The Comparison Trap: Luke 15:11-32

Focus Passage: Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

Read Luke 15:11-32 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Comparing ourselves to others is a temptation we all face sooner or later. In our world today, it is hard not to compare what we have, such as our house, our car/truck, our income, or any number of other things to what others have around us.

It even gets trickier when we compare our relationships to other people’s relationships. Comparing my marriage to your marriage, or my relationship with my daughter with your relationship to your children is only a losing scenario.

But perhaps the most subtle comparison trap we can fall into is comparing our relationship with God to someone else’s relationship. There are no winners with this sort of comparison.

And that is what brings us to our passage for this journal entry. In one of Jesus’ most famous parables is hidden a truth regarding the dangers of the comparison trap. While reading/studying the Prodigal Son parable, I could find only two examples of comparison present.

The first place is in verse 17: “When he [the younger son] came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!’

This first example of comparison is internal. While technically it is comparing, the younger son realizes how the lowest servants were treated by his father. They probably were doing the same type of work he was doing, but the environment was way better. His Father treated them with respect.

This first comparison isn’t looking up or down on someone, but instead looking at the present circumstances we are in. It is only by objectively and honestly looking at where we are in life that we will ever choose something different – and that includes repenting and moving closer to God.

The second comparison is not at all like the first. It is found near the end of the parable in verses 29 and 30: “But he [the older son] answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

This second example of comparison is directly comparing a relationship: The older son is comparing his relationship to the father and how He was treated to the younger son’s disrespect, rebellion, and now celebration. The older brother is mad, not because there was a party happening, but because the reason for the party slams into the comparison game he had been playing all these years, because after all, he was the son who stayed.

But this brings us to God’s subtle truth in this parable: God wants a personal relationship with each one of us. The Father personally welcomed the younger son home, and the Father personally went out to talk with the older brother who would not enter the party. God is seeking a unique, personal relationship with each one of us – with no comparison games present.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Staying Silent: John 7:53-8:11

Focus Passage: John 7:53-8:11 (CEV)

53 Everyone else went home, 8:but Jesus walked out to the Mount of Olives. Then early the next morning he went to the temple. The people came to him, and he sat down and started teaching them.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses brought in a woman who had been caught in bed with a man who wasn’t her husband. They made her stand in the middle of the crowd. Then they said, “Teacher, this woman was caught sleeping with a man who isn’t her husband. The Law of Moses teaches that a woman like this should be stoned to death! What do you say?”

They asked Jesus this question, because they wanted to test him and bring some charge against him. But Jesus simply bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger.

They kept on asking Jesus about the woman. Finally, he stood up and said, “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!” Once again he bent over and began writing on the ground. The people left one by one, beginning with the oldest. Finally, Jesus and the woman were there alone.

10 Jesus stood up and asked her, “Where is everyone? Isn’t there anyone left to accuse you?”

11 “No sir,” the woman answered.

Then Jesus told her, “I am not going to accuse you either. You may go now, but don’t sin anymore.”

Read John 7:53-8:11 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While reading John’s gospel, specifically the passage that describes the woman caught in adultery being brought to Jesus, I am amazed by a detail that John includes in this event. When the law was clear, and when it would have been easy for Jesus to clearly answer the challenge that the religious leaders bring, Jesus does something unexpected; Jesus doesn’t actually respond to the challenge.

John describes this by saying, “They asked Jesus this question, because they wanted to test him and bring some charge against him. But Jesus simply bent over and started writing on the ground with his finger.” (v. 6)

Tradition says that instead of answering the question, Jesus starts writing the sins of the accusers in the sand. According to this line of thinking, Jesus chose to write in sand to subtly suggest that forgiven sins are easy to erase – because everyone who has chosen to write a message in the sand of a beach knows that the wind and waves erases everything equally.

However, Jesus could have simply bent down and begun to write out Old Testament passages that relate to God’s love and His forgiving character.

Regardless of what Jesus chose to write, the religious leaders wanted a clear direct answer to their clear direct challenge. The leaders “kept on asking Jesus about the woman. Finally, he stood up and said, ‘If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!’

Jesus only speaks after being pressured to respond. I believe this is because Jesus was more interested in avoiding condemning the woman who was hurting than He was in proving a point to those who brought the woman to Him.

In our own lives, Jesus is familiar with all the times we have failed, and all the times we have done things worthy of God’s condemnation. However, Jesus didn’t come to condemn people. He came to show everyone God’s love and His forgiveness. Jesus forgave the woman, and He offers forgiveness to each of us as well.

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Flashback Episode — Forgiven in an Instant: Luke 7:36-50


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Part way into Jesus’ ministry, Luke records an event that all three other gospels appear to include as well. The big difference is that Luke seems to place this event much earlier in Jesus’ ministry, which prompts me to think that something like this might have happened more than once. If we compare Luke’s version of this event with the other gospels, while there are several similarities, Luke seems to focus more on the teaching opportunity Jesus takes, while the other gospel writers focus on how their similar events foreshadow Jesus’ upcoming death.

