Checking the Pulse of Spiritual Sibling Rivalry
If we’re honest, there are times where we meet a brother or sister in Christ and don’t feel like being a brother or sister in Christ to them. Sometimes the feeling is subtle and subversive--so subtle that we almost deny the feeling; yet we’ve allowed ourselves to be rubbed the wrong way by that person. It might be that they are more successful, attractive, intelligent, or just flat out better than you at everything they do. It could be that they accomplished all of this while displaying sinful characteristics in the process. We see sin in them more than we see the same in our self (Matthew 7:3) . Maybe they took something that we believed should've been ours. Perhaps it was a promotion or award at work. You know that they follow Christ, but boy, you wish they didn’t so that you wouldn’t feel so bad about giving them an earful.
Before you respond to this introduction with, “Moi? No. It could never be!” Think about this. Sibling rivalry is an age-old issue. It began with Cain and Abel, continued with Jacob and Esau, presented itself with Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, and is notable in the parable of the two lost sons in Luke 15:11-32. God would not have given us all this narrative about sibling rivalry if we didn't face the danger and reality of it in our own lives. I’m not just talking about rivalry between flesh and blood siblings. I’m talking about rivalry between spiritual siblings too. Like every other sin, this sin crouches at our door. Do you see it there?
There is no need to give you a solution in this article or instruct you on how to resolve the issue. That’s not my aim. You’ll see that soon enough. Rather, I want you to check your spiritual pulse and see where sibling rivalry might exist in your heart. You and I need to come to terms with and recognize sin that might be present.
In order to accomplish this, let's consider four signs of sibling rivalry in Luke 15:25-32. These signs are signaled from the life of the older brother in this parable of two lost sons. I know that many refer to this as the parable of the prodigal son, but as you will discover, herein is the story of two sons who are lost.
The most obvious sign of sibling rivalry (and the one we often try most to conceal) is anger. Luke 15:28 says that the older brother became angry. We’re not explicitely told why the older brother is angry. The parable leaves that to our imagining. But we can certainly make logical and educated guesses. What’s important to recognize is that it is the first sign, and stimulates the others. If this is not checked, it becomes a slippery slope. In the most extreme circumstance you end up with Cain's actions toward Abel.
In the same verse, we are told that the older brother is not only angry but that he refuses to go in the house. He’s not going to participate in the party. He will not celebrate; rather, he will separate. When he does this, those angry feeling stew. And if you’ve ever felt this kind of anger combined with separation you recognize that there is only one next step, confrontation.
In this case, the confrontation occurs because the father goes to the older son. The older son takes the opportunity to explode on his father. He could have asked for more time. He could have pretended that everything was alright. He might have even passive-agressively complied and resentfully participated in the party. But not here. Instead, the confrontation occurs and the older son shares his feelings.
Often times, in our lives, we confront others through proxy. We vent to others about the person we don't like. We gossip. Eventually, that complaint gets back to the real target--since we usually share those feelings with everyone but the person with which the confrontation should be directed.
The older sons confrontation with his father may be summed up in one word. Resentment. He feels this both towards the father and his little brother. His words drip with resentment towards both of them. It’s language filled with absolutes like the, “I never…” and the “You never…” in verse 29. We recognize this to be classic victim and villain language. The older son feels as though he did everything just right and yet everything went all wrong for him.
So what do we do with all of this? The first step is seeing the signs. Once we come to terms with the fact that we are in a bad place and headed down a dangerous path, we may course correct. As with the story of Jonah in the Bible, we are left wondering in this parable of the two lost sons, “What did the older son do?”
If you happen to be in the trenches of a spiritual sibling rivalry situation, I don’t really have to explain what you should do. You know what needs to happen. Something must change in your heart, and something must change with your relationship.
God uses both Jonah and the older son to tell us there is something dreadfully wrong with us. We really know what we must do, we just can’t get there until we know what we’ve already done. If you are God's, as Jonah and the older son are, then you will do what you must. When we’re not behaving like good sons or good brothers, we have to remember the promises that are true. “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31). So what will you do? Will you confess, reconcile and rejoice with your brother?
Joey Cochran, a ThM graduate of Dallas Seminary, is the Church Planting Intern at Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois under the supervision of Joe Thorn. Joey contributes to 9Marks, TGC, CBMW, GCD, Servants of Grace, and Christianity.com among others. You may follow Joey at jtcochran.com or @joeycochran on Twitter.