Under One Roof
One reason this scene is so funny is because the program writers have taken a situation with which we’re all familiar and they have exaggerated it a bit, but maybe it’s not all that exaggerated. Some brothers and sisters do have relationships where hostility and bitterness are lurking right below the surface ready to flare up at the slightest provocation. And these people look at a topic like sibling relationship and they say, “That’s an oxymoron. Those words-- sibling and relationship--are like oil and water. They just don’t go together.” But sibling rivalry, sibling conflict--we get that. The fact is that sibling rivalry often starts early and then later gives rise to sibling conflict.
One book about sibling rivalry said when parents bring home a new baby, they have this kind of naive expectation that the kids who are already a part of the family are going to welcome this new child in and feel so happy about the arrival of this new life, but it’s usually not what happens. And to impress the reality of what it’s like, in the existing child’s mind to have a baby brother or sister the author suggests this exercise. Imagine for a moment that you are a wife and your spouse comes up one day, puts his arm around you and says, “Honey, you’re so wonderful and I love you so much, that I’ve decided to have another wife--a new wife just like you.” And then imagine the new wife coming to be part of the family and she’s real cute. She’s just adorable. In fact when you go out in public other people--strangers--stop you and they look at the new wife and they talk about how beautiful she is. “You’re beautiful,” they say to the new wife. And then they turn to you and they say, “And what do you think about the new wife?” And then one day your spouse goes into your room and into your closet and begins to take your clothes out of there, because the new wife needs some new clothes. And you protest and you say, “No. Those are my clothes.” But your husband says, “Well, they were yours, but you’re bigger than you used to be, and those clothes are kind of tight on you, but they’ll fit the new wife just fine. Let’s give them to her.” Now that’s what it feels like.
Well, sibling conflict is as old as families themselves, and in the book of beginnings, we see 3 classic examples of homes where there is intense sibling conflict. In the book of Genesis chapter 4, 25, & 37. Let me read to you about each of these stories. You’ll recognize them. The first is the story of Cain and Abel.
"Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, ‘With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.’ Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor...Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” [Genesis 4:1-5, 8-9]
"When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’ (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ ‘Look, I am about to die,’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’ But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob." [Genesis 25:24-33, NIV]
"When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more... But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him...So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt." [Genesis 37:4-5, 18, 28]
Well, if we put sibling relationships on a continuum, on one end we would surely have all 3 of these accounts from Genesis of sibling conflict. On this end we have cases where there’s almost open warfare, where holiday gatherings turn into battlegrounds-- where brothers and sisters can’t stand to be in the same room with each other. And on the other end, would be siblings who have an incredibly close and fulfilling relationship--deeper than they have with any other person. Listen to what one 61 year old woman said about her 70 year old sister. “There’s chemistry between us. It’s spiritual. It’s so deep you can’t explain it to someone else. I’m happily married. I have lots of friends, but that’s not the point. I can only go so longer without a sister fix.” So you have these 2 extremes. And between these 2 extremes would be sibling relationships that are cordial but shallow (that may describe yours)--relationships that once were warm but which now have cooled (that may describe yours); those that are ambivalent where sibling drive each other a little crazy, but they still feel attracted to each other; and then there are the relationships where there’s just indifference--where people are brothers and sisters in name only. Surveys have shown that 91% of people want better relationships with their siblings. Folks, that’s virtually everyone. So it is almost unanimous and yet we hear so little about this topic.
And, as I was preparing this message, I realized I’d never heard a sermon on sibling harmony in the home before--and yet it’s such a need with the prevalence of conflict in both the biological and also blended families. So I want us to tackle it together today. I want us to see if we have a word from our heavenly Father to help us achieve a godly family with sibling harmony in the home. So to do it, we need to look first of all at the causes of disharmony and then we’ll turn the corner and look at the cure for disharmony.
Now the principles that we’re going to look at here have application to all of our relationships in the family, to our relationships with neighbors and friends and work associates and our brothers and sisters in our church family. Here’s the bottom line: Christ followers must be the most relationally healthy people on the planet.
