Jesus, Sibling Rivalries, and Sibling Restorations

My last post reviewed Aimee Byrd’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” where she explores the blessings God gives us in friendships between people, including between women and men. (See, Friendship Between Women and Men Is One of God’s Great Gifts.) One aspect of godly friendship Aimee notes is that in God’s family we are called to be siblings as well as friends, because we are Jesus’ sisters and brothers as well as his friends.

Aimee points out that being Jesus’ sisters and brothers restores a relationship lost with the very first siblings, Cain and Abel. In Genesis 4, Cain is jealous of his younger brother Abel and murders him. God knows, and asks Cain to explain Abel’s absence. Aimee notes:

When Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9), it’s as if he is saying, “Abel is just my brother; that doesn’t mean anything. What am I supposed to do, keep a prison watch over him?” His reply suggests that Abel is on his own. It shows no gratitude for the gift of having a sibling, no commitment to him, no common mission with him, no connection with him whatsoever. No love. His reply  rebelliously rejects who he is as a sibling. (“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” Ch. 10 p. 169.)

Cain’s rejection of “who he is as a sibling” is one of the first effects of sin recorded in the Bible.

Aimee’s mention of Cain and Abel in relation to Jesus’ later restoration of true siblinghood got me thinking about those older brothers who came along after Cain. The biblical record of firstborn sons is less than stellar.

  • Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4:8)
  • Ishmael taunted Isaac (Genesis 21:9)
  • Reuben slept with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22)
  • Aaron undermined Moses’ leadership (Numbers 12:1-2)
  • Eliab taunted David (1 Samuel 17:28)
  • Amnon raped his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:12-15)

There is little record of firstborn sons acting well toward their younger sisters and brothers. This is not to say there is no record of good sibling relationships – one Old Testament example is when Esau forgave his younger brother Jacob for his trickery, while Peter and Andrew along with James and John are good examples of New Testament siblings.

Yet this type of bond was not something anyone could take for granted. At least, not until Jesus came along.

Jesus is the best brother ever and forever

The concept of God as Father was not new to Jesus’ followers, but they had not yet heard that the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the World would also be God, and that he’d be their brother.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35.)

This is a reality people need to learn as they come to know Jesus better. It is integral to who he is as Savior and God:

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11.)

He is the older brother who sets the example for us all, that we can be conformed to his example.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29.)

This position as Jesus’ younger siblings is even better than his friends imagined though. In their culture, the oldest son inherited more than any other child. Yet the Bible says Jesus is not only the Son of God but that all women and men in God’s family share in his inheritance rights, enjoying all the riches of God.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.* And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ … . (Romans 8:14-17.)

Jesus restored the true sibling relationship, one of love and care and sharing in God’s abundance. It was lost when sin entered the world, but is now restored through the work of Jesus for the world. Regardless of how siblings relate in your family – or whether you’ve ever had any siblings – he is the perfect older brother, the firstborn of all who shares his inheritance freely with his family, his friends.

That’s a good older brother to have, and you have him for eternity.

***

*This “adoption to sonship” is not a denigration of women as Jesus’ sisters, but pertains to the Jewish and Greco-Roman legal rules about who inherited most. Adoption to sonship is a legal status, meaning women who are in God’s family are considered under the legal procedures of that time to have the greatest of right to inheritance, no less than any man. The readers of the letter to the Romans would have understood how radical this is, that women would legally have the same inheritance rights as firstborn sons. Analogizing this to their spiritual position in the family of God was no less radical for people used to the cultures of that day and how they tended to reduce women to second-class status or worse.

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4 Responses to Jesus, Sibling Rivalries, and Sibling Restorations

  1. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Thanks for this post, Tim. I was trying to find and link up a post by someone else that I read recently – she had lost her brother and the way the post ended had to do with receiving Jesus as her brother. But I can’t remember who it was so that’s that. But I appreciate this image of Jesus as our Brother, being our example and sharing his inheritance with us. That’s really quite amazing to contemplate. (By the way, I was recently re-watching the BBC Pride & Prejudice and enjoyed the scene where Elizabeth meets Miss Darcy, who confesses that she thinks her brother is “sometimes a little TOO kind to me,” and Elizabeth replies, “An ideal older brother, then.” 🙂 )

  2. Laura says:

    I love that version too. It is interesting too because the age gap between brother and sister is wider than usual. The fact that Darcy’s sister is surprised when Elizabeth teases Darcy. I think that the only other brother and sister relationship that is strong is between Henry Tilney and Eleanor Tilney.

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