Recently, I has sharing coffee with my younger sister on her porch and chatting about church stuff. She mentioned that she had a hard time with a previous church pastor because he had lived such a perfect life. He’d grown up a believer, never strayed from the faith, married in the faith, was stilled married to that woman of faith and served side-by-side with his wife in a Dallas-area mega church. She did not think this pastor had never sinned, she just wondered how someone whose life was always focused on obedience could ever connect to “real” sinners who had made some painful, life-wrecking mistakes. 

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? I’m thinking two things: (1) I wish someone would complain that I was too unstained by sin to relate to normal folks and (2) this reminds me of the non-prodigal brother of Luke 15:11-32.

I understand where my sister is coming from – you need to feel a connection to your church teachers and leaders. You need to know that they can feel your pain, understand your flaws, and sympathize with your temptations. A former prodigal son can likely say, “I made the same mistakes you did and worse.” 

Paul was such a man. Listen to his testimony in his own words. Acts 26:9-18 [ESV]  "I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. "In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,  delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you  to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

We need the Saul/Pauls of this world for their testimonies of how Jesus can turn a life 180 degrees from its previous path and redeem even the most sordid histories, transforming them into an entirely new story and future. 

Recall these words: “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.” Grace is never more amazing than when it turns a wretched sinner into a bullhorn for salvation through Jesus. 

But the truth is that the church needs both brothers – the prodigal brother and the non-prodigal (or faithful) brother. And, while those life-long faithful followers may not have a dramatic story to tell, I still believe they can minister to those whose lives were once prodigal. It just takes godly love and mercy toward those who did not have the benefit of a life of obedience. A true minister, that is a servant of the people, will have those qualities toward all of his congregants. 

Timothy was raised as a second generation believer. In 2 Timothy 1:5 [ESV] we read, I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

David Guzik, in his study guide/commentary on 2 Timothy 1 says this, “Timothy’s mother and grandmother were believers, but his father was not (at least not at first). In the Roman world, fathers had absolute authority over the family, and since Timothy’s father was not a Christian, his home situation was less than ideal (though not necessarily terrible). But his mother and grandmother either led him to Jesus or grounded him in the faith. God wants to use parents and grandparents to pass on an eternal legacy to their children and grandchildren” {emphasis mine}

You see, first generation believers may be comforted by a preacher whose life wasn’t always aligned with Jesus and who has made that dramatic change to obedience. But we all also need to believe that the non-prodigal life is possible for the second generation believers – our children. Because, while a first generation believer might feel a special connection to a pastor who had a dramatic story of repentance to tell, I don’t believe there is a parent alive who, having come to repentance and change themselves, still hopes their child will go through the trauma of a prodigal life. 

No, we all want our children to learn from our mistakes, and from our teachings, that life is better when lived in alignment with God’s will from day one until its last breath. We all hope our children will be spared the guilt and grief that comes from living a life like the prodigal brother. 

The church needs the Paul and the prodigal son stories so that we have hope that a lost, desperate, sin-filled life can be turned around. The church needs the faithful brother and the Timothy stories so that we can have hope that a life of obedience – of good, godly choices, of rejecting temptation and living faithfully – even in this sin-sick world – is possible. These faithful children we have raised will more likely feel a connection to someone who has also grown up in the faith and lived a life of faithfulness. 

We can and should learn from both the prodigal brother and the faithful brother. As you read that story in Luke 15, please see that God has a place for the lessons from the lives of both brothers – and for you, whichever brother’s story is more aligned with the history of your life.

I’d love to hear your comments and questions. You can write me at