And There Wasted His Substance
Luke 15:13 says, “And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.”
Countless Christian parents have lived this verse in Luke. They’ve watched sons and daughters pack up their portions and move as far away from Christianity as they dare.
Kim knows. She called into the program and through tears told us, “I raised my children in church; I thought I was doing what’s right, but I just feel like a complete failure as a parent. My children are so far from God. One of them I haven’t seen in more than twenty years, and my heart is just broken because I feel like I raised my kids in the way that they should go.”1
She’s referring to Proverbs 22:6 which says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In Hebrew, the way he should go means, “in the mouth of his way”—mouth as in the beginning or entrance of a place or thing. 2
A rabbi was asked, “At what age does a child’s Torah education begin?” He responded by asking, “From what point are parents obligated to feed their child?”3
“I will open my mouth in a parable,” Psalm 78 says. “I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:2-7).
From our mouths to their beginnings, Christians are to show their children the praises of the Lord and teach them the words of God. This is meant to happen in the home, by parental example.
Presbyterian evangelist John Wilbur Chapman, who preached with D.L. Moody and discipled Billy Sunday, relayed this about optimal home life:
Example counts for everything in a home. If there is any blessing in my own life … if there has been any helpfulness in my ministry to others, I owe it all to my mother, who lived before me a consistent Christian life and died giving me her blessing; and to my father, who, with his arms about me one day said, “My son, if you go wrong it will kill me.” I was at one time under the influence of a boy older than myself and cursed with too much money. I had taken my first questionable step at least, and was on my way one night to a place which was at least questionable if not sinful. I had turned the street corner and ahead of me was the very gate to hell. Suddenly, as I turned, the face of my father came before me, and his words rang in my very soul. If my father had been anything but a consistent Christian man I myself, I am sure, would have been far from the pulpit, and might have been in the lost world. There are those who seem to think that the height of one’s ambition is to amass a fortune, to build a palace or to acquire a social position. My friend, George R. Stuart, says you may build your palaces, amass your fortunes, provide for the satisfaction of every desire, but as you sit amid these luxurious surroundings waiting for the staggering steps of a son, or as you think of a wayward daughter, all this will be as nothing, for there is nothing that can give happiness to the parents of Godless, wayward children. Someone has said, “Every drunkard, every gambler, every lost woman once sat in a mother’s lap, and the downfall of the most of them may be traced to some defect in home life.”4
For young parents striving to live consistent Christian lives before their children, keep in mind the commandment that God gave to Israel so long ago:
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut. 6:6-7).
Had this system of education been carried out, a scholar notes, the history of Israel would have been very different than what it is now. Instead, Israel herself became a wayward child.
To “teach them diligently,” in the Hebrew, takes from the word whet, which means to sharpen5. Picture a craftsman scraping the blade of a knife back and forth over a whetstone. The careful and consistent motion produces a razor-sharp edge. Likewise, effective teaching is sharp enough to cut away doubt and heat the heart with faith.
Remember what the two men on their way to Emmaus asked, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Lk. 24:32).
Along with what is taught at home, a child’s Christian education includes what he learns at church. So many parents are surprised and confused when their adult children, once “raised in church,” turn their backs on God. The question is, what kind of church were they raised in? Good, Bible-believing churches are difficult to come by these days. So many are what I call “hybrids,” where pulpits are used to mix the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with man-made doctrine. The result is spiritually mixed-up moms and dads who, because they attend such a church on a regular basis, expect to reap the results of biblical parenting. But how can a parent train up a child in the way he should go if that mother, that father isn’t properly trained themselves?
But apostate churches aren’t always to blame for backslidden children, nor is bad parenting; many a godly mother and father grieve over their child’s decision to turn aside from the Lord. So going back to Luke 15, how does a parent like Kim get from verse thirteen to the part in the parable where the son comes to his senses and comes back to the Lord?
Let’s take a closer look at the actions and reactions of the two primary people in the story.
Scholars speculate that the Lord may have known this certain man and his sons—a family of wealth that could easily afford land, lavish feasts, and costly gems. Theirs was a home of provision, and these two sons knew it.
“And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living” (Lk. 15:12).
Earlier in Luke 15, the Lord used parables with ratios related to property loss: one sheep out of a hundred; one of ten coins. But the loss of the younger son’s departure was far more costly, not only in terms of possession—a third of his estate (Jews gave the oldest son twice as much as the younger) —but also loss of relationship.
