Luke 15:11–32 (NKJV)
11 Then He said: “A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. 14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” ’
20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’
28 “But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
31 “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”
I have a question for you to consider regarding this parable. It is a question from a bit of a different perspective. The question is, if you have impregnated a woman, what kind of a father are you? Are you a prodigal father or a prodigal’s father? Now you can be a good father and still have a prodigal, but you can also be a father without a prodigal and still be a prodigal father. That’s God’s grace. But if you are a prodigal father, your chances of having a prodigal are greatly increased. What is a prodigal father? We will see.
Fathers are important for good. Studies show unequivocally that a child’s adjustment to and achievement in life, is greatly influenced by a father’s involving their lives or lack thereof. Kids do better in life, they adjust and overcome obstacles in life better and with great success, when they’ve had a father as an involved parent in their life. Fathers, you are important! Fathers, God has a vital plan for your life. God wants to use you to assure successive godly generations. You are critically essential and important in the lives of your children.
Fatherly influence or lack thereof is a factor in evil outcomes. If you took a poll of inmates in the prisons across our country, and likely the world, you would find the vast majority of those incarcerated grew up without fathers or with abusive fathers. If you took a poll of those involved in immoral activity you would most likely find that they had a poor fatherly influence or no fatherly influence at all. You could probably find the lake of a father or poor fatherly influence at the root of most aberrant activity. Fathers are an important factor in determining good and evil outcomes in children. Humanity has a sinful nature. And People are guilty for their sinful choices. But the father you have or don’t have is a part of your outcome. There are exceptions. We are who we are by God’s grace. The bad would be worse without God’s grace. The good wouldn’t be good at all without God’s grace. But father’s are an important factor in the equation of life.
With this in mind, can you understand just how important a father is in God’s plans? And yet, one of the greatest problems in our world today are prodigal fathers. Our world’s problems can all be traced to our disconnect with our Heavenly Father. But close to that is the additional problem of prodigal fathers.
I would like to consider three questions:
- First, what is a prodigal father?
- Second, what is a good father?
- Third, what can we do about the problem of prodigal fatherhood?
What is a Prodigal Father?
What is a prodigal father? What makes a father prodigal? Here are some considerations in answer to those questions.
A prodigal father is not a disciple of Jesus. A prodigal father hasn’t been saved from their sins. They have no personal relationship with Jesus. They rarely read their Bible or prioritize fellowship and show little desire to do so. They pay only lip service to God. They pay only lip service to their wife/mother and family. They don’t walk any talk they might have about following the Lord. They care little about the spiritual welfare of their wife or children.
A prodigal father may be saved from their sins; but shows little fruit of such salvation in their life as a father. Christian fathers can be prodigal fathers too. A Christian father can be living with wrong priorities, wrong interpretations of scripture, a lack of reliance on the Holy Spirit, and a generally carnal or self-serving self-reliant manner. And those who live in such a way, are often guilty of being prodigal fathers. They may use “ministry” as an excuse to neglect their fatherly responsibilities, but if they do, their priorities are wrong. The Bible clearly says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). That’s a pretty strong inspired condemnation by Paul. So, I ask you Christian “father,” are you a prodigal father?
A prodigal father spends his wealth on self. A prodigal father puts themself before everyone else. A prodigal father prioritizes his needs and wants over his wife/mother and kids. A prodigal father squanders his families’ future. He invests in selfish things. He plays while his family plunged into spiritual, mental, and physical poverty.
A prodigal father leaves home. A prodigal father is an absentee father. A prodigal father abandons his post. A prodigal father is a traitor to his loved ones. They may still live at home, but their activities drag them away from home. A prodigal father can sleep at home, but because they are disengaged from their responsibilities at home, they are in reality, prodigal.
A prodigal father is a “father” in name only. A prodigal father is a “father” in name only. They are responsible for biologically producing a child, but that child or children isn’t important to them. They may deny that, but their way of living shows it to be true. Their practices show that their wife and family are not a priority to them. A wife and family should be seen as the most important people in a man’s life. A prodigal’s way of living exposes only a casual uncommitted care for wife and family.
A prodigal father has no interest or sets no value on discipling his children. A prodigal father pays little attention an invests little though and effort into assuring the eternal destinies of his family. A prodigal father leaves his wife, his children’s mother, and spends little quality time with her. In so doing, he sets a terrible example by his nonexistent lifestyle. The prodigal father’s absence and lack of attention communicates a worthlessness and lack of care and value to those who should be most precious to him. Therefore, a prodigal father has little to no positive influence because he isn’t there, and worse, he just doesn’t care.
We should also mention, a prodigal father can be home in body, but away in his thoughts or heart. A prodigal father can be there, but sometimes little more than a lump on the couch. A prodigal father lazily neglects paying attention to what goes on in his house. He has abdicated to leisure the treasures of his home.
