Prodigals

It’s no secret that the corporate world and businesses can be competitive. But, the rivalry between two of the world’s most recognizable brands — Adidas and Puma — went far beyond mere corporate competition. It was a vicious family feud that not only pitted two brothers against one another, but also divided their hometown — and it lasted 60 years. An article from Fortune magazine tells the story:

In the 1920s, the brothers were partners in the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe Company, operating out of their mother’s laundry room in a small German town. Adi Dassler was the quiet, thoughtful craftsman who designed and made the shoes, complemented by the older  Rudi who was the extroverted salesman. Although the brothers joined the Nazi party when Hitler seized power in 1933, it didn’t stop them getting legendary African-American track star Jesse Owens to wear their shoes as he competed and won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics. Owens’ victory gave the shoes international exposure, and sales of the brothers’ product exploded.

But the success also created new tensions in the brothers’ relationship. There were several incidents that were said to have created their conflict, but the most widely accepted one took place during World War II when the Allies were bombing their small town. As Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter already occupied by Rudi and his wife, he said something not so nice basically saying, well — that the illegitimate children are back — referring to the Allied forces. But, Rudi was convinced the remark was directed at him and his family. And, a feud was born.

When Rudi got called up for service, he suspected Adi and his wife had schemed to get him sent to the front so they could have him out of the way at work. Later, Rudi was arrested first for deserting his post and then by the Allies on suspicion of working for the Gestapo. On both occasions, Rudi was convinced that Adi was the one ratting him out; and, his suspicions were confirmed by a report filed by an American investigating officer. So, while Rudi endured a prisoner-of-war camp, Adi was rebuilding the business, selling shoes to the American G.I.s.

The conflict escalated as the brothers split the company in two in 1948, dividing the assets and the employees between themselves. Adi named his company “Adidas,” a combination of his first and last names. Rudi attempted the same by first naming his company “Ruda” but eventually changed it to the more athletic sounding “Puma.” The two built competing factories on opposite sides of the river and quickly became responsible for much of their town’s economy, with nearly everyone working for one company or the other.

As the entire town got caught up in the Dassler family feud, the rivalry reached ridiculous proportions. There were local businesses that served only Adidas or only Puma people, dating or marrying across company lines was forbidden, and the town became known as “the town of bent necks” since people first looked at which company’s shoes you were wearing before deciding to talk to you.

It wasn’t until 2009 when employees of both companies symbolized the end of six decades of feuding by playing a friendly soccer match. By then, the Dassler brothers had both died, within four years of each other. Even in death, the animosity continued as the brothers were buried at opposite ends of the same cemetery, as far away from each other as possible.

Family feuds are no stranger to history. If you have a sibling, then you probably know what we’re talking about, but hopefully not do the degree of Adi and Rudi. But, the in the Old Testament when find some pretty vicious stories of brotherly rivals. Within the book of Genesis alone, we encounter the story of Cain and Abel—where Cain murdered his brother. We find the story of Jacob and Esau—where Jacob stole his brother’s birthright. We find the story of Joseph and his brothers—where his brothers sold him into slavery. And, we find the story of Isaac and Ishmael—who created a feud we still feel the effects of to this day.

The New Testament, too, has a well-known story of a brotherly rival that we can find in Luke 15. Now, we know a lot of you have thought of this story as the prodigal son. In fact, your Bible might even have that as the headline before this narrative. But, this morning, we want to challenge your thinking. More than this story is about a singular prodigal son, it is a story of two prodigal brothers stuck in a family feud — the brother who left and the brother who stayed.

(RE)DEFINING TERMS


Before we get into the story, there are a few contextual things that we want you to know. These things will help you understand the story a little bit better. What we mean when we say prodigal. Most often, people think of the word prodigal as meaning wayward or lost, but as defined by the dictionary, the word prodigal means to be wastefully or recklessly extravagant or a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance.

Prodigal: to be wastefully or recklessly extravagant or a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance.

On top of the terms, we also need an understanding of the audience of the story. And, though our story begins in Luke 15:11, we learn from Luke 15:1-2 who the audience was. These verses say, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

There were two main audiences hearing this story from Jesus. The irreligious, and the super religious. The irreligious group was made up of tax collectors and sinners. We often think of the tax collector in the Biblical narrative as the guys who were going around and taking money from people. And, we know that they made their living from the extra money they were able to take from the people; so, they were commonly known as thieves. But, there’s even more going on here as to why this was so scandalous for Jesus to associate with the tax collectors.

In that day, Rome ruled the land. In fact, their Empire spanned all the way from England to India. Now, today, this amount of land doesn’t seem like a big deal to govern. But, during this first century, this was a massive undertaking. How did they do it? The Romans had an incredibly large army, and they were not known for being nice guys. They stole from the townspeople. They violated their women. They beat their men. How did these soldiers get their livelihood and weaponry? Taxes. So, the tax collectors were the guys coming around, stealing from you and paying the Roman soldiers to stick around to steal from families, beat the men and violate the women. They were traitors, and Jesus found Himself frequently associating with them.