"as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." [Romans 12:18, NIV]
"If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." [1 Timothy 5:8, NIV]
So, what are the causes of disharmony? Well, the text of Scriputre reveals at least 3 sources of division between siblings in the family and the first one is this--what I would call unresolved issues. In the 3 families referenced in the Genesis stories, there were unresolved issues that related to a blended family, that related to favoritism, and that related to openly expressed contempt. First, the blended family. That was a particular problem in the case of Joseph. His father had taken 4 wives, and he had 12 sons and 1 daughter, Dinah. Do you have any idea how many relationships this involves? Remember the Brady Bunch back in the 70s. There was a mom and dad, Mike and Carol, and each of them brought 3 children into the household for a total of 6 kids. Some of you could probably sing the theme song right now. Mike had 3 sons. Carol had 3 daughters and so in this one household there were a total of 57 difference relationships and that doesn’t even count Alice, the housekeeper. Now, compare that to the family of Joseph. His father has 4 wives, more than double the number of children. There are actually 306 different relationships in that family. What would that have been like? There is potential for more conflict in these situations. In this decade we have more second marriages than first marriages. Currently 50,000 children a month are added to step-families nationwide. Today, it’s not conlusive, but it’s suspected that we now have more blended families than we have traditional families. But, God used the family of Joseph in an incredible way. And, if He used this family then He can use and bless your family. But, you’ve got to be aware of the challenge. The divorce rate is twice as high for blended families. I would not recommend it for anyone unless Jesus is in the center of the mix. It’s absolutely amazing what the presence and the Lordship of Jesus can do in creating oneness in the home. Without that it’s high risk. In every seat here there’s someone who can testify to the difference that He makes in family harmony. The blended family can be an unresolved issue.
Favoritism is another unresolved issue in some families. It was in the family of Isaac and Rebekah. The text clearly states that the twin sons, Jacob and Esau, were the favorites of different parents. Did you catch it in the text? Isaac loved Esau, but (it says) Rebekah loved Jacob. This family was divided because of thoughtless parenting. And the deceit and the manipulation that plagued the relationship of the parents and the twin sons was in evidence almost all their lives. Jacob and Esau are reconciled toward the end of their lives after many wasted years. But how sad that they were alienated--twin brothers and they were alienated from each other for so long because of the favoritism.
The third area of unresolved issues is openly expressed contempt or hostility. It’s an unresolved issue in all 3 of these patriarchal families. Cain’s attitude toward his brother Abel did not erupt in violence immdiately. His resentment of Abel had to show itself again and again while Adam and Eve just failed to confront it. Cain was full of personal pride. They should have noticed that. Their son was not walking in close relationship with the Lord. They should have noticed that but apparently never addressed by his parents. So Adam and Eve lived to experience the ultimate heart pain of parents. One child dies a violent death by the hand of the other, and then they lose that one by unnecessary desertion. Now, all of us bickered as brothers and sisters when we were young. All of us hurt each other in little ways at one time or another. Sometimes there’s a residue of bitterness. Sometimes there’s a residue of resentment that creates an ongoing separation between adult siblings. Experts say that it’s true in 3 out of 4 sibling relationships. And sometimes it’s just silly stuff. One brother refused to talk to his sister for 17 years, because he was mad that she would not lend him her car. Two sisters were estranged from each other for years, because one divorced her husband and the other sister’s husband had occasional communication with her. Sometimes younger siblings feel angry because their older siblings try to parent them. And sometimes older siblings are resentful, because they’re expected to care for younger siblings. But it’s not only these kinds of unresolved issues that cause conflicts between siblings--blended families, favoritism, open, unaddressed contempt. It’s also competition.
Again, it’s present in all 3 Biblical familes we looked at. In his mind Cain was competing with his brother, Abel, for God’s approval. And Jacob and Esau competed for their position in the family and for the affection of their parents almost from the day of their birth. And, Joesph was marginalized by his brothers who were competing with him for the affection of their father and their place in the family. Half of all adult siblings say they still have rivalries with their brothers and sisters. They quietly keep score. Who’s got the bigger house? Who’s got the nicer car? Who’s got the higher salary? Who had the most exotic vacation? Who does mom babysit for the most? Who’s got dad’s ear? Who’s in the will for what? And they use their siblings as yardsticks to gauge their own success or to boost their own sagging self-esteem. And the result is that siblings are divided as competitors rather than united as a family.
The final cause of sibling division is conflicting values. There was distance between Cain and Abel because their spiritual hearts were in different places. They were blood brothers, but they were far apart in terms of their spiritual heart. The text of Scripture said that Abel gave an offering from the firstlings of his flock. In other words, he gave God an offering that represented his best. Then it said that Cain brought some fruit from the soil as an offering to God. There’s no mention of it being a firstfruits offerings. In others words, he gave God leftovers. His heart wasn’t in it. Abel’s heart was in it. The two brothers differed in how they revered God. And Jacob cared about spiritual life realities like birthrights and patriarchal blessings, but Esau cared more about hunting and fishing and creature comforts. So the brothers operated with a different set of values. They were not on the same page with regard to what they considered important. So Jacob and Esaue have these conflicting values. It is also true in Joseph’s family. Joseph was loyal to his father. The brothers took advantage of their father. Joseph was truthful. The brothers were deceitful. Joseph was forgiving. His brothers were bitter. Joseph was kind and generous. His brothers were volatile and greedy. Joseph was a stand alone spiritual lead. And the brothers had a herd mentality.
And you may think that because you’re raised by the same parents in the same home that you’d share the same attitudes and the same approach to life as your siblings, but because of different personalities, and because of different life experiences and because of different moral choices, and because of different temperaments, you probably don’t have the same attitude and approach to life as your sibling. You may clash with your sister because you think it’s ok to spand your kids and she thinks that’s tantamount to child abuse. You may have a brother who’s a Rush Libaugh ditto head, and you may be a card-carrying social and political liberal. Or, you may own a fur coat and you may have a sister who’s into animal rights. Or, you may be a dedicated Christ follower and your sibling may be a hedonist or spiritually uncommitted, and that’s when the sparks can really fly. Your siblings feel judged by your faith even though you may not posture yourself in that way. The biggest clashes will likely happen when it involves religious values.
But friends, listen. 1 Peter 3:15 says Christians should talk about their faith with gentleness and respect. One thing you can always do even when you can’t use words to be persuasive is--you can out love and you can out live everybody in your family that you want to influence for Christ. So these are the causes of sibling conflict: unresolved issues, competitive attitudes, and conflicting values. So, how do we get past these barriers so we can establish or we can recover a closer relationship with our brothers and sisters. Let’s spend a little time talking about new beginnings. I want to accentuate the positive. How do we get down the road to connecting or reconnecting with our brothers and sisters. We talked about the causes of disharmony. Now, let’s talk about the cure for disharmony, and let me speak first to parents.
You have got to be consistent in the application of 3 priorities in your home. #1, you’ve got to love sacrificially and impartially. Over half of all siblings feel their parents favored one child over another, and that will create hostility that can fester for years. Parents, you have got to be sensitive to this issue. Do not play the comparison game with your kids--especially in the blended family. It is critical that step-parents love their step-children like their own flesh and blood. And, if you cannot do that, please don’t marry someone with children. And, remember this, loving is not the same thing as controlling. It’s so predictable it’s almost cliche for the step-parent to overdo the discipline and to under-do the unconditional love. Now this mistake in judgment will be a shortcut to marital discord. It will be a shortcut to family breakdown. Knock yourself out in showing sacrificial and impartial love. We see in the Biblical families that they frequently blew it here, but don’t you make that mistake. Learn from what you see here and apply it to your own situation. And, grandparents, step-grandparents--you have got to buy in to this impartial love for your grandchildren and your step-grandchildren.
