Overcoming Sibling Rivalry
There’s nothing like peace in the home; everyone getting along, everyone minding their own business, no one is bickering or squabbling, with everyone on speaking terms and happy.
Isn’t that just about the nicest thing you can imagine? To have a home that is a haven of tranquility and peace is a wonderful thing.
So why would you wreck that by treating your kids differently?
Why have a set of rules for the one that you don’t have for the other? Why give different gifts when you know it causes problems?
We do it all the time. Don’t tell me we don’t do that. Who dresses their kids all the same? Who buys their kids identical toys? We don’t even treat them the same.
We may pay different attention to some, we may handle each child differently, and we may even discipline differently depending on the child, right?
We certainly try to steer them into different educational and career opportunities as well, don’t we?
So why do we do that? Not to be mean spirited, nor to play favorites, that’s for sure.
Most of us make distinctions between our kids because we actually have the best interest of the child in mind.
After all, we know how each child is wired differently and thus requires a tailor-made response that is unique to that child and different from the others.
Thus the cookie cutter approach doesn’t work.
My dad certainly raised each of us three boys differently. I never felt that he made decisions that applied to all three but that he had this uncanny ability to make each of us feel very special in who we were.
I loved the fact that my dad treated me special. The funny thing is that my brother Uwe would have said the same thing and the same I am sure with my brother Tom.
My brother Uwe passed away a couple of years ago and my mom reminded me not too long ago that my dad would always take Uwe with him to his jobsites.
I had no recollection that dad did that probably because it was no big deal to me. I probably would not have enjoyed helping dad on the jobsites anymore than Uwe would have hated being dragged along.
The truth of the matter is that Uwe and I were two completely different people, and we still have no idea where Tom came from and how he fit in J.
I suspect the same is true for most of our families.
So we suggest different extra curricular activities and sports, we will keep the leash at different lengths, we will attempt to steer them into different educational experiences, and engage each one differently.
All of that because we know our kids’ strengths and weaknesses, and thus we customize our parenting so that each of them has a fair chance at success in life.
Consequently, we are constantly assuring our kids that we are not playing favorites nor that we mean to be unfair when it seems as though each child is treated a little differently.
Now, I know that some of you may be thinking that you shouldn’t treat kids differently and that they should all have the same clothing, haircut and responses from their parents.
I would suggest that this is actually a lazy way of parenting since it’s the easiest option. A far more challenging way of parenting is to tailor each response to where a child is at and where it needs to go.
After all, isn’t that how our Father in heaven does it with us? I certainly don’t feel as though I am one of two billion.
In fact, many times I feel as though I am the only child of His that matters to him, which I suspect every one of us feels.
So if our Father relates differently to each one of us then why would we not want to do the same thing with our kids?
Each One Different From the Other!
In fact, this family dynamic that I just described to you is also true in the family of God, which I would suggest is the point of Eph. 4:1-16.
Think about it for a moment. On the one hand God creates this family and tells us to make sure that we get along well within that family.
Paul says: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Eph. 4:1
In fact, Paul says to do your utmost in making sure you get along with others in the family: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” vs. 3
Even as Paul reminds them that they’re in the same family, have the same Father and are all brothers and sisters: “There is one body and Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” vs. 4-5
In fact, so concerned is Paul that God’s children get along that he even shows them how: “Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love”. vs. 2
So, on the one hand, God creates this family, puts all of us into it, tells us to make sure we live in harmony and even shows us how we can do that.
But then, on the other hand, what does God do but treat each of us differently by giving us different gifts, talents and abilities!
Take a look at Eph. 4:7: “To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”.
Notice the phrase “each one of us”, for this suggests that when God looks at his family he does not see us as one collective hive but very much as individuals and as “each one of us”.
We are not one of many. This is not the Borg Collective. We are not 7 of 9, but fully individualized, unique, different with each of us in a special relationship with our Father.
“To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (vs. 7), meaning his interactions and dealings with each of us is personalized and different from the other.
No two of his children are treated the same, no two are engaged by Him in the same way, no two receive the same gifts and abilities.
While its true that “grace has been given”; which as Skevington Wood points out means, “that within the body of Christ, each family member enjoys a share of God’s grace”.
Yet each one receives a different share and slice of that grace which is suggested in the phrase “as Christ apportioned it”.
He has served up different portions of his grace with no two receiving the same amount.
“The distribution of grace, and so the distribution of grace gifts is in Christ’s own hands and apportioned as he decides.” Wood
And it’s Eph. 4:8 that paints the picture of how that happened: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
This is the Christ’s triumphal procession from the grave on the day of his resurrection. As he rose in triumph, he not only led the procession of the captives who were freed but also gave gifts to his people.
In other words, it was Christmas Day in heaven. He handed out his manifold gifts among his many children.
Lists of these gifts can be found scattered among the pages of the New Testament in places such as Romans, I Cor., Eph. and 1 Pet.
In fact, in 1 Cor. 12 you will find how diverse and different these gifts truly are: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” I Cor. 12:4-6
All of these are determined by God: “He distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” I Cor. 12:11
What that means is that the family of God ends up so diverse that its more akin to a human body than a family: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” I Cor. 12:12
Many Gifts and Many Parts
While diversity may be our strength, it can also be our weakness.
