By: Cynthia Butler
I caught myself being jealous the other day. Why is it that the people God saves from especially sinful lives have the best testimonies? They have the dramatic healings. They get miraculously delivered from drugs or alcohol. They receive a special message from God. While those of us who have been faithful to Jesus almost from infancy keep waiting. . . and waiting. . . and waiting for something supernatural to happen.
I should be happy for anyone who is blessed with a miracle. Really, I am. But I think that there is a part of me that feels envious; at least I did feel that way for a moment, until I looked in a mirror (so to speak)- a reflection of this less than holy feeling; a character in the Bible I never knew I identified with: the other brother.
You probably know the story of the prodigal son. He was dissatisfied with life on a farm. He wanted to see the world and do his own thing. So he basically asked for his inheritance before his father’s death. Then he went and squandered it on loose living until he was broke. Finally, when he had nothing, he came to his senses. “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death,” he considered. So he returned to his father saying, “I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.” But his father embraced him instead and showered him with gifts. He threw a party to celebrate his son’s return. When the other brother came back from working in the field he found out what had happened. Instead of rejoicing, he became jealous. “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”
Basically what the other brother was saying is “My rebellious brother doesn’t deserve what you are giving him. If anyone deserves that kind of treatment, it’s me.” Well, that may come across as a little bit arrogant or judgmental, but actually, it’s half true. The prodigal did not deserve what he was given. So the fact that the father showed such favor to him reveals some things about his character: He is forgiving. He is quick to celebrate. He is not conservative in his giving, but surprisingly generous, beyond what is deserved. These are the ways he shows love.
It seems to me that the older brother had lived with his father all his life and had not truly known who his father was. He only saw him as someone to work for, a boss or even a slave-driver. But that was not how the father viewed their relationship. “My son” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” So the gifts that the older son coveted were actually not denied him; rather there was no need to gift them because they were his all along. That’s why his father said, “everything I have is yours.” The older son already had access to all the riches that the Father had bestowed upon his unworthy brother. Instead of making him angry, his father’s treatment of the younger son should have inspired him. It should have brought about this revelation: If my father is willing to lavish such gifts on one who betrayed him, won’t he be willing to grant them also to his son who has stayed faithful through the years?
And what about those gifts from God that we might envy in the lives of others? What about the healing, the deliverance, the miraculous provision, the favor and guidance? Why should we ever be jealous of the good things God has given to our brothers and sisters? Why not, rather, ask God for whatever we desire and expect the same generosity? If God is saying to us, as the father said to the faithful son, “everything I have is yours”, then He is withholding nothing from us (Psalm 84:11). “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). So it is through our knowledge of him that we receive everything we need. Let us not be like the older brother, then, who lived with his father, but did not truly know him. We need to see Him for who He really is. We ought to picture Him, not as a disconnected dictator, but as a compassionate father who runs to hug His son, who loves to give him gifts. We ought to think of Him as a friend who shares everything with us, because when we are obedient to Him, He doesn’t just consider us servants but friends (John 15:14-15). And you are rich by association, because if all things are God’s and he shares all He has with you, then “All things are yours. . . whether life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23)