Over these last 40 years or so my wife and I have walked alongside with and ministered to a number of families. A number of them have ministered to us as well. One of the things we have learned from all of this is while we are all affected by the fall in various ways, God still seeks to restore us to His original purpose and intent. He created the family, He has great intentions for each family, and He alone can restore the family to its God given destiny. And He delights in doing so with any and all who will humble themselves before Him.
Another thing we have observed is most of these families have at least two children. And those sibling relationships inevitably have to weather lots of storms and challenges. Sometimes we siblings get blind sighted by some of the storms and need help sorting through the wreckage. Sometimes we parents are beside ourselves in trying to help our children get over their offenses towards each other.
Every sibling deep down wants to be close to their siblings. Every parent deep down wants their children to be close to each other. And we trust that every disciple of Jesus Christ wants each of their family relationships to count for Him and His kingdom.
I’ve found it very interesting in scripture that sibling relationships get so much coverage. And what I’ve concluded is God originally intended for sibling relationships to bear much fruit for His kingdom. He has given them a divine glue of sorts that enables them to stick together even when they emotionally want to give up and move on (or worse). And knowing all of this the enemy of our souls and families wastes no time in trying to sabotage the destiny that God has placed on siblings.
The good news is throughout Biblical history and church history siblings have borne much fruit for God’s kingdom purposes on the earth. Some examples of that in Scripture are:
- Noah’s three sons worked together with their parents to build a massive ark and to preserve the animal world and humanity.
- Noah’s sons Shem and Japheth upon learning from their younger brother of their dad’s nakedness worked together to cover his nakedness and were blessed by God as a result.
- Jacob’s twelve sons eventually worked together to move their families and their father Jacob down to Goshen, which served to preserve God’s people from famine and death.
- Moses and Aaron. God chose Aaron (Moses’s brother) to join him in the daunting mission of freeing the Hebrews from Pharoah’s bondage. Granted God did it in the context of Moses’s unbelief (see Exodus 4:10-15). But it was God’s initiative and God used to the two to pull of some pretty amazing things over the next 40 years.
- Nehemiah’s brother Hanani helped him greatly in the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem (see Nehemiah 7 & Nehemiah 12).
- Mary, Martha and Lazarus because of their love for Jesus and open hospitality to him and their basic harmony in their home had the privilege of hosting Him often, and being chosen by Him to do perhaps His greatest miracle, which caused many to believe in Him (see John 11, 12)
- Peter and Andrew were chosen to be part of Jesus’s twelve disciples/apostles. Andrew was actually the one who first brought Peter to Jesus (John 1:41,42). Peter’s role in leading the church in Jerusalem cannot be understated.
- Jesus also chose another pair of brothers to be a part of His original twelve disciples/apostles – James and John. James was the first of the twelve to be martyred after helping to lead the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 12:1,2). John authored the gospel of John, I, II and III John and the book of Revelation and was the last of the twelve to die as an exile on the isle of Patmos (see Revelation 1:9).
- Most of if not all of Jesus’s own 7 or more siblings appeared to have been a part of the daily prayer meetings that resulted in the birth of the early church and the move of God in those days in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14). Of those, James became one of the primary leaders of the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 15:13f), and wrote a N.T. book. Jude also wrote a N.T. book.
One example in Church History that comes to mind is how God mightily used John and Charles Wesley to help bring about revival and awakening in their day.
Well that’s the good news. The reality though is for good lasting fruit to be borne through sibling relationships much pruning has to be done. As someone has wisely said, “The natural state of a garden is weeds.” Therefore unless God intervenes and siblings learn to come to Him through Christ and be regularly sprinkled and cleansed by His blood (see I Peter 1:2), weeds will win the day.
There is a reason why God allowed us all to see that the first sibling relationship on the earth ended in murder - one brother senselessly murdering the other (see Genesis 4:8).
Thankfully God has mercifully left us some crucial lessons in Scripture from the failures of siblings like the one above.
In fact, why don’t we start out there with some very good news. And that good news is God patiently reasons with siblings who are being tempted to go to the dark side. Let’s listen in as He reasons with Cain the brother of Abel, “….So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:5-7). Cain was deeply offended that God was not pleased with his offering, but was pleased with his brother Abel’s offering. He became jealous and bitter to the point of choosing to ignore God’s voice, which we know He heard, and then took the life of his brother. Thankfully most sibling conflicts do not end this way. But this is meant to be a sober reminder of what can happen when bitterness, resentment and jealousy are allowed to take root in a sibling’s soul.