And, then, there were the sinners. We often read sinner and simply think, “Yeah, you’re a sinner. I’m a sinner. We’re all sinners.” But, in the first century, the sinners were a class of people. They were the deformed, the diseased, the prostitutes — and, again, Jesus finds Himself frequently associating with them.

The second group, the religious group, was made up of the Pharisees and scribes. To put it bluntly, the Pharisees and Scribes are better than us. They have more of the Bible memorized than us. They had to memorize the Torah — the first five books of the Bible. That means they have not only read the book of Numbers… they have it memorized. Think about that. On the Sabbath, they are only taking so many steps. These guys were offended at the idea that Jesus would receive and eat with sinners.

With these definitions in mind, let’s get to the story. Luke 15:11 says, “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.”

Now, for the father to divide his property between the two sons wasn’t a simple task. He had to sell off a portion of his property in order to compensate his son monetarily. And, so the father is putting his property on the market, downsizing and giving the son his inheritance in cash at an extreme cost to himself. Continuing on, Luke 15:13 says, “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!bI 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. Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.

“And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

There is a lot of tension in this story. Each character is full of questions, doubts and hopes. For the younger brother, the tension was in his wondering how his father would respond to his prodigal nature. He had frivolously spent and wasted his money. He had wasted what his father had given him, and he was going to go home and hope to get a job as a servant in his father’s house so that he could repay what his father had given him. How would his father respond to seeing him?

For the older brother, the tension was found in his response to his father’s prodigal nature towards his brother. The older brother thought his father had frivolously wasted his wealth and kindness on his younger brother. He chose not to take part of the party and made his father leave the party so that they could have a conversation. His tension is not resolved in the story, and we are left to wonder what he chose to do next.

The interesting thing about this story is that the tension for the younger brother is already resolved. If you hear this story and you resonate with the younger brother, you feel like you are distant or far away from God and you wonder how he would respond to you if you moved towards him, there is good news for you. You do not have to wonder how your heavenly father will respond to you.

He will welcome, receive, and accept you. God has already shown His prodigal nature towards you. He has already given you the most lavish and reckless gift he could. He gave up His one and only son. He gave Jesus, who lived a perfect life and yet paid the penalty for your sins, so that he might cover all of your wrongdoing and wandering. God did this so that you might have a way to come home. You will be forgiven and received because of God’s extraordinary gift of love to you. The tension is resolved. You only have to choose to come home.

For the older brother, it is different. The tension is not resolved. He is still outside of the party at the end of the story. If we think back to the audience of the story, we realize that Jesus is directing most of his comments to the religious pharisees and scribes. Remember, they were offended that Jesus was receiving and eating with sinners and tax collectors. They were the older brother in this story. He was challenging them to redefine the way that they looked at sin, lostness and hope. That is where we are going to spend the rest of our time today.

(RE)DEFINING SIN

So, our first principle is that we must redefine sin. In Luke 15:29, the older brother says to the father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.” The older brother was mad at his younger brother because the younger brother wanted his father’s stuff and not really the father at all. But, what we can easily miss is that the older brother was the same. He wasn’t seeking the father for the father’s sake. He was doing good in order to get what his father had. And, much like the older brother, we can get stuck focusing on our deeds and not our motives behind them. And, so, to redefine sin in our minds this morning, we must not ask only what are you doing, but why are you doing it at all? Doing the right things for the wrong reasons is sin.

This is not the only time that Jesus tried to communicate this principle to the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:25-26, Jesus says, ““Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” Let’s look into a deeper definition of sin today.

Tim Chester, in his book, You Can Change, describes four steps of sin:

WHAT DID YOU DESIRE?

Romans 1:14-15 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” This is often where we start and stop when it comes to sin. What did you desire. Stop desiring that. Good Talk. We focus so much on the “what” that we never look at the deeper issue of “why?”.

WHY DID YOU DESIRE IT?

It presented something appealing to you. There was something that you felt that you lacked that you wanted. Something inside of you told you that you needed to attend to the desire yourself. You did this because you believed a lie about God and about the sin.

WHAT LIE DID YOU BELIEVE IN THAT CAUSED YOU TO KEEP GOING TOWARDS YOUR DESIRE?

Romans 1:24-25 says, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” Think of Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve desired the fruit from the tree. That is what she desired, but the “what” was not the main issue. She desired it because she thought that it would make her better, more knowledgeable. She was made to feel that she was not good enough the way that God had made her. She believed the lie that she would become like God if she ate the fruit.

There is always a lie about the sin and about God. The lie reveals our true idol, the thing that we trust in more than we trust in God.

WHAT IDOL ARE YOU ESTABLISHING IN YOUR HEART?

