TEXT: LUKE 15: 11 – 32
A) Family business at Sia Huat and LCP
Cindy’s late father started Sia Huat Pte Ltd n the 1960’s and today it is the leading restaurant and hotel kitchen supplier. We can call him the 1st generation business owner. Cindy’s younger brother and sister have been working for the family business since the early 1970’s. They represent the 2nd generation business owners of Sia Huat. Today my two nieces and one nephew are working in the business and they represent the third generation owners. My nieces and nephew tell me that it is not easy working for, Cindy’s younger brother, their father.
But my nieces and nephew are extremely motivated nevertheless. They work early late and long! They return to work on Sunday and public holidays when situation demands. What motivate them to work this way?
I have three children. Sue En, my eldest daughter is a Certified Public Accountant and works in my law firm as Administration and Finance Manager. It is a tremendous joy to have her working in the firm. I also observe that she is very happy working in the firm.
Lynn Ern, my youngest daughter was called to the Bar as an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore in July 2012 and she has worked in my law firm and I will be handing the law firm over to her and my younger brother (who is also a lawyer).
My son Ernie, number two among my 3 children, joined LSBC Church staff on 1st July 2011 and worked in the church office for two and a half years till November 2013 after graduating from Singapore Management University. He wanted to dedicate the first two and a half years of his working life to the honour of God. He calls it the “national service for God”. Whilst working in the church office IT & Media Department Ernie had to relate to me, the SP, as the boss in the church at the organizational level. We all know who the real boss is as far as church is concerned.
My three children would have to treat me as both their boss and their father. How would that affect their work?
I think succession. I would like my children to work for me in law firm because I can then pass the business to them in the future. In the meanwhile I can work with people that I can fully trust; with people who should be very motivated.
B) Failure in family business
Not everybody is excited about working for his father. Family business does fail and can lead to heart break and home break up. In fact many people are afraid to work for the family.
Some father think exploitation. Some family business exploit their own children. Older relatives used the younger generation to produce the profit but deny them of any share.
Some children abuse their privilege of working for their father. Failure occurs when children do not work conscientiously in the family business instead they squander the wealth accumulated by their parents. They take advantage of their position as children of the boss and abuse the trust and the privilege.
Very often family business would also suffer split as the siblings cannot get along with one another. They do not work harmoniously. They engage in company politics. They do not recognize true ownership.
C) Family Business and the Bible
Evangel Tabernacle is a family business and you are all working for the heavenly father. How well are you doing in your work for the Father? I want to give you a biblical basis for excellent attitude and great performance in serving God.
The people who work in church are actually working for the family business. The Senior Pastor is both the boss and the spiritual father. The core business is always the gospel and spiritual transformation.
The business owner, the big boss, of the church is of course God our heavenly Father who is also our heavenly Father. How should a Christian worker pitch his level of dedication, service and sacrifice to his boss and his father?
It is very easy to find dispirited church worker, de-motivated church workers and apathetic church workers. Why is this so? We must explore this question today. Do you serve God in this church? Serving God is not just for the full time pastors but for every church member. Are you excited about your work or are you dispirited? Are you enthusiastic or are you apathetic?
The bible has very good teaching on family business. Jesus models for us what it is like to serve the Father. He also teaches us the difference between a son working for a father and a hireling working for an employer.
We shall be studying the parable of the prodigal son and we shall try to draw some lessons there. The road map is as follows:
• The son who failed to serve as a worker
• The worker who failed to serve as a son
• The God who will always be first our father
• The Son who never failed to serve His Father
1. The son who failed to serve as a worker
We start with a look at the younger son in the parable. He did not see the boss in the father. He saw himself only as a son.
The younger son did not want to work for the father. He would take from the father shamelessly and set out to work for himself. He sees himself as the boss.
• Cannot see himself as a servant
The younger son cannot see himself as a servant to the father. He sees himself as a son who is entitled to a share of the inheritance but sees his father as just someone obligated to give him what he wants. He saw his father as just the father.
The modern day Christian that is equivalent to the younger son is one who believes in love and grace but not labour and giving. He believes in son-ship but not servant-hood. They think privilege but care nothing about responsibility.
What does the Lord has to say about such an attitude? What should our mind-set be like?
What the Lord teaches us is that our mind-set should be that of an unworthy servant. Our faith in God’s adopting us as sons is precious. We are truly precious sons and daughters in God’s sight. However our strength of faith must be balanced with our sense of duty as servants (Lk 17: 5 – 10). Jesus said, “When you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.”
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant ploughing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat?’ But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink?’ Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded hum? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’”
• Cannot see the boss in the father
This is a loaded statement that is worth remembering and reflected upon.
The younger son sees the father as father but cannot see that the father has purposed for him to work under him for his own future reward.
He would rather treat the father as someone who owes him a living and who owes him an inheritance and not as someone he would serve. He cannot see the father as a worthy boss that he can serve with respect. The father is just an ATM machine from which he can draw money from.
