G. K. Chesterton once said, “All evil comes from enjoying what we ought to use and using what we ought to enjoy.” As we’ve already seen, God has created us to live in a perpetual, loving relationship with Himself. We were made to be loved and not merely used. The same is true about God, but our sinful tendency is to pursue God for His gifts rather than seek God Himself. The Bible calls this instinct to put the Creator’s gifts ahead of the Creator Himself idolatry. Idolatry and its terrible effects appear all over the Scriptures. Jesus’ story of the lost sons is one of those places, although it carries an important twist.
Jesus’ parable is about two sons who were both fixated upon their father’s property. The younger son wanted it to bankroll his selfish, immoral desires. The older son wanted it to elevate his status and reputation. The younger son was impatient and disrespectful. He confronted his father and demanded his half of the estate immediately. The older son, by contrast, worked hard and obeyed his father’s instructions, seeking to earn his reward patiently. Despite their different tactics, it’s important to recognize that both sons were so focused on their father’s property that they overlooked the value of the father himself. They both wanted to use their father to enjoy his wealth.
At the end of the story the father finally reveals their foolishness. “Son,” he said to his eldest, “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” His children chased after the father’s property forgetting that they already possessed it. They displayed what all idolaters suffer from ‒ misplaced desire. The sons wanted to use their father to gain the enjoyment of his wealth. Instead they should have used the wealth of their household to enjoy their relationship with their father. The father modeled the proper ordering of desire when he used his wealth to throw a party to celebrate the return of his younger son. Wealth is to be used. People are to be enjoyed.
We often make the same mistake as the sons. We chase after the gifts of God believing that in them we will find joy, peace, power and significance ‒ all the while we forget that in Christ we have already been promised all things. How foolish to spend our lives chasing what we have already been given! Instead, we should seek after the One in whom our joy will be complete and our deepest desires satisfied. The things of this world are to be used and not worshiped, and our heavenly Father is to be worshiped and not used.
Reflect: Recall a time when you were more fixated upon receiving something from God rather than pursuing a life with Him. How is this subtle form of idolatry encouraged even within Christian communities?
(Excerpt from Whole-Life Generosity Devotional, used with permission from GenerousChurch).