corrected, but he refused to hear what his father has to say.
In every Pharisee, there is a self-righteous heart and a spirit that is unyielding as granite rock. There will be some reading this who will walk away unchanged. They will say, "It's my way or the highway." And sadly, this highway leads to death and eternal separation from God.
The Pride of a Pharisee
The elder son's pout was rooted in pride. Look at Luke 9:15 and count the number of times the elder son referred to himself. It's all about him. Where does our pride originate? It comes when we compare ourselves with other people. The elder brother compared what his father had done for his younger brother with what his father had done for him.
The Presumption of a Pharisee
The elder brother presumed he was better than his younger brother. He was not better. The ground is always level at the foot of the cross. Through the first three chapters of Romans, Paul talks about all kinds of sinners from the rebellious Gentile perverts to the religious Jewish zealots. And he concludes: we've all sinned. Not only rebellious sinners (see Romans 3:10-18) but also religious sinners (see Romans 3:19-20).
Paul said the same thing that Jesus said, "Don't presume you're not a sinner because you don't do bad things or had a better upbringing." There is nobody so bad he can't be saved and nobody so good he need not be saved.
The Portion of a Pharisee
The story did not have a happy ending. Instead, it turned sour because of the elder brother's attitude when he described his brother to his father as "thy son" instead of "my brother." He had separated himself from his father and his brother. The father went out of the house for both sons. When he saw the prodigal son coming, he ran to meet him. When he saw his elder son out in the field, he went out in the field. One son came in and one son stayed out.
The Promise for the Pharisee
Is there a little Pharisee in you? Perhaps you've lived a good life but there's just one thing wrong with you. You've never been saved. Deep down, there's not a love connection between you and God, or for the lost. Don't let the story end there. Repent and make Jesus Lord and Savior of your life today!
Perhaps you're not a Pharisee, but nonetheless you have little compassion for the lost. Would you ask God to give you a heart for the prodigals? If we love God, we're going to love what He loves. And He loves the lost.
When we come to Him in repentance and faith, we are empowered-and expected-to live the Christian life not by trying, but by trusting. Faith is not only how we receive salvation, it is how we walk, day by day, in grace. Only by faith can we extend forgiveness to others, share God's truth, and leave a godly legacy. As the tapestry of your life unfolds, may you begin to see the wonders of living each day, moment by moment, a life of faith and forgiveness.