A Prodigal or a Whiner… What’s worse?

Parable of the Prodigal Son - Wikipedia

Luke 15:11-14 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.

The parable of the prodigal son is perhaps one of the most well-know New Testament parables. Because of its prominence, there is a glut of teaching on this passage in Luke 15:11-32; much of the teaching misses the point. We ought to tire of the error prone and wildly overdone teaching, on God being a doting father, waiting like a lonely puppy for his returning master. Make no mistake, this is a wrong and dominant theme.

It is true that the LORD our God is love and in Him being love He express a desire to redeem the lost, into His Kingdom, as children, but that narrative does not follow the popular teaching of this parable.

Consider for a moment that the younger son demanded his inheritance, when he had no right to do so. In the first place, the older son would inherit the entirety of his father’s inheritance in the Jewish religious culture of the day, and that the older son would then divide it up as he saw necessary. Secondly, remember that an inheritance was only given upon the death of the father.

In demanding the portion of, “the goods that would fall to me”, the son was indeed telling his father, “You are dead to me”, which is to curse his father. In the culture and time of the Lord Jesus Christ, as well as in much of the world, even today, this would be an insult upon the very order of the society. In Israel, during the time of our Lord Jesus Christ, this would have brought about the necessary execution of the younger son, per the law of God

(Leviticus 20:9) For everyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother. His blood shall be upon him.

(Deuteronomy 21:18-21) “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.

Considering this truth, it is important to understand the disposition of the father toward his son. When he declares that his son was dead, but now he lives, he says that his son was dead to him, as soon as his son demanded an inheritance. Therefore, we do not see the father sending his other son to check up on the prodigal or to bring more provision to the prodigal. The father literally had no idea where his son was, nor did he try to find out, because his son was dead to him.

Therefore, the father was not pining away looking into the distance for endless hours to see if perchance his son would come to his senses. The reason he ran to his son and put his coat on him and his own ring, was for the purpose of protecting the returning sinner before the community saw him and killed him for breaking the law of God so egregiously.

The father would be the only one to accuse him and to declare him repentant and therefore the coat and the ring would reveal that repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Make no mistake about it, if the son would have returned unrepentant, he would have been stoned to death. Yes, the Father does reveal God’s love, merciful kindness, and grace to those who repent.

That said, the parable reveals characteristics that have potential in any person, lost or saved, but for the saved, these characteristics are especially problematic.


For the prodigal son, we see a young man, who does not really understand the blessing of God’s Fatherhood. Often, Christians do not either. Romans 8:14-17 reveals the blessing of being children of God through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s shed blood, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God, and we have not received the spirit of bondage again, unto to fear, but the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry ‘Abba Father’”. In this we experience the present reality of salvation, God with us, by the Holy Spirit.

To the prodigal, being with his father was of no value. What he saw as blessing was the ability to have and do what he wanted, when he wanted. This to most of the world is the error prone definition of freedom. Note that the prodigal did not make any effort, which afforded him the provision to be independent in this manner, he needed his father’s wealth. As he speaks to his father, we can hear the wicked sense of entitlement saturating his words “Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me” (Luke 15:12).

For Christians in America, this false mentality has been injected into every area of our cultural and religious practice. We even have seminars on how we can gain financial freedom and be independently wealthy enough to survive what is coming. To many Christians, the accumulation of money and goods is seen as the blessing of God. This would be a huge error in thinking, for the word of God does not bear it out.

The prodigal illustrates a Christian practice that gives lip service to morality and righteousness, treating God as a genie existing to make sure we have what we want. In this false form of faith, God exists to give us our best life now, which is not determined by biblical truth, but our own whims and wishes.


When dealing with the second brother, we see an entirely different angle on how to miss the blessing of God our Father, being with us to lead, guide, and provide what is needed. Upon the prodigal’s return, the older brother was embittered and angry, and spoke two huge falsehoods.

