“I Have Loved You With an Everlasting Love!”
“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. Therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you’” (Jeremiah 31:3).
By John David Hicks © www.faithencounter.org
The greatest truth in the Bible is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God knows you by name and has chosen to “love you with an everlasting love.” That’s why He has “continued His faithfulness to you.” He will not give up on you. His patience toward you is a part of His nature. God wants you to know that you are special, and that you are loved personally for who you are, with all your strengths and weaknesses, faults and failures. His love for you is not based on your performance, looks, or talents. The transforming power of God’s love is that He knows all about you. He sees everything you do. He can find you anywhere you go—and He likes you, but not the lifestyle you have chosen. He loves you dearly, and the most important thing to a God of love is a relationship with you.
Jesus tells a parable (story) we call “The Prodigal Son” to illustrate God’s love as a compassionate father (Luke 15:11-31). The younger son in the family asks his father to give him his portion of the family estate as an early inheritance. The father agrees, and the son takes the money and recklessly spends it all in a faraway land. Ashamed of himself, he returns to ask humbly for a job as a servant in his father’s house. But the father has been watching for him and hosts a party to celebrate his return. The elder brother, who has been working all this time, sees what is happening and is angry because he is jealous.
Neither of the brothers understands their father’s love for them. Both brothers are spiritually sick. They both build relationships based upon money. The older brother will get two-thirds of his father’s estate and the younger one-third. They want their inheritance, but in their hearts they are rejecting their relationship with their father. In other words, they only want Dad’s stuff and couldn’t care less about being with Dad. They both had a party spirit. The only difference was the younger son had the guts to act it out. When he came home, his older brother bitterly said to his father, “Why didn’t you throw me a party?” Both brothers also desired to be free from the father’s authority. It’s a picture of living your life with no regard for God.
The younger son can’t stand his father or his brother and wants to get as far away as possible. By asking for an early inheritance he is saying that he wishes his father were dead. He did not comprehend the love and mercy that God the Father gives to everyone who accepts His love.
When he left his father’s home, he went to a distant country and wasted his fortune on wild living. When the money ran out, he was in dire need and a severe famine hit the country. No one would give him anything. Finally, in his desperation he took an unpleasant, stinking job of feeding pigs and he even longed to eat the pigs’ food.
It is then, in his great need, that he remembers his father and decides to return home. He is willing even to be a hired hand in his father’s house (Luke 15:18). He will ask his father for forgiveness. When he says, “I will arise and go to my Father,” he was repenting of his sinful ways and rebellion against his father. He realized that he had sinned against heaven and had wronged his father. The son still does not realize the depth of his father’s love for him and only sees his father as a possible employer.
The father who had been watching for his son ran to meet him and received him back home with love and compassion. The son tried to explain his mistake and to ask for forgiveness, but it was drowned out by his father’s joy. His merciful father completely restores him without condition as a full member of the household. The father called for a celebration and gave his son a robe, sandals, and a ring. He is restored to his place as a son, not a slave. The past is forgiven and he has a role in the father’s house. He sits at the table as a son, with full acceptance. The son could not have imagined this wonderful reception. The broken relationship is healed. Your destiny is determined by your choices.
What are the signs that you have a “younger brother” attitude?
- 1) When you have a rebellious attitude, and want to do “your own thing” with no regard for God.
2) When in your selfishness and pride you try to make a deal with the Father.
3) When you have no regard for God or the church and feel like God will not hear your prayers.
4) When the devil condemns you for your past sins and failures and makes you feel unworthy.
5) When you feel good enough to serve the Father, but not good enough to receive His gifts and blessing.
6) When you see God as someone who is in the way of having a good time.
7) When you come to the end of yourself and decide to return home. When you do, you will find God the Father is waiting patiently, with loving compassion to restore you. God affirms your worth with the love He showed on the cross. Even in your bondage to sin and when you were thinking, feeling, and acting like God’s enemy, God demonstrated His love for you “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). The fantastic price God paid to redeem you establishes your unsurpassable worth. In God’s sacrifice on the cross, God demonstrates you are so valuable to Him, you are worth dying for.
God the Father’s first concern is for your welfare; the focus is not on your sin, but on your relationship with Him. It is the relationship that will keep you healthy and away from sinning (John 14:15). God does not want you to suffer the destructive consequences of sin (Romans 6:23). Only God’s love and care for you can make this happen.
Meanwhile, when the older son came in from the fields and discovered a party to celebrate his brother’s return, he refused to join the joyous celebration. Instead, he became enraged. Whereas he had served his father faithfully, he felt that his brother was unworthy to receive anything. He does not accept his brother and calls him the son of his father. He saw his father as the employer who pays the wage rather than a compassionate father. The father again expresses his compassion when he humbles himself in front of his guests and goes into the courtyard to discuss the matter with his angry elder son.
His father explained that his brother was lost and now has been found. This called for a celebration. Then he reaffirms his love for his older son. “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” Obedience to the known will of God determines your blessings.
In this story of the older brother, we see a self-righteous, bitter, and unloving son. He thinks he is morally good and imagines that the father has accepted him because of his good deeds. He is jealous of his father’s love toward his brother. He is envious of his brother’s acceptance by their father. He is bitter about all the years he has worked. He is unforgiving of his brother’s sins. He is ungrateful for the love and provision of his father and couldn’t care less about being in relationship with him. He is cold and heartless. He cannot recognize any sin in his own life.
What are the signs that you have an “elder brother” attitude?
- 1) When you are resentful of the blessings and acceptance that God offers to others who you think may not be worthy of them.
2) When you are jealous that the party and fattened calf is not for you. After all, you’ve served faithfully for years.
