© Rosemary Bardsley 2016


[Alternative: Where has all the joy gone? Answer #2: Short-circuited by the clouds of criticism; lost in the labyrinth of legalism]

[Notes on Legalism:

[1] Legalism: is when we believe that we are acceptable to God because of our conformity to the Law.

[2] How does Legalism express itself?

(1) We demand of ourselves a certain standard of piety or performance.

(2) We demand of others a certain standard of piety or performance.

(3) When we or others do not confrom to that standard we hold them our ourselves accountable.

(4) We become more demandingn and critical than God himself and may even end up critizing God.

[3] Legalism can be very blatant or very subtle.]


We will be looking at Luke 15:11-32 and Matthew 18:21-35

Luke 15:11-32

A. The father's joy

B. The younger brother's joy

C. The older brother's problem

A. The Father's Joy

  • The joy of loving
  • The joy of forgiving
  • The joy of the lost one's return
  • The joy of celebration


B. The younger brother's joy

  • The joy of being loved
  • The joy of being forgiven
  • The joy of returning home
  • The joy of freedom
  • The joy of knowing his Father's free love


C. The older brother's problem

  • He does not feel his father's joy
  • He does not feel his brother's joy


  • he looks at his own performance
  • he looks at his own piety


  • he criticizes his brother
  • he criticizes his father


  • he is thinking in a legalistic way - and he has NO JOY
  • he does not want his father to forgive
  • he does not want his father to restore
  • he does not want his father to celebrate


  • he wants his father to act in a tit-for-tat manner, and treat the younger son in a manner appropriate to his actions
  • he holds his brother accountable for his sins
  • he sees himself as meriting his father's love because of his own performance and piety
  • he could have lived a life of perpetual JOY - he was always with the father, all that his father had was his. BUT he has short-circuited that joy with CRITICISM  and lost it in a labyrinth of legalism.

Did he feel that he merited his father's love by always doing right? by his hard work?

  • If so, he is under constant threat of losing that love.
  • If so, he is under constant pressure to perform.
  • If so, he will, as long as he performs, always have the feeling that his father owes him something.
  • If so, any joy that he might have had is lost.


Let us each ask ourselves: to what extent am I this elder brother?


Matthew 18:21-35

We have here a terrible warning.

We read here of an incredible failure, an incredible attitude.

A. The servant's destitution

He has an incredible debt.

He has nothing with which to pay.

He faces a terrible penalty.

So he asked for time to make good the debt.


B. The King's Compassion

The King understood both the size of the debt and the servant's destitution, he knew the servant could never pay.

The King did not grant the servant's request for time; rather, moved with deep compassion, he completely cancelled the debt, and revoked the penalty.

C. The servant's failure

He hasn't understood that the debt is actually cancelled. He still acts as one who needs money to pay the debt.

He has no joy.

He is still working with a tit-for-tat mentality.

He has not actually received the forgiveness that was provided.

He does not see himself as forgiven, and he therefore cannot forgive.


Let us again ask ourselves:

How much am I this joyless, unforgiving, legalistic servant, who demands of my fellow servants more than my King demands of me? and who refuses to treat them with the same compassion with which my King has treated me?


We all stand accused by the elder brother.

We all stand accused by this joyless servant.

Let us each one repent of this legalism which robs us of joy, and ask the Father to deliver us from it.