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  • The Elder Brother (Life Group discussion notes)

    The first half of the famous parable in Luke 15 deals with the wayward younger brother. The second half of the parable deals with the reaction of the dutiful elder brother. It reveals how his heart was hardened to the father as much as the younger brother. Both are lost.

    The Elder Brother (Life Group discussion notes) - primary image

    Image by Ken Fager

    Being lost like the younger brother is much easier to spot than being lost like the elder brother. Elder brother traits can creep up on us; even seasoned Christians with a clear understanding of God’s grace can at times drift into older brother behaviour.

    Here are five traits that we can watch out for:

    Deep anger

    The elder son was angry at the father’s response to the younger sons return. He exhorts his own dutifulness in comparison to the younger son’s wastefulness. His whole worship is shaped by how well he is doing and he gets angry at being overlooked. Your acceptance from God is not based on your ‘MY’ (my giving, my good works or my serving). Your acceptance is based upon the Saviour’s love alone.

    Joyless, mechanical obedience

    The elder son says “I have been slaving for you”. Elder brothers have a tendency to do what is right because it’s the right thing to do rather than out of love for Jesus. It often starts out of love for Jesus but over time you drift into joyless, mechanical obedience. We can end up worshipping our contribution more than we worship Jesus himself.

    Coldness to younger-brother types

    The elder brother detaches himself from the family exclaiming “This son of yours!” Sometimes as Christians we can lose sight of our family identity and we forget our role in loving and encouraging those coming back to the Father.

    Lack of assurance of the Father’s love

    The elder brother complains; “I’ve always been around and you’ve never thrown a party for me.” Sometimes we can lose sight of the goodness of God in our own lives and we begin to build a gospel based upon what we’ve done. We do certain things in the hope that God will love us rather than ‘God’s loves for us, wow, I then get to do all these things.’ 

    Unforgiving, judgmental spirit

    Ultimately the elder brother doesn’t want the father to forgive the younger brother. Instead he wants him to pay for it. It’s impossible to forgive someone if you look at them and think… “I would never have done anything like that. I would never have taken the money.” Unforgiveness is like a poison that eats away at us instead we need to trust God for justice.

    Some questions

    1) How does the elder brother view a) himself b) his brother c) his father
    2) Who in the parable are you relating most to? The younger or elder brother?
    3) A sign of elder brother-ness is anger and bitterness; in particular when your life doesn’t go the way you hoped. What thoughts, feelings and assumptions lead to such anger and bitterness?
    4) How would the attitude of the elder brother make it harder for the younger brother to come home? How can you prevent this happening in your own life and in your church?

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