In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus spoke the parables of “the lost things.” There was a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Though our space does not allow a full study of this great chapter, there are observations that will help us concerning our attitude towards those that return.
First, we would see the urgency on the part of the shepherd and the woman. It says of both of them, they went after and sought diligently “until he [she] found it”
(Luke 15:4, 8). It is certainly a reflection of the value placed upon the object. Secondly we would notice the response of the father when his son returned. Jesus said “His father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father said, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry” (Luke 15:22, 23). Before we leave this context, there is one other observation. Jesus concluded the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin with this statement: “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth (Luke 15:10). It is interesting to see that it does not say the angels are rejoicing. It says, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God.” If the father of the prodigal represents our Father in Heaven, then we see there is joy, even with God, when they return.
We see the same truth in a practical way when we turn our attention to 2 Corinthians 2. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul encouraged them to practice discipline concerning the man who was living in dark immorality (2 Cor. 5). When we consider chapter two of 2 Corinthians we conclude that he must have repented and desired to return into the fold. Yet, there seems to have been some apprehension on receiving him back. Paul wrote,
Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. Now with the remaining space, let us notice the three-fold response that Paul expected of them.
First Paul said, “ye ought rather to forgive him.” There comes a time in the lives of every individual who has reached the age of accountability when they will stand in need of forgiveness. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray he said, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). It is a divine truth that our being forgiven can and will be affected by our willingness, or lack thereof, to forgive. When the erring returns, we cannot afford to “forgive” with reservation. We should manifest the same desire to forgive as our Lord did in the shadow of the cross. His stated desire must be our desire. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). It was the attitude that Stephen displayed as he was being stoned to death. He said, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). When we consider the great injustice that was heaped upon Jesus and His great servant Stephen, and the willingness they had to forgive, we learn it ill behooves us to respond in any other way than with forgiveness.
Secondly, Paul said the Corinthians should “comfort him.” Consider for a moment the shame and embarrassment that is associated with sin. When one who is immersed in sin finally comes to his right mind, there is great embarrassment, and rightly so. The prodigal reasoned after he had come to his senses, “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants” (Luke 15:19). There should be on our part a response that lets the brother or sister know that they have made the right choice by coming back. We would certainly not want them to “be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow” (2 Cor. 5:7). As those who are building up the church rather than tearing it down, we must strive to be encouragers in these situations.
Thirdly, Paul told the Corinthians to “confirm your love toward him” That the religion of Christ is a religion of love is beyond question. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and He “commendeth his love toward us” (Rom. 5:8). We are to be a people of love. We must “love the brotherhood” (1 Pet. 2:17) and we must show that love in action (1 Thess. 1:3; 1 John 3:18). Peter wrote, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22). Notice that our obedience to the Gospel is unto “unfeigned love of the brethren.” Our reception of the penitent one is a direct reflection of our attitude toward them and their soul. Any less response would raise a serious question concerning our love. Our love, or lack of love, will be seen in our actions on these occasions.
It is certainly a joyous time when the erring comes to his senses and returns unto the Lord and His way. Yet, we must be aware of the trepidation that may exist on the part of the one who is returning. We should join in the joy of heaven and rejoice when they have come home. We must forgive, comfort, and confirm our love on these most joyous occasions. May we meditate on these things as we study our Bibles more and more.