Many modern Christians are unwilling to serve God because they do not see God as a boss worthy of service. They would only like to see God as a heavenly Father from whom they can draw upon as much and as often as they want. They know the Lord’s Prayer well even but not the Lord’s commission. (Lk 11: 2 – 4 an Mt. 28: 18 – 20). They say “give me this day” but cannot hear “go ye therefore.”
As you serve in the field and in the church you need to see the ultimate boss in the heavenly father, the earthly boss in the SP otherwise you would be very easily hurt.
• Cannot wait for returns
The younger son was obviously living on the farm and working in the farm. I think that he knew that whatever he invests in the farm in terms of his contribution in time and effort would correspondingly yield a resulting inheritance. But unfortunately he had to wait for his father to die and that may be some time yet. He had to wait for some time yet before he can get the returns on his investment and work.
He cannot see how he had to serve indefinitely to get his reward. He cannot wait. He demanded for his share of his inheritance and then he set off from home.
Many modern Christians are totally disinterested in the future reward that God has promised. They refuse to invest in the coming reward. That is why it is so difficult to recruit people to serve in church. We can only promise them reward in heaven. They are not interested in that. They know there is such a thing and they believe in such reward but they are not interested.
They would rather live for the present and enjoy a life of indulgence. They are like the rich fool described by Jesus in Lk 12: 13 – 21. Read also Lk 12: 31 – 34
Then one from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he though within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?” So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you, then whose will those things be which you have provided?’
“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things, shall be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
You would never be adequately regarded whilst serving in the church office or in the field. The main bulk of your salary is credited in your heavenly account (Lk 12: 33).
• Cannot take the rigours
He is unwilling to work at home and he is unwilling to work abroad. He does not want to serve the father and he is not prepared to stretch himself. He simply wants to squander the life and the resources that God measured out to him as the portion that falls to him (Lk 15: 12 – 14)
It is obviously a wasted life.
He obviously cannot take the rigor and discipline of serving God the boss. Modern day Christians find it very difficult to exercise discipline and to serve God with diligence. They cannot take hardship and would not accept inconvenience.
2. The worker who failed to serve as a son
The older son did not work as a son but slogged as a servant. As a result he missed out on the joy of working with the father and the purpose of serving the father.
• Cannot see himself as a son
He works like a hireling (a servant, an employee) and cannot see himself as a son. Perhaps he believed that a son should not work and therefore a son who works is not treated like a son. As a result of his attitude he would not even dare to ask of the father things that only a son would ask. He complained to the father, “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet your never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends.” (Lk. 15: 29)
It is obvious that he did not ask for the goat because he ever thought that his father would give and therefore he never did organize any celebration with friends.
Many modern Christians see serving God as an obligation and not as something they can enjoy. They see God as a task master and the work they do as simply tasks. They are conscientious but they do not know how to celebrate. They serve without joy. They think God would definitely disapprove of their fun, honouring and celebration.
If you see yourself as a hireling, your standard of work would be affected. The standard of work of a hireling is not the same as the standard work of the son. Jesus pointed out the difference in Jn 10: 11 – 18. He said that when dangers comes the hireling would flee but the good shepherd who serves God the father would be prepared to lay down his life for the sheep
“I’ am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, an am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring , and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Therefore my Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay down Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take again. This command I have received from My Father.”
• Cannot see the Father in the boss
This is another loaded statement worth remembering and reflected upon. The older son sees the father as boss but cannot see the father in the boss. He cannot see that the boss has the father’s heart.
He reads negative thoughts into God. To him the Father is no better than a calculative boss and is most unwilling to give beyond the wages. He believes that the boss father would not be prepared to give him a young goat to celebrate with his friend. He makes negative presumptions about God. As a result he did not bother even to ask for the goat. He felt embarrassed to ask.
• Cannot see the reward beyond the wages
There are two aspects of rewards that the older son cannot see. The first is the reward of the entire farm and the second is the reward of family relationships comprising younger brother and father.
As a result of his failure to see these two aspects of rewards he did not behave like an owner of the farm and he did not rejoice over his younger brother’s return.
He also did not treasure the fact that by serving God he is enjoying the special presence of the father.
He could only see the immediate work and the wages in his hand. He did not look around and have a sense of ownership. He did not look up and treasure the relationship with God the father and fellow disciples who walk with him as brothers.
Modern Christian workers can fall into this very tragic situation too. We must be careful that we do not suffer the same fate. The worst failure is the failure to treasure relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly with those who work with us. LSBC treasures relationship above all else. It is one of our values.
• Cannot transform the routine
He worked for many years with diligence and compliance. It became a routine. But he could not transform the routine into celebration.
He did not create special occasions like party with a friend. We at LSBC are good at creating special occasions to celebrate. It has become a value to us. We transform hard work into hearty celebration!
He also could not identify special occasion of the return of the younger brother. We must learn to celebrate life. We must celebrate repentance and return of those who had backslidden.
