Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. -- Luke 15: 11 (NIV)
We all know the parable of the lost, or prodigal, son. A father, who represents our heavenly father, has two sons as the key verse states. One demands his portion of his inheritance so the father divided his property between the two sons. The prodigal goes off into the world to squander his fortune on wild living and sin. The other son stays at home and works his father's land. Both sons represent wrong ways to approach all God has given to us. Both represent bad spirits we can exhibit in our walk with God as well as the wrong spirit that can invade our churches. We know that the prodigal returns home and the father runs to greet him while the other son becomes resentful -- but let's go a bit deeper today.
The prodigal son has a demanding entitlement spirit. In the parable we know this son demanded his inheritance while his father was still alive! He then took his share of the fortune and without care or caution wasted it on a sinful and worldly lifestyle. This is a spirit that wants the benefits of being a child of God without the relationship. In the Book of Acts we see an example of this in the seven sons of Sceva.
A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, "I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!" Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, "I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?" Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered. -- Acts 19: 13-16 (NLT)
How badly have you been beaten when your clothes are beaten from your body? Note here that these seven people were sons of a leading priest. They had plenty of religion but they did not have any relationship with Jesus Christ. They wanted the power of the name of Jesus but not the sacrifice it requires to know Him. The prodigal spirit can infect the church in a similar manner. We see many churches today that have plenty of religion but no true relationship with the God they claim to serve. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy of these times:
You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! -- 2Timothy 3: 1-5 (NLT)
Acting religious but denying the very power that could make them godly! The state of too many churches today infected with the prodigal spirit. Realize that the scoffing at God need not be blatant -- the devil is often very subtle. But when you compromise doctrine you are essentially mocking God. These days we not only see a corrupting of doctrine but we see it done boastfully! We not only embrace it but we are in fact proud of it! Those that dare to speak up for the truth of God are labeled as legalistic ogres or taking themselves too seriously. Remember, the prodigal didn't see what he was doing wrong until God had to bring him down to the level of pigs. The prodigal spirit considers nothing sacred. The church, the altar, the Word of God -- nothing. Jesus saw this prodigal spirit in the Pharisees and rebuked them sternly:
"Blind guides! What sorrow awaits you! For you say that it means nothing to swear "by God's Temple,' but that it is binding to swear "by the gold in the Temple.' Blind fools! Which is more important--the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? And you say that to swear "by the altar' is not binding, but to swear "by the gifts on the altar' is binding. How blind! For which is more important--the gift on the altar or the altar that makes the gift sacred? When you swear "by the altar,' you are swearing by it and by everything on it. And when you swear "by the Temple,' you are swearing by it and by God, who lives in it. And when you swear "by heaven,' you are swearing by the throne of God and by God, who sits on the throne. -- Matthew 23: 16-22 (NLT)
To the prodigal spirit the tithe is more important than the church. The offering is more important than the altar. Reverence is lost. We just saw how the prodigal spirit wants power over relationship and next we see the preference of money over relationship. In the parable the prodigal son demands what he views as being owed to him and leaves to squander it how he sees fit. In our own walk we too can value money over God despite the warnings we know we have heard from the Lord:
"If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won't be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people's things, why should you be trusted with things of your own? "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." -- Luke 16: 10-13 (NLT)
Too many in the modern church are trying to serve both God and Mammon. The reality is they are serving only Mammon because the Word here makes it clear -- you cannot serve both. The end result is not only the pretense of serving God but the fact that this spirit will actually end up hating God. In the Old Testament God once rebuked Israel by saying they only honored Him with their lips while their hearts remained far away. That is the state of the church with the prodigal spirit. It is more interested in the things of this world than the things of God. It is more interested in money than holiness. Sure, it will be wrapped up in the "things of God." No one does Christianese better than Christians.
Lastly for the prodigal spirit is some good news. There is always the opportunity to repent. We know in the parable that the prodigal son realizes his folly and comes home. The prodigal spirit is capable of seeing where it has gone wrong. It is capable of seeking a way out of the pig sty it finds itself in. It may need to be brought to its knees -- to its lowest point possible -- because that is often where God has to break us. The harsh reality is that as bad as the prodigal spirit is in the church it is actually the better of the two options. The spirit of the other son is far worse.
We know from the parable that the other son stayed at home with the father and worked the land. But based upon his reaction to the fathers love towards the prodigal we see that the motivation was impure:
"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, "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!' -- Luke 15: 28-30 (NIV)
The spirit of the other son had a relationship with the father but it was built on resentment. His motivation was wrong. It is interesting that the prodigal is often mostly criticized for demanding his inheritance but let's look at the language used by both sons: