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Improving Sibling Relationships


Genesis 27:41; 32:3-5, 9-11; 33:1-5, 10-11
Related Sunday School Lesson, Family Bible Series, May 23

I really did not mean to do it. She stepped into my line of fire. Unaware of her presence, I pulled the trigger and shot her between the eyes. Fortunately she was far enough away that the BB did not penetrate the skin. No harm done.

That was nearly 40 years ago, and my sister has yet to let me forget it. It is one of my familyís favorite stories. Everyone delights to tell of the time I shot my little sister between the eyes. Fortunately our relationship is strong enough that stories like the one just shared are a source of humor and not anger. But in many families this is not so. The sibling relationship can be one of the most complex, and at times volatile, of all.

Among the best known stories of scripture are accounts of infamous sibling rivalries. Beginning with Cain and Able, the Bible records numerous family squabbles between brothers and brothers and even between brothers and sisters. The Bible makes no attempt to cover up the dysfunctional nature of some biblical families. But just as the Bible gives account of dysfunctional families so also does it give guidelines for healthy sibling relationships. This study is intended to improve a relationship that can be a blessing for a lifetime.

The focal passage begins with Genesis 27 and goes through Genesis 33. It is the story of two sibling rivals, Jacob and Esau. Here were two boys whose behavior could have set in motion a lifetime of bad blood. Instead, because of Godís intervention, the two antagonists became late life friends. This is a story of a relationship restored.

From the outset these brothers were pitted against each other in jealous competition for their parentsí attention. Born twins (fraternal, not identical), they grew up side by side but not step in step. Each had his own personality and agenda. Their early years together reveal the weakness and faults of each. Jacob was manipulative, and Esau was insensitive. Jacob was the youngest, but God had revealed that he would be greater than his brother who was born moments before. One was a mommaís boy; the other was the fatherís favorite.

It must be pointed out that though each boy had problems, the parents were responsible for much of their behavior. Isaac clearly favored Esau and largely for selfish reasons. Esau was a great hunter, and Isaac enjoyed fresh meat. Jacob was the sensitive type, and Rebecca had him tightly tied with her apron strings. The result was a terrible jealousy between the boys. This jealousy was only worsened by Jacobís deceit of his brother Ė robbing him of his birthright and the patriarchal blessing.

Here were two young men who could have been more than brothers; they could have been friends. Tragically they became more than rivals; they became enemies. This is a story repeated often in scripture. Many siblings are robbed of a relationship that could enrich them for a lifetime all because of petty jealousy and the unwillingness to forgive. In many situations the people involved have long forgotten the original argument. All they know is that there is tension between them and it is awkward for all involved.

These petty problems amplify at the time of a parentís death. It is not unusual for the settlement of the estate to result in renewed bitterness and strife. What a shame. Parents will not be with us forever, but siblings may be around for years to come. What a tragedy when siblings lose track of each other after parents die and are no longer there to draw the family back together at least for the occasional holiday reunion.

But there is hope. Not all sibling relationships are so strained. Many have found that family can become friends. How does this happen? Many things are involved, but none is more necessary than a forgiving spirit.

In Colossians 3:12-14, the apostle Paul admonishes Christians to demonstrate grace toward one another. What is needed between spiritual brothers is no less needed between biological siblings. Paul advocates proactive grace. Simply defined, it is grace that takes the initiative to forgive and to restore any broken or estranged relationship. Too often Christians practice what could be called ďgrace by osmosis.Ē They do nothing, hoping over time the relationship will just heal itself. The biblical pattern is much different.

How should proactive grace be carried out? First, acknowledge the problems that exist in the relationship. Examine the health of your family ties. Ask the hard questions of yourself. Have I done my part to keep my relationship strong? Is there some fault of mine or some neglect on my part? Look honestly at your relationship and ask if it is really what you want it to be. Donít look at the fault of your sibling; consider what part you have played or should have played.

Second, pray about the relationship. Ask God to restore and renew your relationship and to work in your siblingís heart as well as your own. Begin by asking for the grace necessary to see the situation as it really is, not as you have perceived it to be. Ask God to allow you to see your siblingís side of things. And pray for Godís love to flow through you.

Third, take steps to reconcile. Jesus tells us in the gospels if we go to the altar and there determine that someone has something against us, we are to leave our gift and go to them. In others words, we are to be proactive with our grace. What can you do to strengthen your relationship with your sibling? Good relationships donít happen just because you hope they will.

In our focal passage Jacob feared his encounter with Esau after many years only to find that his brother wanted to reestablish and renew the relationship as much, if not more, than he did. Could it be that there is a relationship waiting to be restored in your life? Is there a brother or sister who misses you? What would it take to restore that relationship, and more importantly, what are you willing to do?