He got into a rut and just ploughed on. The routine was labour without joy or exception.
Work is, to a large extent, a routine especially after some years. You tend to get into the rut of routine if you have been working in a particular ministry, or job or organization for many years.
But we must transform the routine by enjoying the presence of the father. Where God is present with us it should change the entire climate and complexion of service.
3. The God who will always be primarily our Father
• Does not see himself as the boss
He has never treated the older son as his servant and he as his boss. He simply enjoyed working with his son. Just being with him was reward enough. The father said to his older son, “Son you are always with me.” (Lk 15: 32a)
He will always act in keeping with his character as father. The most telling sign of fatherhood is when he saw from afar the returning son in his filth and he felt compassion for him. (Lk 15: 20)
The bible recognizes this typical virtue of a father i.e. his compassion for his children (Ps 103: 13).
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
• Can never see the son as a servant
The younger son came back and asked to be a servant. The father was however not prepared to treat the younger son as his servant even though the younger son asked to be so treated (Lk 15: 21 – 24).
God will always treat you as s son first and see you in the other roles second. It does not matter what you want him to treat you. It does not matter how you look at yourself. God will see you as His son!
It also does not matter how others see you. The older son does not see the younger son as part of his family. It does not matter whether others reject you. The older son rejected the younger son. God will always see you as His son. He will not be influenced by the older son.
• Cannot see His as not theirs
The father treats all he has as theirs as well. The father saw all his possessions as owned by his sons. They are theirs.
For the father there is no other way of looking at it. Only a father would have such an attitude. He said to the older son, “and all that I have is yours.” (Lk 15: 32b) An employer would never think this way.
Modern Christians does not grasp this truth well. They look at God as a withholding God instead of seeing Him more as a giving God. Paul said, “He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also give us all things?” (Rom 8: 32)
• Cannot take the resignation
The father let the younger son go away from his house but could never let him be gone from his heart.
You can backslide spiritually but God will never blank out your name from His heart. You can leave the house of God but not the heart of God. He loves you deeply.
The younger son did put in a letter of resignation and really left the home and employ. But the father continued to long for him with love as a father. The bible records that when the younger son was a great distance off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him (Lk 15: 20). There was a daily longing for his son’s return. He was always on a lookout for his son.
When the son came back he was first accepted as he was: in his filth. After accepting the younger son as he was, the father restored the younger son to the dignity befitting a son.
Repentance precedes being forgiven and cleansed. Return first and then get cleaned up. Many people think that they need to remove their own stains before they return to God in repentance. The right way to do it is to return to God as you are and let him do the restoration to what they are meant to be. You will get a new robe, a new pair of sandals and a new ring.
4. The Son who never failed to serve His father
• Father loves and the son serves
Jn 10: 11 – 18 best describes how Jesus served the Father. First he states very clearly that He does not serve God like a servant would serve (Jn 10: 12 – 13).
He does not treat God like the boss. He serves God beyond the capacity of a servant. He serves God as a son beloved of God.
Jesus is our model. He sees the father in the boss.
Jesus said that he gives his life for the sheep i.e. in connection with his work. He said, “As the Father knows me, even so I know my father, and lay down my life for the sheep. Therefore my father loves me because I lay down my life that I may take it again (Jn 10: 15, 17).
Jesus took his work very seriously. He was prepared to die for his sheep. He is our model. He sees the boss in the father.
• Focus on labour and serving out of love
Jesus worked tirelessly. He seized every opportunity to do the work the Father entrusted him Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (Jn 9: 4)
Jesus was motivated by the love he has for his father. Jesus said, “That the world may know that I love my father, and as the father gave me commandment, so I do.” (Jn 14: 31)
Only a son can work this way. Can we do likewise? Do you seize every opportunity to work or every opportunity to escape work? What motivates you in your work for your father? Are you motivated by the love you have for God?
• Fulfilling God’s will and finishing God’s work
Jesus said to His disciples: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work.” (Jn 4: 34)
Jesus does not have his own agenda. He does not work to please himself but work only to please God. Jesus said, “I do not seek my own will but he will of the Father who sent me.” (Jn 5: 30)
Only a son can be motivated to work like that. Can we be similarly motivated? What agenda do you have in your work for God? Is it your agenda or God’s agenda? Whose work are you working on? Are you doing His work or your own work?
You are engaged to work for the Father but are you moonlighting, working on your own business on the side? Whose business are you building?
Jesus has set the example of how we can work for the Father. Today He recommissions us afresh. Jesus said, “As my Father has sent me, I also send you.” (Jn 20: 21).
Today is time for rejoicing for us as sons and servants. Today is also a time for reflection for us.
We need to reaffirm our love for the father and we need to reaffirm our calling to serve God.
If you wish to do so I invite you to come to the altar and re-commit yourselves to serve God as His sons and daughters.
Preached by SP Lawrence Chua
27th April 2014