Let’s read how Luke describes this event, and what he wants us to learn about Jesus from what happened. Our passage is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 7, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 36, we read:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Part of me is fascinated by how this passage ends. Before hitting on a huge truth Jesus shares, we can see Jesus challenging these religious leaders regarding the nature of forgiveness.

Jesus tells the woman that her sins are forgiven, and this startles the group of people present. Forgiving of sins is something that only God does, and since they are the religious leaders, they likely believe they have the ability to determine for someone whether God has forgiven a sin or not.

When Jesus comes and pronounces this woman has been forgiven, and there was no sacrifice taken to the temple or offering given, the idea that forgiveness has been granted doesn’t make sense.

However, Jesus focuses us on a different truth from the Old Testament, and that the sin in our past doesn’t matter as much as our decisions in the present. Forgiveness is available for everyone who turns away from sin. This idea is challenging for those living in the first century and for those living today.

While it is great news that God saves sinners who turn away from their sin, this idea seems too simple. It must be more complicated. Perhaps it is, but I have yet to see it. Perhaps the only catch in the whole salvation process is that only through focusing on and having a relationship with Jesus can we truly move away from sin in our lives. While we can move away from some sins and towards better habits, the sin of living for self rather than for others is one that is so subtle and hidden in our lives that without Jesus shining the light on it, we are unlikely to realize its presence.

However, what big truth does Jesus share leading up to this. We find this truth in verse 47 where Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.

The twin ideas that being forgiven of a lot will prompt a lot of love, while being forgiven of a little will only prompt a little love, is fascinating in my mind. These ideas imply that if there is a group of people who have always lived pretty good lives and who only have one or two “socially acceptable sins”, then they are in greater danger than someone who has sinned more times than they can count. This also means that someone with a decent life and not many sins is more likely to grow callous and unloving over time, even when they have been forgiven, than someone who has been forgiven of a past consisting of more sin than not.

While this doesn’t mean that we should go out and sin in as many ways as we can think of so that we can be forgiven and love more, this does mean that we should never brush over anything that might be a “socially acceptable sin” because in God’s eyes, sin is sin, regardless of its severity.

We discover how to love more and how to live a life that shows we have been forgiven by focusing on Jesus first, intentionally making and spending time with Him each day, and by seeking to do His will in our lives. How we choose to love Jesus demonstrates how forgiven we really are.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Choose to place Jesus first in your life and intentionally love Him with our lives. We can do this by loving others and by focusing time each day on spending it with Him learning from His word.

While a devotional or podcast can help give you ideas or things to think about, be sure to study the Bible for yourself, because an author, pastor, or podcaster shouldn’t be your only connection to the Bible. Be sure to open and study the Bible for yourself to discover God’s truth for your exact situation.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 13: Discover several things we can learn about Jesus from Luke’s gospel when a woman pours oil on Jesus’ head, seemingly early in Jesus’ ministry. Learn what Luke teaches us about how Jesus responded.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Enjoying Our Presence: Mark 10:13-16

Focus Passage: Mark 10:13-16 (GW)

13 Some people brought little children to Jesus to have him hold them. But the disciples told the people not to do that.

14 When Jesus saw this, he became irritated. He told them, “Don’t stop the children from coming to me. Children like these are part of God’s kingdom. 15 I can guarantee this truth: Whoever doesn’t receive God’s kingdom as a little child receives it will never enter it.”

16 Jesus put his arms around the children and blessed them by placing his hands on them.

Read Mark 10:13-16 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While reading from Mark’s gospel about Jesus inviting and blessing the children who were brought to Him, a verse stood out to me in a way I had never noticed before. In this event, Mark tells us that “Jesus put his arms around the children and blessed them by placing his hands on them.” (v. 16)

Mark is the only gospel that describes Jesus putting His arms around the children. In Mark’s gospel, the picture I get is that Jesus gives these children a hug (if they were old enough to walk), and if a baby happened to be among those who were brought to Jesus, Jesus didn’t shy away from holding the child.

When I read this last verse in Mark, I get the impression that Jesus first showed how He enjoyed being around the children who were brought (people don’t voluntarily hug those they don’t want to be around), and only afterwards does He place His hands on the child/children to give them His blessing.

I believe the order is important. Jesus is most interested in building a relationship with us – where we are in life right now – and only after a relationship is formed does He inspire change from within us.

While human nature tries to get us focused in on requiring visible change on the front end as evidence that we are moving in the right direction, Jesus knows that only after coming to Him will we be able to change the inside – and internal change will ultimately become external change as well.

Jesus’ invitation for everyone, regardless of age, is to come to Him and receive His love.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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