Let me walk you through a couple of examples of idols that will help you grab onto this principle. Let us deal with a situation that is somewhat common in a lot of places. Think of a teenager who attended church, behaved the right way, then went off to college and began to behave in a way contradictory to how they did at church.

If a young person has an idol of acceptance and fitting in, they will modify their behavior while they are at church and around church people so that they fit in. They will learn the behavior that gains them acceptance and then practice it. They might be doing all the right things, using the right language, and attending all of the events; but they are doing these things for the wrong reasons. They are not resting in the fact God has already accepted and received them. they are depending on themselves to fit in.

When this teenageer goes off to college, all of a sudden there is a whole new set of behaviors that they need to accommodate to fit in. So they start following those behavioral patterns. From the outside it looks as if they have lost their minds, and are turning away from everything that they used to believe and practice. But what has really changed on the inside? Nothing.

If somebody has an idol of self sufficiency, they will do whatever it takes to provide for themselves. They have believed a lie that God is not their provider, and now they are replacing God with themselves or their job. Their negative motive could be masked by the fact that they are working super hard and have a great work ethic. Or it could be that they will justify stealing because he needed to provide for himself and his  family. The behaviors are different, but the idol in the heart is the same.

It is important for us to recognize this process so that we can eradicate the sin at its root, and not simply chop off a behavior and replace it with a different one.

Our motives matter to God. We need to start recognizing sin as something deeper than our actions. Sin starts when we desire something outside of God’s plan, trusting that it will fulfill our longings and give us a better life than God’s plan.

Redefining sin in this way is critical for us. If we do not do this, our hearts can get very, very far from God while we try to justify ourselves, and attempt to make ourselves righteous. The result of not redefining sin is that we can easily become lost even though we are around our Heavenly Father’s stuff. We can be around church, praying eloquently, volunteering and still maintain a heart that is very contaminated.

(RE)DEFINING LOSTNESS

So, this brings us to our second principle: we must redefine lostness. In Luke 15:28, it says about the older brother, “But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him.” Lostness is a heart condition more than a geographical location. We can be in the right place, such as church, and still be far from God. This make redefining what it means to be lost quite a bit more difficult. On the surface, everything looks great. Everything can look like a life that is near to the heart of God and pleasing to God, but below the surface, we are still lost.

That’s where the older brother found himself in this story. It was his pride in all of his good deeds that was keeping him apart from the father. It was his self-righteousness that was keeping him out of the feast of salvation. You see, true worship is obedience to God for no other reason than that you delight in God. There is a fundamental difference in serving God to get something from Him and serving Him to get more of Him. True worship is when you serve God to get nothing else than more of God.

True worship is when you serve God to get nothing else than more of God.

To help you diagnose the symptoms of an older brother, we have a list of ten different symptoms of an older brother here for you. So, we’re going to read these like Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be A Redneck If…” but instead, You Might Be An Older Brother If…”

  1. You might be an older brother if after a positive spiritual experience, you immediately think about how you are better than people who have not had that experience. You believe you’re now closer to God than other people.
  2. You might be an older brother if you think you are the judge of who is worthy of grace.
  3. You might be an older brother if you think you have the right to delineate who deserves justice and what type of punishment they deserve.
  4. You might be an older brother if you think you can earn grace from God by doing good actions.
  5. You might be an older brother if you live with fear of rejection or abandonment from God instead of accepting adoption as a son.
  6. You might be an older brother if you think you know how everybody else should live to be accepted by God.
  7. You might be an older brother if you serve God more out of duty than out of pleasure and if your loyalty to God is a means to an end.
  8. You might be an older brother if you have pride in your good deeds, rather than remorse over your bad deeds.
  9. You might be an older brother if you worship and obey to get more from God and not more of God.
  10. You might be an older brother if, when you hear the truth being preached, you immediately think of other people who need to hear that message.

(RE)DEFINING HOPE

So, this brings us to our third and final principle: we must redefine hope. As we begin to move to our closing, in Luke 15:31, the father says to the older brother, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” You might be like the younger brother and foolishly wasted years of your life. You may have spent the time and decisions and moments that God gave you recklessly. Or, you might be like the older brother and foolishly wasted yourself and your time and energy trying to gain favor from the father. In either scenario, the brothers are prodigals.

But, there is a third prodigal in this narrative: the father. What kind of dad foolishly gives his son what he asks for, knowing he will spend it all? what kind of dad leaves the party that cost him greatly to sit beside his oldest son and have a heart-to-heart. That’s a prodigal dad. And, friends, we serve a prodigal God. Our hope is found in the fact that our prodigal nature cannot outdo God’s prodigal nature for us. Our sin is not bigger than His grace. Our enmity is not bigger than His love.

Our prodigal nature cannot outdo God’s prodigal nature for us.

God is not selling his Kingdom, making us earn our way to it. He is giving it, and we receive it through grace. Our ability to understand God’s Prodigal love, affects our ability to show it to others.

 

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