His boy was leaving the house prematurely, bent on living a life of sin. The father knew, as most fathers know, that his willful son was forfeiting all that had been invested in his emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. To say that it broke this father’s heart is an understatement.
His son says, “give me,” and the father says nothing in response. He doesn’t get angry or argue. He didn’t threaten or bribe. He simply divided to him the part of his living and let the boy go.
Luke 15:13 says this wayward son “wasted his substance with riotous living.” We find that same word, substance, in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for.”
Along with wasting the money his father gave him, I believe this boy also wasted his faith, placing a good part of it in himself and later in a citizen from another country to help him survive a famine. The result was a once wealthy heir now feeding swine in a field, and for a Jew, there was no lower degradation.
“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 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. And he arose, and came to his father” (Lk. 15:17-20).
What a beautiful picture of how the Holy Spirit works in the heart of a wayward child. First the conviction: the boy came to himself. Prior to God saying, “Let there be light,” we find the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters. Likewise, at the direction of the Father, the Holy Spirit hovers over our backslidden children and illuminates their hearts to show them their sinful state and their need for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Once he sees the condition of his heart, the son responds three ways:
After this, the boy doesn’t do another thing. Why? Because the father is already running toward him.
- Accountability and responsibility: “I will arise and go to my father.”
- Repentance: “I will say unto him, Father, I have sinned.”
- Faith in action: He arose and came to his father.
“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Lk. 15:20).
Scholars say the distance—a great way off—had more to do with a relational distance rather than a physical one. The son was far, far away from the father, but never the father from the son. He saw the boy when he was still a great way off—way off in sin, in slavery, in a field with the pigs.
Now, after all this time, the father sees his son coming. The young man is barefoot; his clothes are torn and ragged; he’s unclean. He walks haltingly as he approaches the property that was once his home; part of his inheritance. “If only he repents,” the father thinks, “the best robe is waiting; a ring; new shoes.”
“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son” (Lk. 15:21).
This is as far as the young man gets, my husband notes. The son had intended to go on and ask to be made as one of the hired servants. But thank God, the father interrupts with words he’s been aching to say: “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: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Lk. 15:22-24).
The parable of the prodigal son offers believers comfort and hope, but we know that not every situation involving wayward children ends like this one.
A Word To Parents
Every adult child chooses his own path and is responsible for his own actions. Some have made the choice to walk away from God, and there’s nothing a parent can do about that except to pray and love that child. My husband and I have known good, godly parents who did their best to put the Word of God into the hearts of their sons and daughters, but the minds of those children were not on the things of God; they wanted nothing to do with Him. Thankfully, some of those kids eventually came back to the Lord, but others did not. The fact is, you can be the best parent in the world, but that doesn’t guarantee your child will be a godly person. Maybe you feel that you’ve failed as a parent—and none of us get everything right on parenting—but don’t beat yourself up over it. Get alone with God and tell Him, “Lord, I missed it there,” then ask Him to help you love and pray for that child, to intercede. Ask the Lord to do whatever it takes to bring your child to the end of himself, put your son or daughter into the hands of the Lord, and then wait on Him and with Him. Remember, God is watching the road that leads back home.
A Prayer For Parents
When Kim called into the program, grieved over her wayward children, Donnie was impressed by the Lord to pray for her. We want to extend that prayer to all moms and dads carrying the same burden:
“Father, we come before you in the name of Your Son, Jesus, and we bring these parents before you—our brothers and sisters in Christ—and Lord we feel, we sense, and we hear their anguish, their brokenness, and their heartbreak concerning the decisions their children have made. Lord, we’re asking for the peace that passes all understanding; we’re asking for Your grace to begin to flow in their lives. May they grow closer and closer and closer to You, and as they do that more wisdom and guidance would come as it regards how they should pray and how they should deal with their children. And Lord, we give You all the praise and all the glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
1 Frances & Friends, March 4, 2019.
3 Shmuel Kogan, “At What Age Does a Child’s Torah Education Begin?” Chabad.org online.
4 Chapman, J. Wilbur, An Old-Fashioned Home, Philadelphia, Presbyterian Board of Publication
and Sabbath School Work, 1919.