2nd. Parents tell yourself the truth about your kids. Do not live in denial about your young or adult children. Parents can be famous for missing it. Passive parenting is more common today in this permissive age. There’s a tendency on the part of parents to not even want to know. There’s a tendency on the part of some parents to push back on any authority figure who corrects or confronts your child. The days of getting a spanking at school and then coming home to one from your dad--those days are long gone. Now, dad gets an attorney. He threatens to sue anyone-- school official, coach, policeman, youth leader, scout leader-- anyone who dares to report or discipline his son or daughter. But, I’m telling you. If you see in your son or daughter a pattern of disrespect--if you see in your son or daughter a pattern of disobedience--if you see in your son or daughter a pattern of deceit--you had better not look the other way. You’d better pay attention to what is happening in their heads and hearts Part of loving them is telling yourself the truth about them. The truth is your ally. The truth is your friend.
3rdly, parents discipline confidently and consistently. I think the toughest aspect of discipline as a parent is to discipline yourself to discipline. It takes vigilance and it takes diligence and it’s not always comfortable and convenient. There were times when I got home at the end of the day and it was the last thing I wanted to do. I remember when I got home, I wanted to enjoy the kids. I wanted to love on the kids. I wanted to play with the kids. I don’t know any parents who relish the unpleasantness of discipline. But, it will yield a pleasant fruit. Think of your discipline as constructding the guard rails that will keep your children from plunging over the edge of life into the abyss of self-destructive behavior. That’s worth your best effots.
Let me share 6 steps for siblings who want to build or rebuild a relationship with a brother or sister. It has relevance for any inter-personal relationship--with a co-worker in the workplace, a Christian brother or neighbor. #1) Pray. Include God in a relationship building process. Do not go it alone. Don’t trust your instincts. Pray for the right attitude. Pray for insight into your own behavior. Pray for receptivity on their part. Start with prayer and then pray through the whole process. It’s amazing what will happen when you trust God’s Spriit--God’s leading and God’s timing.
#2) Accept. It’s important to accept what is and move forward toward what can be. It’s important to set realistic expectations-- not that you’re going to be best buddies next month with a brother in Spokane that you haven’t talked to in 6 years. It’s porbably not going to happen. And if you’re a sister, don’t expect your brother to immediately engage in a kind of vulnerable self-disclosure that American males tend to avoid. A realistic goal might be to try to move the relationship from hostile to neutral. Or to move the relationship from cold to cordial. Or to move the relationship from indifference to caring. Or perhaps to move from infrequent contact to consistent contact.
#3). Communnicate. Good communication is the foundation to a good relationship. One way to open up good communication is to do what one businessman did. He called his sister on the phone and said, “We’re getting away from each other and I don’t like it, so I’m going to start calling you on the first day of every month and we’re going to talk, because I want to find out how you’re doing--how things are going.” After a while, she started initiating the phone calls on the 30th and 31st of the month. But you make all the effort if you have to at least at first. Communicate.
#4) Forgive. You can extend forgiveness even if the other person won’t receive it. Keep this image in your mind. When you follow the teachings of Jesus on forgiveness, it’s like one person in a tug- of-war dropping their end of the rope and saying, “You can keep pulling if you want, but I’m not going to play that game any more.” Authentic forgiveness diffuses the situation like nothing else regardless of whether they reciprocate.
#5) Encourage. There are going to be times and events in our siblings lives that are very important to them. So do this. Make a commitment that you’re going to be there when those times occur--funerals, weddings, births, graduations, a physical move. It might mean you send a card. It might be making a phone call. It might be paying a visit. But, I’ll tell you this--especially if it costs you some time and effort--that will make a great statement about how you value them.
#6) Respect. It’s not ironclad, but it’s usually true here. What you so, you will also reap. If you sow respect, you will get respect in return. What about starting with this? What abouut calling up that brother or sister and saying, “Hey, I was in church this past weekend and you’ll never guess what the service was about. It was about brothers and sisters, and it got me thinking about you. How about if I send you the CD and maybe we can get together and talk about it over breakfast or lunch--my treat?” It’s a starting place.
Proverbs 18:24 says, “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”
We know the friend is Jesus. How is your relationship with Him--your elder brother, your only Savior--Lord of life? It is your most vital relationship.