The Day God Ran
It’s an ever present reality that as long as there are people there will be problems. Edwin Crozier said “While the church is always the people, the people are not always the church.” We don’t always act and speak as we ought to in a way that glorifies God. We don’t always seek peace and extend mercy as we ought to. We disagree, bump heads, hurt feelings, neglect responsibility, etc. In all those cases we have responsibility of reconciling and forgiving, seeking forgiveness, or both.
Among those things that are times when for various reasons, and yet the same reason, people decide to turn away from the Lord. They abandon the faith, walk in idleness, walk contrary to the Lord’s will and chose to walk in darkness. Despite the great efforts made to encourage and admonish or at times to our shame, lack of efforts made to encourage and admonish, they chose to leave the fellowship with God and the saints. “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 Jn. 1:5-6)
We’ve all experienced the saddening and hurtful times when we’ve had to individually and collectively withdraw from those who have chosen to abandon the Lord. We’ve struggled with handling the instructive and punitive discipline in the best of ways as God would have us to. We’ve struggled with truly changing the relationship we once had with those individuals “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:5) and “that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thess. 3:14)
But what happens when they come back? Have you ever thought much about what we should do or how we should act when they come back to the Lord? It’s not something I have thought about much in the past and maybe you haven’t either. There is a parable in Luke 15 that has helped me think more of this question and prepare myself recently. While the focus of this parable is on the Father and His steadfast love for us there are still many applications we can easily draw to help us be more like our Father.
In Luke 15:11-32 you have the parable of the prodigal son. I’m sure most everyone is very familiar with the parable so we won’t spell the whole thing out but the younger son asks for his inheritance and journeys off into a far country and squanders his property in reckless living. After some time he then comes to himself and with a humble and meek spirit comes back home seeking forgiveness.
What the Brother Did
He Was Angry
In Luke 15:28 the text says that the older brother was angry. He was angry that his brother had left. He was angry that his brother had squandered his father’s property. He was angry that his brother abandoned the relationship with his father and himself. Think about all the reasons we get angry today when people abandon the Lord. On one hand anger is a natural response but his anger exceeded its appropriate limit and lead to other sinful actions.
The older brother was so angry that he refused to go inside and join the celebration much less rejoice himself. (Luke 15:28) The Father had to come out to him to try and talk reason with him. We’ve been there as well and we’ve seen this happen. Someone comes back to the Lord but all the hurt feelings are still there and the anger is still there and we don’t want to talk to them much less rejoice with them.
He Acted Selfishly
And that is because of selfishness. The brother responds to his father’s counsel in Luke 15:29 and it’s all about him. Instead of thinking about what his brother had been through and what it took for him to return all he could think about was himself. We’ve been there as well. We all struggle and we are all tempted. We all have bad days and have had people that have angered us or offended us. But when all those things happened we didn’t run. We didn’t cave in and lose hope. When we did fall and our faith was weak we humbled ourselves and allowed God’s grace to strengthen us. We’re not like that guy who left the Lord and took the “easy” path for a while.
He Was Bitter
As you read his attitude of selfishness it just reeks of bitterness. “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” (Luke 15:30) You can’t read that and not hear bitterness and malice. As much as we’d like to say we don’t I think we relate to this as well. We find ourselves thinking or even sometimes hear brethren say things like “I don’t think they mean it”, “I doubt this will last long”, or “I’m sorry but I have a hard time buying it.” That’s bitterness, pride, selfishness, and sinful.
What the Father Did
He Was Looking
Luke 15:20 says “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…” Isn’t that amazing? No doubt the father was hurt by His son’s rebellion. No doubt the father couldn’t help but think that His son may never return and yet He was looking! How often do we do that? How often do we just write people off? I think many times the reality is we’ve written people off long before an announcement is ever made about them being withdrawn from. The father was constantly looking and so should we be.
He Was Compassionate
Luke 15:20 says that when the father ran to him he felt compassion. The father had every right to chide him, rebuke him, and give him one hundred “I told you so” statements. But instead his father showed him compassion and mercy and embraced him. The father understood where he had come from, what he was in need of, and what it took for his son to come back home. We must prepare ourselves in the same way. Prepare ourselves to put away that anger, pride, selfish ambition and bitterness and be ready to show compassion.
Luke 15:20 says that the father ran. The day God ran. I realize it’s in a parable but isn’t it an amazing picture? God the father running out to meet the lost son who has humbled himself and sought to come back home. He was so excited that he couldn’t just stand there and wait for his son to walk all the way up to him but rather the father went out and met him. I’m not suggesting that if a brother or sister comes back to the Lord that everyone should run out into the parking lot when they arrive and meet them at the car. I wouldn’t discourage it either. It may freak them out a little bit but they’d understand I guess. The point is we too should show the same excitement and enthusiasm. We too should prepare ourselves to show the same readiness and eagerness for their return back to the Lord and meet them with humility, love, and compassion.
He Restored Him
Luke 15:22-24 is the father restoring his son back to his rightful place in the family instead of just hiring him as a hired servant. We do need to understand that contextually and spiritually that it is the Father, God the Father, that does the true restoring within the kingdom just as it is the Lord that adds those to the church that are being saved (Acts 2). But underneath that role we as individuals and collectively play a part and have a responsibility in restoring the one who has come back. Those in Corinth struggled with that. (See 1 Cor. 5 and 2 Cor. 2) Instead of treating them as an outsider or exile we are to restore them to the relationship they once shared with us and welcome them back into the local family.
It seems that the number of those who come back home will always be less than the number of those who abandon the faith. But I believe in God’s way and I believe that if we are always striving to do things God’s way, to do a better job tomorrow than today, handle the next situation better than we did the last, Gods way works.
I’ve changed, and am still changing, my perspective and attitude towards those who have turned away from the Lord and my constant prayer is that they will come to their senses and come back home. When they do, my prayer is that we’ve prepared our hearts for their return and meet them with the same joy and compassion that our heavenly Father meets us each time we approach His throne of grace, receive mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)