The LOST & The True ‘Elder Brother’
- By Dr. Chris Gnanakan
- Published 10/28/2009
Dr. Chris Gnanakan
Revd. Dr. Chris Gnanakan, DMin, PhD. is the Director of Training for Outreach To Asia Nationals. OTAN serves in over nine countries in Asia where traditional missions is ‘restricted’, by equipping and empowering national, pastoral leaders to fulfil the great commission.
Chris, a native of Bangalore, worked as an electrician in MICO factory for 3 years before theological studies at the Word of Life Bible Institute and School of Youth Mission (New York). He obtained a Bachelor’s Degree from Tennessee Temple University and went on to do a Master’s in Divinity at Temple Baptist Seminary that he completed at the Asia Graduate School of Theology.
Chris was a youth pastor and ordained at Emmanuel Baptist Church. In 1990 he founded Banaswadi Bible Church where he was the pastor-teacher for over 10 years. He is known as a Youth, Bible & Mission conference speaker and for his radio broadcast with FEBA (Transforming Truth) and TWR (Thru the Bible). His passion is for evangelism, whole-life discipleship, mentoring, training leaders & empowering the Church in Mission.
Chris lectures on and produces curriculum for ‘Biblical Mandate for Evangelism’ at the Haggai Institute for Leadership Development (since 1999 at Maui & Singapore). As an evangelical, he has served as a consultant with the Commission on World Mission & Evangelism on-site London, Switzerland, Athens, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Chile and with Urban Missions in Thailand, Hong Kong, Philippines and China.
During his stay and PhD research in the UK, Chris was a Teaching Assistance at the University of Leeds in the department of Theology & Religious Studies and also served as a minister at the South Parade Baptist Church, where he developed outreach & care cells. Chris teaches ‘Clinical Pastoral Education’ at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital. He is chairman for the Christian Forum for Child Development & Samaritan Purse’s regional Prescription for Hope program
Since 1995, Chris joined SAIACS as Professor and HoD of Pastoral Theology & Counseling and Dean of Chapel. Here, for 13 years, he trained leaders for ministry and mission in India’s globalising context and is passionate doing ”Evangelism through Local Churches”. He is now appointed to serve as the Director of Training for OTAN (Outreach To Asia Nationals) from June 2009.
Chris is happily married to Dorothy, an IT software educator, and they have two daughters Alethea and Charis. Chris enjoys memorising poems on the Bible and football.
The father takes several steps that teach us how to reclaim a ‘lost’ loved one: (1) In truth he allows his boy to make his choice to leave, yet waits in hope (2) In loving compassion he suffers with the wayward boy and never gives up on him (3) In faith, he prepares for his return and takes giant strides to welcome, pardon and receive him back (5) With unrestrained joy he publicly display his acceptance and invites others to join the celebration. Compared with the former two, the second half of this story focuses on the older son or ‘elder brother’ and has three surprises with regard to the prodigal’s return:
The reaction of the elder brother is detailed for us. Notice his stubborn withdrawal and anger, not managed (v.28). He flaunts his self-righteous, good works through which his selfish motive for service is exposed (v.29). He nurtures an unforgiving, judgmental spirit toward his brother and is full of self-pity believing he deserved more (v.30). His holier-than-thou attitude reveals he was jealous of goodness shown to ‘this son of yours’ and envious of ‘worldly’ experiences his brother has had with pigs and prostitutes? What unfolds is his true relationship with his father is: he is bound to publicly shame him, in thought, word and deed [Hey you, listen] and has served him with a ’slave’ mentality trying to gain acceptance through accomplishment.
The reasoning of the loving father pervades the story: ‘we had to celebrate!’ This patriarch, doubly dishonored, takes the brunt yet lavishes his love, this time on his older son. He leaves his guests at home to go out and look for this one son, then pleads with him to come in to fulfill his honorable duties. He doesn’t punish, intimidate, or argue but extends his mercy; grace upon grace! He assures him: ‘everything I have is yours’ and shows him why joy is naturally called for when something lost is found, certainly when someone thought ‘dead is now alive’! The father clarifies how acceptance and sonship is not based on what one does, but whether one desires what the father has done (‘in Christ’ cf. Rom.7:25;8:15). Did the elder brother go in, or not?
The response of sincere listeners is solicited by the story’s unfinished ending. Jesus abruptly stops and leaves his audience dangling so they can write-in their own ending. He challenges all self-righteous ‘Pharisaic’ people with a performance-driven faith. Such socially and morally revered ‘teachers of the law’ represent religious, hard-working, tax-paying, friendly, tolerant, neighbors who find their identity, security and worth in good works. This son was in the father’s house but far from the father’s heart and also ‘lost’. He was ’enslaved’, an enemy of his father’s grace for if he shared his father’s concern and did his duty, he should have gone looking for his brother. Are we respectable ‘elder brothers’ but irresponsible in our mission to seek the lost? For in Christ, we are our brother’s keepers! Imagine what the story would look like if the prodigal had a ‘true elder brother’!
Jesus’ parable reveals both sons as valid caricatures for lostness, though at extremes. We may find ourselves somewhere in between yet are more sinful than we are willing to admit and more loved than we will ever imagine! The only way anyone is accepted before Father God is by abandoning one’s self-pursuit, admitting sins and acknowledging the need for his forgiving grace. This parable is about three sons: the prodigal son, his pouting elder brother and a third ‘Son’ – our true Elder Brother who the Father did send to seek and save all the lost (19:10). It is the Story-teller, God’s perfect Son who is not ashamed to call us his ‘brothers’ (Heb.2:11-12). Our Brother and Lord Jesus, commissions us, in turn, to go be ‘elder brothers’ to lost humanity(Jn.20:21). I’ve had three ‘conversions’: from external ‘prodigal sinfulness’, from self-righteous ‘elder brotherliness’ and from a heartless Church-ianity to a mission of compassion for the lost! How many turning points have your had?
Dr. Chris Gnanakan