Whether Adam and Eve were praying for their sons like Job did for his children (see Job 1:5), we do not know. But parents you need to know and believe that God will speak to your children in response to your prayers. What is crucial is that our children hear and obey His voice. Of course one of the things that most influences them to hear and obey God’s voice is that their parents do, so let’s pray for ourselves as well in that regard.
Speaking of prayer, one has to wonder what Esau would have done to his brother Jacob had Jacob not prayed all night before they faced each other. Jacob had defrauded his brother twice – once for his birthright and then of his father’s blessing. Jacob got out of Dodge after the second transgression once it became known that his brother Esau intended to kill him. Esau also eventually moved away. And for a number of years they never saw each other. But Jacob knew they would soon see each other and thus he prayed all night and wrestled with God (see Genesis 32:24-32) until he was assured God would bless him. The next day he saw Esau and to Jacob’s wonderment Esau’s heart was totally changed towards him. You can read about all of this in Genesis chapters 27-33.
Siblings, no matter how great the rift is between you and your sibling or siblings, even if your sins caused it, God has a great track record of changing hearts. It may take a while. But if you persevere in prayer, God will be pleased to do the heart surgery necessary. Parents of adult children who are estranged from each other, you might want to put “Remember Jacob and Esau” on a sticky note somewhere to strengthen your faith and confidence in God’s ability to change hearts.
I listed earlier in this article how Jesus’s siblings served in the early church in earth changing ways. But evidently for all of Jesus’s earthly life, they all misunderstood Him, criticized Him and to varying degrees rejected Him. Because we know Psalm 69:9 is prophetically spoken by Jesus it is very likely that vs. 8 was as well, where the Psalmist writes, “I have become estranged from my brothers And an alien to my mother’s sons.” John 7:5 informs us that “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.” As far as we know, none of Jesus’s siblings believed that He was the Messiah/Savior until after His resurrection. None of them were chosen as part of the 12 disciples/apostles. None of them apparently followed Him to the cross like His mother did. That means for all of the years Jesus related to them up to that point, they misread Him and probably resented Him. Jesus, though fully God was also fully human, and thus as a human brother and especially as the elder brother, who in that culture had responsibilities over or for his younger siblings - He felt the pain of that rejection.
Whether the praying that the Psalmist speaks of in vs. 10-13 of Psalm 69 refers to Jesus or David the author, we know from the rest of scripture that Jesus devoted Himself to prayer throughout His life. And thus I’m sure He prayed for His siblings throughout all those years of rejection. The fruit of those prayers is seen in the book of Acts and some of the epistles. Nothing affects rifts in siblings like a praying sibling!
The kingdom of God is never established anywhere in any way apart from prayer. But as important as prayer is, it is not enough when there are rifts between siblings. Along with prayer there must also be forgiveness. Jesus clearly did that on the cross for everyone including His siblings and it is evidenced by the way He must have dealt with His siblings in those 40 days after His resurrection before His ascension. Joseph also forgave 10 of his brothers for the cruel and evil way they treated him because of theiir jealousy, resentment and bitterness toward him. You can read about that in Genesis chps. 37-45 (especially note his forgiveness in 45:4-9).
By the way, one of the things that helped Joseph forgive his brothers was his knowledge of God and His sovereignty and goodness in his life. Joseph referenced that in 45:5,7,8. For praying parents and grandparents that is what our children and grandchildren most need. If they can obtain that, they will get through the storms and rifts with their siblings.
Two final thoughts as I bring this to a close:
1. If you are married, your relationship with your spouse must always be priority in your heart, mind, prayers and actions over your relationships with your siblings. Only with our spouses are we to “leave and cleave” (see Gen. 2:24, Matthew 19:5,6 & Ephesians 5:31). If we can attain true oneness with our spouses, we will have much more relational energy and authority to pursue harmony and unity with our siblings. And our efforts will not be resented by our spouses.
2. Anne and I often these days remind each other re: all of life, “Timing is everything.” With both the rift between Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers, it took years and just the right circumstances for healing and restoration to take place in their sibling relationships. God is always working, but His work is not always visible. May we all learn to wait on Him in growing confidence and assurance that He will finish what He begins in our sibling relationships – especially if at least one person in the family is praying for His highest purposes to be accomplished.
Father, even right now, we pray that You would do whatever You have to do to bring about Your highest purposes in each of our sibling relationships for Your glory in Jesus’s name. Amen.
P.S. If you want to go deeper in what Jesus taught about marriage and the family you might want to check out this study - https://www.kingdomstreams.net/post/jesus-re-marriage-and-the-family