In the first place, when questioned by his father, concerning his poor response to his brother’s return, the older son declared his father was throwing a party for someone who devoured his father’s livelihood with harlots (Luke 15:30). This is false, for the father gave the younger son, what was a fair allotment (should it have been done appropriately after he had died). Therefore, it was freely given, no longer belonging to the father and in the hands of the prodigal to do with as he chose.

Secondly, and related to this fact, the eldest son declares that his father had not even given him a little young goat to roast with his friends. This is patently false. To understand why, we must go back to the beginning of the parable.

Luke 15:11-12 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.

Here we see that the father, at that time, divided his entire inheritance to his sons, meaning the second son owned all the remaining livelihood the father possessed. The father says as much to the older son, explaining why the oldest son was wrong.

Luke 15:31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.

Whether the older son understood what his father dividing the inheritance to “them” meant or not, is not the point. The point is, he could have done whatever he wanted to do with the remaining portion, even blow it in prodigal living like his brother. Could the eldest son have killed the fatted calf for himself and his friends? Surely, he could have, but he chose not to, or was living in a false mindset.

This false mindset is not far off, from what passes as an appropriate self-righteousness in many Christians and is another side of the coin of the prosperity gospel. In this form, there is a concern for righteousness and morality, in so far as they are recognized and rewarded. Consider how the older son, declared how terrible his brother’s sin and behavior was, before contrasting it with his own “impeccable” credentials.

Luke 15:28-30 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore, his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’

In his response, the older son believes that his good behavior ought to have merited a better outcome, but what could the father give more of? He already gave the son all he had. This improper attitude is often displayed by good intentioned and well-meaning people of faith. When thinking of Job’s experience we see a man, who believed he was being unjustly punished by God, because he was a relatively good man. In Abraham’s life we see this trait as well.

Genesis 15:1-3 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

By all accounts Abraham was loaded. Yet, based on God’s promise to him and not understanding that God fulfills His promise when He determines they be fulfilled, without asking our opinion, Abraham ignores the imminent and all the time blessing of God being with us to protect, provide and related to us.

God says to all of us “I am your Shield, your exceedingly great reward”, or more simply state “I AM YOUR BLESSING”. Therefore, Paul could be content with much or little, abounding and favored or being abased and run over. This is what the oldest son in the parable of the prodigal missed. Listen to the father’s heart.

Luke 15:31“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.

In the second son, we see a man who tries to be good, moral and right, but expects public affirmation and reward for that. This is prosperity gospel, and it is far too prevalent in the church around the world, especially in America. The problem with the eldest son arises from the same wrong root in the younger prodigal brother.

Psalms 37:3-4 Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Neither son trusted the father, even though he gave them no reason to trust. We know this, for the first son demanded his inheritance and the second son questioned his father’s benevolence. Can we not fall to the same sinful and faulty thinking?

Secondly, they did not feed on the good and loving character of their father but were only concerned with having more of what they wanted. Have you ever known a time where you questioned God’s faithfulness for not getting what you desired and prayed for, or believing Him to be withholding some blessing you believe you deserve?

Of course, we have. The degree to which we overcome these errors in relation to our faith is the degree to which we will have contentment with our Father being with us, by the Holy Spirit. The only real antidote is to “Delight ourselves in the LORD”. When we do that, our desires change to mirror His love, joy, peace, mercy, and compassion.

This was the problem for both sons, let it not be ours. Refuse to be prodigal. Refuse to be a whining complaining Christian, that missed the blessing of God.

About Michael J Erdel

Mike is a pastor with The Assembly of God Fellowship. He is the lead pastor at Encounter Church in Fostoria Ohio. His desire is to encourage the Church of Jesus Christ, and declare God's hope through His Son Jesus, to a world which is long on excuses and short on hope. Mike has experienced the truth that when we kneel before Christ, surrendering to Him as Savior and LORD, being led and empowered by His Spirit. To Jesus Christ be all glory and honor.
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