A prodigal father is self-centered. He cares more for himself than others. He is so obsessed with self that he’s not even aware of the needs of his wife and family. He is concerned with “My dinner. My clothes. My program. My stuff. . .” A prodigal father’s world revolves around himself to neglect of others. A prodigal father lives the opposite of “love thy neighbor.”
A prodigal father is unteachable. A prodigal father doesn’t listen to advice or correction. In fact, they purposely “don’t want to hear it,” when someone tries to inform and impress on them the dangers of their prodigal living. They presume they are a “good father” by virtue of simply being a father, or “being there.” They have a bloated opinion of themselves as a father.
A prodigal father will experience regrets. When the marriage divorces, the children stray, and the family dissolves, they will eventually feel regret, especially as they get older. So self-centered are prodigal fathers that when the downfall comes, they will fail to see it as a consequence of their prodigal living and instead blame someone else for their downfall.
What is a “Good Father” the Prodigal’s Father?
What is a good father, a father like the father of the prodigal? When we look at the parable of the prodigal son, and focus in on the father of the prodigal, we see the following characteristics of this good father.
The father of the prodigal was approachable and reasonable (Luke 15:11-12). The prodigal son felt comfortable going to his father to make a request. And the father was reasonable in that he agreed to hear and then comply with the son’s request.
Was this wise on the father’s part? At first, we might think it wasn’t. It didn’t seem reasonable to allow his son to take and then waste his inheritance. It was a lot of money no doubt. But the humble lesson learned was priceless. We can speculate on the father’s behalf that he knew his son, and the hard knocks of life well enough to know what was going to happen. And that life lesson was worth the risk and investment. The father’s decision proved correct when his prodigal boy returned “a new man.” A good father is willing to risk material things to teach an eternal life lesson.
The father of the prodigal had taught his son independence (Luke 15:13). The father had taught his son in a way that made him independent and strong enough to make such a decision. The prodigal’s motivation was wrong, but that he would consider such a move of independence showed the father had built up his confidence. Confidence and independence are essentials to succeeding in life.
The father of the prodigal had taught his son industry (Luke 15:14-16). When the son squandered all his wealth, he knew from his upbringing that he must go to work. Now, he wasn’t able to find a very good job, but this was part of the life lesson. The prodigal had left before his father’s work was done with him. And that too was a lesson. Teaching a willingness and spirit of industry to labor and work is another essential for a productive life.
The father of the prodigal had taught his son to face facts and realities (Luke 15:17). The son had been raised in a way so that he was not unduly stubborn. Life taught him the reality of his foolish behavior, but his father had apparently taught him to face the facts of those realities like a man, with humbled integrity.
The father of the prodigal had taught the prodigal to be humbly teachable (Luke 15:18-19). When the reality of the consequences of his foolish prodigal living set in, the prodigal had enough learned character to admit his wrong and begin to learn his life lesson. He was teachable, even if he had to learn the hard way. His father had taught him this. Life confirmed it.
The father of the prodigal had taught the prodigal about sin (Luke 15:18 and 21). The prodigal knew what sin was and that he had committed it. The father had taught him about spiritual things. The prodigal disregarded what he had been taught at first, but when his foolish behavior played out, he knew to call what he did sin. This conscience and awareness of sin is part of the prodigal’s upbringing. This was the fruit of the father’s parenting and prayers.
The father of the prodigal had the kind of a relationship with the prodigal that allowed the prodigal to return home, even after such foolish prodigal living (Luke 15:18-20). There were no clothes doors or burned bridges on the father’s side. The son knew he could return home if he failed. This gave him confidence to make decisions, even wrong ones, that he would learn from. The father of the prodigal had a good relationship with the prodigal, even when the prodigal acted foolishly.
There was no “I told you so” from the father of the prodigal but a welcoming back loving embrace (Luke 15:20b). There was no “I told you so,” from the father when the prodigal returned. There didn’t need to be. The groundwork for the prodigal’s life lesson had been laid by the father years earlier. Now they were bearing fruit. The father didn’t have to drive his point home with a sledgehammer, life had done that (the Lord had done that). The father’s finishing touch was a loving embrace and a welcome home to the prodigal.
The father of the prodigal was quick to reconcile with the prodigal (Luke 15:22-24). The father did not reconcile with his son prematurely. He waited for the son to learn his life lesson. And when he had been humbled and had repented (because that is what we see in the prodigal), the father quickly welcomed reconciliation with his son. He didn’t torture the returning son with a lecture. He welcomed him back with a celebration and reinstated him as one who had been lost, but now was found.
The father of the prodigal was humble enough to plead with his other angry son to see the blessing of what had happened in the life of the prodigal (Luke 15:25-28). The word “pleaded” (Greek parakaleo) means to beseech, to call near, invite. The father didn’t neglect the good son, he went to him and explained the benefit of what had happened. Interestingly, this word is also used to describe prayer.
