Long before he takes his first steps down that path which leads away from the Father’s house, the prodigal’s heart has begun to harden. If his heart is searched deeply, it would be found ebbing in delight for that which is holy and good. Like Eve he begins to see the forbidden as appealing to the eye. He looks away from that which is actually pleasing and should be his desire.
This turning away in the heart shows up in how the prodigal considers his relationships. In the Luke 15 account of the prodigal, we see those with whom he has a relationship. In each of these relationships, his heart distorts how God intends him to relate.
As we look into our own hearts, we should be warned if we find the same distortions.
1. The Prodigal’s Relationship with the Father
In the parable the father demonstrated that he was a good father. The prodigal was not an abused or neglected child seeking for his basic needs. The son should have found great delight in having such a father. His highest joy should have been loving his father. This love would show itself in that the son would honor his father and his father’s name.
Yet the son was eager to part ways from his father. Without a push he ambled down the road away from his father’s estate. Why? Because his heart now had a greater love.
It is one thing when a man leaves his father to cleave to his bride. That is part of the wisdom of God. But this lad left with only the mistress of the world in his view.
Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of our being. Beware when this love loses its fire. If it cools, you are on your way to the prodigal path.
2. The Prodigal’s Relationship with his Brother
The prodigal son was the younger of two sons in their household. God intends that brothers have a special love for one another. But this younger sibling cared not that his brother would be left having to pick up the slack his departure would cause. The lure to fulfill his fleshly desires was stronger than the compassion he should have felt for the one through whom ran the same blood as he possessed.
As the parable unfolds, we see that the elder brother resented his younger brother. He was not innocent in this. But the younger son was not able to strengthen his brother. He was only able to drive a wedge between the two.
In the church we refer to fellow believers as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to love these brothers and sisters. The New Testament is replete with injunctions on how we demonstrate that love to “one another.”
When we stop considering our brother, even our weaker brother, we are stepping towards the pig pen.
3. The Prodigal’s Relationship with his Neighbor
Perhaps the prodigal would have been dispatched to this far country at a later point. If so, he would have been an ambassador for his father. He would have given honor to his father and his father’s name in the presence of his neighbors.
Instead he lived riotously among these neighboring men. He had to be hired by one to feed the pigs. His employer certainly was not respecting this boy’s father. He had pity on him and probably looked at him with scorn.
Jesus taught that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor. The prodigal did not demonstrate this love. The best demonstration of love to our neighbor is that we show them God. When we are content to live as though we do not know God, we will not present a faithful picture of God to them.
When we fail to demonstrate love to our neighbor, we walking the path of the prodigal.
4. The Prodigal’s Relationship with Himself
In the parable the prodigal really only loved himself. Loving our self is a given of human nature (Eph 5:29). The problem is when we only love self. Yet modern culture is intent on teaching that we have to learn to love ourselves. We don’t have to learn that. We already do.
What we have to learn is to love God more than we love ourselves. When that love is paramount, we can love our brothers, love our neighbors, and love ourselves properly.
The prodigal was not interested in loving his father. He loved what his father could provide. He loved the benefits and financial blessings his father could give him. But he wanted to spend those blessings away from his father in reckless living. He loved himself more than he loved his father.
When your highest affections are centered on yourself, you have the heart of a prodigal. We must find our greatest joy in our Father, not in ourselves. We must delight, savor and enjoy God our Father.
When we do this we will discover that we have great love for our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and even ourselves. When we don’t we will find that our selfish pleasures will eventually spoil. That is the reality of what the prodigal can expect.
If you find yourself as a prodigal, the Father will receive you back home. The gospel is good news for the prodigal.