The Joyless Servant

11.16.23 Devo Image

“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.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”—Luke 15:28–32 (NKJV)

I confess that at times I’m more like the older brother than I’d like to admit. Don’t get me wrong, I can identify with both brothers in this parable. I’m extremely grateful to have been the prodigal son whom God the Father lovingly welcomed home. 

At one time, I was the wild, rebellious younger brother, thinking life had something to offer more satisfying than the life my Father desired for me. However, 15 years after my salvation, I find the frustration and anger of the older brother so relatable. The older brother was “good” and the younger brother was “bad.” Right? Well . . . no. I will definitely circle back to that misconception. When I step in the older brother’s shoes, I’m not so sure my reaction would have initially been much different. Maybe because there’s severe favoritism in my own immediate family, my heart can identify with the hurt he felt. This isn’t a story of favoritism, but instead it’s a picture of the Father’s patient, merciful, and grace-filled heart towards the lost.

What the older brother fails to see (and sometimes me) is that his attitude and inner resentment is just as sinful as his younger brother’s wild partying. Genuine repentance is required when jealousy brews bitterness. The eldest is bitter that all the “good” he’s done goes unnoticed. Unfortunately, his motive to serve his father was not from an overflow of love, but rather for credit, recognition, and self-righteousness. Both brothers were self-absorbed and sinful. As I often say, we’re all standing on level ground at the foot of the cross. There isn’t “good or bad.” All of our righteousness are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Each of us needs the Father’s forgiveness. 

Anger has the power to choke out the truth. The brother’s anger cries, “What about me, I’m missing out!” In his outrage, he misses a key truth: “All that I have is yours.” This reminds me of how often I forget the holy inheritance I have in Christ Jesus. Sonship, the Father’s love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and eternal life are not little things. These belong to all believers. This inheritance is for our joy and God’s glory. I have to ask myself, do I serve and obey my Father with joy or duty? Like the father in the parable who said, ”It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again and was lost and is found,” our heavenly Father is inviting us into His joy. It brings God great joy to have compassion on the lost and broken—we’re invited to have the same attitude. 

This narrative is so rich with lessons for believers. What we have is three parables in one:

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a picture of repentance, gratitude, and redemption. When we recognize the world has nothing to offer our hungry soul, we come running back to the loving arms of the Father.

The Parable of the Older Brother is a picture of the joyless duty of the Pharisees. Checking a box and obeying to later say, “Look how good I am;” performing for God and not realizing the holy inheritance granted to us.

The Parable of the Father is a picture of the greatest love humanity has ever known: the tender, uninhibited, pure love that saves the soul. God the Father loves the lost and so should we.

Pause: How does your level of compassion for the lost compare to that of our heavenly Father? What can you do to increase your compassion? Have you ever caught yourself thinking like the older brother?

Practice: Do you ever wonder if the older brother came around and finally made it to the party? Let’s say he did. Place yourself in the role of older brother this week and journal how you eventually wound up at the celebration. Write about your change of attitude. What did you say to the father and your younger brother that night?

Pray: Lord God, is my service to You one of joy or obligation and duty? Please show me. You deserve a joyful servant. If I have failed to rejoice in my service to You or in my holy inheritance, please forgive me. I want my heart to be that of the father’s in this parable, full of compassion, love, and grace. Please help me repent and turn away from my self-righteousness when I show up like the older brother. Thank You for welcoming my lost soul home to You. Amen. 

About the Author

Debra Marsalisi

Deb Marsalisi is an author, public speaker, mentor and Fire Inspector. She began her writing journey to make peace with her challenging past. It has provided her with an outlet for creative self-expression, and a healthy new perspective on life. 

Through God’s amazing grace, she has learned to rejoice in life’s ups and downs, struggles and victories understanding they’ve been given so she can help and inspire others on their own journey of restoration. Her passion is to support others in emotional and spiritual habits that are truly life-changing. She spends her free time loving, encouraging and mentoring young women to grow in their relationship with Jesus. And she also enjoys cooking amazing meals for her friends and family.