A Gospel Vision for Helping Students Love Their Siblings

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This school year we had a number of sixth and eighth grade sibling pairs in our middle school youth group. I was delighted when, at the beginning of the school year, the older brothers and sisters welcomed their younger siblings to the group, taking them under their protective wings. Aside from a few little tiffs here and there, they seemed to get along reasonably well at youth group throughout the fall semester.

Everything was going okay until our numbers for winter camp meant we needed to put sixth and eighth graders in the same cabins. Suddenly our middle school leaders got a clearer picture of  the relational tensions these siblings were navigating in their daily lives. Sharing a cabin all weekend was messy and hard as siblings shared space, personal belongings, and friends.

God in His goodness gave a few of these sibling pairs a bit of a breakthrough on Saturday night at camp, when one of our high schoolers was compelled to check in with his younger sister during an emotional part of the evening. His compassion initiated a chain reaction of siblings connecting, hugging, and even praying together  as older siblings approached their younger brothers and sisters. It was truly a beautiful sight to witness! Still, all the spiritual and emotional connection didn’t quite appear to change some of the bickering in cabins as we packed up for home the next morning.

The following week some leaders approached me to share their observations from the retreat. They wisely suggested that with so many siblings in the middle school group, perhaps we should build in some teaching on sibling relationships. Our series on the attributes of God provided just the avenue to talk about loving our siblings as an application in our study on God’s attribute of love. I began by showing students a funny video about siblings not getting along, and then sarcastically said “I’m sure you are all perfectly kind and loving and respectful to your siblings all the time—right?”

Here are three things I told our students about loving their siblings.

1.) We Are Adopted Into God’s Family

The Bible has a lot to say about family relationships, starting with the book of Genesis, which is all about families. God designed families to care for us, to give us community, and to show us what He is like. In the New Testament, Jesus and his apostles refer to followers of Jesus as “brothers and sisters” nearly 100 times!

Here is what Scripture means when it calls Christians brothers and sisters: When Jesus died on the cross to show God’s love for us, he paid the way for us to become God’s children. So when we follow Jesus, the Bible says we are adopted into God’s family as His sons and daughters! If you’re adopted, it means that you are specially chosento be in your family. God actually chooses us as His kids! If you have begun to follow Jesus, it is because God purposefully chose you and called you into His family. We pray that our siblings will also follow Christ, that they will be adopted, too.

2.) Jesus is The Perfect Big Brother

God’s adoption means that for anyone who has trusted in Jesus, we’re siblings! We are a new family—God is our Father and Jesus is our elder brother.

In Romans 8:16-18, the Apostle Paul says:

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, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

In the ancient world, the oldest brother got what was called the birthright. He was the heir who stood to inherit all of the father’s wealth. (If you’re an oldest child you’re probably thinking, “oh yeah! Everything belongs to me!). But Paul is telling us that Jesus, whom the Bible calls the “only begotten son” of God the Father (John 3:16) has actually shared his portion of the inheritance with us. He’s not some stingy older sibling who holds tightly to what belongs to him. Instead, he went to the cross and paid our way so that we could have a share in all God the Father has given him. He made us his brothers and sisters. Siblings share in the good times and the bad times. Being made Jesus’ siblings means that we will suffer with him, but we’ll also share his inheritance with him in heaven.

3.) God’s Love for Us Means We Can Love Our Siblings

So guess what? You are always going to have siblings. Hopefully you’ll do whatever you can to make sure that the siblings in your family of origin are your lifelong friends. But you also have  siblings in the church. And it’s not always easy to get along! The best way to care for our siblings is asking God to show us how to love as He has loved us.

In Colossians 3:12-14, Paul wrote this to siblings in the church:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

The grace of the gospel means that we get to extend God’s love for us to siblings at home and in the church. We are not able to do this on our own; we need all of Jesus’ resources—the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience he has given to us—in order to truly love our brothers and sisters. 

A Prayer for Siblings

God, thank You for loving us. Thank you for sending your only Son to die in our place so that we could be called Your children. We want to love the way You do. We want to be the kind of sibling Jesus has been to us! 

But we know that we have not loved You the way we should, and we haven’t loved others the way You have called us to. We invite You to speak to us now about the ways we’ve failed in this area of loving our siblings.

Would You remind us of any hurtful things we might have said to a brother or sister recently?

Would You show the places where we haven’t been kind to a sibling…

or humble in our attitudes…

or patient with our brothers and sisters?

Would you help us to see the places where we need to forgive?

Would you help us be brave to ask for forgiveness where we’ve hurt someone?

God we know that we are not able to do the things we should do. We are powerless to save ourselves or change ourselves. We ask for Your forgiveness for these places where we have failed. And we thank you that we are forgiven because Jesus went to the cross and paid for our sin!

You have promised to give us Your Holy Spirit and to come and live through us. So we ask that You’d make us humble and kind in loving our siblings. Make us like Your Son Jesus, we pray.  

We ask all of this in Jesus name, amen.

For parent perspectives about sibling rivalries, check out our articles Summertime Blues: Sibling Love- Or the Lack Thereof, Sanctification By Sibling: Seven Encouragements for the Parents Who Love Them and Sibling Rivalry: The Poisonous Tie That Binds. 

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