The father of the prodigal listened to his good son’s complaint and gave a reasonable and wise response (Luke 15:29-32). The father was open to conversation. He heard the good don out, and then reminded him that all the father had was always at his disposal. The father reminded the good son of the blessings he had. The father subtly taught the good son he shouldn’t be angry or jealous, but ratter, thankful.
In all of this we see the father of the father of the prodigal teaching grace and love and faithfulness and reconciliation, and discipline, and character building and a host of other qualities. But the greatest lesson we learn is how we are prodigals and God is the ultimate Father of prodigals. This is what Jesus is teaching here, and he uses a father figure to teach it. Fathers, your greatest lesson to learn, and to teach, is that we are prodigals and GOD is the Father who will graciously welcome us back when we repent.
We might add to these good characteristics the following:
A good father is a disciple; he loves the Lord. A father, to be all a father should be, should first be a disciple of Jesus Christ, a learner and follower of Jesus. And a disciple, by definition, reproduces other disciples. A good father is a good husband who is attentive to and tends to his wife’s spiritual needs. A good father sees his place as making disciples of his children. A father is someone who has not only produced a child biologically or by adoption, but who also takes an active role in discipline and nurturing their child or children. A good father is a good teacher. They pass wisdom and what is right on to their children. They take the time to learn how to best communicate with each of their children according to each child’s individual needs.
This would include on a secondary level, the father taking the initiative to involve his children in extracurricular activities that will enrich and build them up. But such activities should never take priority over the spiritual needs of the children. Temporal activities should never supplant eternally rewarding activities.
A good father loves his children’s mother. Probably the most important means if being a good father, is loving, cherishing, caring for, comforting and communicating with his children’s mother. Children need to see a father live their mother. They need the security of their parent’s relationship. They need to see the proper manner and respect between parents for each other. They need to see love between their mom and dad so that they will know what marriage and parenting and family is when it comes to time for them to take those steps.
A good father is a good time manager. A father, a good father who will be effective and fruitful in their parenting, is a father who spends time with their children. His children are a priority for him and the way he spends his time proves this. A good father also plans for his family’s future and does not squander it. A good father will get up early before his children rise in order to get work done, or work late after children are asleep, just to make time to spend with them.
A good father provides for the needs of his family. That means the physical needs of his wife/mother and his children, but not only the physical needs of the family. There are spiritual, emotional and relationship building needs he needs to provide also. To be a good provider means all of these needs are met, not one or two to the exclusion of the others.
A good father sacrifices self. A good father sacrifices his needs for the sake of meeting the mothers and the children’s needs. A good father lives close to the cross of Christ. He loves his wife as Christ loves the church.
A good father needs help. The Bible says, “Baer one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We need to help the fathers around us. We need to pray for them, encourage them, assist them, counsel them, help them.
They need the help provided by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. They need the help that come from the instructions found in God’s word. He needs help from other fathers and brothers. He needs the support of fellowship. He needs the help of his wife, the mother of his children.
A good father has few if any regrets and is satisfied with the outcome of his family and life.
What Can We Do About the Problem of Prodigal Fatherhood?
How can, how should we deal with the problems of prodigal fathers? Here are a few possible solutions.
Prodigal fathers need to repent. To repent is to confess one’s sins to God and to forsake them as something you never want to repeat.,
Prodigal fathers should be received back and restored if they do repent. Don’t be like the mean harsh jealous brother in the parable of the prodigal. Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner. How much more a repentant prodigal father?! God the Father joyfully welcomes the repentant prodigal father. The Lord can restore the years the locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).
Remember, you can be a good father and still have a prodigal. The father in Jesus’ parable is a type of God the Father. If God the perfect Father can have a prodigal, so can we. We can be the best father possible, and because each person must themselves decide to accept or reject Christ, it is possible that prodigals can come from even the best of fathers and home. Having a prodigal is not always the father’s fault.
Make an effort to help fathers, especially prodigal fathers and/or be a father to the fatherless. Look around you. Look for kids without fathers. Look for fathers who need help. Look for these things and pray God opens a door for you to support and help in this way.
No excuses: growing up without a father is no excuse for being a prodigal father. Everyone can have a father, a Heavenly Father. If you try to blame your prodigality on an absent or prodigal father, you are still without excuse. We all have an opportunity to turn to our Heavenly Father. We all have the example of our Heavenly Father to follow. Our Heavenly Father offers to help us not be a prodigal or prodigal father. All we have to do is turn to Him in Christ.
So, whether you are a prodigal or a prodigal father, turn to your Heavenly Father through faith in Christ. Seek the Lord. You good fathers and others, seek the Lord to stay the course, but also that the Lord might use you to bolster or help a prodigal or prodigal father to overcome their prodigality. God is the best Father. Remember God’s call to all of us: “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1). Come home to Him.