Our Father treating every one of us differently and tailor-making his gifts to fit exactly who we are, can lead to all kinds of rivalries and jealousies.
Think of your children for a moment. Was there ever a moment where one of your kids looked with envy at the Christmas gifts of their siblings and made it clear that they were more interested in what their sibling got than in what they themselves got?
“Why did he get that and I didn’t?” or “I don’t like what I got, I want that she has!” or “Look at how much better my gift is than yours,” and so on.
Unfortunately, the same thing can happen in the family of God as well.
You need to realize that our Father doesn’t give gifts based on maturity but despite of it.
When immature children of God get their hands on the gifts of God, some of the same jealousies, pride and resentment we see among our kids can also be seen within the family of God.
“Why did he get that and I didn’t?” “I don’t like what I got and I want what she has.” “Look at how much better my gift is than yours!” “You should have the same gift I have,” and so on.
That sort of thing happens all the time and when it does, it’s actually a sign that people haven’t grown up.
You see, whereas kids can squabble and fight over each other’s gifts, adults applaud each other’s gifts.
Whereas kids can be jealous over each other’s gifts, adults marvel at how appropriate and meaningful someone’s gift is.
Whereas kids can boast and brag about the gifts they received, adults express delight at how great someone else’s gift is.
That’s the difference between someone who is grown up and someone who is not. The same thing occurs in the family of God!
If someone thinks that only their gift is important, or that all should have their gift, or they should hang out only with those who have the same gifts, then how is that any different than what we see kids do?
If someone refuses to applaud the gifts others have, even though different from their own, then how is that any different from what kids do?
If someone doesn’t like their gifts or thinks that their gifts are nothing compared to the gifts of others, then how is that any different from what kids do?
If you think that sort of thing doesn’t happen, then you need to take another look at what was happening in the Corinthian church:
“15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” ….. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” 1 Cor. 12:15-21, 24-25
So if you are a foot, then don’t go looking down on those who are the hands, or think that the foot is all that matters in life or hang out only with other feet. How is that the body of Christ? How is that the family of God?
A healthy family of God is where many gifts are celebrated with each person secure in who they are and what they have received; linking arms so that across the manifold diversity would be a strength that is not easily broken.
I love a diverse, manifold family of God where the gifts, talents and abilities of all would not only be welcomed but be celebrated.
Wow, what a strength that would give to the family of God!
Committing to keeping the unity within incredible diversity is what Paul outlines in Eph. 4 when he says:
“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-3
This is how we come to the place of being able to see how our diversity is actually our strength and a sign that we are growing up children of God as Paul says in Eph. 4:14-15:
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there… Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”
And growing up is what this is all about.
Listen, we have come into the family to become mature children of God as seen in our ability to celebrate our diversity and see how each talent, gift and contribution actually makes us strong.
Just like if there is only a bunch of ears, it would no more be a body than if in the family we all look the same, think the same and have the same interests and passions.
Paul says that, “The whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Eph. 4:16
It’s obvious that growing up is what being in the family is all about.
Just look at our own families – as much as we enjoy our children, the whole point is that they grow into mature, responsible and well-adjusted adults, right?
Everything we give to them and do for them is geared toward that goal.
The same is true with our Heavenly Father. Yes, we are His children and we will always be His children but He desperately wants us to be mature children.
His dream is each of his children would “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
So He works on each of us, molding and shaping us, preparing us for works of service, which for each one of us looks a little different from the other (just like it does with our own kids).
As you see Him working on your brother’s life, don’t be jealous or resentful, because he is also working on your life.
And as He works on your life, don’t become proud or arrogant thinking the important work is only happening in me because He is also doing significant work among all the family members.
Are you hearing what I am saying this morning?
Many Tutors and Nannies
There is one more thing I need to see in the passage before we wrap up, because you may be wondering what do the pastor and teacher types mentioned in Eph. 4 have to do with what we are talking about?
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph. 4:11-13
So who are all these guys and what’s their role in all this?
It’s true that we only have one Father, and that there is only one first-born Son who has made all this possible, and only one Spirit who works among us. But, we have many coaches, cheerleaders, tutors and governesses, whose only job is to help build the body of Christ up so as to reach spiritual maturity.
In fact, in 1 Cor. 4 Paul calls these guys guardians and he mentions that some of them were more like fathers than guardians: “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” I Cor. 4:15
These people are to work among the family, at times as a teacher, referee, guide, nanny and the cleaners of messes.
These are the “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” Paul has mentioned. In fact, you can easily link these people to the reference made to the gifts Jesus has given the family. These people are certainly God’s gifts among you.
So don’t bite the hand that feeds you! Be thankful for the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers and welcome their work here.
In fact, let’s open our hearts and welcome these gifts in our midst.
Let’s declare that we want the apostolic gifts here, we want the evangelists here, and we welcome the prophets in our midst.
We want all the guardians and tutors heaven can send! We want all the help we can get.
We want to be fully equipped “for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph. 4:12-13
So we say bring on the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers!
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