"Is what we're doing going to enhance the chance that a little girl in Beijing will hear the Gospel or a little boy in Quebec will hear the Good News for the first time?" Page told Executive Committee members Feb. 20 in Nashville, Tenn. "What is our motive? Let's ask that over and over."
Page, president of the Executive Committee, spoke just before a task force charged with exploring a name change for the Southern Baptist Convention delivered its long-awaited report.
Most preachers and scholars focus on the prodigal in the parable, Page said, but there are two other characters in the story who receive scant attention.
"When Jesus spoke these words, those who listened knew He was speaking to the publicans and the sinners. They were delighted that He would preach at them," Page said. "Perhaps they thought they had escaped notice when He kept on going and went from preaching to meddling as He talked about the older son and the father."
The older brother had some commendable qualities, such as being a hard worker and being conscientious, Page said.
"We've got to admit those are some great qualities that we admire and appreciate in anyone," he said. "On the outside, he looked good. Many of us are like that, aren't we? On the outside things look quite fine, but inside things are not quite the way they ought to be."
Though the older son served diligently and obediently, inside there was a wrong motive. Sometimes Southern Baptists find themselves serving with wrong motives, Page said.
"This brother served out of a motive of pride. It was one of the failings of this older brother. He had a great testimony of service and doing a good job, yet his heart was not in his work and he was always dreaming of how good a job he was doing. His work was not a labor of love that would please the father," Page said.
"When we serve out of pride, there's neither love for the Lord nor love for others. It's all about getting attention for ourselves."
Verse 30 conveys the older brother's complaining spirit, Page said. He was upset because of what his younger brother had done, squandering his inheritance with prostitutes.
"When we serve out of a motive of pride, we rejoice in the failings of others," Page said.
Fear can be another motive, he said, with believers sometimes fearing the disapproval of others. The father wanted the older son to celebrate and be glad, but when believers are preoccupied with fear, they are unable to be glad.
Believers also can be motivated to serve because they seek rewards, Page said.
"Friend, let me tell you, I see that motive everywhere I go: 'What's in it for me?' In verse 29 we see the answer. He proclaims his faithfulness in serving over the years. He extols the virtue of his service. 'I'm in this to get something for me.'
"Let me tell you, when we serve out of seeking reward, there can be no maturation. There can be no growing," Page said. "When we serve out of seeking reward there will never be the joy of serving the Lord out of sheer joy.
"I've stated many times the only hope our convention has is a Holy Ghost revival. That revival also must be an alteration in our motives as well as a personal look at who we are and where we are," Page said.
Southern Baptists must always consider their motives for anything they do or don't do, he said, particularly with a possible name change.
Page also drew attention to the father in the parable. The father allowed his son's wandering by giving him the ability to choose his course.
"The Father allows that, doesn't He? He allows us sometimes to go our own way and finally I hope we realize like the younger boy who came to his senses. The older boy never did," Page said. "We come to our senses and say, 'God, why am I doing what I'm doing? Do I really believe in partnering with each other for the Gospel, or is my agenda the most important agenda?'
"I hope and pray you'll sense a new wind blowing in the Executive Committee and in all of our entities that we're doing this together. Whatever we do, we do to build up each other. We've heard that mentioned over and over. Let's put it into practice," he said.
The parable makes clear that the father cares about the son's wandering, Page said. The father is not working hard, ignoring, but is standing with open arms waiting for his son to come home.
"I'm convinced He's waiting for the Southern Baptist Convention to come home. I'm convinced of it. We can change the name, but if we don't change how we act, it will do no good," Page said. "... I believe our Lord will celebrate when Southern Baptists say, 'It's time we do what we do for the right reason.'"
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net