3) When you won’t go into the Father’s house—to church to be in the family of God.
4) When you feel self-righteous because you serve God, but are angry that you have not received the Father’s spiritual gifts and authority.
5) When you are judgmental of the sins of others, but fail to see the failings in your own life.
6) When you are blind to all that God has already made yours.
The father did not give up on either son, but the elder brother acted like a slave, not a son. He also needed the father’s forgiveness. He was performance driven, which blinded him from having a loving relationship with his father and brother. His attitude kept him from receiving the blessings of the father or to be a part of the family of God—the church.
Sin is more than a specific isolated act—a lie, a theft, immorality, dishonesty—for sin is rebellion and living in independence of God. It is about relationships and attitudes. Sin twists your motives and damages your emotions, resulting in sinful acts that contaminate everything you do. Sin will cause you to struggle with your health, life, and purpose. Sin is behind every broken home, every empty life, every sorrow and grief. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). That is why God loved us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross in our place to pay the penalty for all our sins so we could be forgiven and be reconciled to God.
In this story, the father’s response to the younger son is unexpected. He honors the boy’s shocking request for his inheritance. The father’s love gave him the “freedom of choice” that allows for his rebellion. Later, instead of rejecting his son for his sin and rebellion, the father watches and waits for his son to “come to himself” and return home. When he does, his father blesses him with gifts and a banquet. He is restored as a son with love, acceptance, and forgiveness. All this is unimaginable.
For the son to be completely restored he had to receive his father’s forgiveness. When God forgives you, He gives you the power to forgive yourself. Only then is your reconciliation as a son complete. The consequences of not receiving the Father’s forgiveness are feelings of guilt, condemnation, and the judgment and disapproval of God and yourself. We see it in the broken, sick lives of resentful people in their irrational fears, bitterness, anger, and depression toward others, themselves, and even God.
The Father’s love for you is unselfish and loyal, with only kind intentions. He is committed to your welfare and will not hold your sin against you. He has a deep affection for you. He wants you to acknowledge His presence so he can fellowship with you. You are very special, dear, and important to Him. I trust you will experience the Father’s lavish love for you! Be reconciled to God.
Jesus had told this parable to show His listeners what God is like. Although the younger brother is reconciled with his father, the story of the elder brother has no conclusion. Jesus is silent about the elder brother’s outcome. His listeners must decide whether the older son will accept the father’s love and then act in love and compassion toward his lost brother like the father did.
But I would like to give you my conclusion.* This is how I believe Jesus would like to have told the story of the older brother. It would go something like this:
Not long after his brother left home, the older brother told his parents, “Mother, I heard you crying last night. I know you miss and hurt for my little brother. I too wonder what has happened to him. The other night when I came home, I saw a candle lit in his room. I rushed to his room to see if he was there. I was going to give him a big hug and tell him how glad I was that he was back. But the room was empty. I cried myself to sleep. I miss him so.”
“Dad, I know your heart aches too. When I was working in the field the other day, I saw you climb the hill and look down the road. I plowed on, but I could not hold back the tears. Let’s face it—life has been horrible without him. We miss him. I will go find him and bring him home.”
“No, Son,” his mother said. “I’ve lost one boy. I don’t want to lose you.”
His dad hugged him closely and then said, “My son, you are a good man. That decision is up to you.”
The elder son said, “I have experienced your love, care, and goodness all my life. It has been an honor being a part of this family. In our relationship, Dad, you have taught me about life. I have seen your love and compassion for the hurting, broken, and lost people in this world. I miss my brother just as much as you. I am glad to be your son. So as your son, I have got to go find my brother.”
The next day the elder son started out. His parents walked down that dusty road with him for a while. Then they silently watched him disappear into the distance. Daily the father would climb that hill and look down the road. Days went by, and then one day he saw two boys walking. He ran down the hill as fast as he could and called out to a servant, “Get robes, bring rings, and don’t forget the sandals!” He first hugged and kissed his prodigal son and told him how glad he was to have him home.
Then with deep affection and admiration the father turned to his elder son and gave him a big hug. “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Everything I have is yours forever,” he said.
“No, Dad, I told my brother how much we loved him and missed him. His sin and messed up life was not that important. He was what mattered to us and we wanted him to come home. We would let bygones be bygones. We would forget the dividing up of the estate. All I have is his too. I just want us to be brothers again.”
Then the father told the servants, “Bring the fattened calves, two of them. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. Invite all our friends and neighbors. For these my sons have returned home. One was dead and is alive again; he was lost and now is found. The seat of honor belongs to my elder son. All this is possible because of him!”
Jesus is our example of what it means to be the elder brother. He was a servant and calls us into servanthood for the Father. Jesus’ attitude and love for the Father and others should be your attitude. “For the Son of Man [Jesus] came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). In Revelation 3:20, Jesus gives you, the younger brother, the invitation to come back to the Father’s house. “Behold, I stand at your heart’s door and knock. If any man will hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him and have fellowship with him and he with me.”
If you will receive Him, He will come into your life, cleanse you from all your sin, and “The Holy Spirit himself testifies with your spirit that you are God’s child” (Romans 8:16). “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). “For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
Jesus’ attitude and love for the Father and others should be your attitude. “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT). God wants you in the family of God, the body of Christ, His church. In a good church, you will find a deeper relationship with God, His will and direction for your life. Friendships are built and opportunities are given to serve others. This is how you are to be Jesus to your world.
Each of us must decide how the parable will end. In the same way that God the Father shows compassion for His children, you and I also must demonstrate love for one another. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness’” (Jer. 31:3).
*I received some insight from an unknown source.