The prodigal son seems to be the main attraction, so much so we named the story after him. In years past there has even been a few highlights on the prodigal’s brother and his reaction to his brother’s return. But no one stops to address the father much, outside of his reaction. Maybe if we did more men would see a great truth, they all could draw wisdom from in the throes of fatherhood. The father’s reaction to his son was beautiful, but I am talking about the father’s character in between the lines. The prodigal gives us a small window to see it.
When the prodigal son was eating with the pigs, he succumbs to the reality even his father’s servants were treated better than this. In fact, his exact words were “How many of my father’s workers have more than enough food…” Which highlights his father’s care for those under him as well as his generosity.
Why is this worthy of a highlight you ask? Well, let’s look at a few others verses to better explain.
In Ephesians 6:4 it says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them], but bring them up [tenderly, with lovingkindness] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
Another great one that piggy backs this one is Colossians 3:21 which says, “Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or exasperate your children [with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by favoritism or indifference; treat them tenderly with lovingkindness], so they will not lose heart and become discouraged or unmotivated [with their spirits broken].”
God makes it very clear that the disposition of the father is just as important, if not more important, than the behavior of the son.
You see, the prodigal’s father didn’t possess a controlling or abusive spirit. He didn’t demand his son to stay when he wanted to leave. He didn’t refuse to give his son his inheritance when he chooses not to do what his father wanted him to do, but in turn wanted to spread his wings and explore the world without him. He didn’t throw a tantrum when he left, sulking in self-pity. He didn’t slander him all over town or even to his own brother. He didn’t even give him the silent treatment when he returned.
He very easily could have.
The prodigal’s father practiced a Genesis 18:19 kind of spirit. “For I have known (chosen, acknowledged) him [as My own], so that he may teach and command his children and [the sons of] his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is righteous and just, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has promised him.””
The inspiring details of the father and his parenting style teach us just as much, if not more, than the dramatic monologue of the prodigal.
He had a soft spirit. He taught his son by example, and not a heavy hand. He allowed space for him to be Independent and learn, even when it wasn’t in the way he taught him. He kept his heart pure towards his son, even when he chose wrong. He clearly longed and prayed for his return instead of becoming bitter over his absence. Instead of an “I told you so” attitude, he showed compassion and grace when his son came back with a lesson learned the hard way. He also showed great character in how he drew his other son towards biblical truth and not sibling triangulation.
He gave his son his best even when he may not have deserved it. He was kind, gracious and used everything to teach by example. An example he didn’t command his son to live out, while he lived a different one, otherwise.
I imagine this spirit in turn, is what allowed a long-lost son and sinner to return to the fold. Not because it was a nice set up. Not because of the fine cuisine. Not because he missed it all. It was the spirit the shepherd of the home had and the way he ran his fold.
Hear the prodigal’s statement again, “How many of my father’s workers have more than enough food…” It’s not just about the abundance of food. It’s about the kindness his father had to supply even the lowest of ranking individuals with more than enough.
Had his father not lived in obedience to God. Had his father not given his servants enough. Had his father allowed his son to leave with a bitter taste in his mouth of his dissatisfaction with him. Had he made it clear he was angry with him and unforgiving, I often wonder if the son would have been compelled to come back home.
I have never met a child not eager to go back home, where home wasn’t a comfort more than a place of contending, abuse, and strife.
Because the father lived by example, Proverbs 22:6 proved true, “Train up a child in the way he should go [teaching him to seek God’s wisdom and will for his abilities and talents], Even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
He may stray trying to seek.
He may make mistakes trying to determine his abilities.
He may fall to the waste-side at times,
…but he will return.
Not because of his father’s commands. Not because of the materialism he stood to gain. Not because of his guilting or gaslighting, his shaming or his grievance, but because of his father’s example in leadership. An example that speaks for itself to all those reading between the lines.
While we take-in all the goodness of the prodigal’s story, let’s not forget the main lesson in between: how to be a better parent and create a home of godliness by example that invites our children to come back home.